Resources for Reading the Psalms Canonically

libraryOver the summer, I preached a series of messages on the Psalms. I argued that they are one unified book telling the story of salvation. In their midst the reader finds a movement from lament to praise and a series of peaks and valleys that follow the course of redemptive history from David (in Books 1 and 2) to the exile of David and Israel (in Book 3) to the establishment of Yahweh’s kingdom (in Book 4) to the coming kingdom of a New David (in Book 5).

As I preached this series, I was greatly helped by a number of resources. I’ve included many of them below. If you are interested in understanding the Psalms as one, unified and intentionally-arranged book, these articles, chapters, and books are a great start. If you have other key resources not listed here, please share them in the comments. I’d love to see how others are understanding the Psalms and their glorious message of grace.

In what follows you will find:

  1. Sermons
  2. Articles
  3. Academic Articles
  4. Book Chapters (with annotated notes)
  5. Books (with annotated notes)
  6. Commentaries (with annotated notes)
  7. Videos and Infographics

I pray these resources are helpful and that they increase your passion for the Psalms. 

1. Eight Sermons on Psalms

2. Ten Articles on Psalms

3. Academic Articles 

Here are 12 academic articles that consider various aspects of the Psalms. Most deal with issues related to a canonical approach.

  • Clines, D. J. A. “The Tree of Knowledge and the Law of Yahweh (Psalm XIX)” VT 24 (1974): 8–14.
  • Collins, Terence. “Decoding the Psalms: A Structural Approach to the Psalter.” JSOT 37 (1987): 41–60.
  • Crutchfield, John. “The Redactional Agenda of the Book of Psalms” 21–47.
  • Grant, James. “Singing the Cover Versions: Psalms, Reinterpretation and Biblical Theology in Acts 1–4.” Scottish Bulletin of Evangelical Theology 25.1 (2007): 27–49.
  • Grant, James. “Determining the Indeterminate: Issues in Interpreting the Psalms.” Southeastern Theological Review 1.1 (2010): 3–14.
  • Miller, Patrick. “The End of the Psalter: A Response to Erich Zenger.” JSOT 80 (1998): 103–10.
  • Robertson, O. Palmer. “The Strategic Placement of the ‘Hallelu-Yah’ Psalms within the PsalterJETS 58.2 (June 2015): 265–68.
  • Vos, Geerhardus. “Eschatology of the Psalter.” Princeton Theological Review (1920): 1–43.
  • Waltke, Bruce K. “Superscripts, Postscripts, or Both.” JBL 110.4 (1991): 583–96.
  • Walton, John H. “Psalms: A Cantata about the Davidic Covenant” JETS 34.1 (1991): 21–31.
  • Watts, J. W. “Psalm 2 in the Context of Biblical Theology.” Horizons in Biblical Theology 12.1 (1990): 73–91.
  • Whiting, Mark J. “Psalms 1 and 2 as Hermeneutical Lens for Reading the Psalms.” EQ 85.3 (2013): 246–62.
  • Zenger, Erich. “The Composition and Theology of the Fifth Book of Psalms, Psalms 107–145.” JSOT 80 (1998): 77–102.

4. Book Chapters

Here are 13 chapters that consider the various ways the Psalms can and should be read together. I have attempted to give a short description of each.

Childs, Brevard S. Introduction to the Old Testament as Scripture. Philadelphia: Fortress, 1979.

In so many ways, Childs started the whole discipline of canonical studies. His chapter on the Psalms is required reading on this subject.

DeClaissé-Walford, Nancy L. “The Meta-Narrative of the Psalms” in Oxford Handbook to the Psalms (New York: OUP, 2014), 363–76.

I have found that DeClaissé-Walford’s work on the Psalms structures are very enlightening. This article, plus her introduction to the Psalms in The Book of Psalmsco-authored with Rolf-Jacobson and Beth LaNeel Tanner in the NICOT series are very helpful. She also has a stand alone volume, Introduction to the PsalmsI look forward to reading.

Dempster, Stephen G. “The Psalms: David, David, David,” in Dominion and Dynasty: A Theology of the Hebrew Bible. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2003, 194–2002.

Short but helpful section describing the movement in the Psalms from historical David to an eschatological New David.

Futato, Mark D. “Psalms,” A Biblical-Theological Introduction to the Old Testament: The Gospel Promised. Edited by Miles V. Van Pelt. Wheaton: Crossway, 2016.

Helpful introduction to the Psalms which trace the purpose and message through the lens of Psalm 1 and 2, respectively.

