The Way of the Righteous in the Muck of Life
- Psalms 1-12
Dale Ralph Davis (2016) Christian Focus, Fearn.
144 pages, £6.99. ISBN: 978 1 78191 861 6
Of the great unread.
When I retired I thought (like many of you will) that I'd
have/make time to read all those important books, both the
classics and the contemporary. And not just those
already on my own bookshelves, but also those in libraries -
and remember the National Library of Wales is almost on my
doorstep, though with that one you are not allowed to browse
the shelves, you have to know what you want and pre-order
it. That takes away half the fun of a library which is
looking at the book next to the one you want or in the stack
next door. Anyway, it didn't or, at least, hasn't yet
happened like that - beware, the same disenchantment may well
befall you. Those masterpieces are still unread.
In the Christian genre, I'm sorry to say they include
Augustine's The City of God, most of Calvin's
Institutes, anything by John Owen, much of church
history and many more. Alas, I have some serious holes
in my theological education. Moreover, I thought
retirement might bring about time to teach myself to juggle,
master astronomy, discover the saxophone and ...
Instead, I've been side-tracked by the daily round of
legitimate chores and duties and sometimes held hostage to
whiling away the hours on some rather pointless
activities. Ah, the industrious indolent! Thankfully, it's not all been thus -
I've trained for and finished a Wolf Run, written a book or
two, refurbished a house and read bioethical literature as if
my life depended on it. But reading those great unread
and worthy books has not been such a great success.
Being sent a copy to review is not the way to manage a
sensible reading regime. But this month, March, I've
decided to give it another decent go. It's a rather
feeble start, but it's a start. I've long heard that
Dale Ralph Davis is a gifted expositor/commentator, especially
of the Old Testament, so I'm beginning with him. On a
shelf above my desk has sat a copy of his The Way of the
Righteous in the Muck of Life. Not
long ago, I had some spare cash to make up an Amazon order
and this book fitted that bill. So here it is.
Dale Ralph Davis (presumably his mother was Miss Ralph) is the
Minister in Residence (what a title) at First Presbyterian
Church in Columbia, South Carolina (so he's a Confederate
rebel) - not the most engaging start, but I like to think I'm
rather catholic. And as the book blurb continues, 'Prior
to that he was pastor of
Woodland Presbyterian Church, Hattiesburg, Mississippi and
Professor of Old Testament at Reformed Theological Seminary,
Jackson, Mississippi.' Apparently, he now lives in
Tennessee, but you can't always believe Wikipedia. If
it's any consolation, Dr Davis has his PhD from
Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and he looks
uncannily like a pallid Englishman.
structure is simple - 12 chapters, each one expounding the
first 12 Psalms. Each chapter consists of about 10
pages, so for me it was comfortable reading for an hour - I'm
a slow reader and I make copious notes in the margins (but
only of my own books) and then I like to ruminate, reflect a
little, pray and then write a suitable piece on this
website. Each chapter was typically a Sunday evening
sermon preached to his congregation. They are Americana
in both style and content with Americanisms, such as 'antsy'
and 'rabbit trials' and tales of US presidents and American
football teams. And each chapter contains about four
illustrations, about which I have mixed feelings. What I
plan to do in this 'book review' is merely to draw attention
to some key points in each chapter, specifically those that I
Preface. Dale Ralph Davis has a theological bee
in his bonnet. He states, 'Whenever most of our English
translations read 'the LORD' (with
'Lord' in small caps) they indicate that they are translating
the covenant name of God, the consonants of which are YHWH,
with 'Yahweh' being about the closest we'll probably get with
pronunciation. That name was 'explained' in Exodus
3:14-15 as shorthand for the strange 'I am who I am.'
'Yahweh' means the God who is present to help. But
'Yahweh' is a personal name, while 'the LORD' is a title. 'Wife' is my spouse's
title ... but I much prefer 'Barbara', which is her
name. By the same token some of us prefer 'Yahweh' -
there's a devotional warmth in a personal name that a title
cannot convey.' That's a starting point worth making - I
like that, well done, Dale. And he continues to plough
his own furrow by using his Hebrew knowledge to make his own
translation of these Psalms - that is a novel approach
and often helpful.
Psalm 1. 'Why is Psalm 1 Psalm 1?', Davis
asks. He answers, 'Because it packs a matter of such
supreme importance. Here two ways, two humanities, two
destinies are clearly spelled out The psalm is saying to
you: Nothing is so crucial as your belonging to the
congregation of the righteous.' His application
may well be correct, but his argument, though convenient,
seems weak, if not flawed. Davis then describes the
righteous man negatively by what he shuns (v.
1). Counsel = a mind-set. Way = action. Seat
= place of comfort. And then positively by his
preoccupation, what he delights in. The counsel of the
wicked or the torah of Yahweh - which drives your life?
Verse 3 expands that theme. The righteous man is like a
tree = stability-with-vitality. The wicked are like
chaff = rootlessness-with-ruin. And judgement is coming
- are you ready? Psalm 1 discusses solemn matters - its
first word is 'blessed' and its last is 'perish'.
