James M. Hamilton Jr., Psalms (2 Volumes; EBTC)

Hamilton Jr., James M. Psalms 1-72. Evangelical Biblical Theology Commentary. Bellingham, Wash.: Lexham Press, 2022. xxxiii+677 pp.; Hb.; $49.99. Link to Lexham Press

Hamilton Jr., James M. Psalms 73-150. Evangelical Biblical Theology Commentary. Bellingham, Wash.: Lexham Press, 2022. xxix+569 pp.; Hb.; $49.99. Link to Lexham Press

James M. Hamilton, Jr. is Professor of Biblical Theology at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and serves as preaching pastor at Kenwood Baptist Church. He contributed a volume to the NSBT series, With the Clouds of Heaven: The Book of Daniel in Biblical Theology (IVP Academic 2014, see my review here) and a commentary on Revelation in the Preaching the Word series. Hamilton has written extensively on biblical theology ad typology, including What Is Biblical Theology? (Crossway, 2014) and a recent monograph, Typology-Understanding the Bible’s Promise-Shaped Patterns: How Old Testament Expectations are Fulfilled in Christ (Zondervan, 2022). This commentary on the Psalms combines his interest in biblical theology with a pastor’s heart. In fact, the commentary has its origins in a sermon series at Kenwood Baptist Church. Hamilton began this two-volume Evangelical Biblical Theology Commentary when B&H published the series. When Lexham picked up the series a few years ago, he completed the commentary. Hamilton intends to study the Psalms as a whole. The book is a purposeful collection of poems that build on one another and interpret one another. “The psalms are true history, fulfilled prophecy, and enduring praise” (2)

Hamilton PsalmsHe begins his eighty-eight-page introduction by stating he is interested only in the canonical form of the Psalms in the Hebrew Bible as preserved in the Masoretic text. Unlike many commentaries on the Psalms, Hamilton is not interested in speculating on the form or content of the psalms prior to the final form. This means he rarely comments on the differences between the MT and the Septuagint.

Because he takes the canonical form of the Psalter seriously, he pays careful attention to psalm superscriptions. These are the short headings that appear before verse one in English translations. Hamilton says he “will be working from the hypothesis that a psalm’s superscription comes from the hand of the psalm’s author, and that the editor/anthologist who put the Psalter in its final form exercised a light editorial touch that followed trajectories he discerned in the materials” (50).

Regarding David is an author, he quotes Mark 12:35-37, where Jesus says David wrote Psalm 110. “I do not believe Jesus could have been wrong about this” (42). Nor does Hamilton believe Jesus was accommodating himself to his audience. Hamilton rejects arguments that David would not write psalms using the third person. He also rejects the common view that psalms with “of David” (לְדָוִֽד) are “about David” or “dedicated to David” (citing Peter Craigie’s WBC commentary). He also dismisses the view that the headers are often anachronistic. For example, he disagrees with DeClaissé-Walford, Jacobson, and Tanner (NICOT; Eerdmans, 2014, see my review here), who argued Psalm 23:6 refers to the Temple, which was not built when David was alive. For Hamilton, the superscriptions are not later editions and are in fact integral to the original composition of the psalms. Remember, Hamilton accepts the Masoretic text as the canonical form; since the headers are in that text, he accepts them as authoritative.

The Book of Psalms was purposefully arranged so that the individual psalms fit together to tell a wider story. He suggests the Psalms are like a collage of photographs telling an overall story. Given his lack of interest in the origins of individual psalms, it is striking that Hamilton argues this arrangement was David’s own idea, which later psalmists understood and added to enrich the project which David begun (50).

