One gets a sense of how important the Psalms are to the Bible by their positioning at the center of the book. Within them we find rejoicing, lament, praise, and petition, sometimes within the same book. They have served as an invaluable place of solace, comfort and encouragement through the years.
Zondervan’s The Essential Bible Companion to the Psalms
is a recent book designed to provide readers with a brief overview of each Psalm along with info about the author, type, theme, and structure. The introduction contains a discussion of poetry, the structure of the book of Psalms, and reference charts serving to identify common attributes across the Psalms. All of these are useful, but some serious deficiencies prevent me from recommending this book to others.
What I liked
The introduction was particularly helpful. Having the background on poetry and type help provide a context for reading the Psalms. I especially appreciated the note about how typography can make it hard to read the poetry in the Psalms because of the need to increasingly indent lines of text (23). Additionally, the reference chart containing lists of Psalms that contain things like petition or confession are a valuable resourced when trying to find an appropriate Psalm on which to meditate for a particular situation.
You’re probably wondering why I’m only mentioning a small portion of the book that I liked. That’s because there was a lot I didn’t like about this book
What I didn’t like
For a book about a book of the Bible that’s about God, this book was amazingly, and disappointingly, Christ-less. If Jesus on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-15) could tell the disciples about himself in the Old Testament, then one of the centerpieces of this book should have been identifying Christ in each Psalm. To leave out any mention in Psalm 23 about Jesus being the True Shepherd is baffling. People, particularly American Christians, need to read their Bibles with Jesus-focused eyes and this book does a disservice to the audience by not making that explicit.
While colorful, the design of this book is very, very distracting. Different psalms have different color themes, which don’t seem to correspond to any particular system of organization. I would have preferred that the colors mean something of that they are done away with. Maybe coloring the five books of Psalms within the entire book of Psalms would have been a more helpful option.
Additionally, the page of each Psalm contains a stock photo, which sometimes make sense and sometimes don’t. It’s entirely appropriate for Psalm 23 to contain a photo of shepherd, but why does Psalm 147 contain a photo of a doctor wrapping a foot with an ace bandage? Is the photo of twins in Psalm 133 the most appropriate for a psalm about unity? The photos were also cluttered with copyright information, which shouldn’t be necessary if appropriate licenses were purchased for the photos. I don’t know if this is Zondervan being safe or taking the less-expensive, but a better option would have been having a photo index. A final critique of the photos is they were in all different styles (nature photo, action photo, photo cut out from background) which made the book seemed very pieced-together.
I can’t recommend this book. While the design issues are very frustrating, the lack of explicit reference to Christ throughout the book is a major omission. I hope Zondervan will remedy this significant deficiency if this book gets any future editions.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”