Hamilton, Jim M.  God’s Glory in Salvation through Judgment: A Biblical Theology (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2010), 276–90.

With Dempster and House, Hamilton’s section on the Psalms is one of the first three I’d recommend on a short treatment of the Psalm’s five-book structure. You can also listen to Hamilton preach through the Psalms at his church.

House, Paul. “The God Who Rules,” in Old Testament Theology (IVP:1998), p. 402–23.

Though only a chapter, this may have been the most helpful treatment. Citing John Walton’s JETS article on the Psalter (1991), House writes: “Psalms displays a ‘content agenda’ that includes an introduction (Ps 1–2), David’s conflict with Saul (Ps 3–41), David’s Reign (Ps 42–72), the Assyrian crisis (Ps 73–89), reflection on Jerusalem’s destruction (Ps 90–106), reflection on the return to the land (Ps 107–145) and concluding praises (146–150). These divisions and contentment statements keep faith with the shape of the Psalms and offer ways by which major theological themes may be discussed. They also allow for both essential diversity and necessary unity in Psalms interpretation” (405).

Howard, David. “Recent Trends in Psalm Studies,” in The Face of Old Testament Studies: A Survey of Contemporary Approaches (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1999): 329–68.

As the title states, this chapter surveys the landscape of Psalm studies. It is an expansion of his earlier work in James McCann’s edited volume (see below).

Keener, Hubert James. A Canonical Exegesis of the Eighth Psalm: YHWH’s Maintenance of the Created Order through Divine Intervention. Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 2013.

Chapter 3 explains Psalm 8 in light of its immediate context (Psalms 3–14), its place in Book 1 (Psalms 1–41), and its place in the whole Psalter. In this way, Keener models a contextual reading of Psalm 8 which attends to various literary horizons. (See also John Crutchfield’s work).

Tate, Marvin in Peter Craigie, Psalms (WBC; Nashville: Word, 2004), 438–72.

Found in the 2004 update of Peter Craigie’s commentary, Marvin Tate, a former Old Testament professor at Southern Seminary, writes a helpful piece, tracing recent scholarship on the Psalter.

“There is too much evidence of intention and design to assume that the Psalter was simply thrown together in a jumble out of disparate texts without regard to placement or design. We need not, and should not, expect the process to reflected in the Psalms to meet the standards of a modern artistically structured texts. A fully “systematic” redaction will not be found, but this need not deter us from a careful analysis of intertextual relationships between continguous psalms in pairs, clusters, blocks, books, and divisions, as well as the psalter as whole” (468).

Vos, Geerhardus. “The Eschatology of the Psalter,” in The Eschatology of the Old Testament. Edited by James T. Dennison, Jr. Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R, 2001.

A short chapter tracing the ways in which select Psalms point forward to the Messiah.

Waltke, Bruce K. “A Canonical Process Approach to the Psalms” in Tradition and Testament: Essays in Honor of Charles Lee Feinberg (ed. John and Paul Feinberg; Chicago: Moody, 1981), 3–18.

Waltke, better than anyone I’ve read, explains how the Psalms written across time, by various psalmists, arrived in their final form.

Zakovitch, Yair. “On the Ordering of Psalms as Demonstrated by Psalms 136–150.” Oxford Handbook to the Psalms (New York: OUP, 2014), 214–227.

Zakovitch provides exegetical evidence for the ordering and arrangement into the Psalms by excavating the evidence of arrangement in Psalms 136–150. Due to space, he only focuses on these fifteen psalms, but his exegetical work is meant to prove the arrangement of the whole psalter, something he declares in his introduction. You can read that introduction here.

Zenger, Erich. “The God of Israel’s Reign over the World (Psalm 90–106)” in The God of Israel and the Nations: Studies in Isaiah and the Psalms, ed. Norbert Lohfink and Erich Zenger (Collegeville, MN: Michael Glazier, 2000).

This chapter gives a unified exposition of Book 4 in the Psalms. It shows how Yahweh reigns over the nations, the role Moses plays, and how this book as a whole tells a story of God’s work in the world.

5. Books

Here are fifteen books that consider various aspects of reading the Psalms as one unified, arranged book. I have attempted to give a short description of each.

Barber, Michael. Singing in the Reign: The Psalms and the Liturgy of God’s Kingdom. Steubenville, Ohio: Emmaus Road, 2001.

Barber’s book is one of my favorites. A disciple of Scott Hahn, he spends ample time explaining the Davidic Covenant before tracing how the Psalms develop God’s covenant relationship with David.

