The Word of God in the Child of God: Exegetical, Theological, and Homiletical Relfections from the 119th Psalm

By George J. Zemek
Brandon, Fla. : The author (1998). xiv + 431 Pages.

Reviewed by Dr. William Barrick
9.2 (Fall 1998) : 265-267

George Zemek was a Professor of Theology at TMS for 6 years. Currently, he is pastor-teacher of Grace Bible Church of Brandon, Florida. He regularly taught a class in the Hebrew exegesis of Psalm 119 during his tenure at Grace Theological Seminary (Winona Lake, Indiana) and TMS. He approaches the psalm fully informed in the Hebrew text and maintaining a solid theological framework. Zemek’s commentary seeks to fulfill the role of a much-needed “middle-of-the-road analysis of Psalm 119" (xiv).

Part 1 (“Introductory Matters”) commences with a brief discussion of both critical and conservative evaluations of the psalm (3-5). Then the author deals with matters of authorship and date (7-15). Though clearly indicating that the authorship of Psalm 119 is anonymous, the author does reveal a preference for Daniel as the writer (12-15, 93, 111 n. 56, 120 n. 17, 139 n. 32, 175 n. 37). Nowhere in the introductory survey does the author conduct a comparative survey of the vocabulary and phraseology of the psalm and the Davidic corpus. M. Tsevat’s A Study of the Language of the Biblical Psalms (JBL MS 9 [Philadelphia: Society of Biblical Literature, 1955]) would be a valuable aid in such a survey. Unfortunately, Zemek does not mention it in his volume. A comparable survey of the Daniel corpus might not provide pertinent results since the Hebrew portions of Daniel are a different genre and deal with very different topics. Zemek carefully notes those instances where vocabulary is reminiscent of Daniel, but fails to be equally observant when significant vocabulary is found in clearly Davidic psalms (see 135 n. 8, 153 n. 44 [cf. Pss 68:30; 138:4; 144:10], 151 n. 25 [cf. Pss 31:12; 55:13; 69:8, 9, 20; 109:25], 171 n. 6 [cf. Pss 16:5; 142:6]—all verse references are to the Hebrew text, not the English). Likewise, he avoids any discussion of the Davidic implications of v. 176 (382-85).

In the section entitled “Literary Vehicles,” Zemek introduces the reader to an examination of the alphabetic acrostic framework of the psalm (17-25). The same section contains a disappointingly apocopated discussion of the psalm’s genre and the nature of Hebrew poetic parallelism (25-27).

Since the textual integrity of the psalm has nearly universal recognition, the section on “Textual Assessment” gives most of its attention to the Psalms Scroll from Qumran Cave 11 (29-32). The contributions of the Septuagint, Vulgate, and Aramaic Targum texts are cited throughout the exegetical sections of the commentary.

Part 2 (“Overview”) first evaluates the inter- and intra-strophic development of the psalmist’s presentation (35-38). Then a “Theological Overview” presents what the author identifies as the “applied Bibliology” of the psalm (39-60). This section’s focus is upon brief word studies of the 8 synonyms for the Word (e.g., tôrâ and piqqûdîm) that are employed by the psalmist. Under the puzzling title “Their Solace,” the author attempts to discuss the moral or ethical attributes of the Word of God as presented in the psalm (52-54). That section’s relationship to the overall discussion is very obscure—especially in its treatment of the inseparable preposition _ ().

 The commentary proper comprises the bulk of the volume (61-385). Each of the 22 stanzas of the psalm is presented in 3 steps: “Translation and Notes,” “Synopsis and Outline,” and “Commentary.” Illuminating syntactical comments show up throughout the commentary. One example involves the negative adverb __ (’al) and its normal reference to a specific occasion or circumstance (65, 79 n. 62, 88 n. 31) as compared to the more objective negation provided by ℵ__ (lō’; 76 n. 43, 90 n. 41).

Word studies give evidence of careful theological evaluation as well as awareness of the contributions of cognate studies. Zemek refers the reader to pertinent literature related to key word studies. Examples of these word studies include ____ (tôrâ, 40-43), ___ (nep, 106 n. 28), and ___ (bîn, 120-21 including nn. 17 and 18). In his brief discussion of “the fear of the LORD,” the author properly observes that the scriptural use of the phrase “never fully evaporates into some sort of warm respect or subdued reverence” (142 n. 53). His discussion of ___ (hesed, 149-50), however, seems to be overly dependent upon R. Laird Harris’s disappointing article in TWOT. Occasionally Zemek admits that hesed has a meaning more akin to “personal fidelity” than to “grace” (329).

Frequently the author refers to various lexical connections between the LXX and the NT (69 n. 9, 70 n. 10, 78 n. 52, 80 n. 65, 105 n. 21, 111 n. 58, 162). The reader will look in vain for an explanation of the semantic and hermeneutical principles involved in the author’s identification of such linguistic bridges (cf. 78 n. 52). He does, however, provide the reader with a reference to James Barr’s The Semantics of Biblical Language (London: Oxford, 1961) for some necessary cautions (126 n. 53).

Zemek provides the reader with many valuable interpretative insights. Much of the book, however, bears the stamp of a cardfile of collected quotations from the most helpful commentaries and specialized studies. The book is a handy collection of the best comments gleaned from the major works on the psalm (e.g., Alexander, Allen, Anderson, Barnes, Cheyne, Cohen, Dahood, Delitzsch, Kidner, Kirkpatrick, Leupold, Moll, Perowne, Scroggie, Soll, Spurgeon, and Thrupp).

The final pages of the volume are devoted to an appendix containing the diagrammatical analyses of the entire psalm (388-431). The diagrams are strictly syntactical analyses rather than logical or structural analyses. Some reference should have been made to Lee L. Kantenwein’s Diagrammatical Analysis (rev. ed.; Winona Lake, Ind.: BMH, 1991) to provide a resource for readers unfamiliar with the method. Though the diagrams are instructive in the grammatical relationships within the psalm, they are not as valuable as logical displays or structural analyses would be for the exegete and the homiletician. For excellent examples of these latter types of analysis, this reviewer recommends Frederic Bush’s analytical diagrams in his Ruth/Esther volume in the Word Biblical Commentary (Dallas: Word, 1996).

The author has a delightful penchant for alliteration (particularly fitting in a commentary on a psalm alliterating the start of each set of 8 lines). However, it is sometimes a bit contrived and can be a bit distracting. The diligent who persevere in reading the volume will benefit from its treasure-trove of observations on the Hebrew text.

This reviewer hopes that the volume will be widely read and used. When it is eventually reprinted, the infelicitous white spaces (e.g., 22, 23, 35, 45, 51, 52, 53, 56, 69, 79) and typos (“l” for “1,” e.g., 258-59; inappropriate hyphenation, e.g., 289; mistaken division of Hebrew phraseology between lines, e.g., 294 n. 20; misplaced footnotes, e.g., 371-72 nn. 29 and 30, 374-76 nn. 52 and 56; and the discord of the verse references on facing pages throughout the Appendix) in its current printing should be corrected. A reprinted edition should also contain a series of indexes befitting a scholarly work containing many fine examples of syntactical analysis and exegetical discussion. Such would make the volume far more utilitarian for student and teacher alike.