The Psalms as Christian Lament: A Historical Commentary

The Psalms as Christian Lament: A Historical Commentary

The Psalms as Christian Lament: A Historical Commentary

The Psalms as Christian Lament: A Historical Commentary


The Psalms as Christian Lament, a companion volume to The Psalms as Christian Worship, uniquely blends verse-by-verse commentary with a history of Psalms interpretation in the church from the time of the apostles to the present. Bruce Waltke, James Houston, and Erika Moore examine ten lament psalms, including six of the seven traditional penitential psalms, covering Psalms 5, 6, 7, 32, 38, 39, 44, 102, 130, and 143. The authors -- experts in the subject area -- skillfully establish the meaning of the Hebrew text through careful exegesis and trace the church's historical interpretation and use of these psalms, highlighting their deep spiritual significance to Christians through the ages.

Though C. S. Lewis called the "imprecatory" psalms "contemptible," Waltke, Houston, and Moore show that they too are profitable for sound doctrine and so for spiritual health, demonstrating that lament is an important aspect of the Christian life.


Biblical lament is too mysterious to equate cheaply with psychological complaint. Nor can it be comprehended exhaustively for a seminary textbook. It certainly reflects upon the human condition, but it also reflects upon the character of God. It is a vital aspect, then, of theological anthropology, itself an increasingly central concern for Christianity in the twenty-first century. Our study of lament psalms will hopefully provide a basis for a theology of lament.

Our motive is not that of previous scholarship that identified one genre or category of the Psalter as “lament psalms,” in contrast to other genres, such as praise. Our selection of psalms would then be debatable, for other psalms could have been chosen as more expressive of the genre identified as “lament.” We have, in fact, in our collaborate effort to combine the history of the interpretation with contemporary exegesis of selected psalms, simply taken the traditional “seven penitential psalms,” of which Psalm 51 was already selected in our previous work, together with Psalms 5 to 7 as a cluster, together with special pleas for Psalms 44 and 49.

As we shall see, the early Church Fathers did not take their “penitential” character with the same literal emphasis as the medieval culture was to do later. Our sample, then, is in no sense comprehensive, but more contextual of a basic human posture of our finitude, of our sinful nature, of our need of redemption, of our trust and communion with God, all in the light of God’s purpose for humanity to be created and destined in the imago dei.

As for finitude, the problem of being persecuted for righteousness’ sake was more vexing for the psalmist in the old dispensation than for Christians in the new dispensation. the old dispensation promised blessings to those who

1. Bruce K. Waltke and James M. Houston with Erika Moore, The Psalms as Christian Worship: a Historical Commentary (Grand Rapids/Cambridge, UK: Eerdmans, 2010), pp. 93-95.

2. The Psalms as Christian Worship, pp. 446-83.

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