Cole, Robert L.  The Shape of the Message of Book III (Psalms 73–89). JSOT 307; Sheffield, England: Sheffield Academic, 2000.

A technical study of Psalms 73–89 which demonstrates the linguistic connections between one psalm and its neighbors. The introduction provides a number of helpful observations about canonical arrangement in the Psalms. Unfortunately, the book does not consider any framework to Book 3 or how the Psalms in Book 3 might relate to Israel’s history.

DeClaissé-Walford, Nancy L. Introduction to the Psalms: A Song from Ancient IsraelSt. Louis: Chalice, 2004.

This book talks about the way the Psalter is shaped, how this relates to other ancient Near Eastern source material. Then it walks through the five books, giving select attention to various psalms in each book.

DeClaissé-Walford, Nancy L. Reading from the Beginning: The Shaping of the Hebrew Psalter. Atlanta: Mercer, 1997.

This book is DeClaissé-Walford’s published dissertation. It contains a brief survey of approaches to the reading the Psalms as one unit; it speaks about the place and development of canon, and the contents of the Psalms.

Futato, Mark D. Interpreting the Psalms: An Exegetical Handbook. Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2007.

A more thorough introduction to the Psalms, Futato explains the message of the Psalter according to Psalms 1 and 2. The Psalms are a book of instruction (Psalm 1) that conveys a message of God’s kingdom with men (Psalm 2). This book, along with his chapter in A Biblical-Theological Introduction to the Old Testament: The Gospel Promised give a good introduction the organization of the Psalms.

Grant, Jamie A. The King as Exemplar: The Function of Deuteronomy’s Kingship Law in the Shaping of the Book of Psalms. Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2004.

Psalms 1–2, 18–21, and 118–119 all tie Torah and Kingdom together. Grant traces these related concepts through the Psalms an shows how they help establish the message of the Psalter.

Greidanus, Sidney. Preaching Christ from Psalms: Foundations for Expository Sermons in the Christian Year. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2016.

More homiletical in nature, the goal of Greidanus’s book is to show the preacher how to translate the ancient text into modern, Christ-centered sermon.

Longman III, Tremper. How to Read the Psalms (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1988).

A helpful primer on reading the Psalms. Contains 32 helpful principles for reading Psalms.

McCann, J. Clinton. A Theological Introduction to the Book of Psalms. Nashville: Abingdon, 1993.

Tracing many theological aspects of the psalms, the first two chapters attend to the shaping of the Psalter.

McCann, J. Clinton (ed.). Shape and Shaping of the Psalter. (JSOTSS; Sheffield, England: Sheffield Academic, 1993).

A compilation of essays related to a canonical approach to the Psalms. Most helpful in this book are David Howard’s survey of approaches, Gerald Wilson’s updated research, and McCann’s own look at Book 3.

Mitchell, David C. The Message of the Psalter: An Eschatological Programme in the Book of the Psalms (Sheffield, England: Sheffield Academic, 1997).

Mitchell’s work underscores the eschatological trajectory in the Psalms in general. Chapter 2 considers the arrangement of the Psalter in particular. Recognizing “the headings and content of individual psalms, the sequence of the Psalms, the arrangement of the internal collections and the five-book arrangement” (89), Mitchell attempts to construct a reading the Psalter that is both tied to history and eschatological in emphasis. He sees Zechariah 9–14 as a key to understanding the Psalms, and he spends much time developing this intratextual link. Some of his connections seem speculative, but his work challenges us the reader to consider the Psalter more carefully. Chapters on the Songs of Ascent and the Sons of Asaph are also very well researched.

Robertson, O. Palmer. The Flow of the Psalms: Discovering their Structure and Theology (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 2015).

Of all the recent books on the arrangement of the Psalms, this one is the best. Robertson both gives a comprehensive interpretation of the Psalms and explains from the grammar and placement of individual collections, how the message of the Psalter develops. He also pays attention to the relationship between the Psalms and Israel’s history, especially with relationship to 1–2 Chronicles. There are parts I disagree with him on, but on the whole, this is the best study going today.

Wardlaw, Terrence Randall, Elohim within the Psalms. New York: Bloomsbury T&T Clark, 2015, 42ff.

Wardlaw, in conversation with German Psalm scholars (Zenger and Hossfield), provides a very convincing outline of Book 1. You can see some of this argument online. The whole book traces how the name Elohim is used in the Psalms.

Westermann, Claus. Praise and Lament in the Psalms. Translated by Keith R. Crim and Richard N. Soulen. Atlanta: John Knox, 1981.

