Psalms, Volume 2: Psalms 42–89. By John Goldingay. Baker Commentary on the Old Testament Wisdom and Psalms. Grand Rapids: Baker, 2007, 744 pp., $49.99.
Those familiar with the field of OT study will no doubt recognize the familiar name of John Goldingay, professor of OT at Fuller Seminary and author of numerous commentaries and other books on OT topics such as hermeneutical methods and biblical theology.
This commentary is the second volume of a three-volume work by Goldingay on the Psalms; volume 1 (Psalms 1–41) appeared in 2006 and volume 3 (Psalms 90–150) in 2008. These are contributions to the series edited by Tremper Longman entitled Baker Commentary on the Old Testament Wisdom and Psalms, joining volumes by Richard Hess on Song of Songs (2005); Longman on Proverbs (2006); the just-released work by Craig Bartholomew on Ecclesiastes (2009); and the final projected volume on Job by Longman, which is forthcoming.
There is no shortage of commentaries on the book of Psalms, both in antiquity down through today, and while certain OT books may have suffered relative neglect for decades, Psalms has never been among those. It is therefore reasonable to wonder why yet another is needed, and what possible gap in coverage Goldingay’s volumes could fill.
The targeted audience of this particular series by Baker is clergy and seminary students. Further, according to Longman, the series editor, the primary focus is on the message of the book, “and the commentators have labored to expose God’s message for his people in the book they discuss” (p. 8). The editor then lays out the format to be followed in the commentary (p. 9). First, there is an introduction, which takes up matters of title, authorship, date, language, style, text, ancient Near Eastern background, genre, canonicity, theological message, and connection to the NT. Second, the author provides an original translation with explanatory notes. Third, a section-by-section commentary follows through the text, addressing both the structure of the passage and engaging interpretive issues. This interpretation section highlights the text’s meaning in its original historical setting. The fourth and final section presents concluding theological implications. Here the author seeks to connect the message of each passage both with the rest of the canon (OT and NT) as well as its continuing relevance for contemporary life.
The success of this volume should only be measured, then, against these stated goals, so I will address these one at a time. First, while this second volume (Psalms 42– 89) does have a very brief “Author’s Preface” (pp. 11–12), it does not provide the introduction. There is an approximately 55-page introduction in the first volume, and presumably the issues promised by the series editor for this section appear there, but that simply means a reader wishing that information as it relates to Psalms 42–89 will have to acquire the first volume in addition to this one.
The second element of the commentary is the translation, and here Goldingay shines. He blends together quite successfully both formal and functional aspects of the text, preserving the poetic aesthetics while retaining and highlighting original language
word nuances. His footnotes reveal his solid grasp of the Hebrew text, text critical acumen, and interaction with the relevant lexicons and secondary literature both past and present. Scholars will appreciate his contribution here, with the only possible weakness that, given his skill, he is certainly capable of providing more. Granting the target audience, however, he cannot be faulted.
In the third section, Goldingay normally provides approximately one full page of discussion in which he explains the structure of the passage and places it against its historical background, to the degree that this can be surmised on a chapter-by-chapter basis through the Psalms. This is followed by the section-by-section interpretive commentary of the passage at hand. His mature reasoning and fresh insight are worthy of the highest compliments. In my judgment, it is precisely this kind of commentary that is most needed by those ministers whose libraries are necessarily limited but who desire to engage the text in a serious and thoughtful manner. Goldingay explains the development of thought, and exemplifies the best of scholarship in doing so.
The concluding section on the theological implications of each psalm is also normally about one page in length. On the whole, Goldingay offers good ideas for preaching points and timeless truths on each of the psalms. His own reflection will stimulate pastors who seek to relate the word of God to the world of today. However, Goldingay is less successful in relating each psalm to its canonical context. In the preface, he acknowledges that the cutting edge of Psalms research revolves around the structure of Psalms as a whole, and “the way sequences of psalms belong together and expound a theological view of their own” (p. 11). But he follows that sentence by stating, “I am not enamored of this study. . . . I remain of the view that the main focus of psalm study needs to be the individual psalm” (p. 11). He does not defend his choice, nor does he point to any potential problems he sees in reading them as a unity. Consequently, his focus is “on the psalms as we have them” (p. 11), and he seemingly disregards the fact that what it is that we have is, in fact, a book of psalms, and that we do not have psalms individually circulating independent of their context.
Curiously, Goldingay implicitly then betrays his own stated position at the very outset of his commentary by choosing to treat Psalms 42–43 as a single literary piece (a custom followed by most). Following this notable exception, from this point on he defaults to his preferred disregard of context for the rest of the volume.
Overall, this is a fine commentary in most respects, well designed and executed for its intended, pastoral ministry audience. But it is disappointing that a scholar of Goldingay’s caliber elected not to engage “the cutting edge.”