Douglas D. Webster, The Psalms: Jesus’s Prayer Book

Webster, Douglas D. The Psalms: Jesus’s Prayer Book. Grand Rapids, Mich. Kregel, 2023. 4 Vol. 1190 pp. Pb; $89.99.   Link to Kregel Academic

Douglas D. Webster (Ph.D., University of St. Michael’s College) serves as professor of pastoral theology and preaching at Beeson Divinity School. He has published numerous pastoral commentaries and books, including Soulcraft: How God Shapes Us Through Relationships (IVP, 1999), Test Messaging: A Conversation about Preaching (Clements, 2010), and The Parables: Jesus’s Friendly Subversive Speech (Kregel, 2021, reviewed here). As Webster explains in his preface, this four-volume commentary on Psalms is a companion to the Psalter for pastors and teachers and will serve as a devotional guide for any Bible reader.Webster, Psalms Four VolumesFollowing Athanasius, Webster suggests the Psalms are the “magnetic center” of the whole Canon of scripture. “Nearly every Psalm speaks about Christ,” and the Psalter gives us a picture of the spiritual life (1:13). His commitment to a Christological reading is clear in every part of this commentary. This is true even for Psalm 88, the “saddest prayer in the Psalter” (3:123). “we can imagine Jesus praying this psalm in the days leading up to the crucifixion” (3:127).

Each Psalm is treated in a few pages, including the full text of the Psalm. The Psalm text is distraction-free: Scripture is printed without verse numbers, allowing readers to see the words as originally intended. The length of chapters varies. The shortest Psalm (117) is only three pages, while the longest Psalm (119) is forty-two pages. Webster provides extensive footnotes to popular academic commentaries (Waltke, Ross, Kinder, Craigie, Goldingay, etc.). He also frequently cites historical writers (Calvin, Spurgeon) and popular writers (Peterson, C.S. Lewis).

The commentary takes Psalm headers seriously, and Webster frequently places Psalms into a historical context. For example, Psalm 3 refers to Absalom’s rebellion in 2 Samuel 13-18. He also occasionally speculates on a possible historical context. He calls Psalm 14 “Nabal’s Psalm” and Psalm 15 “Abigail’s Psalm.” He then connects both psalms to 2 Samuel 25. The warrant for this is the name Nabal, which means fool in Hebrew; Psalm 14:1 begins, “The fool says…” Since Abigail is a wise and intelligent woman, Webster connects her to the description of a righteous person in Psalm 15. Although this might work as an analogy, I am not convinced this was the original intent of these two psalms.

As implied from the book’s subtitle, Webster focuses on how the Psalms point forward to Jesus. I will give one example: Commenting on Psalm 22, Webster suggests, “the Holy Spirit uses David to carry us forward to Golgotha and the passion of Christ” (1:181). The commentary is not interested in any potential background for Psalm 22 or literary genre such as a funeral lament. Everything in the Psalm points ahead to the crucifixion. He entitles 22:22-31 “the fifth gospel” (1:190).

He is also aware of a redemptive flow in the arrangement of the Psalter. For example, he links Psalms 18-23 as describing the life, death, and vindication of Jesus. Psalm 23 ends with the anointing of the servant, who celebrates a victory banquet in the presence of his enemies. Webster suggests that Jesus drew on Psalm 23 when he responded to Peter in John 21: 15-17, “Follow me” (1:195). He goes further: “Only the Eucharist meal does justice to the Psalmist’s imagery of the table prepared in the presence of our enemies” (1:202).

Commentaries on the Psalms must deal with interpreting (and applying) the imprecatory (curse) Psalms. Commenting on Psalm 137:9, “Blessed shall he be who takes your little ones and dashes them against the rock,” Webster suggests that it is important to “see the value of venting hatred to God in prayer rather than taking matters into our own hands” (4:232). Following Calvin, “dashing babies” looks forward to the fall of Babylon, but Christians can pray Psalm 137 “in the light of God’s final judgment” (4:234).

Conclusion. I am often frustrated with commentaries on psalms because each Psalm is treated so briefly. Webster’s comments on each Psalm seem to me to be neither too short nor too long; they are “just right.” I am impressed by his extensive footnotes to academic resources indicating that Webster has done his homework. This certainly shows in his clear, well-written comments on each Psalm. Given the pastoral emphasis for this commentary, it could serve well as devotional reading for a layperson as they work their way through the Psalms. Certainly, pastors and teachers preparing sermons on the Psalms will find Webster’s commentary valuable. One potential problem: The four volumes are only available as a set. Perhaps readers would like to purchase individual volumes?


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

3 thoughts on “Douglas D. Webster, The Psalms: Jesus’s Prayer Book

  1. Thanks for your helpful review. I just bought the multivolume set currently at christianbook[dot]com where it is currently on sale for more than half off. (It is full price at amazon.) Peace.

  2. Yes, I understand. I just found this discount shocking, and timely (on the same day as your review and recommendation). Book prices seem to go up and down like stocks (lol) so I pounced on it. Thanks for your ministry to me. Peace.

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