Ross. Allen P. A Commentary on the Psalms. Volume 3 (90-150). Grand Rapids, Mich. Kregel, 2016. 1040 pp. Hb; $49.99. Link to Kregel.
Allen Ross’s third volume of his Psalms commentary brings to completion this major contribution to the study of the Psalms. Considering all three volumes, Ross has written nearly 3000 pages on the Psalms. But as Ross himself says in his preface, no commentary on the Psalms is every quite complete. Since this commentary is written to assist pastors and teachers study the Psalms for sermons and Bible studies, there is much left to the side. Rarely does he comment on form critical issues nor does he devote space to historical interpretations of the Psalms like Waltke’s recent work on the Psalms. Ross does not attempt to write an overall theology of the Psalms nor is there much awareness of canonical interpretation of the Psalms. He is true to his goal to write a solid exegetical commentary on the Hebrew text to meet the needs of pastors and teachers.
There is no additional introduction to the commentary beyond a short preface. Like the previous volumes in the series, Ross begins his commentary on individual psalms 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.
Following his translation, Ross comments on the composition and context of the Psalm. He begins by taking the Psalm header seriously if present. One example is the first Psalm in the commentary. The header for Psalm 90 identifies it as a “Song of Moses, a man of God.” Virtually all commentaries consider Psalm 90 to be post-exilic since it appears to be a communal lament and has been influenced by wisdom literature. Usually the header is understood to mean the Psalm was written in the style of Moses, as if Moses the Man of God was commenting on the present state of Israel in the post-exilic world. Ross considers this plausible, yet “unnecessarily contrived” (27) and ultimately “unconvincing” (25). Since there are Psalms attributed to David in the last section of the Psalter, it is plausible a song of Moses, composed in the late wilderness period. It was intentionally placed here in the Psalter as an introduction to the final section of the Psalter.
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.
The extensive explanation of the translation of the Hebrew text of each psalm is a strength of this commentary. In the main body of the commentary 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 in the notes, although there is preference for more conservative writers. There is no separate bibliography for each Psalm (as in the WBC or NICOT). 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.
Each chapter ends with a short “message and application” of the Psalm. It is here Ross attempts to bridge the gap between ancient Hebrew poetry and contemporary Christian worship with a short application. Pastors will find these conclusions very helpful as they draw on this commentary for sermons. 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, Psalm 118:22-24 is explicitly messianic in the New Testament (Matt 21:42-44). Ross considered this Psalm a typology of Jesus; the builders are the Pharisees and the kings are the Romans (454). The interpretation of the Psalm, Ross says, but function at two levels because “the Lord Jesus Christ clearly appropriated it to himself” (457). Likewise, Psalm 110 is a “prophecy of the coming victory of the Messiah over the world” (358).
One significant feature of this commentary is a 136 page commentary on Psalm 119. As Ross explains, Psalm 119 has not received the kind of attention it deserves (459). By way of comparison, the excellent NICOT commentary on Psalms devotes only sixteen pages to Psalm 119, but nearly ten of those pages are a translation of the whole Psalm and more than two pages are concerned with the acrostic form and repeated vocabulary. So too Samuel Terrien’s EEC commentary; of the nineteen pages devoted to Psalm 119, twelve are a translation and one is bibliography. Geoff Grogan’s Two Horizons commentary on the Psalms has about six pages on the Psalm. To be fair, Ross has about three times the pages than the NICOT, but a 136 page unit only on Psalm 119 is perhaps the longest attempted study of this psalm is modern biblical studies.
Ross observes that a quick reading of Psalm 119 may result in the conclusion that it is a “repetitious and random collection of meditations on the Word of God” (462). Yet careful study will show each stanza is a careful meditation with certain themes, and each stanza builds toward a message which must be read from beginning to end. To demonstrate this, Ross offers a short exposition of each stanza as if were a separate Psalm. He includes an exegetical outline and expositional notes along with a “message and application” for each eight verse unit.
Conclusion. Like the other two volumes, Ross’s commentary on Psalms 90-150 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.
NB: Thanks to Kregel for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.