Book Review: Allen P. Ross, A Commentary on the Psalms. Volume 2 (Psalms 42-89)

Ross, Allen P. A Commentary on the Psalms. Volume 2 (42-89). Grand Rapids, Mich. Kregel, 2013. 841pp. Hb; $44.99. Link to Kregel.

Over the years I have had the opportunity to preach through sections of the Psalms. One of my ongoing frustrations is that there are very few useful commentaries on the Psalms. Either they are so brief that there is little exegetical insight, or they are overly interested in form-critical matters that do not provide much clarity for the interpretation or application of the Psalms. Some commentaries are only interested in the New Testament use of the Psalms, or in finding veiled references to Jesus in every line.

Ross, Psalms 2Allen Ross’s contribution to the Kregel Exegetical Library is a welcome exception to this pattern. The commentary is attentive to the Hebrew text and historical contexts without sacrificing expositional comments to help a pastor or teacher present the Psalms in a contemporary context. The first volume of Allen Ross’s commentary on the Psalms was published by Kregel in 2011.  That 887 page commentary covered Psalms 1-41 with an additional 179 page introduction to the Psalms. Since the first volume contained the introduction to the Psalms and bibliography, those items are omitted from volume 2.  It is obviously impossible to reprint the introduction in volume 2, but someone could potentially purchase just volume 2 and miss out on that material.

This volume continues the exegetical method developed in the Introduction (1:169-79). First, Ross begins by “paying attention to the text.” He provides his own translation of the psalm with copious notes on textual variations, emendations, and lexical issues. Ross weighs evidence from the versions (Greek, Syriac, etc.) and does not shy away from the syntactic difficulties one encounters reading Hebrew poetry. There are notes on textual variants in the Masoretic text and alternative translations based on Hebrew syntax.  Frequently the Greek translation appears in footnotes. For example, in Ps 69:32, the Hebrew text has a perfect verb which Ross takes as “when they see,” while the Greek has a subjunctive, “let them see.” Ross rejects emending the Masoretic text to reflect the subjunctive in this case.

Second, following the translation Ross comments on the composition and context of the Psalm. This section takes headers seriously if they are present and attempts in most cases to place the Psalm in the history of Israel. For Psalm 72, for example, Ross has no trouble with a Solomonic background (which he also recognizes as messianic), despite various suggestions that the psalm dates to the time of Hezekiah. These contextual decisions are usually conservative, favoring a pre-exilic date often. This section will also identify any New Testament use of the Psalm, although this later interpretation does not drive his reading of the text.

Third, after the context is set Ross provides an exegetical outline for the psalm, beginning with a short summary of the Psalm (usually a single sentence). This outline is based on the English text but takes into account exegetical decisions made in the translation. There is nothing unusual about these outlines, In fact, they are excellent resources for pastoral use since they could be adapted into an exegetical sermon very easily.

Fourth, Ross comments on his translation of the Hebrew text of the psalm. Throughout the book Hebrew appears in parenthesis without transliteration. The method is more or less verse-by-verse, although he occasionally groups verses under a single header. He interacts with a broad spectrum of scholarship, although there is preference for more conservative writers. But the commentary is not overly burdened with external references, making it easier to read. Most of the commentary focuses on the vocabulary of the Psalm, with special attention to the main point of the metaphors chosen. When a Psalm refers to some historical even in the life of Israel, the commentary attempts to use the allusion to understand the text of the Psalm.

Last, the chapter ends with a short “message and application” of the Psalm. It is here that Ross attempts to bridge the gap between ancient Hebrew poetry and contemporary Christian worship. These sections are not at all typological or generic. Since Ross began by “paying attention to the text” and done his exegetical work, the “message” of the Psalm is tied directly to the text. Usually there is a single line in italics that functions as a kind of one-sentence application for the psalm.

If there is any messianic element in the Psalm, it appears in this “message and application” section. For example, for Psalm 45 Ross develops the wedding song of a king into a reference to Jesus and his bridegroom, applying the psalm to the church today as the “bride of Christ.” He briefly mentions the use of the Psalm in Hebrews 1 (although this merits more than a line) and the potential allusion to the Psalm in Rev 19. Likewise Ps 72, where application is made to the Messiah’s rule over all the earth “fulfilled in Jesus Christ when he returns to the earth at his second coming” (2:546).

I think that this commentary might be improved with an occasional excursus on various topics. For example, at Psalm 73 there is a need to explain “a Psalm of Asaph” and the possibility that Psalms 73-83 are a sub-collection that develops a unique set of themes. The same is true beginning in Psalm 84, the “Sons of Korah” merit more explanation that the brief note in the commentary. These short articles would be helpful to the reader and are not well-covered in the introduction to the commentary.

Conclusion. I used Allen Ross’s Creation and Blessing in a seminary class on the Pentateuch and very much enjoyed the style of that book since it was intended as an exegetical guide for the pastor or teacher as they approached the text of the Bible.  Ross’s commentary on the Psalms follows a similar pattern. In some ways, this commentary is a model for how to read any section of scripture. Ross’s method is clear and yields fruit that will enhance any sermon or lecture on the Psalms.  This commentary would make an excellent addition to any pastor’s library.


Review of other commentaries in the Kregel Exegetical Commentary series:

NB: Thanks to Kregel for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.

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