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Bible Commentaries
Psalms 1

Ellicott's Commentary for English ReadersEllicott's Commentary


Book I.

Psalms 1:0 has generally been regarded as a kind of preface or introduction to the rest of the Psalter. The absence of an inscription favours this view, since this absence is rare in the first book. (See General Introduction.) It is still further favoured by the traditional arrangement which left the psalm without a number, combining it with Psalms 2—a tradition supported by the reading of some MSS. in Acts 13:33 (see New Test. Com.). There are also some slight similarities of phraseology between the first two psalms, but no resemblance of style or matter, such as would be found if they had been originally one composition. At the came time, the two psalms seem to have been placed side by side by the compilers of the collection in order to form together such a general introduction. In the one we see the blessing attending the loyal fulfilment of the covenant of Jehovah in the case of the individual; in the other in the case of the nation at large, under its ideal prince. Just as the righteous man in Psalms 1:0 is contrasted with the wicked individuals, so in Psalms 2:0 the chosen Israel is contrasted with the surrounding nations who do not submit voluntarily to Jehovah; and, combined, the two strike the key-note of the whole Psalter, the faithfulness of God’s dealings with men, whether in their individual or national relation to Him, and the indissoluble connection between righteousness and blessing. It is true that in Psalms 2:0 the word “wicked” in connection with the heathen does not occur, but throughout the Psalter the two ideas are inseparable, and are undoubtedly implied there. It must be noticed too that Psalms 1:0 presents the contrast of the just and the wicked in the I same view which meets us in almost every psalm: not so much a moral as a religious view; the covenant relation is always presupposed. The just or righteous is the Israelite faithful to Jehovah and His Law; the ungodly or wicked is the Jew who makes light of his legal duties, whether in thought, act, or talk. (See Note 1.)

For determining the date, there is not only the indication of a comparatively late composition afforded by the growing reverence for the written Law (tôrah), but also the extreme probability that Jeremiah 17:8 is founded on this psalm, which approximately fixes the furthest limit to which it may be brought down. The use of the word “scorners,” a word of frequent use in the Book of Proverbs (and actually defined in Proverbs 21:24), but not found anywhere else in the Psalter, connects this psalm with the period which produced that book. It harmonises also with the dominant feeling of the later period of the monarchy. The conjecture that Solomon wrote it is interesting, but rests on insufficient ground.

In character, the psalm is simple and didactic, with an easy flowing style, not rising to any great height of poetry, either in its thought or diction. The parallelism is regular but varied.

Verse 1

(1) Blessed.—The Hebrew word is a plural noun, from the root meaning to be “straight,” or “right.” Literally, Blessings to the man who, &c.

Walketh . . . standeth . . . sitteth.—Better, went, stood, sat. The good man is first described on the negative side. In the short summary of evil from which he has been saved, it is the custom of commentators to see an epitome of the whole history of sin. But the apparent gradation was a necessity of the rhythm. The three terms employed, however, for evil have distinctive significations. (1) The ungodly. Properly, restless, wanting in self-control, victims of ungoverned passion, as defined in Isaiah 57:20. (2) Sinners. General term for wrong-doers. (3) Scornful. A proverbial word, defined in Proverbs 21:24 : Aquila has “mockers;” Symmachus “impostors;” the LXX. “pests;” Vulgate “pest.” The words expressing the conduct and the career, “counsel,” “way,” are aptly chosen, and correspond with “went,” “stood.” Possibly “seat” should be “assembly.” (Comp. Psalms 107:32.) It has an official sound, and without unduly pressing the language, we think of the graduation in vice which sometimes ends in deliberate preference for those who despise virtue. (Comp. Psalms 26:4-5.)

Verse 2

(2) But.—The Hebrew is an elliptical expression implying a strong contrast, “nay but,” “on the contrary.”

The positive side of a good man’s character is now described according to the standard which prevailed when the written law first came truly into force.

In the law of Jehovah is his delight.—Or, to the law of Jehovah is his inclination. The Hebrew word means primarily “to bend.”

