Walk His Way: Following Christ through the Book of Psalms

Written by Andrew G. Shead Reviewed By David R. Jackson


Andrew Shead is Head of Old Testament at Moore Theological College, Sydney, and is the author of A Mouth Full of Fire, NSBT 29 (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2012). This present work is a revision of talks he delivered at the New South Wales CMS Summer School in 2022. His threefold focus is to look at “the story of the book of Psalms” as context for each psalm, “the art of reading poetry well,” and “recognising how a psalm meditates on Scripture” to help the reader appreciate “how it functions as prophecy of the Christ to come” (pp. xiii–xiv).

This volume takes its place in the growing scholarship concerning the structure of the book of Psalms (see, e.g., Gerald H. Wilson, “The Shape of the Book of Psalms,” Int 46 [1992]: 129–142; O. Palmer Robertson, The Flow of the Psalms: Discovering their Structure and Theology [Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 2015]; and most recently James Hely Hutchinson, Answering the Psalmist’s Perplexity: New-Covenant Newness in the Book of Psalms, NSBT 62 [Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2023]). Shead notes the way the five books of Psalms walk us through Israel’s experience through song. Books 1–2 recall the life of David and the establishment of the Davidic kingship (Pss 1–41; 42–72). Book 3 journeys through the nation’s failures during the divided monarchy (Pss 73–89). In Book 4 we hear the songs of exile (Pss 90–106) and in Book 5 those of the return (Pss 107–145).

Shead argues that the editors put the songs together by theme, not necessarily by date of origin. His treatment of this process helps the reader step into the emotion of each period. He begins by addressing the reader’s ability to read poetry. He explains, “The first purpose of poetry … is to make the reader slow down” (p. 2).

Chapter 1 deals with Psalms 1–2 as the gateway to the collection. He sets out to investigate the path of the king and those blessed to walk with him through weakness to glory. In chapters 2–6 he selects a representative psalm from each book, closing with a chapter on the Hallelujah songs (Pss 146–150). He notes, “Praise is the king’s destination, as it is ours, and it is the journey that creates the destination” (p. 121).

Shead sees replicable patterns in Israel’s history, the experience of Jesus, and the life of the believer. He sees the tension between the references to an eternal kingdom and Israel’s experience as prophetic. He refines the distinction between old and new covenants. “To know the law—whether through Moses or the New Testament—is to know God, and to delight in the law is to delight in God” (p. 6). In this way he engages the reader with “the whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27).

Chapter 2 treats Psalm 32 as a model of the movement from confession to forgiveness and thanksgiving. He pictures Jesus singing this song as the representative of his people. He notes that “God knows it all, but we must tell it to him anyway. This is not a charade. It’s a surrender” (p. 28). He sees Psalm 32 as calling us to recover the life God gave in the joy and security of his love.

Chapter 3 deals with Psalm 69 as a model of prophecy. He notes the frequency with which the NT writers refer to it as a description of the person and work of Jesus. While “it’s not impossible that it describes a crisis during David’s reign” (p. 39), he sees a “first fulfilment” (p. 51) in the life of the prophet Jeremiah. He then demonstrates how it also fits the life of Jesus. There is no attempt here to spiritualize: “When you lament, you discipline yourself to step back from your trouble and reflect on the character of the God you are praying to” (p. 49).

Chapter 4 deals with Psalm 88, the final psalm in Book 3, responding to a time when “we see the nation die as God makes himself its enemy.” He speaks of “living with the absence of God,” noting that “even despair is something we can express wisely or foolishly” (p. 61). This is a chapter that digs deep into the realities of the believer’s experience. He cites a grieving friend who said of this psalm that “it gave him permission to be devastated” (p. 76). This chapter stands as a rock of integrity against the winds of emotional denial and kerygmatic euphemism.

Chapter 5 focuses on Psalm 91 as “an ‘emergency’ psalm [punning 91:1] for people in trouble” (p. 83). Writing during the COVID-19 pandemic, he rejects any attempt “to reduce the promise of Psalm 91 to spiritual blessings” (p. 89). Rather, the focus is on the advance of God’s rule as God’s agents on active service (p. 96).

Chapter 6 wrestles with Psalm 118. He describes this song as “a noisy and dramatic re-enactment” not only of the return from exile as a second exodus, but also “of Christ’s resurrection” (p. 101), “a prophecy to be performed in anticipation of the real thing” (p. 102).

Chapter 7 focuses on Psalm 147, visualizing it “as a photo album in which the poet has collected some of the favourite things he’s noticed about God.” He concludes, “Praise rests on the art of noticing things” (p. 123). He advises the reader to include images of life’s disappointments and confusions “and remember that your trouble is an integral part of God’s plan to perfect the universe” (p. 134).

Out of a culture of cliches, acronyms, and jargon, Shead delivers a workshop in effective communication and faithful teaching. He shows us how head can move heart to action. He brings a depth of scholarship to the surface in a style that is accessible to a high school student. The emotion of the psalms comes through in language that is both memorable and moving. In this little book he delivers a masterclass in how to read the psalms, tuning heart, mind, and character to God’s.

David R. Jackson

David R. Jackson
Werrington, New South Wales, Australia

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