Psalms: An Introduction and Commentary (TOTC)
Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2014.
Available by Amazon.com
By Rev. Jill Firth, Adjunct Lecturer in Hebrew and Old Testament at Ridley College
How is the new Tremper Longman TOTC Psalms commentary different from all other Psalms commentaries? While multi-volume commentaries on the Psalms, such as WBC or Hermeneia, explore scholarly details, the brevity and succinctness of a one-volume commentary is often appreciated by a preacher, Bible study leader or Bible student. Financial economy compared with the purchase of a multi-volume alternative is also a not insignificant factor in choosing a single volume. However, a one-volume commentary on the Psalms must necessarily specialise to fit within the word limit.
Tremper Longman III’s 2014 TOTC commentary interprets each psalm separately from its immediate context in the Psalter. Longman eschews the canonical method, apart from considering Psalms 1 and 2 as an introduction and Psalms 146-150 as a conclusion to the Psalter, with a journey from lament to praise and a 5-book structure that perhaps emphasises the connection of the Psalter to Torah (Psalms, 35-6). A distinctive of this commentary is the space given to the NT perspective, and the Christological meaning.
Longman’s commentary offers an introduction to the Psalter followed by a psalm by psalm treatment. The introduction covers many useful technical details as well as issues of pastoral concern such as the Christian’s use of the imprecatory psalms. Longman opines that to excise the imprecations from our prayers wold be ‘a grave mistake’ (Psalms, 52). The Psalms are also important in personal transformation and worship. The commentary follows Janowski in seeing the Psalter as a templum spirituale, a literary sanctuary (Psalms, 35). Longman gives a sensitive reading of each psalm, describing key terms and using the OT context to elucidate difficulties in the Psalm before moving on to NT insights. ‘Context’ focuses on the genre of the psalm and its major theme(s). ‘Comment’ interprets the psalm section by section, and ‘Meaning’ summarises the message and a reflects on the significance of the psalm from a NT perspective, including a Christological reading.
This approach of the new Longman commentary can be compared with some other recent commentaries. John Goldingay’s 2013 Psalms for Everyone introduces each psalm with a lively presentation of a contemporary situation that segues into consideration of the individual psalm. Like Longman, Goldingay interprets each Psalm independently, without focussing on its place in the Psalter.
Several commentaries adopt a canonical approach. Craig Broyles’ 1999 NIBC commentary gives useful comments on form critical matters and considers each Psalm within the context of the macrostructures of the Psalter. Technical aspects of the text are discussed in endnotes to each psalm. Konrad Schaefer’s 2001 Berit Olam commentary focuses on ‘the dynamics of the poetic discourse’ and notes connections between contiguous psalms, on the basis that the total Psalter ‘has a shape analogous to a plot’. Geoffrey Grogan’s 2008 Two Horizons commentary treats theological themes and issues of contemporary relevance in a series of essays on the ‘Theological Horizons of the Psalms’, reserving commentary on individual psalms to a brief overview of the message of the psalm, with details on specific points of interest. He considers the canonical approach to be valuable, subject to careful critical scrutiny. Walter Brueggemann and William H. Bellinger, Jr wrote the 2014 NCBC commentary attending to genre, liturgical connections, societal issues, and a psalm’s place in the book of Psalms as a whole. Textboxes within entries take ‘A Closer Look’ at topics such as the Messiah, Superscriptions, Enemies and Acrostics. Segments on ‘Bridging the Horizons’ include Life with YHWH, Petition, Power and Praise.
The inevitable comparison for Longman’s commentary is with Derek Kidner’s original 1973 TOTC volumes on the Psalms. Firstly, the readable style of the Tyndale commentaries has been admirably sustained in Longman’s clear and elegant writing style. Secondly, the combination of impressive Old Testament scholarship with a strong Christological focus continues Kidner’s legacy. Thirdly, 40 years have passed since Kidner wrote his commentary, and new currents in Psalms scholarship such as wisdom influence, rhetorical criticism and canonical and interdisciplinary readings require an updated treatment. Longman’s extensive studies in the wisdom tradition equip him to develop interrelationships between wisdom literature and the Psalter. He brings a passion for worship and an interdisciplinary pastoral focus developed in his partnership with Dan Allender, as evidenced in his many books on marriage and relationships. It is helpful that the new Psalms commentary is a single volume, making it easier to use. The price remains within the budget of students and pastors.
A challenge for any Psalms commentary can be characterised as the problem of the Egg Sandwich Supper. At a recent social event, the supper table was laden with festive goodies including plates of fruit, cupcakes, nuts and crisps, and egg sandwiches. In fact, over one half of the total spread comprised egg sandwiches including curried egg sandwiches, egg sandwiches with shredded lettuce, diced egg sandwiches, sliced egg sandwiches and devilled egg sandwiches. Personally, I am a fan of egg sandwiches. However, a meal consisting mostly of egg sandwiches can seem repetitive to most partygoers. At the party in question, a lone plate of ham sandwiches was eagerly addressed by most of the guests.
The Psalter is a bit like the Egg Sandwich Supper. Between one third and half of the Psalms are laments, with the majority being laments of the individual. Laments can be presented diced, devilled, curried, or with a dash of lettuce, but the Egg Sandwich Supper problem generally precludes the reading of any Psalms commentary from start to finish. Fortunately, users will find that the introduction to the Longman commentary is practical and succinct, and the commentary on individual psalms maintains a good balance of information, pastoral sensitivity, and inspiration to worship.
Longman’s TOTC volume on the Psalms is a well written and passionate treatment of the Psalter which features his wisdom interests and a Christological focus. Its clear presentation of the psalms in their OT and NT contexts will help readers to understand ‘what the text says and what it means.’
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