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Bible Commentaries

Hengstenberg on John, Revelation, Ecclesiastes, Ezekiel & Psalms

Psalms 1

PSALM FIRST

THE Psalmist begins by extolling the blessedness of the righteous, who is first described negatively, as turning away from the counsels of the wicked, Psalms 1:1, and then positively, as having his thoughts engrossed with the Divine law, Psalms 1:2. He proceeds next to delineate under a pleasant image the prosperity which attends him in all his ways, and places in contrast to this, the destruction which is the inseparable concomitant of the wicked, Psalms 1:3-4. He grounds upon these eternal principles the confidence, that God will take out of the way whatever, in the course of events, appears to be at variance with them; that by His judgment He will overthrow the wicked, through whose malice the righteous suffer, and free His Church, which must consist only of the righteous, from their corrupting leaven; and, as it was declared, in Psalms 1:3 and Psalms 1:4, that the Lord interests Himself in the righteous, and hence could not leave them helpless, while destruction is the fate of the wicked, the former must in consequence be exalted above the latter, Psalms 1:5-6.

According to this order, which alone secures to the “therefore” at the beginning of Psalms 1:5, and the “for” in Psalms 1:6, their proper meaning, the Psalm falls into three strophes, each consisting of two verses.

The Psalm is primarily of an admonitory character. What it says of the prosperity which attends the righteous, and the perdition which befalls the wicked, cannot but incite to imitate the one, and shun the other. In reference to this Luther remarks: “It is the practice of all men to inquire after blessedness; and there is no man on earth who does not wish that it might go well with him, and would not feel sorrow if it went ill with him. But he, who speaks in this Psalm with a voice from heaven, beats down and condemns everything which the thoughts of men might excogitate and devise, and brings forth the only true description of blessedness, of which the whole world knows nothing, declaring that he only is blessed and prosperous whose love and desire are directed to the law of the Lord. This is a short description, one too that goes against all sense and reason, especially against the reason of the worldly-wise and the high-minded. As if he had said: Why are ye so busy seeking counsel? why are ye ever in vain devising unprofitable things? There is only one precious pearl; and he has found it, whose love and desire is toward the law of the Lord, and who separates himself from the ungodly—all succeeds well with him. But whosoever does not find this pearl, though he should seek with ever so much pains and labour the way to blessedness, he shall never find it.”

The Psalm has, besides, a consolatory character, which comes clearly out in the last strophe; for it must tend to enliven the hope of the righteous in the grace of God, and fill them with confidence, that everything which now appears contrary to their hope, shall come to an end; that the judgment of God shall remove the stumbling-blocks cast in their way by the temporal prosperity of the wicked, and the troubles thence accruing to them.

The truth contained in this Psalm is as applicable to the Church of the New Testament as to that of the Old. It remains perpetually true, that sin is the destruction of any people, and that salvation is the inseparable attendant of righteousness. Whatever, in the course of things, seems to run counter to this, will be obviated by the remark, that a righteous man, as the author delineates him,—one whose desire is undividedly fixed upon the law of God, and to whom it is “his thought by day and his dream by night,”—is not to be found among the children of men. Just because salvation is inseparably connected with righteousness, an absolute fulfilment of the promise of the Psalm cannot be expected. For even when the innermost bent of the mind is stedfastly set upon righteousness, there still exist so many weaknesses and sins, that sufferings of various kinds are necessary, not less as deserved punishments, than as the means of improvement, which, so far from subverting the principles here laid down, serve to confirm them. The sentiment, that “everything he does, prospers,” which is literally true of the righteous, in so far as he is such, passes, in consequence of the imperfect nature of our righteousness, which alone can be charged with our loss of the reward that is promised to the perfect, into the still richly consolatory truth, that “all things work together for good to them who love God.” Those who are blinded by Pelagianism, who know not the limited nature of human righteousness, and consequently want the only key to the mystery of the cross, do apprehend the truth of the main idea of the Psalm, but at the same time escape from it only by surrendering themselves to a crude Dualism. It is unquestionable, say they, that the internal blessedness of life has no other ground than genuine piety; but as for outward things, “which depend upon natural influences, the relations and accidents of life, and the violent movements of the populace,” one can make no lofty pretensions to them. Who can but feel that natural influences and such like things are here placed in complete independence of God, are virtually raised to the condition of a second God, and that we are at once translated from a Christian into a heathen sphere, in which latter, accident, fate, Typhon, Achriman, play a distinguished part, and all on the same ground, to wit, the want of that knowledge of sin, which peculiarly belongs to revelation? Such masters must not take it upon them to instruct the Psalmist, but must learn of him. Whoever really believes in one true God, the Creator, Preserver, and Governor of the world, cannot but accord with the doctrine of the Psalmist. It is impossible to disparage in the least the doctrine of recompense, without trenching closely upon the truth of one God. Internal good, as the perfect, is contrasted with external, as the imperfect. But where, in reality, is the man, who enjoys complete inward blessedness—who, even though labouring under the greatest delusion regarding his state, can spend so much as one day in perfect satisfaction with himself? Besides, is it not natural, that the external should go hand in hand with the internal? And have we any reason, on account of the troubles which befall us, to doubt the omnipotence and righteousness of God, and the truth of that doctrine of Scripture, which pervades both economies, and appears in every book from Genesis to Revelation, that God will recompense to every one according to his works? Instead of running into such mournful aberrations, it behoves every one, when he reads what the Psalmist says of the righteous—“And he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth his fruit in his season, his leaf also shall not wither, and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper”—and finds that his own condition presents a melancholy contrast to what is here described, to turn back his eye upon the first and second verses, and inquire whether that which is there affirmed of the righteous will apply to him; and if he finds it to be otherwise, then should he smite upon his breast, and cry, “God be merciful to me a sinner,” and thereafter strive with all earnestness to realize the pattern there delineated, by employing the means which God has appointed for the purpose.

