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Reviews | The Praises of Israel volume 1

The Praises of Israel: Vol. 1

Dudley Fifield

Hardback or e-book (ePub)

560 pages

The Praises of Israel: Vol. 1

The Christadelphian review (from March 2009)

Help from Psalms

UNLIKE books that you need to read from start to finish, The Praises of Israel (Volume 1) is a book you can consult when you want to look at a particular psalm, from 1 to 72. This is not to say that the author ignores the structure of the Psalms as a collection, or the relationships between individual psalms. Far from it. But he often repeats points made about an earlier psalm just in case you happen to be dipping in. The repetition is helpful as a reminder if you happen to have read the commentary on an earlier psalm. At the same time, the book is an excellent guide to anyone working through the psalms one by one.

What I liked too was the way the historical setting of each psalm is suggested and described, providing so many insights into the lives of David and Hezekiah in particular. We see how the remembrance of God’s covenants and of the salvation of His people at the Exodus provided the encouragement and assurance that David needed in his struggles – and later Hezekiah as he faced the Assyrian threat. We realise how the word of God was etched into the consciousness of these men of faith and sustained them through all adversity. We are frequently treated to useful commentary on other parts of the Bible, either because the Psalmist is drawing on earlier books or because later writers refer back to the psalms. Appropriately too, we see how every aspect of the experience of the Lord Jesus Christ is anticipated in the psalms, deepening our appreciation of his character and saving work.

Brother Fifield draws helpfully on the exposition of earlier writers, including J. W. Thirtle’s treatise, The Titles of the Psalms and pioneer Christadelphian writings. He carefully avoids the quicksands of many modern commentators, deferring always to the divine authorship of the writings. He shows how often the doctrine of God-manifestation is at the heart of the message of the psalms, so that as we read and reflect on the inspired text our faith in “the hope of Israel” is confirmed.

A guide for our spiritual journey

The Psalms have always been a comfort to those struggling with the issues of life and death and through them we gain a greater understanding of the spiritual journey of the man of faith. In this commentary the relevance to our own circumstances is brought out well. Always we are encouraged to see the value and strength of seeking first the kingdom of God both in our personal and ecclesial lives.

The Praises of Israel is an attractive book in every way. Those who find Bible study a struggle will not find it a difficult read. But it is a rewarding read, bringing out so much that is at the heart of our faith and exciting us with the marvel of God’s word and the wonderful hope it contains.

MICHAEL OWEN

The Testimony review (from January 2009)

The Psalms expounded

THE PSALMS play a large part in our lives. Many of them have been set to music in our hymn book. We memorise our favourite ones, and find the words help us in times of trial and trouble. There are psalms that express our feelings and emotions. We use them to learn more about the mind of our Lord and Saviour. Many psalms are prophecies of the sufferings and sacrifice of Christ. Others breathe out the joy that is yet to come when God’s Kingdom is established and all creatures join in His praise.

Our pioneers quoted from the Psalms liberally, and there have been a number of studies of the Psalms published in the Brotherhood. These include Brother Cyril Tennant’s two volume Studies in the Psalms, covering about half the Psalms; Brother Ern Wilson’s Handbook of the Psalms; and the book by Brother Harry Whittaker and Brother George Booker: Hezekiah the Great and the Songs of Degrees. The Christadelphian has also published Brother Mark Vincent’s Exploring the Psalms, an excellent book to help us get more out of our reading and studies of the Psalms. Brother George Booker has also written Psalms Studies, a two-volume work covering all the Psalms, and the Christadelphian Scripture Study Service some years ago embarked on an ambitious project to publish studies of all the Psalms, written by different brethren. Three volumes have been published and one more is to be published to complete the project. [1]

The book under review is the first part of a detailed exposition of all 150 Psalms, and two further volumes are in preparation to complete the project. Brother Dudley’s book is an in-depth study of the first seventy-two Psalms. So, for example, there are seven pages devoted to Psalm 1, eight to Psalm 36 and eleven to Psalm 72. Studies of Psalms 1–106 were first published in the Bible Student magazine, and, as Brother Dudley explains, Psalms 107–150 were added in later study.

