Review: The Righteous in the Muck of Life

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Pastor/Commentator Dale Ralph Davis is at it again with a little “Psalm Sampler” (p. 7) for us consisting of Psalms 1-12. Why does he only write about 12 psalms? Well, there are 150 of them. It’s a sampler, not a platter. These lessons are taken from his Sunday evening sermons to his congregation of Woodland Presbyterian Church. 

“My father once remarked that when the Lord’s people come to the Lord’s house they often come dragging heavy burdens; hence, he said, he usually tried to include something in his preaching that might prove heartening to them. ‘Comfort, comfort my people, says your God’ (Isa. 40:1)” (p. 7).

This book is about comfort. Davis is concerned that we know who God is. He is the one who is with His people. God is one of glory, weighty glory. He deserves to be praised, yet He is mindful even of us. We are nothing but dust, but He delights to know us and take care of us. He is protecting, sufficient, restoring, and accessible (p. 42). Yahweh is not bland, He is alive!

The Chocolate Milk

This is essentially a devotional-styled commentary. Davis is easy to read, he looks at the big picture of the psalm taking a few verses at a time without going into too much detail. He tries to comfort the Christian reader. He usually looks back to the previous psalm for the connection to see, for example, why is Ps. 2 after Ps. 1? Why is Ps. 10 where it is? Why is Ps. 1 the first psalm? + Davis seeks to show how to praise God for His character and His goodness. He know Him, and we don’t have to be afraid of His final judgment. + You have to know God to know how to pray. How do you know what to pray for? On what basis are your prayers if you don’t know who you’re praying too? In Psalm 6 David is tired of being weary. Whether physical or spiritual, it is wearing him down. He is waiting for God to rescue him and restore his life to him. In verse 9 David says,

“Yahweh has heard my plea for grace! Yahweh will accept my prayer!”

“That is David’s argument here. He is resting in Yahweh’s character, in the sort of God he had declared himself to be. Sometimes this is your only stay in trouble – simply what God has said about himself and about what he will do. Which suggests how massively important the doctrine of God is for the Christian life” (p. 76-77). Why is the doctrine of God so important for Christians to know? Because what you learn in the light will carry you in the darkness. What you know of God and His character in the good times will save you in the dark times. To know and trust that He is good. In the beginning of Psalm 10, David cries out for God because He is standing a long way off. The psalmist laments because it is out of God’s character. It is abnormal, which seems o say that the psalmist knows and has experienced what is normal from God. So the “‘why’ tells us that there has been a prevous time of enjoying the consistency of Yahweh, a time in which faith was supported instead of perplexed” (pg. 117). God has a character that can be known, and He will come through even in the darkest of times (10:12-18).

Davis stays God-focused (theo-centric). When the enemy loses his footing in Psalm 7 and falls into the pit he has set, who’s doing is it? Well, it is God’s. He is bringing “the wicked to wreck” (p. 90). He is the main storyteller, and one day He will make all things right according to His time. Davis is concerned with the attacked, and he shows that God is also concerned for His righteous who are attacked, oppressed, and persecuted. And He doesn’t forget those who act wickedly. Davis makes sure to make us aware that God is aware of our surroundings. His eyes search to and fro to give support for those whose heart is blameless towards Him (2 Chron. 16:9), and surely that means He seems the wicked in their folly. Why else would He have to ‘search’?

Davis is very clever and it often comes out in his humor. Most commentators are serious in their books (which is a good thing), but Davis takes a fresh approach in being humorous. Even the Bible itself is humorous (I don’t read Hebrew, but from some of my classes at CCBCY I know of Hebrew puns. They usually help to understand a story, and often times make fun of the enemy by putting them in a shameful light). Davis is at times sarcastic or clever, putting down the folly of the wicked, or the enlightened minds of liberal scholars who really just want to trash the Bible into being a fictional book with some good moral fables strewn about in itself. 

The Spoiled Milk

I’m amazed at the amount of stories Davis has. But, if nothing else, I have two main issues with them:

  1. Sometimes examples make sense, but they don’t hit home. I don’t always see the connection between the psalm and Davis’ example. +
  2. Sometimes there are just too many stories. They’re never more than a paragraph long (if that), but after a while I’m tired of seeing his stories. Some of them are great! Others, as mentioned above, I just don’t see the point. Davis is a good exegete (see his commentaries on Joshua, Judges, 1-2 Samuel, 1-2 Kings, Daniel, and Micah). He can fill plenty of space with talking about the text.

Yet, I know that this is more of a devotional book, rather than word study commentary. But, so as to not belabor the point, the stories can be prolific. Sometimes they’re good. Sometimes they’re not.

Though Davis is Theocentric, however he is not so much Christocentric. His reasoning is that, when speaking to the disciples post-resurrection, Jesus tells them how “all things must be fulfilled which were written in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms concerning Me” (Lk. 24:44). Davis says that it doesn’t so much mean “all things in the law were written concerning Me,” but “all things in the Law that were written concerning Me.” So not everything in the Law/Prophets/Writings concerns Jesus, but Jesus told them everything that does concern Him (p. 9).  However, after reading David Murray’s Jesus On Every Page, and in accordance to what my teacher said in my Jesus Christ in the Old Testament class, it’s not certain psalms (2, 8, 22, 69, etc) that are Messianic….they all are Messianic!  All things were created by Him, through Him, and for Him (Col. 1:16). You can see Jesus all throughout Scripture, rules and boundaries God has set in place (Gen. 1-2), the excellence of wisdom (Prov. 8), and the failings of everyone in the Bible which points to the One who is perfect and complete. Can we really pick and choose which pieces are ‘Messianic’ and which are not? 

I love reading Davis, and I still think this is a terrific devotional book on the psalms. Davis looks to God in all things, rather than at how man should fix the situation in himself. And Davis mentions some poor, strangled texts where a particular pastor shoved the connection to Jesus while overlooking application in the text. And that is a danger. Trying to jump to Jesus too quickly before you’re actually out of the OT text. But that doesn’t mean Jesus isn’t found in the Scripture. Surely, much of what Davis said was only a step away from bringing the application to Christ. And this isn’t to say that David never points to Christ. That would be lying for me to say that, for clearly Davis does point to Christ. However, Jesus is the author and finisher of our faith (Heb. 12:2). Isn’t He a bit too important to leave out of our Scriptures? He fulfills the types of Adam, the exodus, the temple, a messianic King, bringing in the new creation, it it too hard to find Him in the Old Testament? Some like to think so, but I don’t.

Recommended?

But overall, this is a great book. I enjoy all of Davis’ writings. He always has good application that’s taken from the text. It’s never some far-reaching, ethereal idea. It’s straight from the text. I can see it. Plus, he’s pretty funny (especially in his other commentaries). He can be sarcastic, and it’s great. A commentator who’s actually fun to read. Indeed, this book doesn’t cover very many psalms, but it comes in very handy when reading the first twelve.

Lagniappe

+ [Special thanks to Derry at Christian Focus for sending me this book for review! I was not obligated to provide a positive review in exchange for this book.]

The Writings of Davis

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