Published on July 1, 2019 by Joshua R Monroe

Zondervan, 2018 | 1072 pages

A Book Review from Books at a Glance

by Wade W. Weeldreyer.


In 2002, Gerald H. Wilson published Psalms, Volume 1 for the NIV Application Commentary series. He was expected to complete its counterpart; however, his untimely death in 2005 prevented this. Instead, W. Dennis Tucker Jr. and Jamie A. Grant published this second volume in 2018. Tucker is Professor of Christian Scriptures at Truett Theological Seminary; Grant is Vice-Principal and Lecturer in Biblical Studies at Highland Theological College UHI. Both are able scholars and have published extensively on the Psalter.

Wilson’s work has left its mark on this commentary. Because this commentary is the second of a two-part volume, it omits introductory matters, such as the features of Hebrew poetry and the dominant forms of the psalms. Tucker and Grant point readers to the first volume for this information. Rather, this commentary is introduced through a series of essays covering the shape of the Psalter, the editorial purposes evident in the Psalter, the Psalter’s theological themes, and its dual status as God’s Word to humanity and humanity’s words back to God. These essays set the tone for the commentary, for Tucker and Grant take a distinctively canonical approach to the Psalter. They consistently emphasize the value in reading the Book of Psalms as an intentionally organized, unified work. In this too they follow Wilson, who studied under Brevard Childs and broke ground in his book The Editing of the Hebrew Psalter (1985).

These introductory essays are important reads before engaging with the commentary, especially given that the Psalter is often treated as an anthology of texts best accessed through their historical or compositional context. These essays enumerate the many “indicators of structure” present in the Psalter, such as its division into five books, its collections identified by superscripts, and the overall shift from lament to praise over the course of the book. They conclude, “To speak of the editorial purpose of the Psalter does not suggest that there is a rationale for the location of each and every psalm within the Psalter, but it does suggest that selected psalms do appear at strategic locations and that, through careful analysis, those psalms might provide clues for understanding the Psalter as a whole” (24). The implications of this conclusion are demonstrated throughout their analysis of the text.

Tucker and Grant follow the prescribed NIVAC format. For each psalm they move from “Original Meaning” to “Bridging Contexts” to “Contemporary Significance,” helping the reader “with the difficult but vital task of bringing an ancient message into a modern context,” as the series introduction states. But at what point do the psalms reveal their “original meaning?” This commentary consistently identifies the psalms’ interpretive context as their final position in the canonical Psalter. This can be seen clearly, for example, in their treatment of Psalm 110: “Thus, while parts of the psalm may have been spoken to a king in an earlier period, the poem in its present (canonical) context provides a theological confession for individuals and communities who would have prayed this psalm much later” (590). Even psalms identified by their superscripts with preexilic figures, such as David, are often interpreted in a postexilic context by Tucker and Grant. Due to their canonical approach, the commentary contains little speculation on any given psalm’s compositional Sitz im Leben (“Setting in Life”).

The commentary’s actual exegesis of the text is rather slim on text critical or technical issues. Little space is given for cataloguing and weighing various positions taken by interpreters. Instead, the commentary presents a coherent, well-informed picture of what each psalm is communicating. This makes for a very readable commentary. Its readability is further bolstered by the style of its authors. Consider this passage from the exegesis of Psalm 73: “Imagine the reaction of the first hearers of this psalm. ‘The shalom of the wicked … Asaph, are you mad? The wicked do not have … cannot haveshalom!’ The idea of shalom in the Old Testament is associated with the powerful, holistic blessing of God for his people. Surely only the ‘righteous’ can have shalom, not the wicked. […] How is a believer to resolve such a conundrum?” (62). At its best, this style is able to give its readers a feel both for the rhetoric of the psalm and for the passion of the psalmist.

Tucker and Grant use the “Bridging Contexts” sections well. Often, they comment on biblical theological themes or address thorny interpretive issues. They ask questions such as, “Who are the righteous and wicked today?” They also explore themes in the Psalter such as election, the temple, and the afterlife. The Old Covenant is especially treated in a robust, compelling way. They emphasize its essence as a real relationship between God and his people, and they illustrate well how other themes—such as the Davidic kingship, the temple, and Zion—tie into this relationship. The authors also use this section to highlight some psalms’ use in the New Testament.

Tucker and Grant’s careful work in the “Bridging Contexts” sections guards their “Contemporary Significance” sections from moralizing or psychologizing the psalms. Rather, the significance comes through a lens of covenant relationship with God. These sections often grow organically out of the earlier sections. Moreover, they are carefully nuanced and well thought out. It seems that both authors steer clear of particularly controversial issues, and thus their applications do not always feel prophetic. Nonetheless, their compelling work in the two prior sections was often able to inspire in me several applications of the biblical text even before reading their suggested significance. 

For any student of the Psalter interested in canonical readings of the text, Psalms, Volume 2 is an essential read. The introductory essays and analysis of psalms at the “seams” of the Psalter’s divisions alone make the book a worthwhile purchase. The authors’ discussion of the movement from Psalm 88 and 89 at the end of Book III to Psalm 90 at the beginning of Book IV is quite significant, for example. They successfully illustrate how taking seriously the final form of the Psalter can guide our interpretation of both individual psalms and the book as a whole.

The authors are by no means exhaustive in presenting readers with the full range of perspectives. The commentary does not provide much of a reception history. For example, among Reformation and pre-Reformation authors, only Athanasius, Augustine, Calvin, and Luther appear in the author index, and none of them are cited more than five times. Rather, Tucker and Grant move directly from the canonical text to our contemporary context today. Furthermore, the commentary seldom provides the full range of views and arguments for textual or interpretive issues. Students interested in digging deeper on these matters would need to seek out a more technical commentary. Finally, the commentary is not particularly Christocentric, and if the reader is preparing for Christ-centered sermons, he or she may need to put in further work to make that final connection.

Again, I must commend this commentary for the value it has for students of the Psalter interested in canonical readings. Furthermore, I found Tucker and Grant’s emphasis on the covenantal relationship of God and his people compelling and inspirational. Through both their exegesis and application of the Psalter, Tucker and Grant provide a refreshing look into Old Covenant spirituality. For someone just beginning my preaching ministry, I am grateful to have Psalms, Volume 2 on my shelf.


Wade W. Weeldreyer is an MDiv student at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois.

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Psalms, Volume 2 (The NIV Application Commentary)

Zondervan, 2018 | 1072 pages

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