Review: Shalom in Psalms

shalom in psalms

Shalom in Psalms, Jeffrey Seif, Glenn Blank, and Paul Wilbur. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2017.

Summary: A devotional based on the Tree of Life Version (TLV) of the Bible, a Messianic Jewish translation of scripture.

The Psalms, or the Tehillim, have been the prayer and worship book of God’s people for thousands of years, extending before the Christian era, at very least to their post-exilic collection, and in some form, back to the temple or even tabernacle worship of King David. They have been memorized by children, set to music numerous times, used in liturgy, prayed corporately, and devotionally, giving words and voice to the deepest longings and experiences of the human heart.

This book is a new entry into a long history of devotional literature centered around the Psalms. What singles this out from others is that it is based on a new translation of the Bible, the Tree of Life Version (TLV). It includes the text of all 150 Psalms and devotional readings written by the three authors, including two of the editors of the TLV (Seif and Blank), and a career musician (Wilbur). All three are messianic Jewish Christians and the vision of this translation is to provide a Jewish-friendly translation of the Bible. This includes reverence for the four-letter unspoken name of God, always translated in this version as Adonai, transliteration of Hebrew terms like shalom, kedoshim, and shofar, speaking of Messiah as Yeshua. I understand that the whole Bible also follows the Jewish ordering of the books.

It is interesting how this is applied with the Psalms. The superscriptions at the beginning of many of the Psalms are included in the verse numberings. This can cause some confusion if this version is cited, probably requiring parenthetical citations of the standard version verses where they differ. The Psalms follow the Hebrew or Masoretic text numbering of the Psalms (followed by Protestant and modern Catholic versions) rather than the Greek Septuagint (followed by the Eastern Orthodox).

Here is a comparison of Psalm 8 in TLV and NIV translations:

Psalm 8

For the music director, upon the Gittite lyre: a psalm of David.
Adonai our Lord,
    how excellent is Your Name over all the earth!
You set Your splendor above the heavens.
Out of the mouths of babies and toddlers
You established power, because of Your enemies,
to silence the foe and the avenger.
When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers,
the moon and the stars, which You established—
what is man, that You are mindful of him?
And the son of man, that You care for him?
Yet You made him a little lower than the angels,
and crowned him with glory and majesty!
You gave him dominion over the works of Your hands.
You put all things under their feet:
all sheep and oxen,
and also beasts of the field,
birds in the air, and fish in the ocean—
all passing through the paths of the seas.

10 Adonai our Lord, how excellent is Your Name over all the earth!

Tree of Life Version (TLV)

Tree of Life (TLV) Translation of the Bible. Copyright © 2015 by The Messianic Jewish Family Bible Society. Used by permission.

Psalm 8

For the director of music. According to gittith. A psalm of David.

Lord, our Lord,
    how majestic is your name in all the earth!

You have set your glory
    in the heavens.
Through the praise of children and infants
    you have established a stronghold against your enemies,
    to silence the foe and the avenger.
When I consider your heavens,
    the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars,
    which you have set in place,
what is mankind that you are mindful of them,
    human beings that you care for them?

You have made them a little lower than the angels
    and crowned them with glory and honor.
You made them rulers over the works of your hands;
    you put everything under their feet:
all flocks and herds,
    and the animals of the wild,
the birds in the sky,
    and the fish in the sea,
    all that swim the paths of the seas.

Lord, our Lord,
    how majestic is your name in all the earth!

New International Version (NIV)

Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Apart from the transliterations and use of Adonai and the verse variations, I found the translation generally tracks closely with standard translations.

 

The devotional readings vary depending on the authors. Those by Jeffrey Seif and Glenn Blank tend to be a bit more commentary including Jewish backgrounds of the text as well as good personal application. The latter is also true of Paul Wilbur’s contributions but he brings in much more of his experience of setting these works to music and references some of these efforts, most of which were unfamiliar to me. Except for very long Psalms, most are two to three paragraphs in length.

This book is a good devotional resource for someone who wants to get more of a Jewish perspective on the Psalms. It is also a good introduction to the Tree of Life Version for those considering purchasing the whole Bible in this translation. This seems especially to be a devotional resource that might be deeply appreciated by someone in a messianic Jewish congregation. It reminded me that when I read and pray the Psalms, I join a line of people extending back far before the Christian era who lamented, struggled with enemies from without and their own sins within, cried out for deliverance, and celebrated the God who heard them.

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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Going Deeper: A Shared Language to Change and Challenge Us

PsalmsPsalm 16

Keep me safe, my God,
    for in you I take refuge.

I say to the Lord, “You are my Lord;
    apart from you I have no good thing.”
I say of the holy people who are in the land,
    “They are the noble ones in whom is all my delight.”
Those who run after other gods will suffer more and more.
    I will not pour out libations of blood to such gods
    or take up their names on my lips.

Lord, you alone are my portion and my cup;
    you make my lot secure.
The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places;
    surely I have a delightful inheritance.
I will praise the Lord, who counsels me;
    even at night my heart instructs me.
I keep my eyes always on the Lord.
    With him at my right hand, I will not be shaken.

Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices;
    my body also will rest secure,
10 because you will not abandon me to the realm of the dead,
    nor will you let your faithful one see decay.
11 You make known to me the path of life;
    you will fill me with joy in your presence,
    with eternal pleasures at your right hand.

This past Sunday, our pastor used this Psalm to help us understand something of how the Psalms may work in our lives. There were a few things he said that particularly have me thinking.

One is how the Psalms, though written in particular contexts only sometimes evident have the power to speak deeply to humanity because they speak to human emotions and about human realities that confront us all. Who of us has not had times where we’ve felt unsafe and wanted to find a place of security?

Because of their ability to address universal human conditions, they can function in a corporate way to give us prayers we may pray together, such as parts of the church do with the lectionary, reading, reflecting on and praying the same Psalms across the globe. I’m beginning to consider whether this may be one of the most important ways to be reminded of my solidarity with believing people around the world. No wonder they have often been called the prayer book of the church.

Rich posed the question to us of how we might be formed if we went back to setting to music, singing, and memorizing the Psalms. I think of the power of memorizing Psalm 23 as a child and how this has stayed with me for a lifetime–when I’ve been weary, or scared, faced evil, or death. I think of how God spoke deeply to me from Psalm 46 in a time of fretfulness and anxiety to “be still and know that I am God.” From Psalm 16 I’m reminded that when I wake in the middle of the night (a phenomenon that happens more often these days), even then God counsels and my heart instructs.

The Psalms also challenge us. They surface raw emotions we sometimes avoid. Even when we feel safe, they remind us of those who do not. They confront us with ultimate realities we would often care not to think of. They bid us to praise God whether we feel like it or not.

Rich concluded with talking about how often we read the Psalms. I often read through the Bible in a year, and so read the Psalms in the course of this. But some read them monthly or even more often. It strikes me that this might be what it takes to have a Psalm-saturated life. And that might not be such a bad thing.