As the title suggests, this work pays careful attention to praise and lament psalms, showing how the Psalms begin with one (lament) and end with the other (praise). This shift traces one of the big ideas in the Psalms.

Wilson, Gerald Henry. The Editing of the Hebrew Psalter. SBL Dissertation Series. Chico, CA: Scholars Press, 1985.

Wilson’s dissertation was the first book-length treatment of the Psalms where a canonical approach was employed. Wilson compares the literary arrangement of the Psalter with other collections of ancient Near Eastern (ANE) hymns. He proves that the Sitz En Leben of the ANE was to read hymn collections with an eye to arrangement and purpose. He then goes on to explain how the Psalms demonstrate an equal amount of intentionality, especially with regard to the five-fold division, “seam” verses, doxologies, and royal psalm placement. He summarizes his findings in this statement

I have focused my attention thus far on demonstrating individual instances of editorial activity within the Hebrew Psalter. The results of the study have been considerable. I have been able to show (1) that the ‘book’ divisions of the Psalter are real, editorially induced divisions and not accidentally introduced; (2) the ‘separating’ and ‘binding’ functions of author and genre groupings; (3) the lack of a s/s as an indication of a tradition of combination; (4) the use of hllwyh pss to indicate the conclusion of segments; (5) the use of hwdw pss to introduce segments; (6) the existence of thematic correspondences between the beginning and ending pss in some books… Without denying the existence of previous collections, I feel it is possible to show that the final form of MT 150 is the result of a purposeful, editorial activity which sought to impart a meaningful arrangement which encompassed the whole. (199)

It is impossible to study the arrangement of the Psalms without attention to Wilson’s work. He also produced the NIVAC Commentary on Psalms 1–72, but sadly died before completing the rest of the Psalter.

7. Commentaries

Here are three commentaries that consider something of the canonical shape of the Psalter. The most illuminating commentary may be the one forthcoming from Jim Hamilton. You can listen to his sermons here; his commentary is set for publication in 2018 (I believe).

DeClaissé-Walford, Nancy L., and Rolf A. Jacobson and Beth Laneel Tanner. The Book of Psalms. NICOT. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2014.

A newer commentary that pays attention to the canonical shape of the Psalter, including a section devoted to that topic in the introduction (pp. 21–38).

Grogan, Geoffrey W. Psalms. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2008.

Grogan spends the first half of the book commenting on individual psalms and the second half considering the Psalter thematically, biblical-theologically, and then with respect to contemporary issues in evangelical theology. This section is helpful in drawing out themes in the Psalter, but it does not give much attention to the internal structure of the Psalms.

Schaeffer, Konrad. Psalms. Berit Olam: Studies in Hebrew Narrative and Poetry. Collegeville, MN: Michael Glazier, 2001.

This commentary pays careful attention to way neighboring psalms repeat words, phrases, and concepts.

8. Videos and Infographics

This the place to start if you want to see the Psalms as one unified book.

Walter Kaiser presents a lecture on the shape of the Psalms.

Bruce Waltke has 27 lectures on the Psalms. The last one is on the canonical shape of the Psalter.

Finally, if you have made it this far, you might be interested in the five infographics we put together for my sermon series on the Psalms. Here’s a picture of the first and links for the rest.

Book 1 Infographic

Soli Deo Gloria, ds

2 thoughts on “Resources for Reading the Psalms Canonically

  1. Dear David Schrock,
    Thank you for your dedication, passion and the resources on the book of Psalms.
    The book of Psalms also is part and of the Principles seen in the account of Creation given in Genesis. It is connected with the description of the candlestick of the Mosaic Tabernacle, which consisted of 66 bowls, knops and flowers, a type of the wisdom, understanding and knowledge found in each book of the Bible.
    And the LORD God took the man, and put him into the garden of Eden to dress it and to keep it (Genesis 2:15).
    God commanded the man to keep and dress the garden, establishing the Principle of Work. It is the book of Psalms that help us to keep and dress the garden of our heart with the joy and gladness that God created us with in the beginning. Yes, sin entered and we became miserable and wretched, but through the work in the cross of our Savior Jesus Christ we can come in repentance and regain the joy and gladness of living in the family of God. The Psalms help us to work both in the pleasure side of life, thanking and praising our Creator for the goodness bestowed upon us, and also help us to repent and cry and humiliate ourselves when we have fallen and drawn far away from God. Thus restoring our relationship with Him through faith in Jesus, the blessed Son of God.
    Thanks again.
    Luis Porras

  2. Pingback: An Argument for the (Selective) Use of Visual Aids in Expositional Preaching | Via Emmaus

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