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Product details

  • Paperback: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Crossway Books USA; 1 edition (28 Feb. 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1433533960
  • ISBN-13: 978-1433533969
  • Product Dimensions: 13.3 x 1.3 x 20.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 343,651 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Though frequently used in times of crisis or pain, the book of Psalms is often misread or misunderstood, seeming like a disorganized jumble of prayer, praise, and lament. To help readers get more out of the Psalms, renowned Old Testament scholar Gordon Wenham highlights its foundational place for all Christian worship and spiritual formation. This compilation of eight lectures delivered between 1997 and 2010 teaches the practices of singing, reading, and praying the Psalms, paying special attention to the Psalter's canonical structure, messianic focus, and ethical goal. In drawing on his extensive academic and scholarly experience, Wenham has crafted a guide for discovering afresh the manifold wonders of this beautiful and surprisingly complex portion of the Bible.

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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Dr. B. E. Kelly on 30 Dec. 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This book gathers together lectures given over thirteen years in a variety of places. There is some overlap and repetition, but the overall impact is a progressively unfolding study of the Psalms from a historic Christian perspective that keeps abreast of some of the most recent scholarship on the Psalms, as well as making good use of speech-act theory. Wenham's concern throughout is to appropriate the Psalms of the Hebrew Bible as Christian Scripture that testifies to the one God of the Mosaic covenant and looks forward to the promised messianic king in the line of David.
The book begins with the immediate questions, what it means for the church to sing and pray the Psalms, with an historical review of how they were used and understood in the practice of Christian spirituality, and why they have come to be neglected. J. L. Austin's speech-act theory is used in a very constructive way that appeals as well to the historic practice of the church.
Chapters on reading the Psalms canonically and messianically remind us that this is an edited, integrated collection with a structure and intertextuality that should be recognised in the act of interpretation. Wenham goes beyond the older, atomising work of the form critics and Weiser (who tied his interpretation to his reconstruction of the cultus), with many helpful insights from Brevard Childs and Gerald Wilson, considering how the five-book Psalter was understood in the post-exilic period, not least as the bearer of messianic hopes.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful By THOMAS MORROW on 16 July 2013
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A real joy to devour writing which inspires, uplifts, and stimulates. A book of spirituality and substance, devoid of cliche.
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0 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Bill on 21 Aug. 2014
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 15 reviews
13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
A very solid canonical and theological introduction to Psalms 17 Mar. 2013
By Amazon Customer - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This is a very good book on Psalms. It serves as introduction, though it's made up of a collection of essays that began as individual lectures on different aspects of Psalms.. Wenham's focus is canonical criticism and throughout the chapters of the book he pays close attention to the arrangement of the entire book. A key interpretive point is this: it is not so much the individual psalm, or it's (reconstructed) social setting, matters; rather, it is the psalm's placement within the whole psalter that matters. He regularly inquires what the editor of the psalter intended.

In addition to the focus on canonical criticism, Wenham also includes a chapter that discusses speech-act theory. As we verbally pray and sing the psalms we commit ourselves to learning and doing the psalms. Regularly worshiping with these psalms will enable us to grow spiritually.

There is also a chapter on the ethics of the psalms, which Wenham notes is a neglected area of study. In this chapter, he compares the psalter to the Decalogue and discusses the treatment in Psalms of the righteous and the wicked.

Overall, the book is a very good introduction to Psalms. My own canonical reading and understanding of not only Psalms but of the entire Bible has been improved by reading this book.

I disagree with the earlier reviewers who note that the book is too technical and not devotional. I was repeatedly driven back to the Psalms and have renewed my daily reading of these great poems of faith. If one is looking for a devotional commentary, this is not your book. If you are a general reader and not versed in biblical criticism, this is not your book. But if you have at least a passing knowledge of criticism you will be fine with this book. It is technical to a point, but canonical criticism is very accessible and rewarding to those who work to understand its basic tenets.

