The Essential Bible Companion to the Psalms: Key Insights for Reading God’s Word
By Brian L. Webster and David R. Beach
Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2010
ISBN: 9780310286899 (WorldCat, Google Books, Book Mole)
Summary: This book provides a beginner’s guide to several basic literary features of the Psalms and to the basic message of each individual Psalm.
What is this book?
This book attempts to fill a unique niche: it is neither a full-blown commentary nor a detailed study bible. Rather, the authors explain the purpose of this book as even more basic than these standard tools:
While we do not aim to explain every poetic line, we do hope to help you select where to visit and to provide a basic orientation as you read each psalm. We point out essential elements and shed light on occasional phrases or identify relevant information about the setting. (p. 11)
In the main section of the book, each psalm is evaluated succinctly (i.e., in one page) according to the following schema (p. 12):
- Theme (the main idea)
- Type (genre). The authors provide a brief overview of the following psalm types that they employ throughout the book (pp. 15-18):
- Hymns of praise
- Hymns of thanksgiving
- Hymns of praise/thanksgiving
- Hymns of the Lord’s kingship
- Hymns: Zion songs
- Laments/cries for help (individual and communal)
- Psalms of confidence
- Royal psalms
- Liturgy psalms
- Instructional and wisdom psalms
- Structure (the stanzas and basic thought flow)
- Special explanatory notes
- Reflection (the significance of the psalm for today)
For whom is this book?
The authors do not specify their target audience. In my estimation this book would be useful to any Christian, junior-high-school age or above, who has never studied the Psalms before and who would like a very basic introduction to each Psalm. The two most helpful features of this book for new students of the Psalter are its basic introductions to
- the different types or genres of psalms (pp. 15-22)
- and how Hebrew poetry is represented by indentation in English Bibles (pp. 23-24).
- the Psalms are the most frequently referenced OT book in the NT (e.g., Acts 1-2; Hebrews 1-2, etc.),
- Jesus said the Psalms were written about him (Luke 24:44),
- and Protestants have a long history of interpreting the Psalms in light of Christ and the NT (e.g., Martin Luther, David Dickson, the Puritans, etc.),
it is disappointing that the authors make almost no attempt whatsoever to connect the Psalms to either Christ or the New Testament. For example, the reflection for Psalm 2 invites the reader to reflect abstractly upon the “freedom and security” that “are found under the authority of God” (p. 38) without any thought to how God has exercised his authority concretely by exalting his Son, Jesus Christ, to king David’s throne (see Acts 13:33 and Heb. 1:5, both of which cite Psalm 2:7; cf. Rom. 1:4).
Without such connections, the section, “Personalizing the Psalms” (pp. 25-26) in the introduction and the “reflection” sections within the overviews of all 150 Psalms risk subjectivity. If any respect is to be given to how the NT itself uses the Psalms, then the Psalms ought not be treated merely as an invitation to abstract, generic, subjective spirituality–a spirituality with no connection to Christ; or, a spirituality that is quick to “add lines [to the Psalms] that are specific to our situation” (p. 26) without first looking to how Christ himself has fulfilled several of the Psalms in his own humiliation and exaltation. The subjective finds its truest and fullest freedom when it is grounded in the objective, rather than vice versa; the redemption accomplished by Christ always precedes and grounds the redemption that Christ applies to his church by his Spirit.
Additionally, the pictures–all of which are cheesy stock photographs culled from online databases such as istockphoto.com–add zero value to the book. Hebrew poetry does not need “help” from such trite modern illustrations as:
- a muddy hand from someone presumably drowning (or already drowned?) in a river (p. 76),
- an angry, old white man in a suit (p. 144),
- a female jogger in a spandex suit hunched over in a field (p. 177).