Published on January 4, 2021 by Benjamin J. Montoya

T&T Clark, 2018 | 328 pages

A Book Review from Books At a Glance

By Eugene P. Ho


In Covenant Relationships and the Editing of the Hebrew Psalter, Adam D. Hensley argues for a theological vision or agenda in the Psalms. This vision demonstrates a theological unity of the covenants as well as its fulfillment in an anticipated future Davidic successor. Outside of his introduction and conclusion (chapters 1 and 15), the bulk of Hensley’s content consists of three major parts: Editorial Evidence and the Psalter (chapters 2–4), An Exploratory Survey of Covenantal References and Allusions in the Psalter (chapters 5–8), Psalms 72:17, 86:15, 103:8, and 145:8 in Their Psalm and Book Contexts, and Psalms 1–2 as an Introduction to the Psalter (chapters 10–14).

Hensley begins chapter 1 with the question if the Psalms have a theological agenda. He addresses the question by seeing a particular agenda in the Psalms focusing on kingship and covenant. To set a foundation for his research, he surveys some of the recent scholarship on covenant relationships in the Psalter. His thesis argues that the covenants, though distinct historically, are understood as unified through the Psalms, particularly focusing on the coming Davidic King. Hensley’s methodology follows and provides a clear framework and overview of the book.

Part I of Hensley’s work examines the editorial evidence of the Psalms. In chapter 2 he surveys some of the views on the division of the psalms. His survey is chronological and highlights the pre-Enlightenment, modern and pre-Wilson, and Wilson and recent scholarship periods. Gerald Wilson proves to be a key conversation partner of Hensley throughout the work. Prior to Wilson’s work on the Psalms, the Psalms were viewed as an accretion and the superscripts had little value. However, these views changed with Wilson demonstrating a deliberate redaction in the Psalms. Hensley notes some of the editorial evidences in the Psalms such as doxologies, superscripts, and other derivative kinds of evidences like chiasm or recurrent themes.

In looking at external editorial evidence (chapter 3), the key question Hensley considers is what the DSS and LXX contribute to the editing of the Psalms. He contends against Wilson and Flint and their view of a two-stage stabilization process of the Psalms. Hensley argues that the “stages” as seen by Wilson and Flint can be accounted for “as liturgically inspired arrangements that presuppose an existing MT Psalter” (39). In Hensley’s view, the LXX was written with an established MT and does not give direct light to the editorial data of the Psalms other than confirming the canonical authority and content of it.

Hensley homes in again on the internal editorial evidence in chapter 4. First, he looks at the superscripts and agrees with Wilson in seeing authorship as a key link in the grouping of the Psalms. Hensley explains well the differences and breaks in potential groups. He further sees the historical superscriptional elements working to highlight David’s life or the role of music. In the case of Psalm 72:20, which is the only direct editorial comment in the Psalms, Hensley goes on to propose that 72:20 marks the end of the last prayer of the historical David and what follows is the looking forward to a future David. In other words, later Davidic psalms are not in reference to David, but a future David.

In Part II, Hensley looks specifically at the covenantal references and allusions in the Psalms. Chapter 5 surveys the direct covenant references to YHWH’s ברית. He notes some of the previous surveys on “covenant,” but views the majority of such surveys as incomplete or too nuanced (76). As such, he takes on his own survey of ברית in individual psalms and how they inform covenant relationships. His coverage is detailed and looks at potential parallels, related texts, and contrasting views. With his analysis, Hensley concludes that when covenant is mentioned, the psalmists generally are referring to a singular covenant. Hensley states, “With apparent ease the Psalms allude to historically distinct covenants with Abraham, Moses, and David, and at the same time speak of ‘YHWH’s covenant’ as a singular concept. This suggests that the unity of the covenants is in some sense a theological unity undergirded by a historical continuity” (110).

In chapter 6, Hensley continues to build upon the theme of covenant and considers whether David is the primary figure alluded to or anticipated. Citing Rendtorff, Hensley shows the varied forms of the covenant formula and how their usage in the Psalms relates to David. He gives a brief survey of psalms expressing a variation of the formula and sees that YHWH’s covenant partner is in fact David. This leads to, in his estimation, a royalization rather than democratization. This is an important fact to note as Hensley is starting to make a case for “an editorial interest in the king as an intercessor” (123). This logically leads to chapter 7 where Hensley, building upon Jamie Grant’s proposal of seeing the king as an “exemplar” of torah-piety, considers whether the king fulfilled the Mosaic Covenant. Hensley surveys the allusions to Mosaic covenantal obligations, including details like allusions to the Shema, clustered terminology referring to the Mosaic covenant, and allusions to specific Decalogue commands. To summarize, it is David who petitions YHWH to hear and YHWH hears, whereas the people are not always heard favorably. Thus, the Davidic king is shown to be faithful to the covenant.

Hensley continues to build his argument in chapter 8 by exploring the nature of David as a new Moses. In order to evaluate this connection, Hensley analyzes possible allusions to the Song of the Sea, Numbers 6:24–27; and Deuteronomy 7:9–10; 9:26. He also looks at the themes of David as royal servant and son of YHWH. To further his argument, Hensley does well to look at implications in non-Davidic psalms, which also tend towards covenantal ideas.

In Part III Hensley centers on key seams and breaks in the Psalms in light of their contexts. A key break is Psalm 72:17 in Book II (chapter 9). His aim is to see the verse’s connection to the Abrahamic covenant in Genesis. To get a clearer picture of the landscape, Hensley considers the allusions to Abraham throughout the Psalms whether it be Abraham’s name or the blessing for all nations.