The subject of the Psalm is, as might be judged from the previous remarks, quite general, and it is an error in several expositors to refer it to particular times and persons. There is great probability in the opinion of those, who suppose with Calvin, that this Psalm, originally occupying another position, was placed by the collector of the Psalms, as an introduction to the whole. Basilius calls it a “short preface” to the Psalms; and that this view is of great antiquity, may be gathered from Acts 13:33, where Paul, according to the reading agreed upon by the most approved critics (Erasmus, Mill, Bengel, Griesbach, etc.), quotes as the first Psalm that which, in our collection, occupies the second place. If the first was considered only as a sort of introductory preface, the numbering would begin with the one following, as, indeed, is the case in some manuscripts. The matter of the Psalm is admirably suited to this application of it. “The collector of these songs,” says Amyrald, “seems to have carefully placed before the eye of his readers, at the very threshold, the aim at which the actions of men should, as so many arrows, be directed.” The position of the Psalm at the beginning appears peculiarly suitable, if, along with its admonitory tendency, the consolatory is also brought prominently out. In the latter respect, it may be regarded as in fact a short compend of the main subject of the Psalms. That God has appointed salvation to the righteous, perdition to the wicked—this is the great truth, with which the sacred bards grapple amid whatever painful experiences of life apparently indicate the reverse. The supposition is also favoured, or rather seems to be demanded, by the circumstance, that the Psalm has no superscription. As from Psalm third a long series of Psalms follows, with titles ascribing them to David, it cannot be doubted that the collectors intended to open the collection therewith. So that there must have been a particular reason for making our Psalm an exception from the general rule, and it is scarcely possible to imagine any other than the one already mentioned.

It is justly remarked, however, by Koester, that the supposition in question by no means requires us to hold that the Psalm is a late production, and probably composed by the collector himself. The simplicity and freshness which characterize it are against this. That it must have been composed, at any rate, before Jeremiah, is evident from his imitation of it. A more determinate conclusion regarding the time of its composition, can only, since the Psalm itself furnishes no data, be derived from ascertaining its relation to Psalm second.

