Friday, April 18, 2008

On the Psalms

I wrote this in The Observer newsletter in Nov. 2006, and I thought it might be good to reprint it here:

I always enjoy reading the Psalms. One can easily relate to the wide range of emotions they express. I also find them nourishing when I am at a point of indecision in my Bible reading about what to study next.

Three books have been especially helpful to me in gaining insights into the Psalms:

Psalms: Prayer Book of the Bible by Dietrich Bonhoeffer—here, you can learn about praying the Psalms, especially praying them alongside Jesus. Bonhoeffer also gives valuable insights into prayer in itself. “Wherever the Psalter is abandoned, an incomparable treasure vanishes from the Christian church. With its recovery will come unsuspected power.”

Understanding the Psalms by Tremper Longman III—gives excellent insights into the different types of Psalms, helping us to read them with greater depth. Longman also gives valuable tools for understanding the Hebrew Old Testament; his explanation of Hebrew parallelism (not the typical A = B understanding, but the more accurate A and what’s more B explanation) is worth the price of the book (this shows, for example, that Isaiah 53:5’s promise that “by His stripes we are healed” is not just a spiritual healing, as non-Charismatic scholars try to claim, but encompasses divine physical healing as well).

The New Psalter (or The New Psalter of Pius XII) by Charles Callan—you will more than likely have to hunt around in used bookstores or on the Internet for this one. It’s an old Catholic work written in 1949 (in English AND Latin!) that contains a solid translation of the Psalms. Callen’s introduction to each Psalm contains good, concise historical background—and his reflections after each Psalm are richly insightful, especially with the Psalms’ practical applications to our daily Christian walk.

For example, Psalm 11 deals with David’s being urged by his faint-hearted friends to “Flee as a bird to the mountain!” (v. 1; see also vv. 2-3) in the face of King Saul’s open threats. David nonetheless refused to leave his post in the court; “putting his faith in Jehovah’s protection, he resolutely decided to face the danger,” Callan says.

“In the face of duty it is cowardly and base to listen to the whisperings of fear, or sloth, or present ease,” Callan notes later. “Far better to fall at our post, and before the eyes of men apparently to fail, than to escape for the moment and then endure the tortures of a wounded conscience.”

Let me know if you find any of these books helpful in your reading of the Psalms, or if you recommend any other books about them.

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