  • Book 1, Pss 1-41, The Suffering of the Historical David
  • Book 2, Pss 42-72, The Reign of the Historical David
  • Book 3, Pss 73-89, The End of the Historical Davidic House
  • Book 4, Pss 90-106, Moses Intercedes for the Davidic Covenant
  • Book 5, Pss 107-150, The Conquest of the Future Davidic King

Hamilton finds chiasms grouping psalms around themes within the five books. He begins with the observation Psalms 15 and 24 are very similar, suggesting “who may ascend?” brackets for a chiastic structure for Psalms 15-24. (In order to make this work, Psalms 20-21 are placed together in his outline.) Hamilton then works out chiasms for the sections of the entire book. Hamilton’s evidence for these connections is found in the section on context introducing the exposition of each Psalm. There he points out verbal and thematic links to surrounding psalms. Two examples will suffice. First, Psalms 15-24 describe the ways of a righteous king; they follow Psalms 3-9 (Absalom’s rebellion, a wicked king) and Psalms 10-14, which contemplate the ways of the wicked. Second, Psalms 51-72 is a unit beginning with Bathsheba and ending with her son, Solomon. The plot of this unit tracks with David’s struggles against traitors and other enemies, climaxing in Psalm 61 (“Prolong the life of the king”) and Psalm 62 (waiting in silence for salvation). The rejected king is then restored, concluding with David’s son Solomon on the throne forever.

The introduction concludes with several biblical and theological themes. The psalms are first the prayers of David the messiah. But Israel also sung the psalms as the people of the Messiah. The psalms therefore find their fullest meaning in Jesus the Messiah, the ultimate righteous sufferer. Hamilton briefly summarizes the master narrative of the biblical worldview (a creation-fall-redemption scheme). In the Psalms, David interpreted his own experience in the light of earlier scripture. “He identifies with Abel, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, and Moses, and he identifies his enemies with their enemies” (77). Hamilton contends David saw himself as the “seed of the woman” struggling against the “seed of the serpent” from Genesis 3:5. “What I am proposing can also be understood as a biblical-theological and typological way of getting at ‘prosopology,’ the idea that David assumes the perspective of Christ as he speaks in the Psalms” (87).

“I contend that the authors of earlier Scripture intended their audience to see the enmity between the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent, and further that they wanted to encourage God’s people to stand fast as the seed of the woman against the seed of the serpent. For David to see the outworking of the pattern in his own life, then, was in keeping with the intent of earlier biblical authors, and likewise for later kings-including the man from Nazareth-to identify with David’s experience, even to see David’s experience fulfilled in his own, would be fully in line with David’s intent” (77).

As an example, in his commentary on Psalm 16, David is a righteous sufferer foreshadowing as a “promissory type” the experience of a future king in his line, Jesus. Hamilton finds scriptural warrant for this typological interpretation in Acts 2:20-31 where Peter quotes Psalm 16 as fulfilled in Jesus (217-18). The enmity between the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent grows and develops so that David, inspired as a prophet by the Holy Spirit, “understood the patterns that typified him” (218). David “meant to describe his own experience in such a way that the one to come was prefigured, foreshadowed, typified (87, italics original).

Commenting on Psalm 96, Hamilton suggests David composed 1 Chronicles 16:23-33 when he brought the ark to Jerusalem. Later, when he set the psalms in order, David used parts of his earlier composition in different place making what we know now as Psalm 96. What is remarkable is that in this case, Hamilton uses the header from the Septuagint to imply that David wrote Psalm 96 (despite no header in the Masoretic text). He then engages in speculation about the origins of the Psalm, something he would not do according to the introduction.

Hamilton begins his exposition of each Psalm with an overview and an outline of the structure of the psalm. Often these are in the form of a chiasm. The section then begins with the CSB translation alongside Hamilton’s own translation in parallel columns. Hamilton stated in the introduction his intention was to be overly literal in to draw out parallels to other psalms intended by the author. There are no footnotes to Hamilton’s translation offering explanations for his translation choices. For example, on 14:7, the CSB has “let Jacob rejoice”; Hamilton translates the phrase “will rejoice.” The CSB (and most modern Bibles) translates the imperfect as a jussive (“let”). Hamilton uses the future “will rejoice.” Why?

The next unit prior to the exposition is Context: Verbal and Thematic links with Surrounding Psalms. Here Hamilton connects the Psalm to the context to support his overall chiastic structure. Occasionally, he arranges parallels in a chart. Since chiasms are often in the eye of the beholder, he often provides an alternative to his own structure in a footnote.

