Experiencing the Psalms in the Irish Countryside

As people of the word, Christians not only emphasize but cherish the written word of God. We believe that it is God-breathed and profitable for “teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16). The Reformation doctrine of sola scriptura (Scripture alone is the highest authority for the believer) is the creed for most evangelicals. It is for this reason, that the word of God is prioritized in worship gatherings and is encouraged for personal reading and reflection. We hold fast to the truth that the Bible is the supreme authority for the Christians life. Yet for many believers, the Bible can be difficult to understand. For this reason tools such as pictures, illustrations, charts, maps, graphs, and a myriad of other resources can be helpful in understanding the Bible. We would not hold these resources to the same standard as the written text, but find them useful for discipleship. A common way these resources are used is in children’s Bibles, and Bible story books to help illustrate the biblical story in a way that younger children can understand. These can also be helpful for adults as well, and are common in most study Bibles. One of the most precious books of the Bible for many believers is the book of Psalms. In it we find the ancient song book of the people of Israel. The Psalms are relatable to real life because of their brutal honest portrayal of the life of faith. One resource that has recently become available to help illustrate the Psalms is ESV Psalms, Photography Edition published by Crossway (2022).

ESV Psalms, Photography Edition is a beautifully bound coffee table sized volume that helps illustrate all 150 psalms via the medium of photography. All of the pictures are taken in the Irish countryside by acclaimed photographer Timothy Kellner. The photographs are beautifully curated to pair well with each the psalms. For example in Psalm 1 the psalmist writes, “Blessed is tue man…[whose] delight is in the law of the LORD…He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers” (Psalm 1:1-3, ESV). The accompanying photograph is a breathtaking shot of beautifully lush green trees. In Psalm 23 David writes, “The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters” (v. 1-2). The accompanying photo is a flock of sheep in the Irish countryside. A final example is Psalm 42 the psalmist stores, “As the deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul pants for you, O God” (v. 1). As expected the photograph is of beautiful wild deer meandering the countryside. Each photograph attempts to capture the mood of each psalm, thereby allowing the reader to get a visual sense of the psalms intent.

Three Observations:

Regarding resources such as ESV Psalms, Photography Edition, I will offer three observations for the Christian life with one commendation and two cautions.

The Tool is A Gift

We must remember that all good resources are a gift from God. Resource such as ESV Psalms, Photography Edition can be very helpful to better visualize the written text of the Bible. They can also help bring deeper meaning by seeing the psalms in a realistic and visual context. These types of resources can be helpful for discipling children. They can also be helpful in personal reflection and in family worship. We must give thanks to God for his word and the talent he bestowed upon creative folks to help the church better understand himself and his word.

The Word Must Be Central

When approaching resources such as ESV Psalms, Photography Edition we must remember that such resources are merely a tool. What do I mean by that? The photographs in the book are not meant to be historically or even biblically accurate but are meant to illuminate the text. We can admire the beauty and artistic talent displayed in the photographs, but we must not hold those higher than the written word to which they point. One must approach with caution so as not to miss the beauty and the glory of God in the Psalms as opposed to the photographs in the book. While resources like this can be helpful, we must not gravitate to them only, but must allow them to point us to the word of God. If given a choice between a book a photography that points to the word or the word of God alone we must always choose the word of God alone.

The Whole Council of God

There is no doubt that the Psalms are the word of God and are to be cherished and read as the word of God. Jesus even quoted from the songs all throughout, even on the cross. He would have known and sang meaning of his local synagogue. Psalms provide an emotional connection to God in all seasons of life. Even many of the reformers such as Martin Luther, John Calvin, and even Spurgeon wrote commentaries on the book of Psalms. The psalms must be read and used Christian discipleship. Yet in many popular Christian devotions Psalms and Proverbs are the dominant text used to the neglect of others. For this reason it is important to read the whole council of God and not just one book in the canon.

I would recommend ESV Psalms, Photography Edition as a beautiful and helpful resource in illuminating the books of Psalms. The photography is world-class and breathtaking. One even appreciates God‘s creation in the magnificent and glorious Irish countryside. God‘s creation is absolutely breathtaking and should drive us to worship. Yet as discussed above in the three observations, one must proceed with some caution when approaching a resource such as ESV Psalms, Photography Edition. Not that the resource in and of itself is a bad thing, but we must accept the gift for what it does for us, namely points us to Gods word and ultimately to worship him.

Editor’s Note: This book was received by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

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