Brian L. Webster and David R. Beach
The Essential Bible Companion to the Psalms: Key Insights for Reading God’s Word
Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2010. Pp. 185.
Several weeks ago, when I went to check my mailbox, I was happy to receive a review copy of The Essential Bible Companion to the Psalms. I came back home and put it on my table, thinking that I would read it shortly. My wife asked me whether I bought it. I told her that it was sent to me by the folks at Zondervan for a blog tour. She picked up the book, looked at its front, back, and content; then, she browsed it and read some part of it. Looking at me still holding the book, my wife said, “I think this is what I want. Can I have it?” I said, “You can but not now. I want to read it first and write a short review for the blog tour.” She then said, smiling: “Please let me know when you are ready to read and review it. Until then I will keep it.” Since then she has been reading one or two chapters daily. Yesterday, I borrowed the book from my wife in order to read and review it.
This book is co-authored by Brian L. Webster, an associate professor of Old Testament Studies at Dallas Theological Seminary, and David R. Beach (MA), a licensed counselor who teaches spiritual formation and psychology courses at Cornerstone University.
From the outset, I want to point out that this will not be an exhaustive review of the book. My review will be in the following order. First, I will mention the outline of the book. Second, I will pick up the authors’ treatment of Psalm 23 in order that readers may be able to “see and taste” it. Third, I will voice my opinion on the book.
The book has three parts: introduction to the Palms, quick reference charts, and the Psalms. In the first part, the authors discuss perspectives on the Psalms (the Psalms as songs, ceremony, prayers, and book), groups of Psalms in the Psalter (types of Psalms, collections and arrangments in the Psalms, collections, and the five books), the poetry of the Psalms, and personalyzing the Psalms. The second part has quick reference charts: unusual terms found in the Psalms, Hebrew references to God, types of Psalms, and common elements of the Psalms (explanation of titles and index of verses).
In the third part, the authors present “the following information on the Psalms as an aid to reading them in your Bible” (p. 12).
THEME: States the main idea of the psalm
TYPE: Classifies the psalm by its literary type, such as lament by an individual, hymn of thanksgiving, praise, royal, etc.
AUTHOR: Supplies information about the author, musical notations, and historical notes
BACKGROUND: Elaborates on the historical or theological background of the psalm and its connections to other biblical passages
STRUCTURE: Describes how the lines of poetry are grouped into stanzas and gives a basic sketch of the flow of thought
SPECIAL NOTES: Makes miscellaneous comments on words or phrases in the psalm
REFLECTION: Applies the concepts or images in the psalm and their significance for us today
Each psalm has a page with the above information: theme, type, author, background, structure, special notes, and reflection. Besides, each page has a full-color photograph that is loosely related to the theme of the psalm. The following is their treatment of Psalm 23 (p. 59):
THEME: The Lord provides faithfully in the midst of danger from enemies.
AUTHOR: A psalm (mizmor) of David
BACKGROUND: The image of a shepherd was often used of a king in the ancient world.
STRUCTURE: There are four main images in the psalm. In verses 1-3 the Lord is pictured as a shepherd providing safe pasture and water for his sheep. In verse 4 the setting is danger, but the shepherd still protects. In verse 5 the Lord provides bounty with enemies around. In the final picture, goodness is personified as chasing down the psalmist.
SPECIAL NOTES: Psalm 23 is a fitting equal to Psalm 22, which describes in more detail the idea of being surrounded and threathened by enemies.
REFLECTION: As a postscript to Psalm 22, this psalm is an even more wonderful word picture of the redemption of pain and suffering and the transformation of the suffering one—one who found no rest is restored; quiet waters follow the dust of death; raging bulls and roaring lions are kept at bay while a sumptuous feast is spread; the one with out-of-joint bones on display now has anointing oil dipping down his face; and the one with a thirsty mouth dried up like a potsherd now has a cup running over.
The Essential Bible Companion to the Psalms “provides fundamental information regarding the meaning, background, context, and application of the Psalms.” I find the first part most helpful because it provides information about the various types of Psalms and the essential elements for understanding the Psalms. The authors says, “We point out essential elements and shed light on occasional phrases or identify relevant information about the setting” (p. 11). In my opinion, the authors have acheived their goal.
I, however, have a minor criticism. The authors have written this book to be an aid to reading the Psalms, but the book lacks a bibliography or suggested readings on the Psalms. Yet, The Essential Bible Companion to the Psalms is a good, devotional book, a quick guide for pastors in their sermon preparation, and an essential companion for anyone who is interested in reading and studying the Psalms. Recommended!
Well, I am done with the review. Now it’s time to return the book to my wife. 🙂
Note: Thanks to the kind folks at Zondervan for the review copy of The Essential Bible Companion to the Psalms by Brian L. Webster and David R. Beach. I was neither requested nor obligated to write a positive review.