In the commentary proper, sections follow his outline of the Psalm. The commentary is based on the English text, and he rarely uses Hebrew. When Hebrew appears, it is unpointed and not transliterated. He makes very few references to syntax, grammar, or textual issues (and then only in footnotes). On a few occasions, he refers to the Septuagint, mostly when there are differences in a superscription. For example, in Psalm 71, he has a footnote describing the header in the Septuagint which is missing in the Masoretic Text. There is little interaction with other exegetical commentaries, but this is not surprising. Hamilton is providing exposition of the text to assist Christian preaching and teaching, not to collate the views of other commentators on the psalms. The result is a distraction-free exposition of the biblical text, which is a joy to read.

The last section of the commentary is entitled bridge. These are often brief single paragraph summarizing the content of the psalm and connecting the psalm to its surrounding context. Here Hamilton makes larger Christological observations. In addition, he draws reasonable applications from the psalm to contemporary Christian theology. After the heavy emphasis on typology in the introduction, I found these bridge units to be less typological than expected.

Conclusion: At 1200+ pages, this is a substantial commentary on the Psalter. Hamilton exposition of each Psalm is clear, concise, and will be helpful to pastors and teachers preparing to present sermons on individual psalms. Hamilton writes from a solidly evangelical perspective, and he is quite clear on inerrancy (47) and inspiration of the psalms (52). He is doggedly committed to the Davidic authorship of most of the psalms.

I would strongly recommend this commentary as an excellent addition to any pastor’s library.

 

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

Reviews of other Commentaries in this Series:

W. Creighton Marlowe and Charles H. Savelle, Jr. Psalms, Volume 1: Wisdom Psalms

Marlowe, W. Creighton and Charles H. Savelle, Jr. Psalms, Volume 1: The Wisdom Psalms. A Commentary for Biblical Preaching and Teaching. Kerux Commentaries. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Kregel Ministry, 2021. 389 pp. Hb. $36.99   Link to Kregel Ministry  

This new commentary is part of Kregel Academic’s new Kerux commentary series. Projected to be a 46-volume series, seven are currently available. W. Creighton Marlowe (PhD, Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary) prepared the exegetical portion of the Commentary and Charles H. Savelle Jr. (PhD, Dallas Theological Seminary) wrote the preaching and teaching notes. Marlow is associate professor of Old Testament at the Evangelical Theological Faculty in Leuven, Belgium. Savelle serves as an adjunct professor for Dallas Theological Seminary and Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.

Psalms Volume 1 KeruxThis commentary on the Psalter is unusual because it covers a genre of the Psalms rather than each Psalm in canonical order. This commentary only treats fifteen wisdom psalms, although there are as many as thirty-nine potential examples of the genre. Kregel Academic plans two more volumes, a second on Lament Psalms and a third on Praise Psalms. Presumably, the introductory material in this volume will not be repeated, allowing for more Psalms in each subsequent volume.

The commentary has a general introduction to the Psalter (29-69) and a second introduction to Wisdom Psalms in particular (71-77). The general introduction covers typical matters of introduction (authorship, pace and date of writing and occasion). This must be general since the background for each psalm is different. The authors have a firm commitment to inspiration of Scripture (31), so the introduction favors traditional answers to questions of authorship. Regarding superscriptions, Marlowe suggests inspiration may not extend to editorial activity. “The superscriptions, however accurate in terms of maintaining a tradition, were the result of human imagination and ingenuity” (31). This seems to allow for some flexibility for the seventy-three psalms with “of David” in the superscription. Psalms with occasions associated with David are consistent with David’s career, but the “of David” psalms may be written about David, or in David’s style. Superscriptions are therefore highly valued, but not authoritative (30).

The introduction compares the Psalter with psalms found in the ancient Near East, especially Ugarit. Like wisdom literature from Egypt and Assyria, similarities exist on technical levels of linguistics and stylistics. But this does not diminish the “revelatory and remarkable and revolutionary message of the Israelite Psalter” (34). The introduction also compares the Psalter to extracanonical psalms from Qumran and the Septuagint. Marlowe concludes “the individual psalms in our current Old Testament psalter were a unique means of understanding biblical revelation via poetic personal and public praise, prayers, protestations, and pleas for mercy and judgment” (37).

Much of the introduction is a chart summarizing the type, features, and associations of each psalm.

