This second volume on Psalms completes Richard Clifford’s work on the Psalter for the Abingdon Old Testament Commentaries series, the mandate of which is to provide “compact, critical commentaries … for the use of theological students and pastors” as well as others engaged in teaching scripture. As might be expected in a second volume, introductory matters covered in volume one are not included here, and when appropriate, reference is made to matters discussed in the previous book. This volume includes an “Index of Psalms According to Type” as well as a topical index which indicates where the primary discussion of main subjects is to be found in the complete work. Each book concludes with a list of works cited, with volume two also providing a select bibliography for additional study. The brief notations on each work in the bibliography provide a useful guide, directing readers to appropriate materials by distinguishing between works appropriate for scholars and those for the general reader.
Specialists in the Hebrew Bible will be well aware of Clifford’s contributions to the field, and would expect a volume which draws from a wealth of knowledge of ancient Near Eastern texts and culture as well as biblical traditions. In this they will not be disappointed. As a guide to this collection of worship materials, Clifford writes with sensitivity to the spiritual as well as the technical dimensions of the text and draws in information when it will benefit the reader in understanding the core meaning of the psalm under consideration. In other words, his expertise is used to contextualize the nuances of particular psalms without his allowing himself to be distracted from the central task of interpreting the text for the intelligent reader. The invitation is constantly to engage with the biblical text rather than the commentary. As such, it is a volume to be commended to those who would like to work through the Psalms on their own, or whose concerns are to prepare to lead others in a discussion of the text.
While reading this commentary for review I was teaching a graduate course on Psalms, and leading a congregational group largely comprising young adults who were reading through the Psalter. Whenever possible, I tried to read through the relevant sections as I prepared for one or other of these tasks, and found the volume was able to be commended without reservation as a resource for further study and reflection in both of these contexts.
The structure of the series compels a division of the commentary on each psalm into three sections which consider, in turn, literary, exegetical, and theological and ethical matters. Reading through the volume and the associated psalms it becomes increasingly evident that you are in the company of a skilled guide. Literary matters are presented with clarity, while repetition is avoided as far as possible by directing the reader to primary discussion elsewhere in one or other of the volumes. Clearly the size of the commentary necessitated numerous decisions about which elements of each psalm would be discussed in its exegetical sections. In choosing what elements are analyzed Clifford has demonstrated a concern to make sense of the overall shape of the particular psalm being considered, while also giving direction to the connections to be observed with other psalms. There is no doubt that the author is a master of the technical literature, but this is not the context for the parading of scholarship, and his observations are marked by clarity and common sense. This prepares well for the final comments on the theological and ethical implications of each psalm. The presumed text for the series is the NRSV, and on those occasions when Clifford provides his own translation his rationale is clearly provided. In fact clarity is one of the hallmarks of this work, to which we might add the qualities of considered thought and contemporary relevance.
References to prayers and pray-ers are one of the elements of the text that makes it evident that Father Clifford never loses sight of the fact that these celebrated texts have a long history in the lives of real men and women, and their worship of God. There is much to absorb here, with sound judgments offered to guide the modern reader in thinking, praying and worshipping. As such, the book is to be savored and used as a trusted resource by all those whose desire is to engage with the God praised by, wrestled with, and prayed to by the poets whose work has been collected in Psalms.