I’ve been asked to review this new guide to the psalms, the first Old Testament title in a series of ‘Really Useful Guides’ from the Bible Reading Fellowship. The series hopes to provide compact accessible guides to books of the bible, enhancing biblical literacy with a simple, unintimidating, but authoritative overview of each text. Sounds like my kind of books! I do get frustrated when theologians use lots of long words and endlessly long sentences when a few simple words would do, it can make subjects so inaccessible. Simon P Stocks ‘Psalms’ is exactly as intended, easy to understand but at the same time, bringing the psalms alive.
The Psalter is a funny book in the bible, a bit like marmite, you either love ‘em or hate ‘em, perhaps because for many of us, as Stocks himself found, he didn’t at first ‘get’ them. Filled with a rollercoaster of emotion, the psalms can be hard to decipher but Stocks seeks to explain the difficult bits, address common misconceptions, show the reader how they can incorporate psalms into their own lives & suggests that they need to be ‘experienced and felt’.
Of 8 chapters, the first 5 ask questions to explore the topic: Why read the psalms? What is the Book of Psalms? What do the psalms say? How do they say it? What was going on at the time? In these, Stocks uses themes to delve deeper into the psalms. He explains particular terms, gives good tips and helpful facts but without overloading the reader.
Although the final few chapters are focussed on reading the psalms today and how that can help us, in fact the book is filled with helpful pointers for us to use the psalms in every day life, how the psalms can encourage us when we are discouraged by the world around us and the importance of lament in refocusing our perspective.
Particularly helpful I found, is the explanation of the style of writing, which helps to clarify some difficult areas and explains the Hebrew poetic style, again with simplicity. Similarly the author points out key metaphors of imagery and symbolism, and the need to understand the context in which a psalm was written and in how we use them today.
At just 112 pages long, this is a quick and easy read, but one that you can delve into deeper if you wish. Stocks includes suggestions of psalms to read, asks questions for the reader to consider and reflect upon, and points out circumstances in which we might find a psalm helpful. The guide is aimed in general at Christian readers, as well as home group leaders, lay leaders and anyone who just wants to know a bit more about the psalms, and it really is accessible enough to be read by anyone, and interesting enough to keep you focussed.
Simon P Stocks
Simon is the Tutor for Biblical Studies and Director of Reader Training at St Augustine’s College of Theology, He is the Old Testament editor for Really Useful Guides.