With respect to outlining the Psalter, scholars often simply follow the five sections indicated by the presence of doxologies (see Psalm 41:13, for example). There are many suggests for the overall structure of the Psalms, see for example Gerald H. Wilson, The Editing of the Hebrew Psalter (Scholars, 1985) or John H. Walton, “Psalms: A Cantata About the Davidic Covenant” (JETS 34; 1991). Marlowe recognizes the five-part structure but suggests a different outline for the book. Psalms 1-2 are an introduction to the Psalter and Psalms 3-9 are an introductory section (all psalms of David). Psalms 10-139 are the main body of the Psalter, with psalms 140-145 forming a concluding section (all psalms of David). Psalms 146-150 for the conclusion to the whole Psalter.

The general introduction concludes with a summary of theological themes in the Psalms (54-66). As expected, the theology of the Psalter focuses on God (his names, descriptions, and character). Other themes include creation, salvation, evil, the afterlife, and the Messiah (including a three-page chart summarizing the messianic psalms). Under the heading of Anthropological Themes, Marlowe deals with the problem of hating one’s enemies. In many psalms, the opponent is the object of the psalmist’s hatred as he cries out to God for vengeance. This is followed by a second, related section on imprecations (curses) found in the psalms (specifically Psalm 137). Many Christians have a problem with hatred and curses on one’s enemies in worship literature, since this material seems to run counter to Leviticus 19:18 and the general teaching in the New Testament. More disturbing, it is often God who hates his enemies in the psalms. Marlowe draws a contrast between national Israel, which was used for military purposes to judge nations in the Old Testament, and the transnational church, which is never commissioned to wage war (65). This is a brief answer to a tough problem and may not satisfy everyone. What is more, is there is nothing here on how to preach and imprecatory Psalm (maybe the answers is “don’t preach those psalms”).

The introduction concludes the introduction with about two pages of Practical Theology drawn from the Psalms. First, a common question for readers of the psalms concerns God vindicating the blameless. Does this mean the Psalms demand us to be perfect? In the Psalter, “blameless” does not mean “sinless.” The one who is blameless trusts God and obeys his Law. Second, since the phrase “give thanks” appears frequently in the Psalter, connects giving thanks to an action of public witness, to make a public confession of faith in God.

The commentary for each psalm begins with a summary of the exegetical idea, theological focus, and preaching idea for the song. These are single sentences summarizing the big idea of the song. This preaching summary concludes with two paragraphs of preaching pointers.

The body of the commentary begins with a summary of the literary structure and themes followed by the exposition proper. Although there are a few brief notes on the potential historical context for some of these psalms, Marlowe is not interested in the Sitz im Leben for these psalms (which is less important for Wisdom Psalms than other forms).

The commentary proceeds verse by verse, although for longer psalms, groups of verses are treated together. Almost every verse of Psalm 119 has a brief comment! Transliterated Hebrew appears throughout the commentary. Marlowe only occasionally refers to secondary literature. Sometimes he compares major English translations, but there is little comment on Hebrew syntax in the commentary. Marlowe occasionally mentions variants from the MT. Following the exegesis of the Psalm is a short theological focus summarizing the Psalm, often with a larger canonical interest.

For the preaching and teaching strategies, Savelle begins an exegetical and theological synthesis (a summary of the exegesis provided above). He then provides a preaching idea, a one sentence big idea (following Haddon Robinson). Under the heading of contemporary connections, he briefly answers questions like “what does it mean?” “Is it true?” And “Now what? Under this heading, there are usually several action points which exhort the reader to apply the material from the Psalm to their lives. Under the heading of “Creativity in Presentation,” Savelle makes several suggestions on how to illustrate preaching points from contemporary culture. These sections may include references to history or recent events, but often to pop culture (Stephen Colbert and Jay Leno) and often popular music (from Ed Sheeran to Shane & Shane; even Leonard Cohen makes an appearance).

Each chapter ends with a few discussion questions.

As with other Kerux commentaries, the book contains frequent sidebars on issues found in the Psalm. For example, the Ruler of Tyre (Psalm 37:18), Holiness (Psalm 111), and Meditation (both Psalms 1 and 119). A feature of this commentary summarizes the preaching passages (13-22). This is the same material found at the beginning of each chapter, but it is helpful to see all the exegetical ideas and preaching ideas in one place. This will assist a pastor preparing a short sermon series on the Wisdom Psalms. The ratio of exegesis to preaching is about 2-1.

