Notes on Psalm 1
Blaine Robison, M.A.
Published 21 July 2013; Revised 16 March 2018
Grammar: Unless otherwise indicated the meaning of Hebrew words is taken from The New Brown, Driver, Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon (Associated Publishers and Authors, Inc., 1981). Parsing information for Hebrew words is taken from John Joseph Owens, Analytical Key to the Old Testament (Baker Book House, 1991). Unless otherwise indicated the meaning of Greek words used in the Septuagint (LXX) is from Walter Bauer, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, trans. W.F. Arndt & F.W. Gingrich (The University of Chicago Press, 1957).
Sources: Bibliographic data for sources cited may be found at the end of the psalm. Unless otherwise indicated Scripture quotations are taken from the NASB Updated Edition (1995). Click here for Abbreviations of Bible Versions. References to the Mishnah and Talmud are from the Soncino Babylonian Talmud (1948); available online at Halakhah.com. Click here for Talmud Abbreviations. Quotations from the Targums are taken from Edward M. Cook, The Psalms Targum: An English Translation (2001).
Terminology: In order to emphasize the Hebraic and Jewish nature of Scripture I use the terms "Tanakh" (Old Testament) and "Besekh" (New Testament), as well as the terms "Yeshua" (Jesus) and "Messiah" (Christ). This commentary contains the Name of God. If you print it out, please treat it with appropriate respect.
Wisdom and Torah Psalms
· List of Psalms: 1, 19, 34, 37, 49, 111, 112, 119, 127, 128, 133
--Teaching skillful life
--No direct address to God in worship
--Formulaic expressions: “Blessed is the man,” etc.
--The Two Ways
--The Instruction of Adonai
· Moral dilemmas
--Suffering of the righteous
--Prosperity of the wicked
Chapter: 1 in the MT and LXX. See the Hebrew text and English interlinear at InterlinearBible.org.
The Talmud states that Psalm 1 and Psalm 2 composed one chapter (Berachot 9b). If this is correct then the assertion of the apostle Peter in Acts 4:25 that David wrote Psalm 2 would also apply to Psalm 1. Davidic authorship is highly appropriate since he wrote half the psalms and given his long ode to the Torah in Psalm 119 there would be no one better qualified to compose the introductory psalm.
· Psalm 1 serves as an introduction to the Psalter.
· The psalm employs synthetic parallelism.
· Figures of speech include "fruitful tree," "chaff," "way"
· The message of the psalm contrasts the Two Ways.
· The key words are “Blessed,” (v1, occurs 26 times in Psalter), “Law of ADONAI,” (v2), “Righteous” and “wicked.”
· The psalm employs three poetic triplets: (1) Verbs: walk, sit and stand; (2) Persons: wicked, sinners, scoffers; (3) Location: counsel, path and seat
Vocabulary: small in scope with several words appearing more than once: wicked (4), sinners (2), law (2), way (2)
1 How blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, nor stand in the path of sinners, nor sit in the seat of scoffers!
How blessed: Heb. esher, happiness, joyfulness, blessedness and fortunate all at the same time. Esher comes from the root word ashar, which means to go (straight), or to walk. Some translations use the word “happy” but this is inadequate because the root of the English word “happy” is “hap” which means chance. For most people without God happiness comes as a result of good luck. However, the Hebrew viewpoint is that a “blessing” is a purposeful endowment (cf. Gen 1:28), ordinarily transmitted from the greater to the lesser. Blessedness can never be self-imposed nor come by accident. The only source of blessing is God. While man's "happiness" is a free gift of God, it must be promoted by two kinds of activities: dissociation from the wicked and association with God (VanGemeren).
Alter unfortunately puts Psalm 1 at odds with Job saying, "In content, it is a Wisdom psalm, affirming the traditional moral calculus (to which Job will powerfully object) that it pays to be good, whereas the wicked will be paid back for their evil" (3). Both Job and Psalm 1 agree on the fate of the wicked, but blessedness is not a quid pro quo payback from God. Blessedness is the result of living according to a certain principle. Job lived by the same principle, which is why he couldn't understand his suffering and concluded incorrectly that God was picking on him.
is the man: Heb. ish, (LXX anęr) man, first used of Adam. The word also means "husband" when used in a context of having a woman or wife. This psalm can have a particular meaning for a husband and father. who does not walk: Heb. halak, Qal perfect, to come, go or walk. The word is used figuratively. "Walking" is often used as a metaphor of one's relationship with God (e.g. Enoch, Gen 5:22, 24; Noah, Gen 6:9), or the character and behavior of one's life that conforms to God's commandments (Abraham, Gen 17:1; Deut 5:33; 8:6; Josh 22:5; Luke 1:6; Acts 21:24), the religious traditions of men (Acts 21:21) or the wickedness of an earthly father (e.g. Abijam, 1Kgs 15:1, 3; Asa, 1Kgs 15:33-34). Paul uses the metaphor in Romans 8 to contrast living by the flesh (one's desires) and the Spirit (God's desires). Alter summarizes by saying that walking is a metaphor for pursuing a set of moral choices in life (3).