Introduction

In his short Introduction, Brother Dudley draws attention to the idea that the five books of the Psalms correspond to a reading plan in temple times, which enabled the Psalms to be read over a three-year period in the temple services. This idea may be more satisfactory than Bullinger’s idea that the five books of Psalms are related to the five books of the Pentateuch.

The author and historical background of each psalm are considered, together with such information as is given in the title. (A plea here from the present writer to include the title when we are reading the Psalms, as it is part of the text and therefore of the inspired Word of God.) Where it is appropriate, due weight is given to James Thirtle’s idea that the first part of the title, containing musical information, really belongs to the previous psalm. The various musical and other terms, such as Selah, Maschil and Michtam, are considered as they occur. Brother Dudley also discusses the alphabetical, imprecatory and judgemental psalms as they occur, and offers many helpful comments. Above all, he brings out the Messianic character of the Psalms. It could be argued that all of them are Messianic to a greater or lesser degree.

This book is essentially one that needs to be read as and when required. It encompasses 552 pages, and so is best read in portions in conjunction with particular psalms. Many will find this book helpful as we go through the readings from the Bible Companion at the beginning of the year. The reviewer found that, despite the large number of psalms and the great variation they have in content and style, the author’s treatment of them was generally consistent. Obviously we all have individual ideas and interpretations of particular psalms, but we can add these to Brother Dudley’s expositions to give ourselves a satisfying understanding of the words of the sweet psalmists of Israel.

Happy is the man

In order to give readers a flavour of the book, the reviewer has selected a few examples for comment. Psalm 1, which is a personal favourite, is seen by Brother Dudley as very Christ–centred. He is the man who is blessed (“happy”), who does not walk in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stand in the way of sinners, nor sit in the seat of the scornful. Links are traced to Joshua, who clearly did delight in the law of the Lord, and to Jeremiah, who refers to this psalm in 17:5-8. Meditation on God’s laws day and night can help those of all ages who are trying to follow the Lord Jesus. The words of God are a direct antidote to the counsel of the ungodly, who would have us follow their ways. Jesus confronted his temptations with the words, “It is written”.

Brother Dudley sees the providential hand of God implied in the last sentence of the psalm: “For the LORD knoweth the way of the righteous”. He concludes his exposition of this psalm like this: “In similar fashion, God is with us, and the happiness of the man of God is seen grounded in the two foundation principles that govern God’s work in the lives of His servants: firstly, the power and influence of His word, and secondly, His providential care. Perhaps the message of the psalm generally can be summed up in Paul’s words to Timothy: ‘The Lord knoweth them that are his. And, Let every one that nameth the name of Christ depart from iniquity.’ (2 Timothy 2:19)” (pages 8-9).

Who will dwell in God’s holy hill?

Psalm 15, another of David’s psalms (Brother Dudley argues that all of the psalms in the first book (1–41) were penned by David), gives a portrait of the ideal citizen of Zion. After distinguishing the Hebrew words for ‘abide’ and ‘dwell’, Brother Dudley writes: “To dwell with God one must hunger and thirst after righteousness; and the measure of a man’s desire to attain that blessedness is shown by his growth in the qualities that constitute it” (page 75). Of “speaketh the truth in his heart” he says: “But we can never be two people, one inside and the other outside. Everything should be done wholeheartedly, with nothing hidden in the dark corners and shadowy recesses of our being which is incompatible with our public profession of faith” (pages 76-77).

The ‘backbiting’ and ‘taking up a reproach’ that verse 3 of the psalm condemns are commented on like this: “one translation has the very graphic rendering of the first phrase of verse 3, ‘he that footeth it not with his tongue’. It is the classic picture of the gossip who carries titillating information from place to place and who does not hesitate to slander his brother or sister”. He goes on to say, “The word rendered ‘reproach’ is derived from a root which describes the stripping of trees of their autumn fruit (Gesenius). Hence to slander is to strip honour and reputation from those we reproach” (page 77).

His words about verse 4, “He that sweareth to his own hurt, and changeth not”, are apposite in an age when promises are routinely broken in all spheres of human activity: “Commitments, however trivial, should not be cancelled because we subsequently find them inconvenient, or because something more appealing has presented itself” (page 79).

