Book Review: Everyman’s Bible Commentary: Volume 1: Psalms 1-21

Everyman’s Bible Commentary:  Volume 1:  Psalms 1-21, by Kenneth D. Baker

[Note:  This book was provided free of charge by BookLook/Westbow Press.  All thoughts and opinions are my own.]

How you appreciate this book is likely to depend on a variety of factors.  How closely do you share the author’s focus on judgment and his severe Calvinism?  How much are you offended by someone who largely neglects the issue of social morality and focuses on personal reality?  How tolerant are you of someone who writes a lot but manages to forget some of the most essential aspects of the psalms that they are writing about?  If you are tolerant about these things, then this book may be greatly enjoyable to you.  If you are not very tolerant with it, prepare for a long read about the first part of the Book of Psalms [1].  Much depends on how you approach this book and what you expect from the book.  This is a book with a definite point of view, one that comes without much knowledge of or interest in biblical law, and one where the author presumes he has a lot more knowledge about the Psalms than he actually does.  Yet this book does add something to the conversation about Psalms and about its purposes for the Christian reader, and for that alone the book is a worthwhile if sometimes frustrating read.

This book is organized very precisely if somewhat unusually.  This large volume of several hundred pages contains only discussions of the first twenty-one psalms.  There are twenty-two chapters, though, because Psalm 18 is divided roughly in half and dealt with one part at a time.  Each chapter (or part of a chapter) of the Psalm is then looked at on three levels.  An overall discussion of the psalm’s message, authorship, and some of its characteristic focuses and implications for contemporary readers are noted first.  Then the author outlines the Psalm and discusses it on a passage by passage or stanza by stanza level.  After this the author looks at the passage in a verse-by-verse commentary that focuses on creative and dogmatic word studies that seek to define the Hebrew words in a very strict way to draw out very particular lessons from them.  There are many ironies of this approach, not the least of which is that while the Hebrew scriptures are meant to be tantalizingly vague enough to invite conversation and questions of God and of others, this book seeks to close off conversation by pretending to be a complete commentary of the Psalms in question, even while it serves as only part of a much longer conversation.  One wonders the extent that the author is familiar with this irony, or any other irony.

A few aspects of the author’s approach are worthy of commentary.  For one, this author appears to be in love with the sight of their own words, to the point where he drones on and on and makes all kinds of unnecessary speculations about David’s supposed “pity party” as well as aspersions on many contemporary readers of Psalms.  This is an author who really needs to seek mercy rather than judgment, because in pretending to have a high view of the Bible he shows his ignorance about God’s laws, about the relationship of many of the psalms to the behavior of oppressors–a matter the book largely overlooks, focusing on areas of attitudinal wickedness rather than objectively oppressive behaviors with regards to the treatment of the poor and vulnerable.  Included in the discussions are unbiblical tangents on eternal security or the nonbiblical Trinity, and the author makes comments about some of the psalms being “Jewish,” not realizing that all of them would be, and commenting about the supposed knowledge of grace (Psalms 32 and 51?) among Old Testament believers.  This is a book written by someone who thinks he is far more competent to interpret scripture than he is in reality, and should be treated accordingly.  With some effort one may find some of the more offensive aspects of the author’s writing as humorous and merely ridiculous.

[1] See, for example:

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2017/03/17/book-review-garden-psalms/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2013/07/13/book-review-psalmist-i-am/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2012/11/18/an-introduction-to-the-psalms-commentary-project/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2011/02/01/that-the-man-of-the-earth-may-oppress-no-more-a-commentary-on-psalm-10/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2011/05/29/psalm-1-and-he-shall-be-like-a-tree-planted-by-the-rivers-of-water/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2011/06/25/psalms-14-and-53-the-fool-has-said-in-his-heart/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2012/09/22/psalm-17-hear-a-just-cause-o-lord/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2012/10/28/psalm-15-who-may-dwell-in-your-holy-hill/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2012/11/18/psalm-8-what-is-man-that-you-are-mindful-of-him/

https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2013/06/23/psalm-13-will-you-forget-me-forever/

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in Bible, Biblical History, Book Reviews, Christianity, History, Psalms and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

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