Book Review: The Essential Bible Companion to the Psalms

The Psalms is one of the most read books in the Old Testament. It’s not hard to understand why since, in many ways, it is the most human book of the Bible. The Psalms are weighty and textured, showing God’s people rejoicing in faith and lamenting in despair. They contain some of the most comforting and provocative words in all Scripture.

Yet, because of the span of time between us and the culture in which they were written, there are a few things that gets lost in translation. When was Psalm 110 written? Why is Selah off to the side in Psalm 3:2? And what is a miktam, anyway? While there are a lot of resources out there that can help readers dig into the meat of the Psalms and clear up confusion about words, expressions and ideas, many are not terribly accessible for a popular audience. With The Essential Bible Companion to the Psalms, authors Brian L. Webster and David R. Beach provide readers with a helpful introductory level companion to this beloved section of Scripture.

In many ways,¬†The Essential Bible Companion to the Psalms serves as an amped-up version of the introductory notes you’d find in your typical study Bible. They give a very brief overview of the background and structure of each psalm, as well its type and unique characteristics. For the average reader, this is tons of information, but it’s all valuable. There have been many times as I’ve read¬†the Psalms where having some of this material would have been very handy.

A nice feature of the book is the “Reflections” section of each synopsis. These sections offer a devotional element as the authors share their own thoughts on the content of each psalm.

While there are a number of elements that I appreciated, there were a few things that stuck out as negatives. Some are simply preference issues (I thought the majority of the accompanying images were a bit on the cheesy side, for example). But there was one big miss for me, which is that some of the background notes lacked an appropriate connection to Christ.

Take Psalm 110, for example. They’re careful to note that this psalm is the most quoted or referred to in the New Testament, yet they miss their interpretation doesn’t reflect why it is so. They take the stance that the Lord is promising David victory over his enemies and aligning David with the priesthood of Melchizedek. Unless I’m misreading what they’re saying, it seems like they’re taking the approach that the psalm is¬†about David, rather than about the Messiah. But that reading doesn’t appear to jive with the New Testament writers’ use of it, which consistently applies this text to Jesus.¬†I wouldn’t necessarily say it’s mandatory to say “this one is about Jesus in the following ways” for each psalm, as that would fall outside of the purpose of the book (which is to serve as a companion, not a commentary), it is important that readers who maybe wouldn’t know to go looking for those Christological elements be at least pointed to one or two.

Overall, I think The Essential Bible Companion to the Psalms serves its intended purpose well, which is to be an accessible companion to the Psalms. While I think some additional clarity might be of value, particularly when relating to Messianic psalms, this book will be a benefit to new readers and anyone taking their first steps into the background of the Bible.

Title: The Essential Bible Companion to the Psalms: Key Insights for Reading God’s Word
Authors: Brian L. Webster and David R. Beach
Publisher: Zondervan (2010)

A complimentary copy of this book was provided for review purposes by the publisher.

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