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)
He 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:
- David G. Firth, Joshua
- James M. Hamilton, Jr. Psalms (two volumes)
- Joe Sprinkle, Daniel
- Matthew S. Harmon, Galatians