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.
This 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:
- Magee and Arthurs, Ephesians
- Bateman and Smith, Hebrews