An integral portion of Part III is in examining the idea of the Grace Formula found in Exodus and how it is alluded to in the Psalms. Chapter 10 looks at this concept and sets up the following chapters that will look at the three psalms with full quotations of the Grace Formula, namely Psalms 86, 103, and 145. Hensley perceives that it is not Moses who is attributed to these psalms, but David. As such, Hensley posits that the compiler may be crediting Moses’ role as covenant mediator and intercessor to the Davidic king. The survey of the Grace Formula shows that “far from being ‘frozen’ in nostalgic traditions from Moses’ lifetime, later authors use the formula flexibly to apply it to other circumstances, demonstrating the formula’s versatility and ongoing relevance to the community” (210).

As mentioned before, the following chapters (11–13) take each major quotation of the Grace Formula in turn. The main question is whether the editors of the Psalms expected a covenant renewal through a Moses-like mediator. Key to Hensley’s conclusions is the importance of the context of Books III–V themselves. For example, in looking at the Grace Formula in Book IV, Hensley sees the opening Psalm 90, a Mosaic psalm, posing a question which finds its answer in Psalm 103, a Davidic psalm. Thus, what is shown is that David functions like Moses in an intercessory role on behalf of an unfaithful people. Moreover, in consideration of Book V, Hensley factors in the major groupings of the Egyptian Hallel and Song of Ascents to see what these might communicate about David and Moses in particular. Hensley’s analysis demonstrates David’s leading role in proclaiming YHWH’s grace, compassion, and promises.

The last major component that Hensley considers is the nature of Psalms 1–2 as an introduction to the Psalms. While there are different views, Hensley sees them as an intentional unit that narrows the focus of the Psalms on kingship. Thus, Torah and kingship permeate the whole of the Psalms. This is where Hensley concludes (chapter 15), as he summarizes the flow of his argumentation. A good summary of what he has argued is, “The Psalter and its books are crafted around the hope of the coming ‘David’ through whom YHWH would renew his people and Zion and lead them in thanksgiving and praise of God” (271).

Hensley had many strengths to his work. It was clear that Wilson proved to be an integral influence in some of Hensley’s thoughts. Though he agreed on points, when he disagreed, he often let Wilson speak in quoting extended portions of Wilson’s work. This allowed the reader to really see the context and highlight a key figure in the research and study of the Psalms.

Hensley was also very thoughtful in explaining why a detail might be different. For example, in referencing authorship as a principle of organization, he notes Psalms 3–41 as all Davidic except for 10 and 33, which are anonymous. He then explains why they might be anonymous, that they perhaps form a broken acrostic with the preceding psalm. Whatever the case may be, Hensley concludes that these psalms show a strongly Davidic context.

Another strength of Hensley was in his discussion of Psalm 72:20. He sees it as a break from the historical David to the future David. However, he makes the qualification that he is not interpreting ל in לדוד differently as by/about respectively. Instead, he claims that the editors could use the ambiguity of ל for a specific purpose. “The point at issue pre- and post-72:20 is: which ‘David,’ historical or future? Editors could thus understand later psalms ‘of David’ as prayed or declared ‘by a future David’ (as appropriate to their genre) without necessarily denying historical David as those psalms’ original author” (55). This is a very informative explanation, and typical of Hensley’s thoughtful argumentation as he anticipates a potential unintended conclusion.

Though strong on many fronts, Hensley’s work is not without some weaknesses. In relation to data, Hensley’s appendices could have been elaborated upon. While excellent in his surveys and comparisons in the body of his text, his tables in the appendices could have provided more details such as distribution of where phrases or portions occur in the five Books of the Psalms. Other potentially helpful tables could have been statistics on the usage of the Grace Formula or allusions to the Abrahamic or Mosaic covenants.

Overall, Hensley does well to explain his terms and provide qualifiers when needed. However, sometimes he uses a term without qualification, such as “echo.” It is at times a little ambiguous to know what exactly he means by echo rather than allusion or some other term. It can be inferred that what he means is to refer to some type of weaker connection, but he does not explicitly define this terminology.

One final point is that perhaps Hensley could have placed chapter 14 on Psalms 1–2 earlier in his work. Hensley argued well as to the unity of the two psalms as an introduction to the Psalms. Moreover, he pointed out that the flow went from “everyman” in Psalm 1 to very specific in Psalm 2. This, in his mind, establishes the idea of a Davidic kingship, and in other words, a specific individual (royalization rather than democratization). This entire concept was well-argued and built upon throughout his work. However, it seems like such a concept could have been used much earlier as a foundational piece to build from rather than conclude on.

In sum, in Covenant Relationships and the Editing of the Hebrew Psalter, Hensley makes good on his thesis of seeing a primary emphasis in the Psalms on covenant, particularly in its fulfillment in the future David. His argumentation is rooted in the text and allows the reader to see David, both historical and future, as a primary figure seen and anticipated throughout the Psalms. While it would be ideal for the reader to have a firm understanding of Hebrew to fully appreciate Hensley’s extensive textual work, his explanation in those areas are detailed enough to track his main points. His work overall would serve as a helpful resource for anyone seeking to understand the theological vision of the Psalms. Hensley writes in such a way to demonstrate clearly that the Psalms are not just scattered and unconnected pieces, but a unified, integrated, and purposeful masterpiece.


Eugene P. Ho

The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary

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T&T Clark, 2018 | 328 pages

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