Thursday, November 11, 2010

Book review: The Essential Bible Companion to the Psalms

book cover

The Essential Bible Companion to the Psalms
by Brian L. Webster & David R. Beach

ISBN-13: 978-0-310-28689-9
Paperback: 192 pages
Publisher: Zondervan
Released: September 2010

Source: Won at a giveaway held by the blog EngagingChurch.

Book Description from Back Cover:
The Essential Bible Companion to the Psalms provides fundamental information regarding the meaning, background, context, and application of the Psalms.

In addition to practical application, numerous charts are included that provide information about the various types of psalms (messianic, prophetic, etc.) along with a quick reference list of psalms that lend themselves to being used for worship or personal meditation or as a basis for praying the Scriptures.

Through the use of full-color visual images, the message and world of the Psalms are brought to life in a way never before presented, making this book not only an excellent resource for understanding the Psalms, but a wonderful gift as well.

The Essential Bible Companion to the Psalms is a must-have for students of the Bible, pastors, and anyone who desires to possess a unique reference guide to these ancient works of poetry and worship.

My Review:
The Essential Bible Companion to the Psalms helps the reader better understand the purpose and meaning of the Psalms. I've never really understood why people liked the psalms. Yes, there are some nice ones, but overall it seemed like David wrote one every time life turned bad so he could vent and complain, though he always did end saying he really does trust God. I know God had final say on what was put into the Bible, but it almost seemed like the only reason so many similar Psalms (usually by David) were included was because he was king, and who's going to tell him that he can't put all of his compositions in the psalm book. ;)

In any case, I figured I was missing the point of the Psalms. I was thrilled to win this book, and I'd say this truly is an "essential Bible companion." I found the information at the beginning the most eye-opening, as it finally helped me understand the purpose and form of the psalms. You do need to read the beginning sections before the specific psalm entries to best appreciate what's said in those entries. I've been reading 5 psalms each day along with the corresponding entries in this book, and I've really been enjoying it.

So, especially if you view the psalms as I did, I'd highly recommend this book.

The book started off with several sections giving background and cultural information about the psalms in general. It talked about how the Psalms were used (songs, ceremonies, prayers, etc.); the types of psalms (hymns, praise, thanksgiving, etc.); who wrote them; how to understand the Hebrew style of poetry found in the psalms; and how to personalize the psalms.

Then there were several quick reference charts: defining unusual terms found in the psalm headers and psalms; explaining the words used to refer to God in the psalms; a list of which psalms were of which type for easy look-up; the common format elements of a psalm; and the verses in lists by type.

Then each psalm had a page with the following information: theme of the psalm, type, author, background information, how the psalm is structured, special notes (like if the verses from this psalm are quoted elsewhere in the Bible), and reflection on the psalm. Each entry also had a full-color photograph that was loosely related to the theme of the psalm (like a modern boy holding cymbals for a praise psalm).

If you've read this book, what do you think about it? I'd be honored if you wrote your own opinion of the book in the comments.

Excerpt from page 13
The Psalms as Songs
The original Hebrew title of the book, Tehillim (pronounced te-hil-leem), labels the Psalms as "praises," and truly they are to be sung. David is know for playing the harp, and the Psalms refer to several more instruments: lyre, lute, trumpet, timbrel, horn, and cymbals. These would not have been like the modern instruments of the same name, but they are clearly used to accompany the singing of the Psalms in public worship: "come before him with joyful songs" (100:2); "praise him with timbrel and dancing" (150:4).

The Psalms were sung on general occasions of public assembly for worship, including the specific occasions of religious festivals, such as Passover. But they were also sung as pilgrims traveled to Jerusalem to worship. It is natural to assume that families did not limit singing such psalms to the actual festival day, but would learn and practice them in other settings, such as at home and in private as preparation and personal expression. Yes, they were for public worship, but not exclusively so. They were--and still are today--great teaching tools and good memory aids that brought a message to mind.

For example, Moses taught the people a song (Deut. 32) as a teaching tool in light of their tendency to rebel (31:19). It recalled God's acts, pointed out his character, reminded Israel of their intended relationship with God, condemned their rebellion, proclaimed judgment, and forecasted restoration. It was to be performed in public and sung by the community. But it was also intended for continued reflection by families and individuals. Public singing is important for the purpose of worship, but its prominent place in community life serves as strong affirmation that songs can also be integral in teaching the community.

Read the table of contents and several specific Psalm entries.

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