Spend some time with this book. You will be driven back to the Psalms in faith and wonder.
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
An Introduction 17 May 2013
By revtcr - Published on
Format: Paperback
An Overview

Chapter 1. What Are We Doing Singing the Psalms? Wenham makes the case that the people of God have been praying and praising with the Psalms from the time of David to the Second Temple to Jesus and the early church, all the way through the Middle Ages and the Reformation, up till the eighteenth century. The reader will also find Wenham use of speech-act theory to explore what we are doing when reciting publicly or singing the Psalms quite instructive.

Chapter 2. Praying the Psalms. Wenham argues that the Psalms are designed to be prayed. With the help of the Apostle Paul, Athanasius and Calvin he makes his case. After lamenting largely the absence of the Psalms in our churches and seminaries, Wenham explores the various uses and categories of the Psalms.

Chapter 3. Reading the Psalms Canonically. This is perhaps the most academic of the work. Here the reader finds Wenham engaging scholars from 1926 to 2005 on the editing of the Psalter to the titles attached to many of them (David, Asaph, etc). Wenham argues that final-form and canonical readings of the Psalter have to take seriously the Psalm titles.

Chapter 4. Reading the Psalms Messianically. Wenham explores what Psalms should be called messianic, how the NT reads them, and how the practice of canonical reading contributes to resolving the issue. After making the point that originally many of the Psalms were not understood messianically, Wenham, however, argues that a historical interpretation is not the last word, by appealing to sensus plenior or fuller sense of what would be called messianic.

Chapter 5. The Ethics of the Psalms. In this chapter Wenham builds on the assumption that people give utterance to their deepest and most fundamental convictions. At the heart of these convictions for the Hebrew people are the Ten Commandments and the character of God.

Chapter 6. The Imprecatory Psalms. Here the reader finds Wenham engaging various works on how best to approach these psalms. In the end, his view may be summed up thus: "To eliminate prayers that God would pour out his wrath on our enemies `would reduce the biblical God to a spectator uninterested in this world'" (see my post here).

Chapter 7. Psalm 103: The Song of Steadfast Love. The reader is treated to an exposition here. Wenhams approach is to consider Psalm 103′s place in the Psalter, its connection with other psalms, and its title. The reader will also find more of Wenham and less of his interaction with other works. In good homilectical style, Wenham moves from the text to a modern day application.

Chapter 8. The Nations in the Psalms. This is a treat. Psalm 1 and 2 are seen as providing something of an outline for how the rest of the Psalter should be read. For example, from Psalm 2, Wenham outlines five themes that he finds recurring in the Psalter. He then proceeds to trace these themes throughout the Psalter. Also, in keeping with the title of the chapther, Wenham sees in Psalm 87:4-6 the names of nations that mark the four heavenly quarters: west (Egypt), east (Babylon), north (the land of the Philistines and Tyre), and south (Cush), and how these nations, once Israel's traditional great enemies, are being granted citizenship of Jerusalem, "this one was born there."

A Critique

First, I believe the sub-title of the book is a bit misleading, "Praying and Praising with the Psalms." It would have been better titled: The Psalter Reclaimed: An Introduction. Why do I say this? Well, the reader seeing this title is looking for a work that will help him or her reclaim the Psalms in their personal life and essentially that of the church. The reader is thus looking for a more practical work. But Wenham's work is more academic, which the average, lay member will not appreciate.

Second, apart from chapter 7, "Psalm 103: The Son of Steadfast Love," the reader finds himself reading more about what others have said rather than what Wenham truly believes about a particular issue. I was hoping to hear more of Wenham throughout. But as I said above, this work would better be served as an introduction.


More on the positive side, the reader gets a better feel for the structure of the Psalm. Rather than viewing it as a collection of isolated psalms, drawing on the final editor(s) of the Psalter, Wenham convinces the reader that their is indeed structure, five books, patterned after the Pentateuch, and that each psalm must be read in connection with other psalms and the Psalter as a whole.

As an introduction, and I don't know if Wenham himself is responsible for the book's title, I find it a solid contribution.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Solid and Valuable Approach to Understanding and Exegeting the Psalms 3 May 2013
By Michael C. Boling - Published on
Format: Paperback
The Psalms are arguably one of the most well known yet perhaps most overlooked portion of Scripture when it comes to understanding the theological depth they contain. Many of the Psalms have been a source of comfort for believers most notably the 23rd Psalm with its depiction of God guiding and protecting His people no matter what may befall them. With that said, do we really understand or comprehend how to study the Psalms from a hermeneutical and exegetical approach? Dr. Gordon Wenham, in his book The Psalter Reclaimed provides a helpful and lucid approach to gaining a more in-depth understanding of the Psalms.

