Commentary Review: Allen P. Ross’s The Psalms

With thanks to Laura Bartlett I was able to get in on the Kregel Blog tour of Allen P Ross’ contribution to the new Kregel Exegetical Library: A Commentary on the Psalms, Volume 1: 1-41 (Kregel, 2012).

Ross’s commentary on the Psalms looks to become the standard text in upper level university and or seminary preaching classes on the Psalms and or Poetic or Wisdom literature.   It should be noted that Ross’s work falls squarely in the conservative evangelical camp of interpretation of the Psalms.  This of course is not a bad thing, it is just something folks looking at it will need to keep in mind.

Ross begins he preface:

For hundreds of years the Book of Psalms has been one of the richest resources for the expressions of worship and the development of the Spiritual life, and at the same time, one of the more complex and challenging sections of the Bible for expositors, to which the many commentaries attest…. My purpose in writing this commentary was to focus on the chief aim of exegesis, the exposition of the text…. by exegetical exposition I mean that the exposition should cover the entire psalm, and that it should not only explain the text verse-by-verse, but also show how the message of the Psalm unfolds section-by-section (11-12).

I think Ross accomplishes this well!  He follows a very similar pattern to what we saw in his Genesis commentary Creation and Blessing: A Guide to the Study and Exposition of Genesis (Baker Academic, 1997).  This commentary on the Psalms is specifically written and complied for the purpose of helping Pastors and Bible teachers learn how to go from doing an “exegesis” of the text to the “exposition” of the text.   He gives quite thorough and detailed explanations of exegesis to exposition.  He writes further:

So I have written this commentary for pastors, teachers, and all serious students of the Bible who wish to develop their understanding of the Book of Psalms and to improve their ability to expound it with precision and depth (12).

With the introduction being some 180 pages, this is the heart of the first volume (of 3 to come).  Here the reader will get a thorough treatment of the Psalms!  Ross covers the devotional and expositional value of the Psalms. He discusses the text and ancient versions (textual criticism).  Titles and headings (superscriptions) are explained.  The history of interpretation along with some form criticism in another chapter on literary forms and functions of the Psalms (shaping of the Psalter) is explained, and he also helps the reader learn the art of interpreting biblical poetry.  Ross also discusses the theology of the Psalms (the sovereign rule of the LORD over all creation) as well as the use of the Psalms in worship both historically (in Israel and in Christian history) and in the present (not always much usage). Finally, the last chapter of the introduction covers the art and science of expositing the Psalms for teaching and or preaching.

In this section on exposition the reader learns to do basic word studies, grammatical and syntactical analysis, exegetical synthesis, exegetical outlines that become theological outlines that lead to homiletical outlines, and application.  It is a crash course on how to put together a expository sermon.  Good stuff.

All of this is modeled in the exposition of each of the Psalms covered in the commentary (1-41).  Now you won’t do every element of exegesis in every Psalm but you will do a lot of them and Ross models this process quite well in each Psalm.  With each Psalm he covers the text and its critical variants (you learn about these in the introduction) where there are extensive footnotes with the Hebrew and Greek fonts left un-transliterated.  In the commentary proper he has (for example) “blessed” (אַשְׁרֵי), or “sinners” (חַטָּאִים) (Psalm 1), etc,  and it is like this throughout the commentary.  There is also an exegetical analysis (summary and exegetical outline), and commentary in expository form with a helpful outline that will aide pastors and teachers in thinking about their own outlines.  A final message and application follows.  Ross is good to point out that one needs to be sure one works to apply it to the present but stay true to the past and he shows you how to do this.

Overall I think it is an outstanding commentary and there is not much for me to quibble with since I am pretty conservative myself.  I did wonder about his saying sin was “missing the mark” as I kind of thought that was sort of an old wives tale mainly because I think sin is far more complex and darker then just falling short of God’s righteous standards.  I also took issue with his saying that the “happy” translation of  אַשְׁרֵי even though the last time I checked my copy of BDB or my Bible works copy of KB – אַשְׁרֵי is best translated as just that, “happy” or “fortunate.”   Ross had issue with the fact that the concept of “happy” is too fickle as happiness is all too often circumstantial and I don’t disagree with that but I have been wrestling with “bless-ed” as the best translation of אַשְׁרֵי as well.  I did not have time to analyze every Psalm he covered so I mainly looked at Psalm 1&2 and I think he covered them well!

Kregel did the church a great favor in starting this series and in having Allen Ross do the work on the Book of Psalms!  This is going to be a brilliant commentary set that will be both devotionally powerful and expositionally right on with what the Psalms are all about, giving praise to the sovereign God of all creation!