Conclusion. The goal of the Kerux series is to provide solid exegesis from leading scholars and teaching ideas for pastors. This volume achieves the goal of solid exposition of the text, and it offers help for pastors preparing sermons on these Psalms. I am curious if the next two volumes will cover the rest of the Psalter since there are quite a few Wisdom Psalms not included in this volume. Perhaps a volume of Messianic Psalms would be a popular addition to this 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.

Other volumes reviewed in this series:

 

 

Psalm 73:23-28 – It Is Good To Be Near God!

Psalm 73 begins with a proverb, “Truly God is good to Israel, to those who are pure in heart.” But the writer wonders if that is really true. From his own experience, the wicked seem to prosper (73:4-12) and he does not see much benefit in keeping his heart pure (73:13-14). Despite his careful attention to the details of the Law, he still suffers in ways that seem to be punishments. When the Psalmist entered into worship, his perspective changed (73:17). It was then he realized the success of the wicked is an illusion. They are not as “blessed” as they appear.

HandsThis change in perspective is also seen in his renewed commitment to be near to God (73:25-28).  The last two verses of the Psalm returns to the theme of the first, “But for me, it is good to be near God.”

The writer’s commitment to God is based on God’s presence in his life.  God is near his people. This is God’s persist care for his people. The image the writer uses is a young child who is protected by loving parents. This is particularly vivid because most parents need to work very hard to watch over a child. A parent must be persistent, since the moment you let your guard down there is going to be crayon on a wall of a spoon in the light socket.

This metaphor also expresses God’s sufficiency. God is all that the writer needs; as it turns out, he does not need to envy the prosperity of the wicked since God has given him all that he needs, he is able to be completely satisfied in the presence of God.  What more on earth could there be to satisfy me compared to true fellowship with God?

As it turns out the proverb in 73:1 is correct.  The one who is pure in heart is near to God, the external circumstances of the individual do not matter, whether they are wealthy or in poverty, whether they are in good health or suffering greatly. True shalom, the peace of which the covenant speaks is to be found in nearness to God and only in nearness to God.

Conversely, it is a fearful thing to be far from God, as are the wicked.  Their apparent prosperity in the present time is nothing, it is in fact not real prosperity at all. Ironically, in the end, misery is to be far from God, while true shalom is to be near to God.

Psalm 73:18-22 – Viewing the World from God’s Perspective

Even though he questioned the value of his innocence, the writer’s perspective is changed when he entered into worship. The wicked are not as prosperous has he once thought (73:18-20).  The writer knew his feet were in danger of slipping when he became envious, but the wicked are in a slippery place as well, in ignorance!  Because they trust in their wealth and power, they are in the most insecure place imaginable. The prosperity of the wicked is compared to a dream.  It is not real and substantive, it is merely a vapor which will pass away when morning comes. The wicked are “unreal” or even naturally unstable, liable to fall at any moment.

Ashes-in-ManWe might think it strange that this new perspective might come out of a worship experience since we do not really sing worship songs about the damning of the wicked. This is true in the psalms, however.  Assuming the writer did engage in the liturgy of the temple, then there is a strong possibility that he would have sung some of the Psalms which reminded him that God is a righteous judge and would punish the wicked.

The writer’s change in perspective is also seen in his self-evaluation (73:21-24). Like most people who have “come to their senses,” he feels a bit foolish.  he calls himself senseless (only in  Pss 49:11, 73:22, 92:7, Prov 12:1, 30:2, parallel to foolish, etc.), he compares himself to an animal which has no reason or wisdom at all. In saying this, he is not deprecating himself out of a false humility.  Worship has taught him what he really is (a child of God) and his understanding of the way things really are in this world will be driven by that worship experience.

He recognizes that God is always with him, holding his hand as a parent with a small child.  The reason a small child can walk or play with confidence is the knowledge that the parent is nearby and watching over them. The psalmist is describing himself as a small child who simply needed to be reminded that his loving parent is keeping watch nearby.

This is a child-like faith, but it is not a simple, unquestioning faith.  In this psalm the writer has expressed very grave doubts about God’s justice in the world, perhaps even the ability of God to keep his promises.  He has critically evaluated both the world and his faith, and returned to an honest faith in the God who is very near.

