How to Read the Psalms by Tremper Longman III (Book Review)

How to Read the Psalms by Tremper Longman III is a helpful and accessible guide for pastors, students, and lay persons desiring to study the Psalms. The book, divided into three parts, begins with an invitation to study the Psalms. Recalling Calvin's words that the Psalms are "an anatomy of all the parts of the soul," Longman urges us to read the Psalms, because they "appeal to the whole person . . . they inform our intellect, arouse our emotions, direct our wills, and stimulate our imaginations."

Part one of the book focuses on "The Psalms Then and Now." The first chapter discusses the genres of the Psalms, dividing the psalms into seven types: the hymn, the lament, thanksgiving psalms, psalms of confidence, psalms of remembrance, wisdom psalms, and kingship (or royal) psalms. Chapter two examines the origin, development and use of the Psalms, including some helpful reflection on the titles, authorship, and historical events behind some of the psalms. Chapter three investigates key Old Testament themes (covenant, law, kingship, blessing and curse, forgiveness etc.) with the assertion that the Psalms are "the heart of the Old Testament," a "microcosm" of the Old Testament's message and theology. Chapter four, on the other hand, focuses on "a Christian reading of the Psalms," thoughtfully exploring how the Psalms relate to Jesus. Longman concludes, that "two errors need to be avoided. The first is that we neglect a psalm's original setting . . . the second . . . is to miss the anticipation, the expectation of the Psalms." The fifth chapter is my favorite: "The Psalms: Mirror of the Soul." In this chapter, Longman discusses how the Psalms function in our lives to inform our intellect, arouse our emotions, and direct our wills.

The second part of the book is about "The Art of the Psalms." These chapters discuss literary issues, such as the characteristics of Old Testament poetry (chapter six), how to understand Hebrew parallelism in the Psalms (chapter seven), and imagery in the Psalms (chapter eight). These are valuable chapters, though a bit more technical than the first five. Part three of the book applies the methodology outlined in the first eight chapters to the study of three psalms - Psalms 98 (chapter nine), 69 (chapter ten), and 30 (chapter eleven).

This is a very good book that will help anyone in their reading and study of the Psalms. Longman is a good teacher and writes well. His book is oriented to the thoughtful layperson rather than the academic professional, though the author's knowledge and expertise in the Psalms are apparent. But the feel of the book is instructive and devotional, rather than dry and technical. In the epilogue, Longman gives this final exhortation, "Go to the Psalms when you are happy and everything seems right with you. Sing laments to God when your life seems to crumble. When God hears your prayer, don't forget to thank him for his kindness. When you are frightened, be encouraged by the psalms of confidence. Heed the psalms of wisdom. Above all, go to the psalms to be honest with God." Wise words, and typical of this helpful book. If you want to grow in your understanding of this crucial genre of Scripture, or more importantly, go deeper in your personal relationship with the Lord through praying the psalms, How to Read the Psalms is a great place to start. I highly recommend it.

1 comment:

mwh said...

This is a good little book. It's a good series over all. I also like the volumes on Genesis and Proverbs by Longman as well.