Psalms: Volume 2, Psalms 42-89. Baker Commentary on the Old Testament Wisdom and Psalms

By John Goldingay
Grand Rapids : Baker (2007). 744 Pages.

Reviewed by Dr. William Barrick
20.1 (Spring 2009) : 106-108

Baker published the first Psalms volume in 2006 (see review in TMSJ 18/2 [Fall 2007]:251-54). A number of determinative stances commend these volumes to the evangelical pastor and seminarian. Goldingay focuses on individual psalms rather than attempting to develop any supposed theological implications from the order and arrangement of the Book of Psalms and finds redactional matters too speculative to merit inclusion (11). In the text-critical realm he notes modern proposals for emending the Hebrew text, but rarely follows them (1 2). Each psalm’s commentary includes Goldingay’s own translation (with technical matters limited to footnotes), interpretation (footnoted for sources and technical matters), and theological implications.

This volume commences by treating Psalms 42 and 43 as essentially one psalm (19-34)—a view supported by the refrain repeated through both psalms. Besides the refrain, Goldingay identifies the presence and the significance of a variety of literary devices: repetition, rhetorical question, parallelism, hyperbole, metaphor, imagery, tricolon, and balancing clauses. Throughout the commentary he makes similar observations when they impact interpretation (e.g., 245, 271).

Everywhere Goldingay displays a knack for making helpful associations for the modern reader. For example, he compares the theme of God’s presence in Jerusalem in Psalms 42–43 to the movie James’ Journey to Jerusalem about “the decision of a Zulu village to send their prospective pastor on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem to prepare him for his ministry” (34). Employing such contemporary associations helps him explain the implications of the biblical text to the present. In his interpretation of Ps 44:12 (“You sell your people for no value”) he explains that the concept is like putting them up for sale “on eBay for a few cents, with no reserve” (43). The analogy with which this reviewer identifies is the description of the psalmist’s throat in 69:3 being “dry like that of a professor who has just given a two-hour lecture” (340).

Goldingay also remains alert to examples that help the reader avoid misusing a psalm’s text. For example, he points out that the lectionary of his own church obscures the significance of 44:1-8 by prescribing the use of these versions in isolation certain occasions (41).

Hebrew verbs provide a challenge for both the translator and the interpreter. Much debate surrounds the employment of the perfect (qatal) and imperfect (yiqtol) forms of the verb. Goldingay is aware of the debate and seeks to provide a principled treatment of each verb form in an attempt to preserve any particular significance in their distinction. For 44:9-16 he contrasts his treatment of the verbs with ancient and modern translations that fail to alternate their translations “without obvious principle” (42). Such comments aid the reader who is aware of the Hebrew and desires to wrestle with the grammatical issues of the text (see also 184 and 197).

This reviewer noted in his review of Goldingay’s first volume on Psalms that the imprecatory psalms suffered neglect. In this second volume the commentary offers more explanation of this type of psalm. The “Theological Implications” for Psalm 54 deal briefly with the concept of imprecation (162), but at Psalm 58 (another imprecatory psalm) he describes how to pray for justice on behalf of the saints. Indeed, the psalm awakens readers to the wickedness that exists in the world and “challenges us to look for the terminating of that wickedness with passion, not (e.g.) to be unfeeling about the necessity for evil to be put down” (209; cf. 223). With insightfulness he comments that Christ might pray Psalm 58 on behalf of oppressed people (ibid.).

From time to time the author’s commentary is weak and malnourished. Only a dozen full lines of text explain 45:14-17 (62). The same psalm’s “Theological Implications” are equally lacking (63) and the same section concluding Psalm 52 consists of only eight lines (148; cp. 253, 263). Disconcertingly, Goldingay’s comments sometimes reflect unbiblical concepts— such as his declaration that the misinterpretation and misapplication of 46:10 (Heb. 46:11) “may be inspired by the Holy Spirit, even though it does make the words mean something the psalmist did not say” (73). By changing “a brother” (Hebrew ‘ah) to “Huh!” in 49:6 (Heb. 49:7), Goldingay obscures the real issue of the entire psalm (that one person cannot redeem another). In addition, he believes that the “idea of an afterlife (beyond the boring one lived in Sheol) is a nice idea, but until Jesus died and rose again, it was an idea that lacked a basis” (107).

With little foundation in the text of Psalm 55 itself, Goldingay imagines the psalm as “the lament of a woman who has been raped” (166; cf. 179-80). He shows a propensity for the documentary hypothesis in his introduction to Psalm 78 (483) and fails to mention any association with the concept of new birth or regeneration in Psalm 87 (640-41).

Despite examples of dubious exegesis and exposition, seminarians and pastors alike will benefit substantially from Goldingay’s commentary on Psalms. No commentary is perfect and more good than bad is found in these volumes on an OT book that will not be exhausted by a dozen more exegetical commentaries should they be written and published in the years ahead.