Wenham rightly notes the Psalms are in essence a mini-Bible, providing an overview of biblical events such as creation, the conquest of Canaan, the life of King David, temple worship, the time of the exile as well as vastly deep theological concepts such as the character of God and His dealings with sinful man.

Yet another interesting aspect of the Psalms is the manner in which they were written. Given the fact most people today do not read the Psalms in Hebrew, many of the beautiful poetic elements of the Psalms that are present in the original language have been "lost in translation" so to speak. Wenham aptly reminds the reader of the ability of ancient societies such as the Greeks and the Hebrews to set large amounts of information to memory. This is an important concept to grasp, especially when reading the Psalms. In many churches today, Psalms have been turned into worship songs and rightly so as the Psalter is replete with the message of praise and adoration to God. What many perhaps forget is the Israelites often sung what became known as the Psalter on various occasions and at numerous events throughout the year. The Psalms were written in such a manner as to promote memorization. Wenham comments "Not only does the content make the Psalter useful as a summary of the Old Testament and its teaching, but there are many features that may be viewed as aids to memory." It is those features that Wenham spends the vast remainder of his book engaging.

Wenham first outlines the different categories of Psalms such as the Psalms of Praise, Psalms of Lament, Penitential Psalms, and Messianic Psalms. Subsumed within those categories are subsets of Psalms that further elaborate on for example various types of praise psalms or Messianic Psalms. When the reader of the Psalter understands what type of Psalm they are reading, it is much easier to understand the context, connect the historical event that is being described by the Psalmist to a particular Psalm, and most importantly to properly apply the message of that particular Psalm within the grand context of Scripture.

The next method of studying the Psalms Wenham addresses is viewing and understanding them by how they are arranged within the Psalter as a whole. This approach largely began under the influence of Gerald Wilson's book, The Editing of the Hebrew Psalter. While other scholars had presented the importance of understanding how the Psalter was arranged, it was Wilson's book that presented a holistic approach on this issue. Wenham provides an interesting quote from Wilson that elaborates on why one should be cognizant of the arrangement of the Psalter:

"The effect of the editorial fixation of the first psalm as an introduction to the whole Psalter is subtly to alter how the reader views and appreciates the psalms collected there. The emphasis is now on meditation rather than cultic performance; private, individual use over public, communal participation. In a strange transformation, Israel's words of response to her God have not become the Word of God to Israel."

Wenham also saliently discusses the importance of recognizing the titles given to the individual Psalms as a means of comprehending the subject matter of that Psalm. Often, the title bears some attribution of the authorship of that Psalm, although titles such as "by David" often meant they were a Psalm about David and not specifically by him.

Most believers are likely aware of the many Messianic themed Psalms. For those who are not, a Psalm is considered Messianic if it predicts or discusses the life of the Messiah. Sometimes it is difficult to assert which Psalms are truly Messianic in nature given the idea of the Messiah is multi-faceted within Old Testament Jewish thought. In this section, Wenham critically analyzes a number of scholarly approaches to the Messianic understanding of the Psalms, noting where some scholars succumbed to liberal theological approaches and where others have stayed true to the text at hand. This was a very fascinating chapter especially given the subject matter. Wenham does a great job of analyzing the various potential Messianic psalms noting key terms to look for, in particular references to David, noting the importance of understanding the reality that some of these Psalms are specifically related to David, others related to David and the Messiah, and some specifically speak of the Messiah.

