Learning to Love the Psalms by W. Robert Godfrey

Learning to Love the PsalmsLearning to Love the Psalms

by W. Robert Godfrey

eARC, 263 pg.
Reformation Trust Publishing, 2017

Read: April 2 – 16, 2017


Godfrey’s Afterword begins:

In our study, we have made a beginning of learning to love the Psalms. We have looked at some of the attractions and difficulties of the Psalter. We have summarized the great themes, subjects, and emotions of these songs. We have examined some of the forms and uses of the Psalms. But this book is at best an introduction and invitation to growing in an appreciation of the Psalter. You need to carry on with what we have started together.

That right there is a great 80 word summary of the book — both in intention and execution. If that summary appeals to you, you’ll dig the book.

Godfrey starts with a few short chapters talking about the Psalter as a whole. He discusses his own personal history with the Psalms and what attracted him to them and the benefit he’s gained — then a very quick look at Psalms in Church History (notably their impact on the Reformation). Then he discusses why people are discouraged from getting into them, how to overcome that, how to approach the Psalms and some basic things to think about why studying them/using them for yourself. He gives 10 questions to use when coming to any Psalm that are easy enough for any rookie to put to use and also for any one who had studied the Bible for years to benefit from.

Following that he looks at each of the 5 collections or books or whatever you want to call the groupings of the Psalms that make up the whole Psalter. These would be:

  • BOOK ONE – THE KING’S CONFIDENCE IN GOD’S CARE: Psalms 1– 41
  • BOOK TWO – THE KING’S COMMITMENT TO GOD’S KINGDOM: Psalms 42– 72
  • BOOK THREE – THE KING’S CRISIS OVER GOD’S PROMISES: Psalms 73– 89
  • BOOK FOUR – THE KING’S COMFORT IN GOD’S FAITHFULNESS: Psalms 90– 106
  • BOOK FIVE – THE KING’S CELEBRATION OF GOD’S SALVATION: Psalms 107– 150
  • THE CONCLUSION OF THE PSALTER: Psalms 146– 150
  • In these parts, Godfrey explores the structure and themes of each and then looks at at least 5 psalms in that book — opening them up for the reader, seeing how they work together with the other around them, in some cases how they don’t fit the theme of the rest of the book. All of these are brief, but thorough, chapters (an overview chapter and then individual chapters on each Psalm) — insightful and helpful on their own — much more so when combined with the other chapters in that section or the book as a whole. But really, if you wanted help with, say, Psalm 78 (to choose at random) as a refresher for something — the chapter on that from this book would be a great way to start. Godfrey explains:

    The intention of this study is not to provide an exhaustive exegesis of each psalm considered, but rather to open a way to a growing understanding of the Psalms. God gave His people the Psalter so that we could more and more be defined by it, so that we could find our identity in it. We as the people of God today need to learn for ourselves what it means to live in the Psalms. In a real sense, they give us words to express what it means to live as a Christian. We should live in and out of the Psalms.

    “They give us words to express what it means to live as a Christian ” I love that line — as I have really started to explore the Psalms for myself over the last couple of years, that’s really what I’ve been seeing and will immediately start using that phrase to describe it.

    These sections of the book are the heart of it — as helpful as the initial chapters are. It’s not a commentary, as he states, but it does do a great job of jump-starting your individual study. I probably jotted down more quotations from these sections than I have from others lately, and the temptation to list them all is great. I’m going to limit myself to three, just so you can get a taste of Godfrey’s language and the variety of topics/themes he addresses:

    The difference between this praise song [based on Psalm 103] and the actual psalm [103] is striking. The song is repetitive in vague terms: He has done great things. The psalm, by contrast, is specific about the various blessings received. Taking the psalms as our standard of praise should warn us against the repetitiveness of many contemporary songs and lead us to praise that is much more pointed and specific. Genuine gratitude reviews in detail the wonderful gifts of our God.

    — Both a pointed critique and a challenge/encouragement for how to go express our gratitude biblically.

    From Psalm 73:

    Pictures that reconstruct the temple almost invariably misrepresent the scene as very clean and tidy. In fact, the altar must have been a rather horrible sight of blood and charred remains. It was surrounded with the odors of blood, burnt flesh, and death. Flies probably swarmed around. What the psalmist saw was what God intended His worshipers to see: that the wages of sin is death in all its horror. The altar testified that sin leads to destruction, and the only way to avoid the just consequences of sin is to find a substitute and sacrifice. The altar testified that the blood of a spotless substitute was necessary for sin to be forgiven. . .The altar and the sacrifices point to Jesus and His saving work. He is the true sacrifice and substitute for His people.

