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A Light for the Pathway: Exploring the Psalms, by David Atkinson

20 August 2021

Anthony Phillips reads an introduction to the riches of the Psalter

THIS book started life as notes for house groups. It is not a commentary, nor indeed an academic examination of the Psalter. Rather, the author’s concern is pastoral. He seeks to excite his readers with the spiritual treasures of the Psalter. His concern is to offer a way in through which Christians can appropriate the Psalms and so strengthen them in their journey of faith. As such, it is to be commended.

Various aspects of psalmody are examined, each chapter ending with a meditation on a particular psalm, a brief reflection from a New Testament perspective, and a prayer preceded by a hymn.

The author notes the immediacy of the Psalms. They point to the reality of the situation confronting the poet. As such, they have a particular relevance to Christians both individually and corporately as they struggle to witness to their faith in the complexities of life. Atkinson then sets out to examine the “huge canvas” covered by the Psalter.

First, he considers their historical background, in order to make references to Israel’s past intelligible. Perhaps some warning ought to have been given against taking the titles of individual psalms too literally.

Next, the author examines God’s “steadfast love”, which underlies that history. This is nearest to the New Testament concept of grace and was the basis of the people’s sense of security.

Atkinson then turns to the created order, which God has inaugurated and which is given to humankind to care for. But, besides a created order, God has also framed a moral order, which is both “liberating and life-giving”, and which favours the disadvantaged. Turning to Israel’s self-awareness, the author notes her position in the hierarchy, “a little lower than the angels”.

Further chapters consider laments that question God’s moral order, salvation, and the journey of faith. Atkinson properly admits that there are unanswered questions about who we are and who God is. While we can know God, we cannot know all the answers about God. None the less, he concludes with a picture of the sovereign God, ruler of all and yet intimately involved with his people.

Atkinson has provided a useful taster to the many-faceted Psalter, enabling those unfamiliar with the treasures of psalmody to begin to understand the mystery of being who and what they are in relation to that other mystery, God himself.

Canon Anthony Phillips is a former headmaster of The King’s School, Canterbury.


A Light for the Pathway: Exploring the Psalms
David Atkinson
Wipf & Stock £15
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