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Reviews | Exploring the Psalms

Exploring the Psalms

Mark Vincent

Paperback, hardback or e-book (ePub)

448 pages

Exploring the Psalms

The Christadelphian review (from May 2001)

Exploring the Psalms

WRITING a book on the Psalms cannot be an easy task. The amount of material to consider is vast – it is after all the largest book of the Bible, with the most authors and the longest historical span. It must be all too easy to produce a diffuse commentary covering a lot of ground but sparsely. One of the immediate attractions of Exploring the Psalms, Brother Mark Vincent’s newly published book, is that the author has a very clear idea of the focus of his book and spells this out right at the beginning for us. It is not a commentary but was written to help us better understand the Psalms in relation to the Lord Jesus Christ and ourselves as we read through them. In his introduction the author makes a plea that this may lead to deeper meditation and more contemplative prayer as we see the Psalms as examples of prayers acceptable to God. Perhaps that which best sums up his own view of them is the paragraph headed ‘The Wonder of the Psalms’.

“The Psalms contain so much: so much doctrine, so much emotion; so much insight into God, so much insight into ourselves; so many facts, so many outpourings of the heart. This is one of the wonderful things about them, one of the things that, on a purely human level, makes them stand out from all other poetry in the world. To us, of course, they are not the words of man, but the words of God, fully inspired by Him. To read them, therefore, to study them and reflect on them, is a great blessing.”

Exploring the Psalms is a large book – 378 pages plus 10 appendices and a Scripture reference index. It is not written to be ‘read in one go’ but is split into the following seven sections each dealing with a different aspect of the Psalms:

  • Getting to grips with Bible Poetry
  • Types of Psalms
  • The Organisation of the Psalter
  • Crying for Vengeance
  • Worshipping God with the Psalms
  • The Titles of the Psalms
  • Prophecies of the Messiah

Each of these can be read quite independently without needing knowledge of what has gone before. The appendices contain more technical information about the titles of the Psalms plus other statistical information and are best seen as reference material.

The other significant aspect of the book is that it has a large number of ‘study panels’. These contain suggestions for further study either personally or in a study class. They vary considerably in the depth of questions posed and their use is enthusiastically commended as an interesting and rewarding way of learning more about this lovely part of Scripture.

The breadth of knowledge and understanding of the Psalms shown by Brother Mark makes this a thoroughly rewarding book to read – and it is easy to do so as it is written in a simple, straightforward style. But it is the spiritual lessons which the author draws out which make this book one which can be recommended. In every section the emphasis is on learning about the Psalms so that we can make better use of them in our private and communal worship. For example, in the chapters on the Psalms of lament we are shown, using many examples, how we should take openly to God the situations and difficulties we face in our lives – and our feelings about them. The very act of telling God will help us to unburden ourselves. This is powerful stuff for a community not given to overmuch emotion in either worship or prayer. There is a similarly thoughtful section on the imprecatory Psalms with a conclusion that is worth quoting in full.

“But the most important message of all from the imprecatory Psalms is to use them to look forward enthusiastically to the coming kingdom and judgement in which all wickedness and all opposition to God will finally be put down. In that day Christ will return in power and glory to take the kingdom and to rule in righteousness. The Psalmists longed for judgement and truth in the earth in their own day – and they did not see it. This is why they longed for God to establish it, and to establish it soon. In this way their hopes are identical to our own.”

The book ends with a plea for ‘good listening’ to the Psalms. We should, says the author, put ourselves alongside those who wrote them: how would they sound to us if we were in their situations? How did they sound to Christ? What do they reveal to us about him and his life of service? Above all we need to recognise that it is the voice of God to which we are listening and therefore the Psalms are prayers to meditate on day and night.

This is a book that every brother and sister should buy and read. It is unique in the way it opens up the Psalms, broadens our understanding of them and helps us be more spiritually aware of their message for us in our lives today.

ANDREW WALKER

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