Review: Slogging Along in the Paths of Righteousness

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I might as well repeat what everyone else has been saying and say Dale Ralph Davis has done it again. The Bible tempted him (in a good way) to write up a few (or twelve) more expositions of the psalms (See? I told you it was a good temptation). Davis takes us farther into the psalms in this next work, “Slogging Along in the Paths of Righteousness” which is fitting as he again brings up worldwide Christian persecution, we are helpless sufferers who need a defender, and we are God’s special people.

There is muck that we slog ourselves through. It’s thick. The moving is slow. But we aren’t stuck there. We suffer, but we have a defender. He is the defender who will “answer us in the day of trouble” [Ps. 20.1]. He will preserve those who put their trust in Him [Ps. 16.1]. He “enlightens our darkness” [Ps. 18.28]. He “prepares a table for you in the presence of your enemies” [Ps. 23.5].

Davis has a way of writing about the Old Testament (of all things) and making it come alive. Almost as if it were written for me and you. Davis isn’t sentimental, always reminiscing about the good ol’ days and speaking about the pretty parts of the Old Testament. It’s as if I’m reading about real people who had real struggles and really called out to God just as many do today.

Exposition

Psalm 14

This psalm is a mystery to scholars as to what kind of psalm it is. While it’s understandable that they would want to know it’s background, Davis looks at it, say it’s like a mongrel mutt. It’s a little bit of everything. And what do you do with a mutt? “Love it, receive it, and – in the case of the psalm – listen to it. The message of the psalm is pretty straightforward: Mankind is universally depraved, yet there are a people who have been – and will be – delivered” (p. 27). This is encouraging because, looking at the world, it feels as if we’re getting the shaft. It’s all going downhill. But God has some who will be delivered. This world is not the end.

Psalm 15

There are challenging psalms too. Psalm 15 is a cure for flippant worship. “…[I]t seems to say; how do you know you are one of the worshipers the Father is seeking to worship Him? (cf. John 4.23)” (p.42).

The psalm (v1) asks, “Lord, who may abide in Your tabernacle? Who may dwell in Your holy hill?” And verses 2-5 gives us the answer (and they’re not easy). Psalm 15 is a stark contrast of Psalm 14. “There is one who dismisses God [14.1 – the fool has said in his heart, ‘There is no God’], but here (15:1) is one who desires God, who seems to think that nothing is quite so important as meeting the conditions for enjoying Yahweh’s fellowship. Sadly, is is a priority we easily lose sight of.”

How do we respond in the difficult, mucky paths of life? When it seems the Lord’s hand is nowhere to be found. Do we give in to a bout of depression? Will faith carry us across? We are to think about God’s Word as we read through it. How is each psalm put together? Do we skim over the difficult parts, or do we reflect on them, accepting that as the psalmist went through difficulties so it is for us to go through them too. And in them, we lean on the power of God.

Psalm 19

Liberal scholars claim the Bible is ripe with inconsistencies throughout its pages. But Davis says, “the psalmist is trying to make us think” (p. 108). In his book Through New Eyes, James Jordan says, “A proper reading of any ancient text, including the Bible, would take the apparent contradictions as stimuli for deeper reflection” (p. 14).

Psalm 19.3-4 [translated literally from the Hebrew] says, “There is no speech [fro the heavens], and there are no words; their voice is not heard. Their line has gone forth throughout all the earth, and their words to world’s end.” Wait, in v3 the psalmist said the heavens have no words, but in v4 they do. What gives?

They give us a mute testimony of the greatness of God. Like a wife tapping a husbands leg under the table saying, “It’s time to go,” the heavens speak of God’s glory through non-verbal communication.

Chocolate Milk

Each chapter is 10-12 pages long with 3-4 main divisions that show the main idea and bigger picture of each psalm. Davis’ expositions stay sane, simple, and saleable. Not only that, but he makes it seem easy to study the Bible. Of course, it’s not so easy, and it does require diligence, but it seems possible when reading Davis. Not because he’s a simple mind. He’s a sharp mind who simplifies the text to be understood by any reader.

Spoiled Milk

I have no negatives, except that near the end of the book I started to skip Davis’ stories. Some of them are really good. Other ones go over my head in names and old history. Not all applicable stories are about history. But if you’re familiar with Davis you know what to expect by now.

Recommended?

If you want a sane, devotional commentary on the psalms, get this one. He looks at the flow of the text, questions why it works that way, and makes a way to show it works. He’s a sharp tool to have on your bookshelf. Get his stuff. It takes work to live as a righteous man/woman. Reading this book will help a little bit with doing that.

Lagniappe

But it on Amazon or from CFP!

(Special thanks to Christian Focus for sending me this book for review! I was not obligated to provide a positive review in exchange for this book).

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