in the counsel: Heb. etsah, counsel, advice, consultation or instruction. LXX has boulę, which may mean the process of thinking as prelude to decision or the product of deliberation. of the wicked: plural of Heb. rasha, adjective, wicked or criminal, is someone who has no interest in pleasing God. The LXX has asebęs, ungodly or impious person; one who lacks respect or reverence for God displayed in sacrilegious words or deeds. He may be (1) guilty of a crime, especially a crime that warrants the death penalty. He deserves punishment because he willfully breaks God's law. He may be (2) guilty of hostility toward God or his people; or (3) guilty of sin against either God or man. In the Psalter this term usually refers to men who are the enemies of God and therefore also the adversaries of His people (Anderson).
nor stand: Heb. amad, Qal perfect, to take one's stand, to stand. The verb refers to a refusal to budge. Such standing may be manifested by speaking forth as an adversary or remaining silent when there should be a voice. in the path: Heb. derek, way, road, distance, or journey in a literal sense, or way or manner in a figurative sense. Here "path" is used of a manner of life consistent with the meaning of "walk." of sinners: plural of Heb. chatta, sinful person or sinner, one who misses the mark as defined by Torah. He is reckoned as an offender and exposed to condemnation. The sinner lives as if there is no God to whom he is accountable.
nor sit: Heb. yashab, Qal perfect, to sit (on a seat or sit down), remain (stay or tarry) or dwell. in the seat: Heb. moshab, a seat, assembly (sitting in company with), or dwelling place. LXX has kathedra, a place for sitting, a chair. of scoffers: Heb. luts, Qal active participle, to interpret, to scorn, to make a mock, to have in derision. The mocker puts a negative or pejorative interpretation on circumstances and God. The LXX has loimos, plague, pestilence or pestilential person, a menace to others.
In Scripture various terms are employed to describe those who reject the authority of God's commandments. They do not recognize that God gave His people the Torah, as David Stern observes, “in order to help them live a life which would be in their own best interests as well as holy and pleasing to God” (Stern 17). The verbs of "walk … stand … sit" are not meant to describe a progression of rebellion so much as three types of people who do not have the blessing of God.
2 But his delight is in the law of the LORD, and in His law he meditates day and night.
But his delight: Heb. chephets, delight, pleasure, desire, longing. LXX has thelęma, that which is carried out according to wish or purpose; an act of willing or desire. is in the law: Heb. Torah, direction, instruction or law. The mention of the Torah likely refers to the books of Moses, but depending on the author the term could include later books. However, the writer is not talking so much about completed books of a canonical status as the divine instruction contained in those books. The English word “law,” which translates Torah, has a much more limited meaning, usually negative. In Western culture law exists to regulate behavior and authorize punishment for violations. Torah is the feminine noun from the root yarah, which means to throw, to shoot (as in arrows), or to cast (as in lots). It also means to point out, to show, to direct, to teach or to instruct. Thus, Torah is instruction in the way man is meant to live in an ethical and moral way in order to enjoy life to the full and to please God. Alter, ERV, EXB, GW and NCV translate the word appropriately as "teaching." CEB and HCSB have "instruction." CJB has Torah, but ironically the HNV has "law."
of the LORD: Heb. YHVH (Yod-Hey-Vav-Hey), the tetragrammaton of the God of Israel. YHVH dominates in the Tanakh, first occurring in Genesis 2:4. While not reflected in Bible translations YHVH is not a title or a word for a deity, but the personal name of the God of Israel (Ex 3:15; 2Chr 14:11; Isa 42:8). Translating YHVH with "the LORD" is actually strange since there is no definite article associated with the Hebrew name and it would be equivalent to saying "the Jesus." The Genesis narrative identifies YHVH on the lips of Chavah ("Eve," Gen 4:1), then Seth and his descendants when "men began to call upon the name of YHVH" (Gen 4:26), Lamech, father of Noah on the occasion of his birth (Gen 5:29) and then by Noah himself when he blessed the line of Shem (Gen 9:26).
Abraham addressed the One who called him out of Ur as YHVH Elohim (Gen 15:2) and in that conversation God offered his first self-revelation as YHVH (Gen 15:7). The prolific use of YHVH in the book of Genesis presents something of a conundrum because God told Moses, "I appeared to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, as God Almighty [Heb. El Shaddai], but by My name, LORD [Heb. YHVH], I did not make Myself known to them" (Ex 6:3; cf. Gen 17:1). The statement implies that Moses inserted YHVH into the Genesis narrative. The rationale could be two-fold: (1) the usage of YHVH in Genesis asserts that the Creator-God is the God of Israel; and (2) the usage of YHVH also demonstrates that the true people of God had always worshipped the Holy One of Israel.
