Book Review: The Psalter Reclaimed by Gordon Wenham

  • Paperback: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Crossway; 1 edition (February 28, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1433533960
  • ISBN-13: 978-1433533969
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.5 x 8 inches
  • Amazon.com
  • WTS Books
  • Crossway

Many thank to Crossway for this review copy of The Psalter Reclaimed: Praying and Praising with the Psalms by Gordon Wenham.  The book is based on various lectures on the Psalms between 1997 and 2010.

An Overview

Chapter 1.  What Are We Doing Singing the Psalms?  Wenham makes the case that the people of God have been praying and praising with the Psalms from the time of David to the Second Temple to Jesus and the early church, all the way through the Middle Ages and the Reformation, up till the eighteenth century.  The reader will also find Wenham use of speech-act theory to explore what we are doing when reciting publicly or singing the Psalms quite instructive.

Chapter 2.  Praying the Psalms.  Wenham argues that the Psalms are designed to be prayed.  With the help of the Apostle Paul, Athanasius and Calvin he makes his case.  After lamenting largely the absence of the Psalms in our churches and seminaries, Wenham explores the various uses and categories of the Psalms.

Chapter 3.  Reading the Psalms Canonically.  This is perhaps the most academic of the work.  Here the reader finds Wenham engaging scholars from 1926 to 2005 on the editing of the Psalter to the titles attached to many of them (David, Asaph, etc).  Wenham argues that final-form and canonical readings of the Psalter have to take seriously the Psalm titles.

Chapter 4.  Reading the Psalms Messianically.  Wenham explores what Psalms should be called messianic, how the NT reads them, and how the practice of canonical reading contributes to resolving the issue.  After making the point that originally many of the Psalms were not understood messianically, Wenham, however, argues that a historical interpretation is not the last word, by appealing to sensus plenior or fuller sense of what would be called messianic.

Chapter 5.  The Ethics of the Psalms.  In this chapter Wenham builds on the assumption that people give utterance to their deepest and most fundamental convictions.  At the heart of these convictions for the Hebrew people are the Ten Commandments and the character of God.

Chapter 6.  The Imprecatory Psalms.  Here the reader finds Wenham engaging various works on how best to approach these psalms.  In the end, his view may be summed up thus: “To eliminate prayers that God would pour out his wrath on our enemies ‘would reduce the biblical God to a spectator uninterested in this world'” (see my post here).

Chapter 7.  Psalm 103: The Song of Steadfast Love.  The reader is treated to an exposition here.  Wenhams approach is to consider Psalm 103’s place in the Psalter, its connection with other psalms, and its title.  The reader will also find more of Wenham and less of his interaction with other works.  In good homilectical style, Wenham moves from the text to a modern day application.

Chapter 8.  The Nations in the Psalms.  This is a treat.  Psalm 1 and 2 are seen as providing something of an outline for how the rest of the Psalter should be read.  For example, from Psalm 2, Wenham outlines five themes that he finds recurring in the Psalter.  He then proceeds to trace these themes throughout the Psalter.  Also, in keeping with the title of the chapther, Wenham sees in Psalm 87:4-6 the names of nations that mark the four heavenly quarters: west (Egypt), east (Babylon), north (the land of the Philistines and Tyre), and south (Cush), and how these nations, once Israel’s traditional great enemies, are being granted citizenship of Jerusalem, “this one was born there.”

A Critique

First, I believe the sub-title of the book is a bit misleading, “Praying and Praising with the Psalms.”  It would have been better titled: The Psalter Reclaimed: An Introduction.  Why do I say this? Well, the reader seeing this title is looking for a work that is somewhat practical, helping him or her to truly pray and praise with the Psalms.  But the average lay reader will find Wenham’s work is more academic than practical.

Second, apart from chapter 7, “Psalm 103: The Son of Steadfast Love,” the reader finds himself reading more about what others say rather than what Wenham says, on too many issues.  As a reader  I was hoping to hear more of Wenham.  But as I said above, this work would better serve the reader as an introduction.

Conclusion

More on the positive side, the reader gets a better feel for the structure of the Psalm.  Rather than viewing it as a collection of isolated psalms, Wenham drawing on the final editor(s) of the Psalter, convinces the reader that their is indeed structure–five books, patterned after the Pentateuch, and that each psalm must be read in connection with other psalms, and the Psalter as a whole.

Despite my hiccups, as an introduction (I don’t know if Wenham himself is responsible for the book’s title), I find The Psalter Reclaimed a solid contribution.

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This entry was posted in Athanasius, Gordon Wenham, John Calvin, Prayer, Praying the Psalms and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Book Review: The Psalter Reclaimed by Gordon Wenham

  1. Pingback: N.T. Wright Makes the Case for the Psalms | New Leaven

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