Monday, June 16, 2014

"A Commentary on the Psalms" by Allen Ross: A Review

As a pastor I am always looking for good commentaries on the biblical text. Each commentary is different with its own emphasis and purpose. In my library it is clear that I lack a good commentary on the Psalms. As a result, I recently looked at Allen Ross's second volume in his three volume commentary set. The book is called A Commentary on the psalms: Volume 2 (42-89) and is published by Kregal.

The commentary itself is pretty straightforward. All of the introductory material is in volume 1 and thus volume 2 picks up where the previous left off. Each chapter includes mostly the same sections. Ross begins with text and textual variants where he surveys the manuscript evidence, the Septuagint, and interacts with differences, variants, and translation difficulties, etc. All of these interactions are done in footnotes.

From there, the author discusses the composition and the context of the text. For me, the most beneficial part of this section regards the historic context of the Psalm. Obviously we do not know the context of each Psalm, but Ross walks the reader through what we do know, what others have suggested, etc.

He then offers a general outline of the Psalm followed by a detailed exegesis of the text. This is the part where the author "digs into" the text, interacts more with the original language, and pulls out the psalmists meaning. This is the real dirty work of exegesis and is an invaluable tool to every pastor and exegete.

Finally, Ross offers a message and application section. As a pastor, such a conversation is an invaluable tool. Admittedly, some of the application is general and lacks pastoral insight. Nonetheless, any commentator that applies the text should be praised.

In my own experience, I have found that commentaries typically fall in two extremes. The first regards the extreme of oversimplifying the text. These commentaries are short and are sometimes nothing more than glorified outlines. The motivation of such commentaries is to help average believers and struggling pastors. These are helpful resources but have obvious limitations. The other extreme include commentaries that treat the text as an academic work. Such commentaries interact with other scholars and countless journal articles spending an inordinate amount of time disproving form criticism or fundamentalism. Though such commentaries are helpful, the pastor is left swimming in the muck of academia knowing he could never present any of it to his congregation.

This commentary leans toward the latter in that it offers a deep interaction with the original text (you will need to be familiar with Hebrew to follow it) and other scholars. However, Ross does not get loss in it all. The author provides the reader with the needed information without diving off the deep end.

Perhaps an example will suffice. In David's great psalm of repentance, Psalm 51, Ross tackles the theological question of verse 11. Is David teaching that one can lose their salvation? Ross explains:
Verse 11 balances the petition with a negative request, indicating that he did not want to be removed from spiritual service as the king of Israel, which would be one consequence of his sin. Once again the whole line is essentially a metonymy of effect, but negated: "Do not cast me away from your presence; and do not take your Holy Spirit from me." Concerning the taking away of the Holy Spirit, the reader must remember that in the Old Testament (before Pentecost in Acts 2), the Spirit "came upon" theocratic leaders and administrators to enable them to do their work, but it was usually a temporary presence or indwelling. So passages will say that the Spirit would come upon someone, and then leave. This is what had happened to King Saul, fresh to the memory of David. When Saul sinned he was rejected from being king, and the sign of that rejection was that the Spirit left him. In that light, David was praying that he would not be rejected as Saul had been. But for Christians the New Testament teaches that the Spirit enters the lives of believers and permanently indwells them as a seal from God. When Christians sin, the Holy Spirit is not taken away from them, but they may be set aside from service or usefulness to God until they are made right. (193)
With that said, Ross seeks to make the text assessable. As a minister, I appreciate both the academic precision and pastoral care the author provides in this commentary. Every pastor leans heavily on the Psalms and Ross have provided an invaluable resource for both them and their professors.

This book was given to me courtesy of Kregel Publications for the purpose of this review

For more:
"The Psalms: Language for all Seasons of the Soul": A Review
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