Psalms 19 and 23

Brother Dudley’s exposition of Psalm 19 is excellent, and he notes: “The transforming quality of the word is perhaps emphasised here more powerfully than in any other part of scripture … God knows man’s needs; He made him in His image, and consequently He has so structured His word that it is perfectly suited to the requirements of men. God’s word and His providential care are sufficient for man’s salvation” (page 106).

The primacy of the Lord Jesus as our Saviour and the one through whom forgiveness and reconciliation are made possible permeates Brother Dudley’s book, and time and time again he refers to the fulfilment of psalms in the life of the Lord. On Psalm 23 he traces the background to the time when Absalom was rebelling against his father, and how David descended into the valley of Kidron, expressing the hope in verse 6 that he would return and “dwell in the house of the LORD”. In all this, David’s experiences were typical of those of the Lord Jesus, who is the good shepherd, giving his life for the sheep. Brother Dudley’s exposition is very uplifting.

A further selection of psalms

Brother Dudley’s exposition of the first ‘penitential’ psalm of David (Psalm 32, the second being 51) is also uplifting. Psalms 25 and 34 are both acrostic psalms, and regarding the latter the author has some interesting comments on page 219 that are commended to the reader. Psalm 35 is one of the ‘imprecatory’ psalms and also one that reveals much of the sufferings of David (and therefore Jesus) at the hands of hypocritical and sinful men: “David’s experiences foreshadowed those of the Lord Jesus. The spirit of Christ pervades the psalm and if we have any doubt of this, the scriptures themselves provide the proof, for, quoting the 19th verse of the psalm, it is recorded: ‘But this cometh to pass, that the word might be fulfilled that is written in their law, They hated me without a cause’ (John 15:25)” (page 236).

Moving to Psalm 42 we have the first of the psalms written for the sons of Korah. Brother Dudley discusses their descent from their rebellious ancestor in the time of Moses and the probable background to the psalm in the time of Hezekiah. Brother Dudley also thinks Psalm 45 was written at this time, at the marriage of Hezekiah to Hephzibah, and he places Psalm 46 (“God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble”) at the time of the Assyrian invasion of the land and the siege of Jerusalem.

The next two psalms are placed at this time. Psalm 48, in the opinion of the reviewer, also looks forward to Armageddon, when the nations assemble at Zion just as the Assyrian army did under Sennacherib. And the words of verses 12 and 13 will surely find complete fulfilment when the temple is built by Jesus and the nations go up to Jerusalem for instruction in God’s ways. People will be able to “Walk about Zion, and go round about her”, telling the towers thereof and marking well her bulwarks; considering her palaces, so that they can tell it to the generation following.

Brother Dudley gives a faithful exposition of Psalm 51 and of the Asaph psalm preceding it. He ends his remarks on the former psalm with these words: “Perhaps, looking at the Messianic significance of the psalm we can think of those last two verses as expressing the thoughts of the Lord Jesus Christ. He did no sin, he knew no shame or guilt. How much therefore would he have been helped to understand the sinner’s plight and to seek to enter into his experiences by such psalms as this! And how much more, as he contemplated the ruin that men brought upon themselves by sin, though they be prospective constituents of the heavenly Jerusalem, could he exclaim as no other, as he thought of God’s work of salvation: ‘Build thou the walls of Jerusalem!’ For only then would God be pleased to accept ‘through him’ the sacrifices of righteousness” (pages 368-9).

Brother Dudley is to be thanked for the immense amount of time and effort it must have taken to produce this book and its companion volumes. It is a major addition to the literature of the Truth and will be a treasure store for all who delight in the book of Psalms. We look forward to the publication of the next two volumes.

JOHN NICHOLLS

[1] Studies in the Psalms (two volumes), Cyril Tennant, Tamarisk (stocked by The Christadelphian); A Handbook of the Psalms, Ern Wilson, Christadelphian Scripture Study Service (1980); Hezekiah the Great and the Songs of Degrees, Harry Whittaker and George Booker, The Christadelphian (1985); Exploring the Psalms, Mark Vincent, The Christadelphian (2001); Psalms Studies (two volumes), George Booker, published by the author (1990); Psalms 1–41 (1992), Psalms 42–72 (1997) and Psalms 73–106 (2008), various authors, Christadelphian Scripture Study Service.

(Originally published in the January 2009 edition of The Testimony Magazine (pages 377-379), and is reproduced by kind permission.)

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