    From his discussion of Psalm 74:

    Here is a concern often repeated in the Psalter: Why does the Lord not act more promptly in response to the needs and prayers of His people? Why? First, we should notice that this questioning by the psalmist stands against the advice offered today by some well-meaning Christians who say that we should never ask why. Such advisers voice a kind of Christian stoicism, teaching that we must just grin and bear it. The psalmist, by contrast, gives strong expression to the depths of his emotions. Indeed, God, by the example of the psalmist, encourages His people to a refreshing honesty in prayer, including honesty in expressing our emotions. Fear, anger, frustration—all are emotions that we find poured out in the Psalter. But we must remember that they are emotions expressed by a believer who still trusts his God. It is immediately after these questions that the psalmist asserts his faith in the words of verse 12.

    Again, I could keep going, but I’m going to force myself to stop. But we have here gratitude, sacrifice, mercy, despair, fear, faith and that’s just in 3 Psalms — only bits of his explorations of 3 Psalms, actually. Godfrey’s guide to the Psalter touches on almost as many aspects of the Christian life as the Psalter itself does.

    I should note that this one of those books whose end-of-chapter discussion questions are actually worth reading and using. It’s such a rarity, that it needs to be pointed out when you do see it.

    I’m not going to say that this is a flawless work, there are a few places where my notes consist primarily of question marks or “that seems like a stretch.” But most of those are on comments about the structure of the Psalter as a whole, about the organization of the “books” of the psalms and that sort of thing — which isn’t to say I disagreed with anything he said there, it’s just that he didn’t convince me. But given my lack of study on this sort of thing, it’s very possible I just need to think about it all some more. Mostly my notes are along the lines of “excellent,” “great point,” or “why didn’t I have this book years ago to help me with topic/discussion X?”

    Earlier, I quoted from the Afterword, which could’ve been longer (most of the book could’ve been longer, really — but it would’ve become imposing, intimidating and less attractive for its target audience if it had) but was a great way to sum up the book and spur the reader on for further study, reflection and devotion in the Psalms. It served as a good call to action with some very handy tips.

    Now, I must admit I didn’t read this one the way I should’ve — it would’ve taken me a couple of months to do so and I really figure that Reformation Trust wanted something a bit more timely than that from a NetGalley offering. This is the kind of book to read with a Bible and notebook within reach and to use both of them frequently. It’s a book that takes study and time to get everything out of — and I fully intended to return to this book soon for just that purpose — which isn’t to say that it’s not approachable or that it’s difficult to read. Not at all, this is one of the least technical books I’ve read in a long time when it comes to Bible Study. There’s nothing here stopping anyone from profiting from the book. But to get everything out of the volume, you need to put in the time to read what Godfrey says and reflect on it while reading (or singing) the Psalms discussed and working through them on your own.

    All in all, this is a very helpful book — a good study, a good aid for individual/group use (I think it’d be great for family worship/devotions/whatever you call it), and an encouragement to dig into one of the more intimidating yet wonderful books of the Bible in order to find those “words to express what it means to live as a Christian”. I heartily recommend this book.

    Disclaimer: I received this eARC from Reformation Trust Publishing via NetGalley in exchange for this post — thanks to both for this, I benefited from this greatly.
    N.B.: As this was an ARC, any quotations above may be changed in the published work — I will endeavor to verify them as soon as possible.

    —–

    5 Stars

    Saturday Miscellany – 4/22/16

    Another long week — so this is late again. Hopefully back to normal last week. Maybe even with more things to read for you here. Still, here are the ddds ‘n ends over the week about books and reading that caught my eye. You’ve probably seen some/most/all of them, but just in case:

      This Week’s New Release that I’m Excited About and/or You’ll Probably See Here Soon:

    • Lois Lane: Triple Threat by Gwenda Bond — not only does this look good, but it reminds me that I never got around to reading Double Down last year. Oops. YA Lois Lane is back in action — and maybe gets to meet SmallvilleGuy in the flesh.

    Lastly, I’d like to say hi and welcome to roamingwanderlusts for following the blog this week.

