Book Reviews

Interpreting the Psalms

An Exegetical Handbook

Mark D. Futato Grand Rapids 2007-08-17

Futato has authored several books on the Book of Psalms. He is the Robert L. Mclellan Professor of Old Testament at the Reformed Theological Seminary in Orlando, Florida. In this recent book he helps readers understand the nature of Hebrew poetry and the purpose of the Psalter, and he gives suggestions for interpreting and proclaiming psalms.

Futato highlights the role of the psalms in this way: “In the psalms we encounter God, others, and ourselves in life’s joys and sorrows, tragedies and triumphs. The psalms capture our imaginations, engage our thoughts, stir our emotions, and move our wills” (p. 17). Futato states that poetic parallelism involves a kind of correspondence—correspondence in grammar (e.g., Ps. 103:3) or correspondence in meaning (e.g., Ps. 92:6). He suggests that “parallelism is the art of saying something similar in both cola but with a difference added in the second colon” (p. 38).

Hebrew poetry is replete with imagery, imagery that touches the emotions and engages the mind, that pictures concrete actions, and that creates associations (pp. 41–45). Patterns in the poems are linear (e.g., Pss. 104:27–30; 150:1–6), parallel (e.g., Pss. 19:2; 100:1–5), or symmetrical (e.g., Pss. 6:9; 70:1–5). Futato emphasizes that the psalms are for instruction in happiness, which is attainable only by holiness (p. 67). Their overarching message, he suggests, is the kingship of God and the fact that man’s destiny is glory. Other themes include the Lord as refuge and blessings for the nations.

Futato also discusses the historical settings of the psalms and the role of textual criticism. Then he discusses several categories of psalms, with numerous examples of each: hymns, laments, songs of thanksgiving, songs of confidence, divine kingship songs, wisdom songs, and royal psalms.

The author makes an interesting distinction between exegesis and exposition. “Exegetical language is typically text specific and third person, while expository language is universal and second person” (p. 202). Exposition “means that the message embedded in the text is applicable to all people in all times and places” (ibid.). Using Psalm 13 to give an example of the latter, Futato suggests the following outline (pp. 203–4): I. Ask your questions (vv. 1–2); II. Make your requests (vv. 3–4); III. Affirm your intentions (vv. 5–6).

In his final chapter Futato discusses Psalm 29 as an example of an expository presentation and with an emphasis on three applicational questions: What are your listeners to believe? What are your listeners to feel? What are your listeners to do?

This book is the second release in the Handbooks for Old Testament Exegesis series. The first is Interpreting the Historical Books, by Dallas Seminary’s chair and professor of Old Testament Studies, Robert B. Chisholm Jr. 

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