It has often been maintained, that the two Psalms form but one whole, [Note: See the opinions of the Jews and the Fathers in Wetstein, on Acts 13:33.] and this opinion has exercised considerable influence upon various manuscripts (De Rossi mentions seven, and even Origen in his Hexapla by Montfaucon, p. 475, speaks of having seen one in his day). But this view is obviously untenable. Each of the Psalms forms a separate and complete whole by itself. Still, several appearances present themselves, which certainly point to a close relation between the two. First of all, there is the remarkable circumstance, that Psalm second stands in this place, at the head of a collection, to which, properly, only such Psalms belonged as bore the name of David in their superscription. We can hardly explain this by any other reason than its inseparable connection with the first Psalm, which being placed, for the reason above given, at the commencement, required the second to follow immediately after. There is, further, a certain outward resemblance between them: the number of verses in Psalm second is precisely the double of those in the first; and in both Psalms there is a marked and singularly regular construction of strophes, the first Psalm falling into three strophes of two verses, and the second into four strophes of three. In regard to the subject, the first is admirably fitted to be an introduction to the second, for which it lays a general foundation. What is said in the first Psalm generally, of the different taste and destiny of the righteous and the wicked, the second repeats with a special application to the Messiah and His adversaries. The first Psalm closed with the announcement of judgment against the wicked, and at that point the second begins. On the other hand, the latter Psalm concludes with a benediction, as the former had commenced with it—compare “blessed is the man,” with “blessed are all they that put their trust in Him.” The expression in Psalms 2:12, “Ye shall perish in your way,” remarkably coincides with that in Psalms 1:6, “The way of the ungodly shall perish.” Finally, the words, “The nations meditate vain things” in (bible: Psalms 2) Psalm second, acquire additional force, if viewed as a contrast to the meditation of the righteous on the law of the Lord, mentioned in the first Psalm.

These circumstances are by no means satisfactorily explained and accounted for, on the supposition that the collector had joined the second Psalm to the first, from certain points of connection happening to exist between them; and nothing remains for us but the conclusion, that both Psalms were composed by the same author, and were meant by him as different parts of one whole. This conclusion may be the more readily embraced, as we have elsewhere undoubted specimens of such pairs of Psalms (as Psalm Psalms 9 and Psalms 10, Psalms 14 and Psalms 15, Psalms 42 and Psalms 43), and as similar things are not awanting in Christian poets, for example, Richter’s two poems, “It is not difficult to be a Christian,” and “It is hard to be a Christian.”

Now, as there are important grounds for ascribing the ( Psalms 2) second Psalm to David, we should be entitled to regard him as the author also of the first; nor can any solid objection be urged against this conclusion. In its noble simplicity, its quiet but still extremely spirited character, it presents a close resemblance to other Psalms, of which David was unquestionably the penman, and in particular to the Psalms 15, Psalms 23, Psalms 8 Psalms.

Verse 1

Ver. 1. Blessed is the man that walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, and stands not in the way of sinners, and sits not in the seat of the scornful. That the righteous should first be described negatively, has its ground in the proneness of human nature to what is evil. From the same ground arises the predominantly negative form of the decalogue. As there the thought of something, to which our corrupt heart is inclined, is everywhere forced on our notice, so also is it here. עזה never signifies what Stier and Hitzig here understand by it, disposition, spirit, but always counsel, as in Job 21:16, Job 22:18. “The counsel of a man” signifies, in some passages, the counsel given by him; for the most part, however, it is the counsel which he adopts himself—his plans and resolutions. This latter is invariably the meaning of the expression, “to walk in any one’s counsel,” which uniformly means, “to adopt his plans, to share the same designs,”—comp. 2 Chronicles 22:5, where “walked after their counsel,” corresponds to, “he walked in the ways of the house of Ahab,” 2 Chronicles 22:3, and “he did evil in the sight of the Lord like the house of Ahab,” 2 Chronicles 22:4; only with this distinction, indicated by the “also” in 2 Chronicles 22:5, and the clause following, “and went with Jehoram the son of Ahab to war,” that while there a general agreement in thought and action is spoken of, here it is referred to particular plans and undertakings. In Micah 6:16, to “walk in one’s counsels,” is taken as parallel with “observing one’s statutes and doing one’s works.” In Psalms 81:12, “they walked in their own counsels,” means, they walked in the counsels they themselves took, in the plans they themselves devised. Consequently, the exposition of Gesenius and others, who render the first clause of our Psalm: “who lives not according to the counsels of the ungodly,” must be abandoned, and this the rather, that in what follows, the discourse is not of a dependence upon the influence of the wicked, but of one’s personally belonging to them. To walk in the counsel of the wicked, is to occupy oneself with their purposes, their worthless projects.