    I’m Curious: Recommending books in a long series

    So here we are with me out of energy and too many books to write about, so I’ll tell a little story and ask a couple of questions instead.

    A couple of days ago, I was chatting with some guys, and as frequently happens, one asks, “What’s the best book you’ve read recently?”

    It took me about .5 seconds of thought to reply, “Bound by Benedict Jacka.” As you readers all know, from the really long post that I haven’t written yet about it.

    Anyway, a moment or two later, I followed that up with, “Of course, that’s actually a recommendation for 8 books, because you need the set to get the impact of Bound. So, the best stand-alone recently is Deep Down Dead . . .” and went out to give them a summary of my blog post on that book (yes, I actually wrote that one).

    So, here’s my question: how do you handle recommending an installment in a long-running series? Or, how do you take recommendations for the latest book in a series that’s been going on awhile?

    High Heat (Audiobook) by Lee Child, Dick Hill

    High HeatHigh Heat

    by Lee Child, Dick Hill (Narrator)
    Series: Jack Reacher, #17.5
    Unabridged Audiobook, 2 hrs., 27 mins.
    Random House Audio, 2013

    Read: March 16 – 17, 2017


    Ahhh, finally — an actually satisfying shorter Jack Reacher story. It’s longer than the others I’ve tried — a novella, not just a short story. That’s probably a lot of it, but there’s something more to it — just don’t ask me what.

    Reacher’s on summer vacation before his senior year — pretty much fully grown, has a good head on his shoulders, and is as arrogant and invincible feeling as most teenagers (he’s just big and tough enough to back it up). He’s visiting NYC for the day before going to visit his brother at West Point.

    It’s 1977, a summer in NYC known for two things: incredible heat and Son of Sam. Both have an impact on this story (no, Reacher doesn’t stop the killer or anything — phew). Reacher flirts with some college girls, breaks up a fight with a mobster and an undercover FBI agent, survives a blackout, spends some quality time with one of the college girls and helps the FBI agent out — while engaging in a few solid fights.

    The action takes place in one night — probably 14 hours or so, but Child manages to cram a lot into those hours. Is it realistic? No, not even by Reacher standards. Is it compelling — yup. Will it keep you interested? Oh, yeah.

    Dick Hill sounded to me like he as having a lot of fun reading this one — which is fitting, it’s probably the most “fun” Reacher story I’ve come across (well, maybe the Reacher/Nick Heller story in FaceOff is a little more so). He does his typical job, satisfying in his delivery, keeps you engaged, doesn’t wow with technique.

    It’s a fun story, nothing to get excited about, but something that Reacher fans will enjoy, in a complete-feeling story. Good enough for me.

    —–

    3.5 Stars

    Dave Barry’s History of the Millennium (So Far) (Audiobook) by Dave Barry, Patrick Frederic

    Dave Barry's History of the Millennium (So Far)Dave Barry’s History of the Millennium (So Far)

    by Dave Barry, Patrick Frederic
    Unabridged Audiobook, 4 hrs., 29 mins.
    Penguin Audio, 2007

    Read: April 10, 2017


    Back in high school, I worked at a public library (shock, right?), and I kept shelving this book — Dave Barry Slept Here, and eventually succumbed and took it home — several times. I fell in love with Barry’s humor, and read him a lot over the next decade — every book, as many columns as I could find, etc., etc. But I eventually stopped, for no good reason that I can think of (it’s probably not Harry Anderson‘s fault) — and have really only read his novels since then.

    Still, when I saw this audiobook on the library’s site, it was an automatic click — without even reading the description. This is essentially a reprinting of his “Year in Review” columns for the first few years of this millennium and a review of the previous 1,000 years of human history.

    It was hilarious. Just that simple. There’s nothing more to say, really.

    In the beginning Frederic played it straight — which surprised me a bit, but I liked the effect. A serious reading of Barry’s goofiness worked remarkably well. Later on, Frederic seemed to loosen up — he even did a couple of decent impressions. I really enjoyed his work on this.

    Yeah, the humor’s a bit dated, but funny is funny. This is a great look back at the early part of the 21st Century (and before). I laughed a lot, remembered a few things, and generally had a good time with this.

