Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Sources for Studying the Psalms of Ascents

My friend, Tim Lehman, has forwarded me another set of bibliographies from a couple recent preaching series. I was very glad to receive this particular list since I have been immersed in studying the Psalms, so I would like to share this one with you first.

The Psalms of Ascents (also called the Pilgrim Psalms or Psalms of Degrees)

The Southern StepsPsalms 120-134 have all been given the superscription A Song of Ascents (shir hamma‘alot). It is commonly held that these psalms were sung and recited by pilgrims traveling up to Jerusalem to worship in the temple. Deuteronomy 16:16 records the requirement of every Israelite male to appear before YHWH for three particular festivals each year.

[Note: The Mishnah connects these fifteen Psalms with the fifteen steps ascending from the Court of the Women to the Court of Israel (see m. Sukkah 5:4-5
).]

Cox, Samuel. The Pilgrim Psalms. London: Daldy, Isbister, & Co., 1874; Reprint Edition. Minneapolis: Klock & Klock, 1983. 240 pp.

Out of Print. [View at Google Books]
This is the finest of the older works on these psalms. Every writer after him quotes and borrows frequently. Samuel Cox had the reputation of being a great expositor in his day. This volume reveals a warm devotional heart as well as keen insight into the Scriptures. Cox devotes one chapter to each of the fifteen psalms. His commentary is filled with helpful cross references and historical allusions. I found chapter twelve “A song of humility” to be the most striking. Everyone who preaches from these psalms will do well in purchasing this helpful volume.

Kaiser, Walter C. Jr. The Journey Isn't Over: The Pilgrim Psalms for Life's Challenges and Joys. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House. 1993. 153 pp.

This is the best modern writing on these Pilgrim Psalms. Kaiser provides many gems from the Hebrew language that are suitable for teaching and preaching. His introduction is filled with factual information. He traces the way these psalms would be used by pilgrims going to worship (pp. 18-19). Each chapter is filled with appropriate illustrations and quotations. Walter Kaiser concludes each chapter with Isaac Watts' poetic paraphrase of the psalm. If I could only have one book on these psalms I would certainly chose this volume.

Kaung, Stephen. The Song of Degrees: Meditations on Fifteen Psalms. New York: Christian Fellowship Publishers, Inc., 1970, 235 pp.

This disciple of Watchman Nee delivered these addresses in New York City in 1963. The author sees these fifteen psalms as steps of spiritual growth. The author finds three stages of growth outlined here: The Stage of Purification, The Stage of Enlightenment, and The Stage of Union. All of this is entirely subjective. Most of the material in this book is worthless to anyone who seeks an objective understanding of this portion of God's word.
Kendall, R.T. Higher Ground: Insights from the Psalms of Ascent (120-134). Christian Focus Publications, 1995. 175 pp.

This book is a collection of sermons preached at Westminster Chapel by Dr. R.T. Kendall. This is not a full exposition of the psalms but the examination of one key thought in each psalm. Unfortunately it is sometimes difficult to see how he found the leading idea in that psalm. Apart from a few interesting insights and illustrations this book is not worth purchasing or reading.

M'Michael, N. The Pilgrim Psalms: An Exposition of the Songs of Degree: Psalms CXX-CXXXIV. Edinburgh/London: W. Oliphant, 1860. 358 pp.

Peterson, Eugene H. A Long Obedience in the Same Direction: Discipleship in an Instant Society. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1980. 197 pp.

This recent work was written by a scholarly pastor and Bible translator. As with all of Peterson's writings this book is well written and at times profound. There are many striking quotes and unique insights of the text. These chapters do not cover every verse but exploring a key thought in the psalm. This book will generate many ideas for preachers. Peterson makes many relevant criticism about modern American culture. This is a wonderful contemporary interpretation of these psalms.
Thomas, Derek. Making the Most of your Devotional Life: Meditations on the Psalms of Ascent. Darlington, England: Evangelical Press. 2001. 215 pp.

You would never know that this book is a devotional exposition of these psalms from looking at the cover. Thomas uses these psalms as a fifteen day model of having better devotions. His comments provide a good analysis of each psalm. These fifteen meditations provide a wealth of historical illustrations from great reformed leaders of the past. There is much useful information for anyone seeking to teach a full study of these psalms.
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Mount Calvary Baptist Church has made available an excellent curriculum for teaching through these Psalms: The Pilgrim Psalms (Psalms 120-134): The Journey Is Not Over
Samples:

Introduction | Contents | Lesson

For more sources for studying the Psalms look here (223.3 Psalms).
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