Meditate.—Literally, murmur (of a dove, Isaiah 38:14; of men lamenting, Isaiah 16:7; of a lion growling, Isaiah 31:4; of muttered charms, Isaiah 8:19). (Comp. Joshua 1:8, which might have suggested this).

Verse 3

(3) And he.—Better, So is he. For the image so forcible in an Eastern clime, where vegetation depends on proximity to a stream, comp. Psalms 52:8; Psalms 92:12; Isaiah 44:4; and its development in Jeremiah 17:7-8. The full moral bearing of the image appears in our Lord’s parabolic saying, “a good tree cannot bring forth corrupt fruit, nor an evil tree good fruit.” The physical growth of a tree has in all poetry served as a ready emblem of success, as its decay has of failure. (Recall Wolsey’s comment on his fall in Shakespeare’s Henry VIII.) Nor has the moral significance of vegetable life been ignored. “If,” says a German poet, “thou wouldest attain to thy highest, go look upon a flower, and what that does unconsciously do thou consciously.” In Hebrew poetry a moral purpose is given to the grass on the mountain side and the flower in the field, and we are taught that “there is not a virtue within the widest range of human conduct, not a grace set on high for man’s aspiration, which has not its fitting emblem in vegetable life.”—Bible Educator, ii, p. 179.

For the general comparison of a righteous man to a tree, comp. Psalms 3:8 (the olive), Psalms 128:3 (vine); Hosea 14:6 (olive and cedar). Naturally the actual kind of tree in the poet’s thought interests us. The oleander suggested by Dean Stanley (Sinai and Palestine, 146), though answering the description in many ways, fails from its want of fruit to satisfy the principal condition. For, as Bishop Hall says, “Look where you will in God’s Book, you shall never find any lively member of God’s house, any true Christian, compared to any but a fruitful tree.” Probably the palm meets all the conditions best. (Comp. Psalms 92:12.)

The last clause, “Whatsoever he doeth, it shall,” &c, is obscure in construction. The best rendering is, all that he doeth he maketh to prosper, which may mean either “the righteous man carries out to a successful end all his enterprises,” or “all that he begins he brings to a maturity.”

Verse 4

(4) The ungodly.—Better, Not so the ungodly.

But are like.—They shall be winnowed out of the society of the true Israel by the fan of God’s judgment. The image is a striking one, although so frequent as almost to have become a poetical commonplace (Habakkuk 3:12; Joel 3:14; Jeremiah 51:33; Isaiah 21:10). (See Bible Educator, iv. 4.)

Verse 5

(5) Therefore.—Notice contrast with Psalms 1:1. Those who had deliberately chosen the assembly of the scornful will have no place in that of the good.

Shall not stand.—Properly, shall not rise. Probably like our phrase, “shall not hold up his head.” Will be self-convicted, and shrink away before God’s unerring scrutiny, like the man without a wedding garment in our Lord’s parable (Matthew 22:12). The LXX. and Vulg. have “rise again,” as if with thought of an after state.

The congregation of the righteous.—A phrase repeating itself in different forms in the Psalms. It implies either Israel as opposed to the heathen, or faithful Israel as opposed to those who had proved disloyal to the covenant. In theory all the congregation was holy (Numbers 16:3), but we meet in the Psalms with the feeling expressed in the Apostle’s words, “They are not all Israel that are of Israel.”

Verse 6

(6) Knowethi.e., recogniseth with discriminative discernment and appreciation. (Comp. Psalms 31:7; Psalms 144:3; Exodus 2:25; also John 10:14. So Shakespeare, As You Like It: “I know you are my eldest brother, and in the gentle condition of blood you should so know me.”)

The way of the ungodly shall perish.—This is explained by Psalms 112:10, “the desire of the wicked shall perish;” all his plans and ambitions shall come to nought. The metaphor is illustrated by Job 6:18, where an unjust course is compared to a stream that suddenly dries up and disappears.

Bibliographical Information
Ellicott, Charles John. "Commentary on Psalms 1". "Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ebc/psalms-1.html. 1905.
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