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Book review by Kevin Gladding
If you have always struggled to understand the language, the imagery, or the “how” and “why” of the book of Psalms, then Christopher Ash’s Psalms for You is, in fact, the book for you. You don’t have to be a pastor or a theological student to benefit from this book (though pastors and theological students would benefit). Ash writes in a clear and understandable manner, and when he uses terms that may not be commonly understood, he highlights those in the text and concisely defines them in a glossary.
Ash has done all of the hard work of grappling with original language and varying commentators in order to provide the reader with both beauty and substance – a noteworthy and needed combination for the poetry of the Psalms. He helps you appreciate rather than bemoan the poetry, as he sets the song in its context and explains meaning of the imagery being used. You begin to see what Ash means when he says, “The Psalms are God’s chosen way to engage our thinking and our feeling in a way that is passionate, thoughtful, true and authentic” (10).
Although Ash does not examine every Psalm, he pairs 16 Psalms as “representative sample of types of psalm form each of the five books” (12). And for each pair, he asks the same three questions: 1) “who is speaking”; 2) “what did this mean in old-covenant times”; and 3) “what it meant for Jesus and now means for us in Christ” (12-13). By consistently and expertly applying this rubric, Ash gives the reader more than information about – or even insight into – particular Psalms. He gives the reader a set of tools with which to go back and enjoy the rest of the Psalms.
As I read his book, it became clear to me that Ash loves the Psalms and, more pointedly, loves the One to whom they point. His approach displays a pastor’s heart that desires to see God’s people understand God’s Word, that they might “worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness” (Ps. 96:9). Ash isn’t mining the Psalms for hidden meaning. Instead, he is sounding the depths of the language God has given to His people to use in prayer and song!
That approach was most welcomed when Ash considered some of the more difficult Psalms, particularly, Psalm 109, 137, and 139. With great skill and sensitivity, Ash contextually and Christocentrically removes these oft-called “imprecatory Psalms” from the realm of imprecation and treats them with in the context of the Old and New Covenants. I won’t spoil it for you, but I’d encourage you to read the way he understands these Psalms. While he may not convince everyone, for me, he made these Psalms not only sing-able, but desire-able.
Perhaps my favorite aspect of this book is the way it points us to Christ. As Ash unfolds the context of each Psalm, its authorship and its cultic and cultural imagery, he asks how “the old covenant language of the psalm translate[s] into new-covenant fulfillment” (13). Ash concludes each chapter by showing why Christ’s Person and work make these Psalms – all the Psalms – relevant and necessary for God’s people today.
So if you’re looking for something to read, choose this book. Learn the prayer language of Christ, and learn to pray it yourself – in Him.