Book Review: How to Read the Psalms

How to Read the Psalms (How to Read Series)

 

My Rating – Must Read

Level – Easy read, short (<200 pages)

Summary

The book is what the title says, a guide to reading the Psalms. The book is broken into three parts – The Psalms Then and Now (chapters 1-5), The Art of the Psalms (6-8), and a Melody of Psalms (9-11). The chapters are The Genres of the Psalms; The Origin, Development and Use of the Psalms, The Psalms: The Heart of the Old Testament; A Christian Reading of the Psalms; The Psalms: Mirror of the Soul; Old Testament Poetry; Understanding Parallelism; Imagery in the Psalms; Psalm 98; Psalm 69; Psalm 30. Part three (the last three chapters) is essentially a mini commentary on these three Psalms, in which Longman shows the aspects of the Psalms that he has covered in this book. There is also an intro and epilog, as well as an answer key to the exercises and a guide to commentaries, which is quite helpful. 

My Thoughts

The Psalms is probably my favorite book in the Bible, and Longman is one of my favorite Old Testament scholars/authors, so this is a pretty straight forward must read for me. The book is short and cheap to begin with, but it is over 30 years old now, so you can find copies for a few dollars. Buy the ones with a harp playing shepard on the front, it is the older one. They have since repackaged the book with a weird eyeball on the front. 

The best part of the book is probably Part 2, where he goes through Old Testament poetry. This disconnect between ancient Hebrew poetry and the modern western conception of poetry is probably what keeps most people from diving into the Psalms as much as they should. It is not only one of the longest books in the Bible, but it is the most quoted in the New Testament. All kinds of prayer and reading plans for centuries have called for an immersion in Psalms. It is an important book, and I think a large subset of Christians (low church/baptist/non-denom people like me) really miss the value of the Psalms. 

Longman spend Part 1 of the book arguing for the value of the Psalms, especially how they have been used historically. I would have liked him to go a little deeper into the genres chapter, but the Psalms are notoriously hard to categorize (and some fit many or all categories). His short exegesis of the three selected Psalms is also helpful in understanding the different genres and poetic structures.

Overall, if you want to start reading the Psalms regularly or already are, but are struggling to understand parts, this is a great, short book that will give you a broad overview into some of the confusing aspects. The book itself is actually short the Psalms, so well worth it. His commentary guide at the end is also helpful (though slightly dated) in diving even deeper; but if are wanting to get into a better understanding of how to read the Psalms, this book is a must read. 

Book Review: Shalom in Psalms

Shalom in Psalms: A Devotional from the Jewish Heart of the Christian Faith

My Rating – If you are looking for something

Level – Longish (about 350 pages)

Summary
The subtitle more or less gets tells you what you need to know about this book. The intent is to be a devotional on the Psalms from Messianic Jews.  However, there are no days (40, 365, etc) or actual dates (a year in the Psalms). It is just a Psalm and then a devotional/commentary that follows which is written by one or two (usually Seif and Blank) of the authors. The goal of the devotional is to get to the Jewish roots and understanding of the Psalms, and to that end, the authors us the Tree of Life version(TLV) of the Bible; for which Sief and Blank are translators.

My Thoughts
The TLV is an interesting version, you can check out their website to read about their driving principles. Some are fairly innocuous, using Yeshua instead of Jesus (or Miriam and Jacob, instead of Mary and James). Though, when you don’t change all names, it leads to the feeling of that guy that studied abroad and now over pronounces the few words he knows. Likewise they use Adonia for LORD/YHWH, and use a few other words such as Shalom, which are somewhat familiar, though others I did not know and they never offered and translation note or explanation. This seems like a major oversight if your goal is to bring this view to those who don’t already know. Looking around their site I could ascertain whether their translation was literal or dynamic equivalent, though I suspect it was the latter. Overall the translation seemed readable and understandable, with the few exceptions of untranslated words.

As for the devotional part, it isn’t quite there. There are two problems (ish), the first one being, that often this worked more as a light commentary than devotional. I know the line can blur, and I actually prefer the commentary type more, but that isn’t always what people are looking for. Not necessarily a problem, but something for which to be aware. The second, much bigger issue is that the book is not broken into any type of daily format. They could have tried to fit it into 365, or picked some other random number (40, 200, etc.), but instead just offered their devotion/commentary after each chapter. So, that means one morning you may read a Psalm that is a few lines with maybe a paragraph of devotion. Then a week or two later, you’ll read Psalm 119 (the longest verse in the Bible, longer than books such as James or Ruth) followed by pages of commentary.

Again, this can work fine as a commentary, but a devotional is really set more for the 5-20 minute a day framework. This really fails as that model, which wouldn’t be such a big deal were it not for the subheading. If you are expecting a 10 minute morning devotional, broken into nice segments, you aren’t going to get it. Depending on the day, I would read two of the Psalms with both devotionals, if they were short (thing the 80’s and 130’s) or for longer ones, sometimes I’d read just the verse, then come back the next day and read the commentary. Overall, I think it worked to something like 200 or so days, which works fine if you have  Lent and/or Advent devotional to though in as well.

Overall, I enjoyed it, but the format should have been different. If you know that going in and plan to work around it, it can work well for a devotional. If you really like the Psalms, or are just looking for something different in a commentary, or especially if you are looking for a Jewish (or at least modern Messianic Jewish) perspective it is worth picking up.

*I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.