Another fascinating element of The Psalter Reclaimed is the discussion on the ethical value contained in the Psalter. Quite honestly, this was an approach I had not thought much about and one that was not discussed even in graduate level classes on the Psalms. Wenham rightly notes the scarcity of scholarly work on this element of theological research on the Psalms so it was certainly valuable for him to engage this topic in his book. He avers "The Psalms are first and foremost prayers, so they constantly bring God into the picture, not least in their ethical statements. God's character is constantly appealed to as the guarantor of the ethical system: he will ensure that the wicked are punished, and the righteous are rewarded. But more than that, God's actions are often seen as a model for human behavior." This concept is perhaps most applicable when it comes to understand the purpose of what are called the Imprecatory Psalms, the Psalms that speak of God judging the wicked. While the Psalmist certainly calls for God to smite the wicked, it is always within the framework of allowing God to be the righteous Judge, with calls for personal vindictiveness completely absent from the conversation.

The Psalter Reclaimed is a valuable book for anyone who desires to engage the Psalms on any number of levels. It is written in such a manner that scholars and layman alike will appreciate its depth and ease of reading. Wenham stands firm on a sound theological approach to the Psalter, rejecting liberal scholarship in favor of letting God's Word speak. His consistently excellent exegesis of the Psalms is greatly appreciated. I highly recommend this book given the value the Psalms provide the believer and given the reality that most people have only a surface level understanding of the vast theological depth this book of Scripture has within its pages.

I received this book for free from Crossway for this review. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255 : "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."
Reading the Psalms in Light of the Whole Psalter 28 Jun. 2013
By David Gunner Gundersen - Published on
Format: Paperback
This book is a collection of insightful essays by seasoned OT scholar Gordon Wenham. Wenham promotes using the Psalms in worship, reading the Psalms through canonical, messianic, and ethical lenses, and valuing the imprecatory psalms. Emphasizing a canonical approach throughout, Wenham seeks to interpret a particular psalm in light of its surrounding psalms and the Psalter as a whole.


Singing and praying the Psalms in worship has a rich history (chs. 1-2). Singing the Psalms helps us concentrate, memorize, and personalize what we're singing in a way that mere reading does not. Wenham employs speech-act theory and shows how in singing the Psalms we are committing ourselves to specific truths, attitudes, actions, and to God himself. Praying the Psalms has similar effects. As Bonhoeffer declared, "The only way to understand the Psalms is on your knees" (38).

Wenham next advocates reading the Psalms canonically, messianically, and ethically (chs. 3-5). Since Gerald Wilson published his landmark dissertation The Editing of the Hebrew Psalter in 1985, scholars and students have been re-excavating the Psalter in search of its structure and internal connections. While still acknowledging the individuality of each psalm, study after study reveals that the psalms are placed strategically and meaningfully within the Psalter and ought to be read that way. After his helpful chapter on the imprecatory psalms (ch. 6), Wenham turns back to his canonical emphasis by expositing Psalm 103 in light of its surrounding psalms, the Psalter's structure as a whole, and the developing storyline of the Hebrew Bible (ch. 7). He maintains this canonical approach in the final chapter, expanding on the place of the nations in the Psalms (ch. 8).


The subtitle Praying and Praising with the Psalms is misleading since only chapters 1, 2, and 6 focus on praying and singing. Nevertheless, The Psalter Reclaimed is a fresh reintroduction to the Psalms -- worshipful, insightful, and progressive. Although it lacks the flow of ordered chapters written sequentially, the diverse essays provide a kaleidoscope of insights into the Psalter. I'm especially grateful that the rich canonical approach to reading the Psalms is being nudged out from the backstage of scholarly discussion and carefully popularized for public consumption. The Psalms are stunning in their beauty and deserve to be read and memorized, prayed and sung, preached and counseled -- all with a blended exegetical, canonical, and messianic approach that ends in worshipful wisdom.

* Thanks to Crossway for providing a free copy for unbiased review.
Immerse Yourself in the Psalms 19 Jun. 2013
By Adam Parker - Published on
Format: Paperback
Gordon Wenham's book The Psalter Reclaimed: Praying and Praising with the Psalms is a collection of Wenham's writings from various sources, all collected into one convenient Psalm-centered volume. I chose to read this book because I need a new and fresh familiarity with the Psalms. I don't know them as well as I ought to, and much of the Psalter is strange to me. It is difficult to always know how to interpret or apply what we read in the Psalms to the readers, prayers, or worshippers who are utilizing the Psalms.

