For most of 2011, I camped in the book of Psalms. You know, that really big book in the middle of your Bible?
Every year, I’ll tinker around in one particular book of the Bible. Whether this is spurred by an unfortunate and rather geeky affinity for research or solely from my life circumstances, my habit is to pepper seminarian friends with questions, needlessly buy Amazon titles on the subject, and work through thousands of Google entries on the same book.
In 2010, I was obsessed with Isaiah. In 2009, I spent a great deal of time in Ruth, and before that, Jonah. Hence the naming of one of my twins after the prophet. (I guess it was a good thing I wasn’t studying Habakkuk at the time).
Joking aside, the benefits of this study method are the discovery of a few theological resource gems and a renewed awe for the living nature of God’s Word. No longer is Psalms a dusty collection of ancient poems or sentimental songs. No longer is Psalms merely a reference point to finding other books of the Bible.
So, I thought I’d share some of my favorite finds for studying God’s Word in 2011 with you. Hopefully, you can put them to use in your own studies of Scripture for 2012.
The Messiah And The Psalms by Richard Belcher
One of my favorite finds in 2011 was Richard’s Belcher book “Messiah in the Psalms.” It’s one of those kinds of study books. The kind that compels you to read it cover to cover. The kind that radically alters your perception of Scripture. Yep. It’s THAT kind of book.
What this book’s about: The Psalms both point to and speak about Christ.
What this book isn’t about: The author is not advocating that we spiritualize each Psalm to be about Christ. Nor is the author saying that we should read Christ back into the Psalms – an approach that too easily dismisses the Psalmist’s original intent in writing, not to mention the historical context of each psalm.
Why I love this book: The book advocates the method used by Christ himself in interpreting Scripture. After his resurrection, Jesus appeared to two disciples on the road to Emmaus and taught them from the Scriptures. Luke 24:27 says: “And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.” Later in Luke 24, Jesus appeared to the twelve disciples and told them in verses 44-45: “ ‘This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.’ Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures.”
For Belcher, Christ is demonstrating more than his fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy. He is saying: “All the Scriptures are about Me! The Law is about Me. The Prophets are about Me. And, even the Writings (the Psalms) are about Me.”
If this is the correct way to interpret Scripture, then it revolutionizes the way we view each and every psalm (not to mention other books of the Bible).
Pretty cool, right?
Who should buy this book: Anyone interested in digging deeper into the book of Psalms and doesn’t mind a bit of historical theology should buy this book. Like any good theologian, Belcher bolsters support for his approach by looking to the interpretative approach of theologians from church history such as reformers like Luther.
Exploring Psalms (from the John Phillips Commentary Series) by J.B. Phillips
When my mother shared J.B. Phillips’ “Exploring the Psalms” with me ten years ago, I didn’t want to return them. So, fearing that she would never see her beloved books again, she gifted me with my own set. And they’ve been a mainstay for my personal study ever since.
What these books are about: A two-volume commentary set on each of the 150 psalms written by British scholar J.B. Phillips.
What these books aren’t about: This commentary set is not purely academic. Although rich with historical context surrounding each psalm, the commentary can be quite anecdotal at times. So, don’t be scared away by its thickness.
Why I love this book: This commentary has elevated my personal devotions out the doldrums of quiet-time drudgery. Phillips’ commentaries are short enough to be read in companion with a psalm a day. So, if you’re looking for private devotion material that is weightier than a quick prayer and daily Bible verse reading, then you would greatly enjoy this set. Besides, Phillips can alliterate like no body’s business. (And that just makes reading plain fun.)
Who should buy this book(s): Anyone searching for a good, conservative approach to understanding the Psalms would enjoy this set. It would make a wonderful gift for Sunday School teachers, ministry staff, or anyone hungry to dig into the depth of the Scriptures.
Psalms: The Prayer Book of the Bible by Dietrich Bonhoeffer
“Psalms: The Prayerbook of the Bible” by Dietrich Bonhoeffer is a small book that packs a kung fu punch on your prayer life. An influential pastor and theologian of the twentieth century, Bonhoeffer is equally famous for participating in a plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler which resulted in his imprisonment and execution.
What this book’s about: The Psalter is a divine prayer book, each hymn representing the actual prayers of Jesus Christ – even those passages tradition has not identified as Messianic in nature.
What this book isn’t about: This is not a “how-to” prayer book. You won’t find three easy steps or special phrases to repeat to enhance your prayers. Rather, Bonhoeffer intends for the reader to pray the actual words of the Psalter. And in doing so, the one praying shares the actual words of Christ. According to Bonhoeffer, when we pray the Psalms “we walk with the praying Christ before the throne of God.”
Why I love this book: Bonhoeffer’s thesis that the Psalter is a divine prayer book of Jesus Christ is a beautiful way of interpreting both the book’s individual hymns and the purpose of the book as a whole. And if true, his thesis represents the comprehensive view of Scripture that all the books of the Bible point to Christ.
But you’re probably thinking, ‘what about all those psalms of repentance?’ Bonhoeffer explains Christ is prays these words as well – not for any need in himself – but on our behalf. Just as he did in salvation, Christ “positions himself entirely for us.”
Even the imprecatory Psalms (those dealing with enemies) can be understood as the prayers of Christ. Bonhoeffer says: “God’s vengeance did not strike the sinners, but the one sinless man who stood in the sinner’s place, namely God’s own Son….Jesus Christ himself requests the execution of the wrath of God on his body as thus leads me back daily to the gravity and the grace of his cross for me and all enemies of God.”
Who should buy this book: Anyone desiring to jumpstart their prayer life by gaining insight into the life of Christ and his role in Scripture would enjoy this book. Because this book is a classic, it would also make a wonderful gift for any avid reader, Bible study leader, or simply for yourself!
I hope 2012 marks the year that you stretch yourself in your worship and service to our King. If some of these books sound difficult, buy them anyway and ingest a page at a time. You are always welcome to email me or post a question on our Hive Resources Facebook page. I might not know the answer, but we can dig into the Scriptures together. Scripture is robust enough to withstand our inquiry, and our King desires that we seek him out daily!
Happy New Year from Hive Resources! And of course, happy reading.
Special thanks to Nicole Seitler of the Sugarplum Paperie for permission to use her digital designs to create our “Favorite Things” headers.