Psalm 1: Brief Exegetical Commentary

Angle: If the psalter is providing insight into various human responses to the questions of faith, how might this influence the rest of the collection of psalms? I hope you’re blessed by this brief commentary.

Primary Motifs

  1. The righteous are blessed and will prosper.
  2. The wicked and their ways will perish.

[1] (ESV) Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; A

The psalm begins with a blessing by way of disassociation. A blessed man is to avoid these three specific groups of people. Walk, stand and sit could imply moving, being stationary and resting. Wicked counsel itself is not imputed unless carried out via walking in the flesh as opposed to walking in the spiritual council of God (Rom. 8:4). Do not plant yourself in the path[way] of sinners, but “go out from their midst, and be separate” (1 Cor. 6:17). To sit, to take rest and delight in the mocking of others is for the foolish and simple-minded (Prov. 1:11)

[2] but his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night.

One cannot delight in YHWH outside of obedience to his Torah, therefore the covenant blessings attached to the Torah (Deut. 30:15-16) make delighting in YHWH’s law synonymous with delighting in YHWH. The psalmist’s introduction of the law should also bring into view the life and death attached to adhering to it (Deut. 30:15-20).

[3] 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. A

Absorbing the law through daily and nightly meditation (verse 2) will produce fruit that remains (John. 15:16) instead of fruit that springs up quickly and dies due to lack of substance (Luke. 8:13). Unlike sporadic rain, the river is available to water the tree day and night.

[4] The wicked are not so, but are like chaff that the wind drives away. B

Their love is like a morning cloud or dew that goes away early (Hos. 6:4). Chaff (“Husks of winnowed grain or dried grasses which were burned, or left to blow away in the wind”[1]) is always shown to be temporary and insignificant (Isa. 17:13, Dan. 2:35, Hos. 13:3). It is also used of the wicked in the final judgment (vs 5) (Matt 3:12).

[5] Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous; B

They will be judged but not stand (they will not be acquitted[2]). While verse 1 implies there is still an opportunity to stand in their path, there will eventually be a separation of the righteous from the wicked (Rev. 20:11-15). It appears the wicked will be forced to depart from the assembly of the righteous after judgment.

[6] for the LORD knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish. A B

The Lord weighs the heart (Prov. 12:2).

Psalm 1: Setting the Tone for the Full Collection

“Blessed” (NRSV “happy”, Hebrew “ashrei”) is purposefully placed as the fist word in the entire collection of psalms. “Ashrei appears to denote the contented state of being that comes from the directed life.”[3] Raymond Apple links the root of ashrei with ashur, meaning “a step”. Apple shows via Samson Raphael Hirsch that the Hebrew for “Blessed is the man” may be translated “forward strides the man”, indicating that the blessed (or happy) man is one engaged in Godly actions.[4]

It would seem the psalmist it setting up a possible theme for the entire collection of encouraging readers to choose life over death by walking in the laws and statutes of YHWH. Those who actively walk will be happy, prosperous, and generate praise. Yet this does not remove the arrogant, seated scoffers (Psa. 73:8), it does not prevent crossing pathways with sinners (Psalms 26:9), neither does it mute the psalmists’ hearing of the evil council and plotting of the wicked (Psa. 31:13). “I live as an alien in the land; do not hide your commandments from me. My soul is consumed with longing for your ordinances at all times (Psa. 119:19-20 NRSV).” What does it look like to strive to keep the law in a lawless world? How is one’s faith tested by both internal and external unrighteousness? Psalms shows inspired direction on how to drink from the ever-present river of YHWH’s law that yields blessings.

Psalms also records the raw, human experiences of being a tree surrounded by wicked, sinful scorners who attack the faith of the righteous (Psa. 41:5). It shows the repentant and often despairing cries of one who has fallen short (Psa. 6 & 32). These songs of despair and hostile rage giving way to praise sometimes seem inconsistent. It is then that the reader must take a larger view and see God’s will above the human response to it. Why does God not simply answer the Psalmist cry and destroy all the enemies of YHWH? He certainly could, but chooses not to. “God’s power must be understood not as sheer force, but as something like sheer love.”[5] Yes there are the wicked, sinners and scoffers, but YHWH is a God of justice, righteousness and peace, and these are all relational terms.[6] God is being merciful to those who may currently be wicked and scornful. Psalms is a book any believer can go to and find writings of joy and writings of despair as the psalmists seek to “strive forward” in the way of righteousness, all while being conformed into the image of God.

[1]. Major Contributors and Editors, “Chaff,” ed. John D. Barry et al., The Lexham Bible Dictionary (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2012, 2013, 2014).

[2]. Robert Jamieson, A. R. Fausset, and David Brown, Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible, vol. 1 (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997), 347.

[3]. Raymond Apple. 2012. “The happy man of Psalm 1.” Jewish Bible Quarterly 40, no. 3: 179-182. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed July 24, 2015).

[4]. Ibid.

[5]. Kevin J. Vanhoozer, Dictionary for Theological Interpretation of the Bible. (London: SPCK ;, 2005) 651.

[6]. Ibid.