"The book of Psalms ... is the biggest book in the Bible, but for many in the church its contents are largely mysterious and out of sight," laments J. V. Fesko in the Introduction to his latest book, Songs of a Suffering King: The Grand Christ Hymn of Psalms 1-8. To remedy this deficiency, Fesko aims to convince his readers of two important characteristics of the Psalter: 1) that it is focused on the person and work of Christ -- not just in certain "christological psalms" but in its entirety; and 2) that it is not a randomly-arranged collection of poetry but, rather, is a deliberately-organized work with an overarching story. By focusing on the first 8 Psalms, Fesko is able to demonstrate both these characteristics in the text as well as lay out an approach for studying the entire Psalter.
Fesko's book is explicitly "a devotional exploration of the first eight Psalms" and is intended for the edification of Christian readers. Each chapter focuses on a different Psalm, tracing its significance from its original context to its fulfillment in Christ to its continued application for Christians. Each chapter includes a list of questions for further reflection and study. And, since the Psalms were intended to be sung, the book includes metrical versions of each of the studied psalms, as well as resources for obtaining sheet music and audio versions of the tunes.
Overall, Fesko does an admirable job of demonstrating the aforementioned important characteristics of the Psalter from his chosen texts and from the Scripture as a whole. The notion that certain Psalms are Christ-focused is readily established by looking at how the New Testament authors connect the Psalms to Jesus, such as the citation of Psalm 2 in Acts 4. But Fesko's argument is not just that certain Psalm texts point to Christ, but that in fact, the entire Psalter does. He notes Jesus' own words in Luke 24, that "Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms," indicating that the Old Testament Scriptures anticipate the coming of the Christ in their entirety, not just in isolated proof-texts or prophecies. In his exploration of Psalms 1-8, Fesko then identifies specific connections between the texts and the person and work of Christ, frequently demonstrating how the life of David serves as a type that was ultimately fulfilled in Jesus. Thus, the righteous man of Psalm 1 is best understood to be the truly Righteous One, the true Anointed One of Psalm 2. However, just as Psalms 3-7 express the hardships and afflictions that God's chosen king David endured at the hands of the wicked, these Psalms also point forward to the undeserved suffering of David's greater son. Yet despite these tribulations, Psalm 8 offers words of praise and worship to God, specifically for the blessings given to man, best interpreted as the majesty bestowed on the Son of Man.
Another strength of Fesko's book is how he draws personal applications out of the Psalms and their focus on Christ. For example, Psalm 1 paints a vivid contrast between the prosperity of the righteous man and the ultimate destruction of the wicked. Yet the application is not simply that people will prosper so long as they act righteously (as if that were possible); rather, Jesus alone is the truly Righteous One, and those who seek refuge in him will be nurtured by him and bear fruit like a tree planted by the streams. Similarly, Fesko sees cries for deliverance from enemies, such as those in Psalm 3, as pointing to the deliverance found only in Christ, a deliverance not only from the wrath to come but also into eternal rest. I especially appreciated Fesko's appeal that the church not neglect the portions of the Psalms that address suffering and lament. The Psalms express the full range of human experience and emotion, and we deprive ourselves of rich resources if we limit our focus to Psalms of rejoicing and gladness.
If I had any real quibbles with the book, they'd be with some of Fesko's presumptions that the Psalter's human authors clearly understood their writings to be christological. Admittedly, the sharply debated issue of Old Testament fulfillment in the New is too large to tackle in such a short book. But it strikes me that Fesko assumes more than is warranted. A couple of examples: first, in discussing Psalm 4, Fesko begins by examining the original context, particularly the applicable details from David's life, but then jumps from David's crying out to the "God of my righteousness" (4:1) all the way to asserting that "David knows that the Lord is his righteousness—the Lord has graciously forgiven him of his sins and imputed the righteousness, or obedience, of the coming Messiah to him." Secondly, concerning Psalm 8, Fesko states that "David does not merely have the creation of man in view here, however praiseworthy it is. Rather, he ultimately offers a hymn of praise for the true Son of Man, Jesus Christ." In both cases, Fesko makes theologically accurate statements, but given the progressive nature of Biblical revelation, I'm unsure whether an Old Testament author like David might have grasped the full meaning of his own writings. It seems just as likely that the inspired authors revealed far more than they understood at the time, with subsequent revelation bringing greater clarity (e.g., as Hebrews 2 does for Psalm 8). That said, the issue of David's understanding doesn't detract from the book in a major way, and as Fesko repeatedly demonstrates, the New Testament provides interpretive clarity to many of the passages he discusses.
Overall, I would recommend Songs of a Suffering King: The Grand Christ Hymn of Psalms 1-8 to anyone interested in learning more about the Psalms. J.V. Fesko has done a great service by demonstrating the connections between the Psalter and the person and work of Jesus Christ, doing so in a way that not only does justice to the text but also draws out applications for Christian living and discipleship. My hope is that readers of the book would be inspired to take advantage of the great treasures that God's people have been given in the Psalter.
(Disclaimer: I received a copy of the book in exchange for providing a review, with no obligations as to the content of the review.)