James Hamilton is professor of biblical theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and preaching pastor at Kenwood Baptist Church. He is the author of God’s Glory in Salvation through Judgment, What is Biblical Theology?, and has written commentaries on Ezra-Nehemiah and Revelation.
In his new two-volume commentary on the Psalms, Jim Hamilton has done something I never heard of until about five years ago: he interprets “the book of Psalms as a book” (3). What does that mean and why does it matter? As Hamilton writes, the book of Psalms is “a purposefully ordered collection of poems that build on and interpret one another” (3). Instead of reading any single psalm and interpreting it on its own terms, Hamilton (like an increasing number of scholars) understands the book of Psalms to be something akin to a concept album, an album whose tracks hold a larger purpose or meaning collectively than they do individually. Just as we would (or should) treat a book like 2 Corinthians like a whole unit, so the book of Psalms is one book (made up of five smaller books).
Hamilton pays close attention to the superscriptions, which he understands to be inspired (pp. 46–47), link words that connect the psalms and the themes running through them. As well, each psalm has its own literary structure and message, as well as how they are grouped together.
Volume 1 covers the first two books—Psalms 1–41 (Book 1) and 42–72 (Book 2), and volume 2 covers Books 3–5—Psalms 73–150. Psalms 1 and 2 open the Psalms, and the most of psalms in Books 1 and 2 are Davidic, “creating the impression that in the psalms of Books 1 and 2 David prays through his life” (7). Book 3 begins with Solomon and moves down through the kings to when Israel is exiled out of the land (Ps 89). Book 4 begins with a prayer from Moses (Ps 90), using language from Moses intercessory prayer (Exod 32) for God to “turn” and “relent.” Yahweh will bring his reign (Pss 93-100) about through David’s son and Lord (Ps 110, which is found in Book 5). Psalms in Book 5 project “the life if the historical David into the future” with “David typifying the one to come” (10).
A Chiastic Structure
In his introduction Hamilton lists the chiastic structure to each of the five books, and then subdivides those lists into smaller units:
- Psalms 1–2 introduce the Blessed Man, Yahweh’s Messiah
- Pss 3–9
- Pss 10–14
- Pss 15–24
- Pss 25–33
- Pss 34–41
- Pss 42–49
- Pss 51–72
- Pss 73–83
- Pss 84–89
- Pss 90–106
- Pss 107–145 (these are grouped in chunks)
- Pss 146–150 offer final Hallels
That is a long list, but perhaps you can try to figure out the structure for yourself before looking at what Hamilton says.
Hamilton offers the CSB translation to each psalm as well as his own translation.
Each EBTC commentary has a section titled Biblical and Theological Themes, which is always a highlight for me. I was surprised and disappointed with this section in this volume, spanning only 18 pages, because biblical theology is Hamilton’s specialty. However, what he writes is rich. He offers five sections:
- The Master Narrative—Hamilton looks at the characters, settings, and themes of the Psalms.
- Truths Derived from the Master Narrative—divine simplicity; the fear of God. I was pleased to see divine simplicity here, but I was surprised that it was one of only two subsections here.
- Behaviors—here Hamilton looks at the way the psalmist encourages godly virtue and discourages foolishness.
- Liturgy—Hamilton focuses on how the words of the psalms were used in worship. He writes, “The Psalms, re-tell the story, reinforce the truths, and re-present the promises of consequence and reward for the behaviors encouraged and condemned” (81).
- Culture—”The psalmists understood themselves to be sharing in and extending the culture that stems from the Torah of Moses, continues through the Former and Latter Prophets, and receives further elaboration and attention in the Writings” (82). Those who embrace this culture “long for God’s king to do just that[—reign over all the ends of the earth], as Ps 2 promises he will” (82).
The Commentary’s Set-Up
The structure for how Hamilton exposits each psalm is the same:
- Overview and Structure: Hamilton offers a summary and outline of the psalm
- Two Translations: the CSB and Hamilton’s own
- Context: Lexical and Thematic Links with Surrounding Psalms—I really enjoyed this part, as “detailed” is my middle name. Hamilton highlights words that link a particular psalm with those that surround it. This helps you to see how each psalm flows from one to another.
- Exposition: Hamilton is easy to read and is concerned with building up the believer by knowing and understanding the message of each psalm. He is not overly concerned with giving us the Hebrew nuances of words, discourse analysis, or textual problems. He offers a historical background (if fitting) and exposits the text.
- Bridge: Hamilton offers some application through bridging the theology of this psalm either with New Testament texts or theological themes that run between both testaments. For example, in Psalm 51 Hamilton notes that David’s comment that God would not take his Holy Spirit away from him “has to be understood in the unfolding of biblical theology” (511). As Israel’s king, David enjoyed the anointing of the Spirit. Saul had enjoyed this anointing, but it was taken from him after he sinned against God (1 Sam 15). Believers, on the other hand, receive the new cleansed heart (that David prayed for) and are the temple of the Holy Spirit (512).
As a biblical theologian, Hamilton offers significant BT comments throughout his work (as I just mentioned with Ps 51). In regards to Ps 72:9, “May desert tribes bow down before him, and his enemies lick the dust!” This is a “poetic reformulation of God’s Gen 3:15 words to the serpent” that “interprets both the king and his enemies” (634). Those who oppose God’s anointed king “will come under the same curses that fell on their father the devil” (634). The enemies are here identified as the seed of the serpent, and the king as the seed of the woman. Hamilton connects this with the adamic dominion mentioned in 72:8, and we see how David prayed for a king “who would defeat the serpent and his seedand exercise the dominion God gave to Adam” (634).
I highly recommend Hamilton’s two-volume commentary. It is full of biblical theological insights, careful attention to the text, its words and themes, and it understands the Psalms as one book. This is an important work for pastors, teachers, scholars, and laity alike. These will be the first commentaries I turn to now for the Psalms. Other commentaries to consult would be Allen Ross’ three-volume set, the NIVAC and NICOT volumes. Throw in Kidner or Longman for something concise.
On a different note, I will add that the content for Books 1 and 5 span the most pages (if you’re wondering).
- Book 1: 355 pgs
- Book 2: 195 pgs
- Book 3: 150 pgs
- Book 4: 114 pgs
- Book 5: 263 pgs
This is likely due to a few factors. Theology and themes in earlier chapters are reiterated in some ways in later chapters. As well, there is simply a lot of content here. Hamilton has done a massive work with writing this commentary, and this is a lot for one person to write.
- Author: James M. Hamilton, Jr.
- Paperback: Volume 1: 677 pages; Volume 2: 569 pgs
- Publisher: Lexham Press (December 15, 2021)
Buy it on Amazon or from Lexham Press
Disclosure: I received this book free from Lexham Press. The opinions I have expressed are my own, and I was not required to write a positive review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html.