Encountering God in the Psalms

By Michael E. Travers
Grand Rapids : Kregel (2003). 313 Pages.

Reviewed by Dr. William Barrick
18.1 (Spring 2007) : 138-139

Travers is an expert in poetry in addition to being a Bible scholar. He teaches English at Southeastern College at Wake Forest, North Carolina, a division of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. In this volume’s two sections, he introduces the poetry of Psalms (19-70) and then presents what Psalms teaches about God (71-285).

In the first section, three chapters deal with the nature of Hebrew poetry in Psalms, psalm genres, and an approach to reading Psalms. Travers’ approach to reading a psalm involves asking four questions (58-61): What is the overall effect of the psalm? What is the structure of the psalm? What are the figures of speech and their effects? What are the themes and theology of the psalm? By means of Psalm 97, the author illustrates his approach (61-68), concluding with applications (69). According to Travers, the Psalter is God-centered. From it we can learn how to have a God-centered life. Therefore, the applications consist of devotional thoughts that guide the reader into a greater knowledge of divine character and actions and how they impact one’s faith and life.

After introducing readers to the poetry of Psalms and an approach to reading Psalms, Travers embarks upon a study of God in Psalms. Moses’ encounters with God become the analogy for understanding how God reveals Himself (73-86). In subsequent chapters the author applies his fourfold approach to individual psalms in order to uncover what each reveals about God. Psalms 19 and 104 elevate the picture of God as Creator (87-123). They reveal that God’s creation provides reason for worshiping God. God is Covenant Maker in Psalms 33 and 103 (124-50), which focus on His unfailing love (hesed, 126).

Psalms 84 and 96 reveal God as King (151-78). Such psalms teach us to employ our prayers to glorify God (166). Messianic psalms (Pss 22 and 45) are the foundation for presenting the Son of God (179-205). Travers argues for a “binocular” view of the Messianic psalms: they refer both to David and to Jesus Christ (182). Psalm 22 has a more direct reference to Christ. Psalm 45, however, has its ultimate fulfillment in the future descendant of the Davidic line, while its immediate focus is on the contemporary Davidic king.

Psalms 27 and 79 direct the reader to God’s provision of protection and deliverance (206-30). Travers handles the problem of imprecatory psalms by examining Psalm 59 (231-48). His solution to the problem involves considering four purposes for imprecatory psalms: to remind us that some things are truly evil, to help us identify sin in our own lives, to warn unbelievers so that they might turn from their unbelief, and to teach us about the sovereignty of God (235-38). The next two chapters look at God’s forgiveness in Psalm 51, a penitential psalm (249-67), and God as the beginning of wisdom in Psalms 111 and 112 (268-85). A final summary chapter asks, “What Have We Learned?” (286-95). An appendix presents “Major Attributes of God in the Psalms” (296-309), listing the topic of each of the 150 psalms and the divine attributes to which each refers. A select bibliography of books, articles, hymns, poems, and plays closes the volume (310-13).

Encountering God in the Psalmsis not intended as an exegetical commentary, but it provides basic exegetical guidance. It does not discuss fully major problems like imprecatory and messianic psalms, but it offers the reader some valuable insight with which to begin a more detailed study. The volume’s strength is in Travers’ purpose to create an attitude of worship in the reader. Preachers and lay people alike will benefit from this catalyst for a devotional study of Psalms.