In the first chapter, Wenham speaks of the importance of the Psalms. He talks of their historic pedigree and their importance throughout the history of the church. In the remainder of the chapter he discusses recent scholarship regarding the relationship between speech-act theory and the corporately spoken nature of the Psalms. Wenham essentially argues that there are important "similarities between taking an oath, making a vow, confessing faith, and praying the psalms." Singing the Psalms, says Wenham, actively committ the singer "to following the God-approved life" (35). It is not merely the repetition of an external series of words or merely an act of worship.

In Chapter two, Wenham argues that "we ought to pray the psalms regularly as Jesus and the apostles did, and as the Christian church did as well for about eighteen centuries" (40) Don't panic - he is not arguing for an exclusive psalmnody position. But he does at least note that the psalms have fallen into being used less than they were before the introduction of hymns in the 18th century and that this trend should be reversed. His argument is that the Psalms instruct the church in how to praise God and how to lament in times of trial and pain. They also help us in our repentance by modeling what true penitence looks and sounds like. Ultimately, the Psalms point to the Messiah. The chapter points out that the Psalms are all useful. "We should use all of the psalms, not just the cheerful or sentimental ones that take our fancy" (55).

In Chapter three and four Wenham turns his attention to tracing the modern developments in reading the Psalms canonically as well as Messianically. He concludes that (1) we should read the Psalms in the canonical context of the whole Psalter. (2) We should read the Psalms in the context of the Hebrew Bible. (3) We should read the Psalms in the context of the "Christian canon of the Old and New Testaments" (77). As for chapter four, he defends the idea that the psalms can (and often should) be read with a messianic expectation, and he argues effectively that the editors of the Psalms certainly had that expectation. Some very interesting hermeneutical discussion occupies this chapter.

In chapter five, Wenham explores the subject of the relationship between the law (decalogue) and the Psalms. The Psalmist repeatedly rejoices in the law of God (Ps. 119). "To rejoice in God's judgment on sin is to turn the spotlight on one's own life and behavior: will I pass muster with God?" Wenham's chapter brings out many insights as to what is really involved when a worshipper delights in the justice and holiness of God, which are revealed in God's Law.

Most readers, I suspect, will be most interested in Wenham's discussion of the impreccatory Psalms, which is what the sixth chapter covers. He gives an overview of various approaches to these Psalms - from Calvin to Kidner - but then offers Erich Zenger as offering the most helpful approach to understanding these Psalms. Zenger essentially approaches the Psalms by saying that Christians are functionally marcionite if they reject the impreccatory psalms as "sub-Christian" or as outdated Old Testament literature. According to Zenger, the impreccatory psalms serve the important purpose of giving voice to the very real human need for divine justice. "These psalms awaken our consciences to the anguish of those who suffer. They serve to waken us from the dreadful passivity that has overtaken the comfortable churches of the Western world. They make us long for the coming of the kingdom of power and justice" (135). He concludes this important chapter by reminding readers that although Western Christendom may not experience martyrdoms and injustice (and hence are offended by something like Psalm 109), much of the church around the world does experience such horrors and injustices as the Psalmists when they wrote the Psalms, and it is on behalf of such suffering brothers and sisters that we can appropriately pray the impreccatory psalms.

Chapter seven is a straightforward exploration of the concept of God's "steadfast love" as found in Psalm 103. The final chapter comes from an unpublished lecture of Wenham's where he discusses the subject of "the nations" in the Psalms, moving canonically from Psalm 1 through 150. Yes, the nations set themselves against God for much of the Psalms, but they also end on a note of hopeful expectation that the nations may yet come in to God's fold.

The greatest strength of this volume is that it immerses its readers in the world of the Psalms. You come away from this reading with the impression that the church today has undoubtedly neglected a rich source of material for worship and for her edification. The volume does have a weakness, however, and that is its disconnected nature. Because each chapter has its origins in separate projects that were collected together, there is some disjointedness. The last chapter in particular, feels tacked on and I certainly found it difficult to know why it was there in terms of the larger whole of the book.

All in all, this volume is for those who, like me, have neglected the Psalms and who have not thought deeply about the role that the Psalms are to play in the life of the church. Readers will undoubtedly be edified and benefit much from Wenham's work.
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