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

The Way of the
        Righteous in the Muck of Life

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.

The author.
Dale Ralph Davis (presumably his mother was Miss Ralph) is the Minister in Residence (what a title) at First Presbyterian (oh!
) 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.

The book.
Its 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 found helpful. 

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 clich
és.'  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 enjoying it?'

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.