Nevertheless, by Moses' own record God also revealed his Name to Abraham, "I am the LORD [Heb. YHVH] who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans, to give you this land to possess it" (Gen 15:7). Thus, the patriarchs (and those before them) were not ignorant of YHVH. The point of Exodus 6:3 is that the God of the fathers not only had established his covenant with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, but had now heard the groaning of the children of Israel and remembered his covenant. The significance of the revelation to Moses and all Israel, not previously explained, is that YHVH is a deliverer and redeemer. See my article The Blessed Name for more discussion on this subject.
and in His law: "teaching" (Alter). See the note on verse 2 above. he meditates: Heb. hagah, Qal imperfect, to moan, growl, utter, speak, or muse. The LXX has melataō, to give careful thought to. The verb indicates an ongoing activity. Alter suggests that the verb indicates recitation of Scripture in a low muttering voice, whereas BDB interprets the verb as meditation or musing on Scripture. Since the verb can mean "to speak," then the verb could allude to the Torah requirement:
"6 These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart. 7 You shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit (Heb. yashab) in your house and when you walk (Heb. halak) by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up." (Deut 6:6-7)
day: Heb. yom, day or daylight. Yom is generally used in Scripture as a specific division of time denoting the daytime portion of a 24-hour day (Gen 1:5) or a complete solar/lunar cycle of 24 hours (Ex 2:13). and night: Heb. layelah, night as opposed to day, which would include evening. The idiom of "day and night" implies regularity and in a practical sense means "every day." The thought of meditating day and night on the God's instruction is first mentioned in Joshua.
"This book of the law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it; for then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have success." (Josh 1:8)
In a literal sense Joshua could meditate on Scripture because he had access to a written copy. However, it was not until well after the development of synagogues, which probably began during the Babylonian exile, that anyone besides priests had access to the scrolls of Scripture. Copies of scrolls were bought for placement in synagogues and portions of Scripture would be read aloud during weekly services for the people to hear. There were no take-home Bibles. So, to take this claim of the Psalmist in a literalistic sense would have a very narrow application.
A more realistic scenario is this. Before the Babylonian exile the average Israelite heard the Scripture read at festival time when the people assembled at the Tabernacle or Temple (Ex 24:7; Deut 31:9-13; Josh 8:33-35; 2Kgs 23:2; 2Chr 34:30; Neh 13:1). After the exile public reading also occurred weekly in synagogue services (cf. Luke 4:16; Acts 13:15; 15:21; 2Cor 3:14-15; Col 4:16; 1Th 5:27; Rev 1:3). When the man goes home he thinks each day about how to apply what he heard. According to Jewish tradition there are 613 commandments (Makkot 23b). That's a lot to think about. There are practical choices, ethical choices and moral choices, all of which may be made with the instruction he received from God.
3 He will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in its season and its leaf does not wither; and in whatever he does, he prospers.
He will be: Heb. hayah, Qal perfect, to fall out, come to pass, become, be; "he is" (Biblos; Kohlenberger). like a tree: Heb. ets, tree, trees, wood, here a standing tree. firmly planted: Heb. shathal, Qal pass. participle, to transplant. by streams: plural of Heb. peleg, canal, channel, such as an irrigation channel or channels created by rain. of water: Heb. mayim, water, waters, a term referring to water that might come from a variety of sources. which yields: Heb. nathan, Qal imperfect, to give, put or set. The verb is used in a number of passages to refer to the produce of the land. its fruit: Heb. peri, fruit, the edible portion of plants. in its season: Heb. eth, time, in this case an appointed time, a season in which plants ripen to the point of being ready for harvest. and its leaf: Heb. aleh, leaf or leafage, does not wither: Heb. nabel, Qal imperfect, to sink or drop down, to fade or to wither and fall. And in whatever he does, he prospers: Heb. tsalach, Hiphal imperfect, to advance or prosper. In a semi-arid climate everyone recognized that a tree had to be near a water source to flourish, so this is a metaphor for success, fruitfulness and blessing (Alter).
4 The wicked are not so, but they are like chaff which the wind drives away.
The wicked: plural of Heb. rasha. See the note on verse 1. are not so: The negative adverb denies the experience described in the previous verse of the wicked. But they are like chaff: Heb. mōts, the husk and other materials separated from the kernel of grain during the threshing or winnowing process. A number of passages employ the metaphor of "chaff" to refer to the unrighteous (Ex 15:7; Ps 35:5; 83:13; Isa 17:13; 29:5; 41:2; Hos 13:3; Mal 4:1; Matt 3:12; Luke 3:17). which the wind: Heb. ruach, wind, breath or spirit, here lit. of the breezes that blow across the land. drives away: Heb. nadaph, Qal imperfect, to drive, to drive asunder. Chaff is frequently depicted in Scripture as always being driven by wind or burned up as worthless.
