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:

 

 

Book Review: John Thomas and Frank Macchia, Revelation (THNTC)

Thomas, John Christopher and Frank D. Macchia. Revelation. Two Horizons New Testament Commentary. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2016. 692 pp. Pb; $36.   Link to Eerdmans  

This new addition to the Two Horizons series from Eerdmans by John Thomas and Frank Macchia combines an exposition of Revelation with theological insight drawn from the text of the final book of the New Testament. The commentary is not intended to be an exegetical commentary on the Greek text nor do the authors intend to explore every possible allusion to the Old Testament or other Second Temple period text. Thomas and Macchia contribute a Two Horizons Revelationclear, readable theologically-oriented commentary on Revelation which will be useful for pastors and teachers as they present this difficult book to their congregations.

The introduction to the commentary is divided into five parts. First, Thomas and Macchia discuss the structure and nature of the book of Revelation. Aside from the usual outline of the book, they emphasize the oral nature of Revelation, commenting that “at every turn there are indications that the book is designed for oral enactment” (7) in “the context of worship within the community” (8). But the book is a Christian prophecy using the style of apocalyptic, although not without significant modification. John sees himself as an heir to the prophetic tradition of the Old Testament so that the book of Revelation is a “prophetic re-interpretation” of the traditions John has received (11). Yet John never directly quotes the Old Testament. He alludes to or echoes the earlier tradition in order to re-interpret them in a new context. Thomas and Macchia describe this as “intertext” (14) although they are not distracted by the often nettlesome discussions of how to detect allusions and echoes.

Second, the audience is Asia Minor, specifically the seven churches from chapters 2-3. There are other churches in the region which were prominent yet are not mentioned, and at least Thyatira seems less important than the others. This suggests the book was intended to be read by all of the churches in Asia Minor. Thomas and Macchia are content to locate Revelation within a “Johannine Community” and point out a number of connections between the Gospel of John and Revelation (20). This community would have been able to hear John’s intertextual allusions because they revered the Jewish Scripture and were led by the Holy Spirit to interpret that Scripture. They cite Revelation 11:8 as evidence for a “spiritual interpretation,” although it is not clear πνευματικῶς in that verse implies a revelation from the Holy Spirit to understand the allusion. Thomas and Macchia suggest the audience included female leadership, although the examples in Revelation 2-3 are mostly negative (i.e. Jezebel). The community faces persecution and suffering from Satan (“cosmic oppression”), Rome, the Jewish community and false teachers from within the community itself.

Third, with respect to the date and authorship of Revelation, Thomas and Macchia affirm a date in the last quarter of the first century, surveying the usual evidence for the later date. They dismiss a pre-A.D. 70 rather quickly. While I agree with the later date, there have been a few good arguments made for an early date recently which could have improved this section of the introduction. They do, however, offer a “modest proposal.” Since the phrase “the Lord’s Day” in 1:8 is the only time reference in the book, perhaps the only date that “counts” is the eschatological Day of the Lord (35). Since there is no specific a date given (as in many Old Testament prophets), the book of Revelation is “dehistoricized.”

This commentary takes seriously the claim someone named John wrote the book, although they prefer the title “John the Prophet.” While they think there is little reason to identify this John with the apostle, the Son of Zebedee, it is at least possible the author is John the Elder, a figure active in Ephesus at the end of the first century according to Eusebius. John the Elder is often thought to be the Beloved Disciple, one of the suggested authors of the Gospel of John. Although it is impossible to conclude John the Prophet and John the Elder are the same person, they think both the Gospel of John and the book of Revelation are from “the same community if not the same hand” (43). Neither book is from the Apostle John, but the two books ought to be read together as authentic voices from a community in Asia Minor at the end of the first century.

This thesis is intriguing and might be improved in two ways. First, Thomas and Macchia do not deal with the obvious objection the Gospel of John and Revelation seem so different. Although there are some similar motifs, the Greek style is radically different and for many the theology of the two books seem to be at opposite ends of the spectrum. This is especially true for eschatology, the Gospel of John is often described as “realized eschatology” while Revelation looks forward to a glorious return of Christ. This is enough to keep the Gospel of John and Revelation in separate categories for most scholars.