    —–

    3.5 Stars

    Tooth and Nail by Ian Rankin

    Tooth and Nail Tooth and Nail

    by Ian Rankin
    Series: John Rebus, #3

    Paperback, 293 pg.
    St. Martin’s Paperbacks, 1996 (first published 1992)

    Read: April 14 – 15, 2017

    She drives home the knife.

    The moment, she knows from past experience, is a very intimate one. Her hand is gripped around the knife’s
    cool handle and the thrust takes the blade into the throat up to the hilt until her hand meets the throat itself. Flesh upon flesh. Jacket first, or woollen jersey, cotton shirt or T-shirt, then flesh. Now rent. The knife is writhing, like an animal sniffing. Warm blood covering hilt and hand. (The other hand covers the mouth, stifling screams.) The moment is complete. A meeting. Touching. The body is hot, gaping, warm with blood. Seething inside, as insides become outsides. Boiling. The moment is coming to an end all too soon.

    And still she feels hungry. It isn’t right, isn’t usual but she does. She removes some of the clothing; in fact, removes quite a lot of it, removes more, perhaps, than is necessary. And she does what she must do, the knife squirming again. She keeps her eyes screwed tightly shut. She does not like this part. She has never liked this part, not then, not now. But especially not then.

    Clearly, this is someone who needs to be stopped. And The Powers That Be have brought John Rebus from Edinburgh to London to help the hunt for the Wolfman (yeah, those who tagged the killer with that moniker may have made some assumptions). Thanks to the events in Knots & Crosses, many (who don’t know all the details) believe that Rebus is somewhat of an expert in Serial Killers. He knows he’s not, but no one asked him — he was just told to show up. It’s not long before this case gets under Rebus’ skin and he’s no longer in London to kill a couple of days as a show of support for the local police, but he’s off to catch a killer.

    George Flight is the detective who’s serving as Rebus’ contact — and is leading the investigation. Rebus notes that he’s a better policeman than he is — meticulous, detailed, going through things step by step. Which isn’t doing him a lot of good at the moment, he needs something more. Enter Rebus. By and large, Flight’s the only one that wants Rebus’ help — his superior, another detective on the case, and the press liaison are pretty united in their lack of interest in bringing in someone from “Jockland” to meddle in the crimes of the big city.

    As Rebus arrives in London, another body is discovered, so he shows up at the crime scene with his luggage, from there, they head to an autopsy — rushed, no doubt given the likelihood that this is another Wolfman victim. The autopsy scene — the sights, sounds and smells — is one of the best (possibly the best) that I’ve seen along these lines. It felt real, it felt disgusting, it felt sad. Between this and the opening paragraphs (quoted above), I’m again reminded that Rankin knows what he’s doing when it comes to writing. He nails this stuff.

    While he’s in town, Rebus visits his ex-wife and daughter — things go poorly there, as one would expect. Things go worse when his daughter’s boyfriend comes around. When Rebus is able to connect said boyfriend to a career criminal . . .

    I’m no expert on this, but I’ve read more than a few serial killer novels, it strikes me that 1992 was still pretty early in serial killer fiction-terms, and it shows. Both in Rebus’ attempts to draw the killer out, as well as Flight’s attempts to catch him. We also get to see both detectives trying to understand the serial killer — or at least how to apprehend one. Flight’s more old-school in his approach and is pretty disdainful of Rebus’ efforts to get inside the head of a serial killer. Which is not to say that this particular killer isn’t destructive, sick and really creepy.

    Rebus is spurred on to this track because of who he is — but the attractive psychologist, Lisa Frazer, who wants to help him out certainly doesn’t hurt. It could be argued by some (including some characters in the book) that Rebus is far more interested in pursuing her than the Wolfman.

    Rebus mostly stumbles around, indulging his infatuation with Frazer, looking for his daughter’s boyfriend, and occasionally chatting with Flight about the case. Now eventually, enough things happened that allow Rebus to put things together and figure out the identity of the Wolfman (sorta like when Wilson made a stray comment to Dr. House that got him to make the right diagnosis). Sure, it was clever, but hard to believe.

    Early on, I thought this might be the book that turned me into a Rankin fan, not just some guy reading these. It came close, but I just couldn’t totally buy the ending and the way Rebus solved the case. But man, Rankin can write. I’m not totally sold on what he’s writing, but I’m really enjoying the craft. I was hooked throughout, but that ending just didn’t work.