Psalm 2. Its purpose - getting a
worldview, the big view, you must understand where history is
going - 'the world has been promised to the Messiah.'
The world is hostile, persecuting and insane (v. 1-3) - it
hates God, detests his Messiah and despises Messiah's
people. But there is a throne that consoles (v.
4-6). The Father had already installed the King who will
rule the world. This kingdom, Zion, 'my holy hill'
starts as 11 acres in SE Jerusalem, but it will fill the
earth. There is Yahweh's 'decree' concerning Messiah's
reign (v. 7-9) - it has legitimacy, scope and force. It
comes because 'Christ imposes his reign by force on rebellious
people.' The 'me' of v. 7 is, accorded by to Davis to
David, not Jesus - David was 'begotten' meaning 'installed'.
And this is the gospel that calls (v. 10-12) - there is
a danger to avoid (lest the Son become angry) and a joy to
experience (a refuge in Him). What must we do?, 'Kiss
the Son, take his Messiah-king with two hands.'
Psalm 3. Prayer is the way we slug our way
through troubles - trouble triggers prayer. There are
enemies out there - many, many (v. 1-2). But (v.
3-4) we have a God who is protecting (a shield),
sufficient (my glory), restoring (lifts up) and accessible (he
hears and answers). 'David fills his vision with the
character of his God.' 'In the middle of his mess he
[David] is saying, "I know my God."' And there is peace
to enjoy (v. 5-6) - David can even go off to sleep.
Yahweh gives peace in trouble and tragedy. And there is
his help (v. 7-8) - David asks God to get violent because
there can be no safety for David unless his enemies are
eliminated. Salvation, in all its breath, sometimes
includes physical deliverance - Yahweh 'saves' you again and
again in your troubles and dangers. 'Maybe some of us
are in arrears in the gratitude department if we haven't been
remembering this.' Psalm 3 ends with a benediction.
Psalm 4. If Psalm 3 was a morning prayer (v. 5),
Psalm 4 is an evening prayer, maybe (v. 4 and 8). David
knows God's character (v. 1) - 'biblical prayer seems to
ponder God a good deal more than we are prone to.' David
addresses slanderers (v. 2-3), the angry (v. 4-5) and the
despairing (v. 6). The 'covenant one' (v. 3) is
David. 'Be angry and do not sin' (v. 4) is the take-home
message. 'The way you can be angry and not sin in by
keeping your thoughts to yourself' - 'Speak in your hearts
upon your beds and keep quiet.' It's countercultural,
but keep your mouth shut - if only! And there is a
benediction (v. 6) and joy and peace (v. 7-8), which is
divine, internal, abundant and independent. In peace -
go to sleep!
Psalm 5. This is David's prayer tutorial.
The words of prayer can be spoken and broken (v. 1), but they
are firstly, prepared (v. 3) - they are set out, arranged, in
the morning. Not 'our religious rattling and easy
Christian clichés.' Secondly, know your God
(v. 4-6) and his character - Yahweh can hate as well as
love. David rehearses Yahweh's attributes and slips
into praise. Thirdly, make your request with grace,
reverence and fear (v. 7-9). And the primary
petition? 'Lead me in your righteousness', keep me in
your way. Fourthly, declare your confidence (v.
10-12). Pray against his enemies and for
his people so that they can enjoy security and safety.
He will put things right. What to do? 'Yahweh,
lead me in your righteousness because of those lurking for
me; make your way straight before me.'
Psalm 6. The ACTS pattern of prayer -
adoration, confession, thanksgiving and supplication. The agony David knows (v. 1-3)
- the problems of wrath, weakness, fear and time. The
arguments he brings (v. 4-7) - the God I have (v. 4), the
praise I give (v. 5), the misery I knew (v. 6-7). 'The
use of argument is entirely proper in prayer.' Psalm 6
is highly emotional but also highly rational - we need to
think in worship. 'Prayer doesn't change things, but
prayer lays hold of God who changes things and who, in prayer,
changes you.' Yahweh has heard the sound of my weeping
(v. 8b) and Hebrews 5:7.
Psalm 7. David pleads for just justice.
Take care when praying (v. 1-5). Lay out your
position (v. 1a, 'in you I have taken refuge'), danger (v.
1b-2, 'tear me up like a lion') and conscience (v. 3-5, 'if I
have done this ... then'). David is under God's gaze,
his scrutiny - Hebrews 4:13 - nothing in all creation is
hidden from God's sight.' David finds hope in God's
anger (v. 6-11) - the doctrine of judgement (Acts 17:31), God
vindicates the righteous and condemns the wicked. So
there is hope that evil will not triumph - justice will, every
day (v. 11b) and finally, because God is a warrior (v.
12-16). Prayer ends in praise (v. 17). Trouble
always leads to more psalms - 'Whether in tears or in triumph,
we never get away from worship.'
