The Psalms have been at the center of Christian faith and piety for centuries. Now, one of the foremost interpreters of the Psalms explores how they can still claim that place today. In this commentary, James L. Mays sets forth what the Psalms say about God, creation, humanity, and the life of faith. Mays proceeds with an awareness that the Psalms were originally composed for worship, and so he provides an understanding of the Psalms as praise and prayer. Individual psalms are treated in one of two ways: either in a concise, descriptive fashion or in the form of expository essays. Those receiving fuller treatment consist of Psalms that are prominent in the practice of worship, those that are used in the New Testament, those that are most important to the theology of the church, and those that shed the most light on the Psalter as a whole. One of the few single-volume commentaries on the Book of Psalms, this commentary should remain a standard reference for pastors and teachers for years to come.
“This first beatitude prompts the reader to think of the entire book as instruction for life and commends a kind of conduct that uses the Psalter in that way.” (Page 41)
“The commended conduct is constant reflective meditation on the ‘law’ (torah) of the Lord that grows out of delight in it and concern for it. The basic meaning of the term torah is instruction, not legal rules and stipulations. Commandments and ordinances are called torah because they instruct.” (Page 41)
“In blessings, the formulaic Hebrew term is baruk; in beatitudes, ’ashre. The primary difference is that the blessing invokes God’s beneficent support of life, while the beatitude points to and commends the conduct and character that enjoy it.” (Page 41)
“But it is not just the opening words that are involved. Citing the first words of a text was, in the tradition of the time, a way of identifying an entire passage.” (Page 105)
“The Book of Psalms begins with a beatitude. Not a prayer or a hymn, but a statement about human existence. Here at the threshold of the Psalter we are asked to consider the teaching that the way life is lived is decisive for how it turns out. This opening beatitude also serves as an introduction to the book. Its location as the first psalm is not accidental; the psalm is there to invite us to read and use the entire book as a guide to a blessed life. It introduces an agenda of themes that recur frequently in the book and play a fundamental role in its theology. So the psalm needs to be interpreted at two levels: first as a psalm in its own right and then in its relation to the whole book.” (Page 40)
The Interpretation series from Westminster John Knox Press is clearly established as a rich source for teaching and preaching. They have tapped the talents of a varied and esteemed group of contributors, resulting in what is clearly the essential comprehensive commentary series on the Bible.
—W. Eugene March, A.B. Rhodes Professor of Old Testament Emeritus at Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary
The Interpretation series is an invaluable resource for any leader or scholar interested in interpreting the biblical text to the broader church. Its works are essential for pastors, educators, and church libraries.
—Brian K. Blount, President and Professor of New Testament at Union Theological Seminary