The writer’s changed perspective is also seen in his renewed commitment to be near to God (25-28).  The last two verses of the Psalm returns to the theme of the first, “But for me, it is good to be near God.”

The writer’s commitment to God is based on God’s presence in his life.  He is always with me, he is near. This is an expression of God’s persistence.  The image of a young child is particularly good because a parent has to work pretty hard to watch over a child all of the time. A parent must be persistent, since the moment you let your guard down there is going to be crayon on a wall or a spoon in the light socket.

This also expresses God’s sufficiency.  God is all that the writer needs; as it turns out, he does not need to envy the prosperity of the wicked since God has given him all that he needs, he is able to be completely satisfied in the presence of God.  What more on earth could there be to satisfy me compared to true fellowship with God?

As it turns out, the proverb in 73:1 is correct. The one who is pure in heart is near to God, the external circumstances of the individual do not matter, whether they are wealthy or in poverty, whether they are in good health or suffering greatly.  True shalom, the peace which the covenant speaks of, is to be found in nearness to God and only in nearness to God.  Conversely, it is a fearful thing to be far from God, as are the wicked.  Their apparent prosperity in the present time is nothing, it is in fact not real prosperity at all.

Ironically, in the end, misery is to be far from God, while true shalom is to be near to God.

Psalm 73:13-17 – Questioning the Value of Innocence

Like Job and Jeremiah, the writer of Psalm 73 wonders if there is any value to being “pure in heart.” This should not be understood as arrogance, the writer has done what he believes to be all that he can to approach God in the proper way. He claims to be both pure and innocent.

100 PureIf the proverb in 73:1 is true, then the person with a pure heart ought to be the most blessed because the Lord is near. He says he has “washed his hands in innocence.” This probably alludes to proper ritual purity. He has followed the rituals as commanded and is able to wash his hands, declaring his innocence. Compare the Psalmist’s claim to be innocent to Psalm 26:6 and Isaiah 1:15-16. In both cases, the writer is simply expresses his belief that he has done what God wanted him to do, he believes that he is “near” to the Lord.

It is possible to see this as an extremely self-centered prayer – “Why was I pure? What did it profit me to behave this way throughout my life, if the end is to suffer in silence while the wicked prosper?” Derek Kidner described this psalm as “pathetically self-centered” (Psalms, 260). This is the attitude of the older brother in the prodigal son story, and it is possible it is a thought many of us have had, although we may not allow it to rise to the surface too often for fear of our response!

washing-handsThe writer has a legitimate question. Despite being pure, he is plagued and punished daily. Both of these words are associated with judgment. To be plagued is often a violent punishment, the second word is nearly always used for correction or reprimand. The writer is basically saying, “if I am pure in heart and ceremonially pure as well, why am I being punished every day?” Either the writer is not as near to God as he thinks (and the proverb is true), or God is not near to those who are pure in heart after all, and the proverb is false.

He knows if expresses his doubt, he will betray the “children of God.” This is perhaps a hint that the writer is in some sort of leadership role, others are looking to him for answers, how he expresses his doubts will have an effect on the children of God who come to him for spiritual guidance.

It is not wrong to wonder and question, it is wrong to cause others to sin. The writer is therefore struggling with his doubt that the covenant actually works, that being pure in heart has any value at all, and he is wondering seriously if it might not be a better idea to live a life of arrogant wickedness if there is not value to his purity.

The solution to the problem is found in worship: no understanding is found until “I entered the sanctuary of God….” This verse is the key turning point in the psalm. When the writer enters into worship, his perspective changes. Notice the contrast in verses 16-17. “When I tried to reason this thing out on my own, it was oppressive to me.”

This human attempt to understand God’s working in the world is radically changed when he entered into worship – he began to focus on God and God alone. In doing so, he saw his suffering and the prosperity of the wicked from a different angle altogether, but he also saw his own suffering from God’s viewpoint as well.

The fact that our writer enters into the temple to worship ought to be at least some confirmation that he does have a pure heart and innocent hands, since these are the requirement for approaching God’s holy hill (Ps. 24, again).

Genuine Worship is therefore critical to our understand of God and his relationship with the world.