Psalm 8. Book-ended by 'how majestic your name is
in all the earth!' (v. 1a and 9). The irony of God's
strength that is told from the mouths of children and infants
(v. 1b-2). 'The mystery of God's
care' (v. 3-4) - fancy paying attention to man - 'What is
man?' The clarity of your revelation (v. 5-8) - because
the Bible tells me so. These verses are a poetic summary
of Genesis 1:26-31. The certainty of God's plan - v. 6
and Hebrews 2:5-9. You have placed everything
under his feet - but we see Jesus. 'How can you doubt
your royal future when the Man Jesus has already begun
Psalm 9. Is this a psalm or half a psalm (coupled
with 10)? Its take-home message is v. 7-8. It's a
prayer of remembrance - what I have been through (v. 1-6) and
where it's going (v. 7-8). What you can count on (v.
9-12) - you have not abandoned those who seek you, Yahweh (v.
10b) and you do not forget the cry of the afflicted (v.
12). We must pray in context (v. 13-18) - a plea (v.
13-14) and an assurance (v. 15-18). David rehearses
God's previous goodness (v. 15-16 echo v. 5-6) and v. 18
echoes v. 10b and 12. Therefore 'in fresh troubles we
must remember the context in which we pray.' We need a
mental 'book of remembrance'. 'A believer has a
two-track history to remember; redemptive history (the record
of Yahweh's faithfulness) and personal history (the record of
Yahweh's faithfulness in our own case). Finally, pray
for the kingdom (v. 19-20) - 'Thy kingdom come!' Our
oppressors are only mere men - the throne is occupied (v. 7).
Psalm 10. A Psalm of lament (v. 1-2). Why,
why does Yahweh seem so indifferent and nonchalant? Why
is he seemingly acting out of character? He is usually
concerned and involved. So David's lament is a faithful
lament. This lament is not some intellectual quandary
but a devotional dilemma. Then a long description (v.
3-11) of the wicked - his immunity (v. 3-6), ingenuity (v.
7-10) and philosophy (v. 11). The 'wicked' may be a
particular man or a 'representative' wicked man.
Whichever, when God is far off, the tyrant is doing nicely (v.
3-11). The Psalm can keep the pain alive to remind us
that the world is against us. 'The believer's life is a
war, a life-long conflict - to keep you from forgetting that
your life is at odds with the wicked.' Then, the
intercession (v. 12-18). David finds hope in the Lord's
sight (v. 13-14), his reign (v. 15-16) and his strength (v.
17-18). In other words, God's perception, position and
power. The great message of Psalm 10 - He will put
things right for the orphan (v. 18) and again 'I will not
leave you orphans - I will come to you' (John 14:18).
Psalm 11. A Psalm about crumbling
foundations and disintegration of the social fabric of life -
v. 3 is the key. The advice that faith hears (v.
1-3). Verse 1a is David's anchor - 'In Yahweh I have
taken refuge.' 'How can you say to me' probably
refers to David's good friends - beware of such fearful
counsel. But how do you tell the difference between
Psalm 11 and Matthew 10:23? When do you run or
stay? Is the assumption of safety behind their advice
the all-important issue? Are there never risks to be
taken? The answer that faith gives (v. 4-7b).
Verse 4 - Yahweh, Yahweh! It is his throne, eyes and
eyelids - his reign and his watchfulness - Yahweh reigns, so
everything is OK. This is assurance - from the first
line (where the believer's safety lies) to the last line
(where the believer's heart is). Yahweh both hates (v.
6) and loves (v. 7) = his very character. God is not a
mere three-letter word - he has a nature, he is alive and he
will judge - this is the Christian's hope - '... unless there
is decisive judgement there is no solid salvation.' When
the foundations are being destroyed, where do you set your
vision: on the wicked or Yahweh? Psalm 11 speaks of
discernment, vision and hope.
Psalm 12. The world has become a lying place (v.
1-4), because the 'covenant man' and the faithful ones are
absent - see Matthew 5:13. It is a world of vacuity
(empty talk), flattery (smooth talk) and deception (double
heart). May God cut off these arrogant people (v.
3). Compare their lying words with the pure words of
Yahweh (v. 5-6). Note especially, 'Now I will rise up'
(v. 5) -at last, hooray! Verse 6 is an assurance of an
assurance. Compare the truth-twisting world with the
truth-speaking God. Then in v. 7-8 there is a
paradox. Yahweh will guard his people from the lying
generation. Even so v. 8 rehearses the dire situation of
v. 1-4. In other words, there is a tension and a paradox
that while Yahweh preserves us (v. 7), sin and muck rule the
day (v. 8).
In conclusion. This
has been an unusual study for me - I rarely read devotional
commentaries. But I did enjoy it and it did me
good. Dale Ralph Davis focussed on three main
topics. First, the character and attributes of God -
they are ground, foundational - learn them so you are prepared
to handle them in prayer both now and in the future, in
petition and in praise. Second, Yahweh is our God who
hears and answers prayer - if you don't ask, you don't
get. Third, the Christian lives in a world of trouble,
or 'muck' - and sometimes we experience safety and sometimes
danger. But above all, what must we do? Be like a
tree = stability-with-vitality, keep your thoughts to
yourself, fear not men, kiss the Son, pray 'Thy kingdom
come.' This book is rated at 7 out of 10. This
dozen Psalms are rated at 12 out of 10.