Psalms: Volume 3, Psalms 90-150. Baker Commentary on the Old Testament Wisdom and Psalms

By John Goldingay
Grand Rapids : Baker (2008). 812 Pages.

Reviewed by Dr. William Barrick
20.2 (Fall 2009) : 271-272

This is the third and final volume of Goldingay’s commentary on the Psalter. Reviews of both the first and second volumes have already appeared in this Journal (see TMSJ 18/2 [Fall 2007]:251-54 and 20/1 [2009]: 106-8). Those reviews cover all of the general information regarding the series and the nature of Goldingay’s approach to the Psalms, making it unnecessary to repeat those comments here.

At Psalm 90 Goldingay continues his rejection of the psalm headings’ indication of authorship. Instead of accepting Mosaic authorship, he insists on dating it in the post-exilic period (22, 24). Accordingly, he interprets the “seventy years” in v. 10 as a reference to the period of exile, rather than to the span of a person’s life (30). This demonstrates how a wrong assessment of date and/or setting can radically affect one’s interpretation of the text.

Throughout the commentary, the author elucidates the meaning of the Hebrew text, appealing to vocabulary, syntax, and poetic devices and structure. Examples of all three will help the reader of this review understand the wealth of information with which Goldingay packs this volume. First, in his explanation of 95:6 he points out that, in contrast to English versions that normally translate the first as “worship,” “all three Hebrew words denote downward bodily movement” (93). The words imply that the worshiper gets down on hands and knees. Goldingay continues, “The effect of the words comes from their accumulation. All imply self-humbling. . . . [W]e are bodies and not merely spirits, and what we do with our bodies expresses our real selves” (ibid.). This is the commentator at his best and this volume is filled with similar observations.

Second, an example of Goldingay’s treatment of Hebrew syntax occurs in his comments on “I loathed” in 95:10. He explains that the use of the imperfect (yiqtol) form of the Hebrew verb “rather than the participle suggests that Yhwh was continually being provoked to loathing by the people’s continual acts of rebellion, rather than that Yhwh was continuously loathing” (96). Accuracy at 95:10, however, does not guarantee that the commentator always identifies the best understanding of the usage of the Hebrew verbs. Readers should use discernment in accepting Goldingay’s explanations regarding Hebrew verbs. They should rely more on the explanation of distinctions between perfects and imperfects in Bruce K. Waltke and M. O’Connor, An Introduction to Biblical Hebrew Syntax (Eisenbrauns, 1990).

Third, referring to poetic devices and structure, Goldingay notes not only the identity of particular features, but their interpretive significance. In 102:11-2 he notes that the “we’attâ opening v. 12a stands over against the wa’anî opening v. 11b. It makes for a dramatic shift in the psalm” (154). Noting the chiastic structure of 140:4, he identifies the significance of the chiasm by saying that the center elements (“wicked” and “violent”) are “thus next to each other and reinforcing each other” (645).

In “Theological Implications” for Psalm 101 Goldingay displays regrettable naiveté with regard to the Muslim world and uses “Christian” loosely when he writes, “The Christian nations, in the West and in Africa, are especially cursed by corruption in the highest levels of government and in the world of business (this seems less of a problem in the Muslim world)” (145). One of the best “Theological Implications” section in all three volumes appears in Goldingay’s discussion of the imprecatory nature of Psalm 137 (610-14).

Goldingay’s sources upon which he most often depends are no t evangelical. However, in this volume he refers once to an article in Bibliotheca Sacra by Charles Lee Feinberg (1 34), once to John N. Day’s Crying for Justice (Kregel, 2005; 289 n. 54), twice to Edward J. Young’s exposition of Psalm 139 (640 nn. 51, 52), twice to articles by David G. Barker in Grace Theological Journal (185 n. 32) and Bibliotheca Sacra (459 n. 22), and six times to David M. Howard’s Structure of Psalms 93–100 (Eisenbrauns, 199 7). More frequently he refers to John Calvin’s works (41x), Spurgeon’s Treasury of David (15x), and Derek Kidner’s Tyndale OT Commentary on Psalms (12x).

Just like many of the higher critical sources he cites, Goldingay has no compunction in suggesting that the composer of Genesis 1–3 may have utilized Psalm 104, showing a non-adherence to Mosaic authorship of Genesis 1–3 (182). In his treatment of a Messianic psalm like Psalm 110, he declares that “One would never guess this interpretation from the psalm; it can only be read into it” (299). The non-Messianic view of Psalm 110 has to begin by denying the integrity of the psalm heading attributing its authorship to David (“It is difficult to see pattern or logic about links with D avid in the latter part of the Psalter,” 293). If David is speaking in v. 1 (as the heading indicates), “my Lord” cannot refer to a human king. W ho is David’s lord?—only the “Lord” of heaven and earth can fulfill that role. This juxtaposition and the fact that Yahweh speaks to “my Lord” guarantee that a literal, grammatical hermeneutic results in seeing this as a Messianic psalm. It is not a matter of NT reinterpretation.

Although examples of dubious exegesis and exposition mar the commentary here and there, seminarians and pastors alike will benefit substantially from Goldingay’s 3-volume commentary on Psalms. No commentary is perfect and the benefits clearly outweigh the detriments in these volumes. No single commentator will be able to exhaust a mine as deep and rich as the Hebrew Psalter.