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The first Psalm is anonymous and introduces many of the concepts found in greater detail throughout the Psalms. It describes the righteous man and contrasts him with the wicked man, telling what they are like, what they do, and what will ultimately happen to them.
‘Blessed is the man…’ ‘Blessed’ refers not only to the fact that the man has been blessed by God, but also that the righteous man is a blessing to all those around him. One of the promises in the original Abrahamic covenant that was reiterated in every major covenant since then was that through Abraham all peoples would be blessed.
‘…who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked…’ This phrase begins a downward spiral of evil depicting a lifestyle more and more enmeshed in the ways of the wicked. Walking with the wicked is merely the first step to wickedness. ‘Counsel’ may refer only to listening to what the wicked have to say, but could also mean doing as they do. Either one is dangerous and possibly sinful.
‘…or stand in the way of sinners…’ Now the man has stopped walking and is standing thoughtfully in the way (or the life) of sinners. He is not now casually walking along the road with sinners, but he is stopping to have a conversation with them.
‘…or sit in the seat of mockers.’ Mocking is one of the worst sins in the Bible. Not only is the person sinning himself, but he is ridiculing those who do not—attempting to make them ashamed of their own righteousness. And by sitting down with them, the man would be identifying himself with them fully and completely. Thankfully, our blessed man does not do these things.
‘But his delight is in the law of the Lord…’ Rather, he loves the God’s law. This is interesting, because we, in light of the New Testament, tend to think of the law as something that we are freed from, not something that we love. The law is a burden to us, not something in which to delight. But we are told that the blessed man delights in the law of God.
‘…and on His law he meditates day and night.’ And not only does he love it in an abstract way, but he meditates on it all the time. To ‘meditate’ is not some spiritualistic New Age-ey way to try to transcend your physical existence. Instead, to ‘meditate’ here means to read carefully and reflect upon, and not skim through in a cursory manner.
‘He is like a tree planted by streams of water which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither.’ Trees are often used as symbols in the Bible. A good tree will bear good fruit, just as a righteous man will yield righteousness. A tree that is planted by streams of water will bear good fruit—and so will our blessed man.
‘Whatever he does prospers.’ Now we know that not all righteous men have a prosperous and blessed life here on earth. Look at Job as a Biblical example. However, this empirical evidence alone does not negate this promise. We cannot see the big picture from our limited point of view in space and time, but we must accept this promise that, at some point in time, everything done by the righteous will prosper, even if not in the way we originally intended.
‘Not so the wicked!’ Now the psalmist turns to his description of the wicked, taking everything that has been said about the blessed man and saying that the exact opposite is true of the wicked. He walks, stands, and sits in the way of the wicked; he does not delight in the law of the Lord; and he does not bear good fruit or prosper in all he does.
‘They are like chaff that the wind blows away.’ The chaff of wheat is the part that is thrown away during the reaping process. In today’s combine reapers, the wheat is fed through the machine, the heavy seeds of wheat (the good part) falls to the bottom and is caught in bins, but the light, worthless chaff is released to the wind and blown away. This verse says that the wicked are like that. Not only are they actively wicked, but they are useless and worthless! They are not even worthy of attention; so lightweight that the wind will blow them away.
‘Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous.’ Because of their worthlessness, the wicked will not even be given a chance to defend themselves (‘stand’) in the final judgment. This verse is an example of parallelism in Hebrew poetry. The same thought is repeated to give emphasis.
‘For the Lord watches over the way of the righteous…’ Again, ‘way’ refers to a lifestyle. God will be with and take care of the righteous as they progress through their life.
‘…but the way of the wicked will perish.’ But without God’s sovereign care, the life of the wicked simply fades away and dies, floating away on the wind. These two phrases are examples of antithesis. A thought is stated, then the opposite is pointed out for emphasis. This is a particularly good example, given the parallel use of the word ‘way’ in both phrases.
Psalm 1 and Psalm 2 are often thought of as an introduction
to the rest of Psalms, and this first one introduces many of the themes
found throughout Psalms, particularly the contrast of the righteous with
the wicked and the delight taken by the righteous man in God’s law
(cf. Psalm 119). Also, it is a Psalm of great hope: even if it does not
seem like it all the time, God is watching over the righteous all the
time, and the Lord will win in the end. The wicked will be judged, and
the righteous shall prosper.
This paper originated as part of a term paper for Old Testament History, Missouri Baptist College, Fall, 2000.
©2000 by Jandy Stone