Treasuring the Psalms: A Review

Treasuring the Psalms: A Review

During his exegesis of Psalm 110, Vaillancourt rightly pointed to the uniqueness of the psalm in which YHWH addresses David’s Lord. Given the psalm’s central use in trinitarian theology in the early centuries of the Church and its insight into an intra-trinitarian conversation (between the Father and Son), I wish he spent a bit of time pointing to the possible implications. Like Jesus’s baptism or transfiguration, this is one of the few places where we hear two persons of the Godhead communicating to one another. That seems significant. My complaint, however, could be accused of evincing the now tired observation that biblical studies and theology often don’t get along. But that’s not true of Vaillancourt’s work. Generally, Vaillancourt weaves together Scripture and theology skillfully and insightfully. But for that very reason, Vaillancourt could have spent a paragraph or two on the trinitarian implications. Even without this discussion, I have to concede that his interpretation of Psalm 110 is one of the clearest and (possibly) the best explanation of Psalm 110 that I have ever read.

I expected to read a well-written and useful introduction to the Psalms when I picked up Treasuring the Psalms by Ian Vaillancourt. I was pleasantly surprised to find that the book exceeded my expectations. Going beyond typical introductory books, it provides deep insight into the canonical shape of the Psalter and its theological meaning. And more than that, Vaillancourt does so while also reaching his target audience of college and seminary students as well as church groups.

A success of Treasuring the Psalms is that Vaillancourt possesses the skill of writing a book that is accessible both to academic and non-academic audiences. The book is structured in three parts: “The Story: Reading the Psalms Canonically”, “The Savior: reading the Psalms Christologically”, and “The Soul: Reading the Psalms Personally Corporately.” Across twelve chapters, along with an introduction and conclusion, it is full of biblical insight. I could give this book to a small group in a church or assign it in a classroom. One way that it appeals to both church and academic groups is by highlighting key words in the Psalms and providing both a transliteration and the Hebrew word itself in parenthesis. If a reader knows Hebrew, it’s great; if not, it’s easy to move on because the book does not assume you need to. As the author explains, “This way, those who work with Hebrew will be able to identify the words with greater clarity, and those who are not will be able to skip over them. A knowledge of Hebrew is not required in order to understand this book” (x).

As someone who not only has his Ph.D in the Psalms but has also himself taught on the Psalms in a classroom setting, I found myself learning new things, or at least sharpening my understanding of matters that I already knew. Vaillancourt has a particular gift of bringing technical details down to a common-sense level. Examples include how he explains the difference between individual psalms and their place in Psalter through a story about Joey Ramone of The Ramones. As Joey, whose real name is Jeffrey Ross Hyman, lay dying in a hospital, he listened to U2’s song “In a Little While.” Originally, the song was about a hangover. But Joey heard it as Gospel—“In a little while / This hurt will hurt no more / I’ll be home, love”). This even changed Bono’s interpretation of his own song! Now Bono, of U2, can only sing this song “through Joey Ramone’s ears” (17).

Applied to the psalms, something similar happens. Moses wrote Psalm 90 nearly 1,000 years before the last psalms were written after the exile, such as Psalm 137. But when we consider these individual psalms together in the collection of the Psalter they each take on “new depth” (19). This may remind us of how worship songs are put together for Sunday mornings; while each song was not crafted with each other in mind, the organizer of the worship service places them together for the sake of a unified worship service (19).

I relay these analogies to show how ably Vaillancourt illustrates how individual psalms and the final form of the Psalter work together.

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