Second, it is possible to make a positive argument in favor of a Johannine community authorship by observing the fact the Olivet Discourse is missing from the Gospel, but may be the source for the seven seals (Rev 6). The author of John may have been motivated to intentionally drop the Olivet Discourse from the Gospel because it is presented in apocalyptic garb in Revelation 6. Since the Gospel is so non-eschatological, it is possible the author intentionally removed this theological thread to include in another book using an apocalyptic style.

The introduction concludes with a survey of the influence of Revelation, including several “disastrous applications” of the book, other apocalyptic documents, art, music, poetry, film and other commentaries. This is an interesting addition to the introduction, ranging from Thomas Müntzer and the Peasant’s Revolt (154-25) to Charles Manson and David Koresh! They devote several pages to other apocalypses of John and artistic and musical representations of Revelation. The two films they chose as examples are terrible, End of Days and the TBN produced Omega Code. Neither are worthy of mention, the space could have been devoted to far better apocalyptic films. The final section surveys historical commentaries on Revelation from the Gnostic Victorinus to Allan Boesak, a commentary written in South Africa during Apartheid.

Thomas is responsible for the commentary proper. At 332 pages, the commentary relatively brief commentary compared to some recent works. For example, this commentary section is less than a third the size of Greg Beale (NIGTC) or Aune (WBC). A major reason for this is the relative lack of interest in allusions to the Old Testament and virtually no reference to other Second Temple literature. The index only lists one reference to 3 Maccabees under Pseudepigrapha. There is barely a column of Classical references. This is a refreshing exposition of the text of Revelation without falling into the error of parallelomania.

One feature which is unique to this commentary is the frequent reference to other Johannine literature. The commentary often refers to the use of a word or phrase in the Gospel of John or draws some parallel to a motif found in both books. For example, while discussing the souls under the altar of God in Revelation 6, Thomas points out they are called “witnesses,” a common theme in Revelation but also the Gospel of John (160).

The body of the commentary divides the text into larger sections works through the section. Salient phrase open paragraphs without reference to verses numbers within the section. Not every element of syntax or grammar is discussed nor does the exposition bog down in excessively detailed study of individual words. As is often observed, it is not difficult to read the Greek of Revelation; it is the meaning which is often obscure. There are only occasional references to Greek (and even more rarely Hebrew). These always appears with transliteration so a reader without Greek or Hebrew will find the commentary usable.

As is the case for other Two Horizons commentaries, following the commentary is section devoted to the theology horizons of Revelation more or less based on the standard loci of theology (God, Christ, Holy Spirit, Church, Salvation and Eschatology). This is different than other Two Horizon New Testament commentaries, although there does not seem to be a single method for writing a “theological reflection” in the series. Macchia begins each section with a few pages on the theology of God (Christ, Holy Spirit, etc.) in Revelation, followed by “other voices in the New Testament” in order to tease out the distinctive contribution of Revelation. It is significant the first voice in each section is the Gospel and Epistles of John. Matthew and Mark are treated together as are Luke and Acts, Paul and the “other voices” (mostly Hebrews). This comparison is followed by a few short essays on Revelation and Systematic theology.

With respect to the eschatology of Revelation, Macchia is clear the book is about the triumph of the triune God and the reader of the book should not be “preoccupied with future ‘end-time’ events” (590). The book of Revelation teaches that the future is in God’s hand and attempts to read Revelation as if it was a crystal ball predicting the future are inappropriate and dangerous. Yet this is not a complete rejection of a future-aspect to the book. For Macchia, the apocalyptic imagery of Revelation “helps us avoid any illusion that the Kingdom of God can arise from human efforts” (615). This thousand-year reign precedes the final new creation and is focused on “the reign of the crucified and risen Lamb” (618). Since Macchia does not allow his view of Kingdom to be classified in one of the standard millennial categories, both pre- and a-millennial readers will find his discussion stimulating (although both will probably want more support for their own views).

Conclusion. This is a very readable commentary on one of the more difficult books in the New Testament. Thomas and Macchia provide a solid commentary on the text of Revelation and significant theological reflection on Revelation. It avoids several excesses which tend to plague commentaries on Revelation and will serve as a solid resource for pastors and teachers.

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

Book Review: Allen P. Ross, A Commentary on the Psalms, Volume 3 (90-150)

 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.

Allen Ross, PsalmsThere 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.

 

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.

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.