The Psalter Reclaimed: Praying and Praising with the Psalms by Gordon Wenham (Review)

Posted on July 1, 2013

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The Psalter ReclaimedThe Psalter Reclaimed: Praying and Praising with the Psalms (Crossway, 2013) is a collection of insightful essays by seasoned OT scholar Gordon Wenham. Wenham promotes using the Psalms in worship, reading the Psalms through canonical, messianic, and ethical lenses, and valuing the imprecatory psalms. Emphasizing a canonical approach throughout, Wenham seeks to interpret a particular psalm in light of its surrounding psalms and the Psalter as a whole.

Summary

Singing and praying the Psalms in worship has a rich history (chs. 1-2). Singing the Psalms helps us concentrate, memorize, and personalize what we’re singing in a way that mere reading does not. Wenham employs speech-act theory and shows how in singing the Psalms we are committing ourselves to specific truths, attitudes, actions, and to God himself. Praying the Psalms has similar effects. As Bonhoeffer declared, “The only way to understand the Psalms is on your knees” (38).

Wenham next advocates reading the Psalms canonically, messianically, and ethically (chs. 3-5). Since Gerald Wilson published his landmark dissertation The Editing of the Hebrew Psalter in 1985, scholars and students have been re-excavating the Psalter in search of its structure and internal connections. While still acknowledging the individuality of each psalm, study after study reveals that the psalms are placed strategically and meaningfully within the Psalter and ought to be read that way. After his helpful chapter on the imprecatory psalms (ch. 6), Wenham turns back to his canonical emphasis by expositing Psalm 103 in light of its surrounding psalms, the Psalter’s structure as a whole, and the developing storyline of the Hebrew Bible (ch. 7). He maintains this canonical approach in the final chapter, expanding on the place of the nations in the Psalms (ch. 8).

Evaluation

The subtitle Praying and Praising with the Psalms is misleading since only chapters 1, 2, and 6 focus on praying and singing. Nevertheless, The Psalter Reclaimed is a fresh reintroduction to the Psalms — worshipful, insightful, and progressive. Although it lacks the flow of ordered chapters written sequentially, the diverse essays provide a kaleidoscope of insights into the Psalter. I’m especially grateful that the rich canonical approach to reading the Psalms is being nudged out from the backstage of scholarly discussion and carefully popularized for public consumption. The Psalms are stunning in their beauty and deserve to be read and memorized, prayed and sung, preached and counseled — all with a blended exegetical, canonical, and messianic approach that ends in worshipful wisdom.

* Thanks to Crossway for providing a free copy for unbiased review.

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Several of the chapters reflect Wenham’s 2006 lectures at Southern Seminary:

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