    —–

    3.5 Stars

    2017 Library Love Challenge

    Black Fall by D. J. Bodden

    Honestly? I really wasn’t that interested in this book — Bodden followed me on Twitter, and I followed back — I saw that he had a link to NetGalley for this book, so I clicked and checked it out. It seemed like a perfectly nice book and one that probably had an interesting take on teenaged vampires, but I really wasn’t in the mood for that, so I closed the window. Or so I remember it. The next day, I got an email saying that I’d been approved for the book. Not wanting my NetGalley percentage to take a hit, I threw it on to the Kindle and made room on the schedule. So, let the fact that I wasn’t all that interested in this book in the first place put a certain spin on what I’m going to say here.

    Black FallBlack Fall

    by D. J. Bodden
    Series: The Black Year, #1

    eARC, 294 pg.
    2015

    Read: April 12 – 13, 2017


    Jonas Black is a typical sixteen year-old, with a very driven girlfriend (who’s pretty much mapped out the next few years of their lives), a decent home life, a couple of invested parents, and so on in NYC. Which makes him not that typical, I guess — but he’s the kind of kid people think of as “typical.” When we meet him, however, he’s reeling from the unexpected death of his father, and his mother doesn’t seem to be acting all that normal at the funeral.

    Not long after that, strange things start happening to Jonas — he blacks out unexpectedly, his mother’s behavior gets even stranger, lastly he and his mother are attacked at home, and rescued by someone unlikely (leading to 2 very large men escorting him to school). He’s able to pin his mother down and she explains to him that she’s a vampire, as was his father — and he is, too. There was a problem with my download and so the conversation where his mother describes the experiment that made him into the vampire he is (born, not made) and whatnot. Thankfully, I don’t want to get into details anyway, because I’d probably get it wrong. I really appreciate that Jonas isn’t a Chosen One kind of character — more of an Engineered One. But even at that, I don’t think anyone planned on him tackling things that he did at this stage of his life (I’m semi-prepared to be proven wrong in future books).

    So, while juggling school and his girlfriend, Jonas is basically enrolled in a self-defense course for vampires (there’s more to it than that, but . . . ) where he meets some other vampires and a reticent werewolf. He befriends/is befriended by a vampire, Eve, about the same age — but who knows what she’s doing — and wants to get to know the werewolf, Kieran. While I’m largely on the fence about the older vampires Jonas meets — I really like Eve. Kieran and the other werewolves are cool — and not just because I prefer lycanthropes to vamps. Before long the three of them — and a small army of others — find themselves in the middle of an effort to put a stop to a demon’s schemes.

    Bodden’s vampires are pretty interesting — I like some of the tweaks he makes to the standard profile. Ditto for his werewolves. His entire supernatural taxonomy and how it relates to the world is pretty well-realized and elaborate. I was pretty impressed by it, and am curious about it as well. I’m not saying they’re drastically different (vampires don’t glow or anything), but Bodden’s vamps aren’t the same as Hunters’s, Butcher’s, Briggs’, etc.

    A word of warning: There’s. Just. So. Much. Exposition. I get it, really — Jonas needed to be introduced to this world, and acclimatized really soon for his own safety. Which was mighty convenient, because it helped the reader learn about The Black Year’s take on vampires, werewolves, lichs (is that the proper plural form? lichen doesn’t seem right), specters, hunters, etc. On the whole, Bodden did a decent job blending character moments and infodumps, merging what we need to learn with keeping things moving. Still, it frequently felt like this was a guide to the supernatural world more than a novel — he might as well have named a couple of characters Ryan and Esposito.

    I was engaged enough to keep going, but at a certain point, I’d just about given up hope of really enjoying the book, and just put my head down to plow though and get it over with so I could move on. I was surprised a little later to find out that I was invested in the fate of these characters, and was really getting a kick out of Bodden’s work. I can’t point to what it was that got me there, but it probably had something to do with Kieran. I do want to stress that it was after the 50% mark, so stick with it if your experience is like mine. By the time I was finished, I was ready for book #2 (…and probably 3….and most likely 4).

    I will not say that this is the best thing since sliced bread, but it’s a fresh take on many UF staples from a YA point-of-view, with compelling characters, a well-built world, and a solid plot (especially when it gets around to moving).

    Disclaimer: I received this eARC from the author via NetGalley in exchange for this post — I appreciate the read.

    —–

    3.5 Stars