5 Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous.
Therefore the wicked: plural of Heb. rasha. See the note on verse 1 above. will not stand: Heb. qum, Qal imperfect, to arise, stand up or stand. The LXX has anistęmi, which is a word used by the apostles as an allusion to resurrection. in the judgment: Heb. mishpat, judgment, may mean (1) a court or place of judgment; (2) the result or sentence of a legal hearing; (3) process or procedure of litigation; or (4) the execution of judgment. Here the meaning is no doubt the judgment of God, which at the very least occurs upon death. nor sinners: plural of Heb. chatta. See the note on verse 1 above.
in the assembly: Heb. edah, the assembly or congregation of Israel, first occurring in Exodus 12:3. Edah comes from the root ya'ad, to appoint (TWOT 1:387). In normal usage edah is used of an assembly by appointment, although the noun does not imply the purpose of the gathering. The noun is applied to both the gathering of the righteous (as here) and the wicked (Ps 22:16). The noun sometimes designates the assembly of people gathered before the LORD in judgment (Ps 7:7). The edah was signaled to assembly when two silver trumpets were blown (Num 10:2).
of the righteous: plural of Heb. tsaddiq, adjective, just or righteous, lit. "righteous ones." The adjective does not mean "perfect." The tsaddiq is ethically blameless in light of the Torah. The righteous one seeks to please God by keeping his commandments. The necessity of atonement for unintentional and even negligent offenses emphasizes the reality that no one kept all 613 commandments perfectly. The term means "just' or he lives in a right manner or a lawful manner toward God and man and is innocent of intentional transgression. The tsaddiq is the one who is blessed of the LORD by virtue of delighting in the Torah and avoiding the transgressions of the wicked.
Of interest is that the LXX translates edah with boulę, "counsel." See verse 1 above. The sages who translated the LXX apparently understood "assembly of the righteous" to mean sharing in the deliberations of the assembly. Besides gathering for worship or festival observance (1Kgs 8:5), the edah gathered for war (Jdg 20:1), to deal with a breach of covenant, for tribal affairs, to crown a king (2Kgs 12:20) and at times of national calamity (TWOT 1:388). On these occasions there were decisions to be made and only those living in faithfulness to God's commandments had a right to participate.
6 For the LORD knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish.
For the LORD: Heb. YHVH. See the note on verse 2 above. knows: Heb. yada, Qal active participle, to know. The verb is often used for an intimate connection, such as between a husband and wife. Alter translates the verb as "embraces." YHVH knows because He is the creator. the way: Heb. derek. See verse 1 above. of the righteous: plural of Heb. tsaddiq, lit. "the righteous ones." See the note on the previous verse. In his commentary on Proverbs 22:6 Delitzsch points out that derek can mean the innate capacity of each individual for learning (324). God knows the inherent strengths and weaknesses of every person (cf. Ps 103:14). In addition, the "way of the righteous" also refers to the essential set of values by which the righteous person guides his life, such as love and loyalty. The righteous man is faithful to God through all the vicissitudes of life.
But the way of the wicked: Heb. rasha. See verse 1 above. The emphasis is on the "way." will perish: Heb. abad, Qal imperfect, to perish or die in a literal sense or to vanish in a figurative sense. Anderson likens the "way of the wicked" to a cul-de-sac because in the end it comes to nothing. Having rejected both the instruction of God and the love of God they have denied themselves any hope of the benefits accorded to the righteous.
ABP: Charles Van der Pool, The Apostolic Bible Polyglot (An interlinear Septuagint, LXX, with English translation) The Apostolic Press, 2006. Psalm 1 online.
Alter: Robert Alter, The Book of Psalms: A Translation with Commentary. W.W. Norton & Co., 2007.
Anderson: A.A. Anderson, Psalms 1-72. The New Century Bible Commentary. Marshall, Morgan & Scott, 1972.
Biblos: Biblos Interlinear Bible, 2004-2013. Psalm 1
Cook: Edward M. Cook, The Psalms Targum: An English Translation. 2001. Online.
Delitzsch: Franz Delitzsch, Proverbs. Commentary on the Old Testament (C.F. Keil and F. Delitzsch, 1866-1891), Vol. 6. Hendrickson Publishers, 2006.
Kohlenberger: John R. Kohlenberger III, The Interlinear NIV Hebrew-English Old Testament. Zondervan Pub. House, 1987.
TWOT: R. Laird Harris, ed., Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament. Moody Press, 1980.
VanGemeren: Willem A. VanGemeren, Psalms. Expositor’s Bible Commentary. Zondervan Publishing House, 1983. (Zondervan CD-ROM Version 2.6, 1989-1998)
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