Olshausen, in his emendations on the Old Testament, would read עדת for עצת , “in the company or band of the ungodly.” He appeals to the strong parallelism, which the author of this Psalm employs, and, indeed, pre-eminently in this first verse. The parallels here fall into three members: who walks not, stands not, sits not. In each member there is a preterite, as predicate, with the preposition ב following it, a noun as its complement, and a completely appropriate dependent genitive. Two of the nouns which serve to limit the preposition, to wit, way and seat, may be local designations, as then they would most fitly accord with the sense of the particular verbs. In the first noun alone, no such local designation is to be found. Rightly viewed, the word עצת has of course this meaning. The proposed change is certainly needed to make out this signification. For the counsel undoubtedly refers to the spiritual byway, into which he wanders, who follows it. But the second term, the way of sinners, must also be spiritually understood. To speak of standing in their way can only refer to their manner of acting,—to follow with them the same moral paths, or to act like the מושב “the seat,” is the only term that implies an external locality. The difference is, however, of little moment, since here also the outward companionship comes into view, only as the result of an internal agreement. If we examine the matter more closely, it will be found that the alteration proposed is not only quite unnecessary, but also unsuitable. For עדת , is excluded on the very ground which Olshausen presses against עצת . According to the analogy of בדרך and במושב , the preposition ב must admit of being rendered by on; it must designate the sphere in which the conduct is exhibited. Now, the expression: “on the counsel,” is quite suitable; but the expression: “on the company,” is senseless.

According to the common acceptation, מושב must mean here, not “seat,” but “session.” Of the few passages, however, which are brought forward in support of this meaning, Psalms 107:32, so far from requiring, does not even admit of it. If the translation be adopted: “in the session (assembly) of the elders they shall praise Him,” we must decide on adopting the perfectly groundless supposition, that the elders had instituted separate meetings for the praise of God, apart from the rest of the people. None but general religious assemblies are known in history. If it be rendered: “upon the seat, or the bench of the elders,” then everything will be in order; “they shall extol Him in the congregation of the people, and praise Him on the bench of the elders,” namely, first the whole, and then the most distinguished part thereof. The only meaning which is certain, is here also quite suitable. To sit in the seat of the scorners, is, in other words, to sit as scorners, just as, in the preceding clauses, the discourse was of such as stood, not beside sinners, but among them, who not merely follow, but also cherish for themselves the counsels of ungodly men. Luther has given the meaning correctly: “nor sits where the scorners sit.” It is, perhaps, not an accidental thing, that the attitude of sitting is distinctively ascribed to the scorners. A mocking disposition unfolds itself chiefly in the company of those who are likeminded, who are inflamed with wine and intoxicating drink, which we elsewhere find mentioned in connection with mockers,—as in Isaiah 5 and Proverbs 20:1, where wine itself is called a mocker. So, in reference to social meetings, the act of sitting is frequently alluded to; for example, in Jeremiah 15:17, “I sat not in the assembly of the mockers, nor rejoiced;” in Psalms 50:20, “Thou sittest and speakest against thy brother, thou slanderest thine own mother’s son;” Psalms 69:12, “They that sit in the gate speak against me, and I am the song of the drunkards.” It is proper to add, however, that in Psalms 26:4-5, sitting is attributed to men of deceit, and evil-doers.

לֵ ץ (scorner), marks one “who scoffs at God, His law and ordinances, His judgment and His people. In Proverbs 9:7-8, the scorner is placed in opposition to the wise, whose heart is filled with holy reverence toward God and Divine things. In opposition to De Wette, who would here exclude the strictly religious scoffers, we can point to such passages as Isaiah 5:19, “They say, Let him make speed, and hasten his work, that we may see it; and let the counsel of the Holy One of Israel draw nigh and come, that we may know it;” Jeremiah 17:15, “Behold, they say unto me, Where is the word of the Lord? Let it come now,”—where the words of such scoffers are expressly given. Religious mockery is as old as the Fall. The admonition in 2 Peter 3:3, regarding scoffers, as appears to me, has some respect to the passage before us.

Men have often sought to discover a climax in the verse. But there is no foundation for this, either in the nouns or in the verbs. In reference to the former, it was already remarked by Venema, that “they distinguish men as exhibiting different appearances, rather than different grades of sin.” The רשע , from רשע , denotes in Arabic, magna cupiditate et concupiscentia fuit, and in Syriac, perturbatus es animo; hence it properly signifies “the passionate, the restless man” ( Isaiah 57:20, “The wicked are like the troubled sea, which cannot rest”); it is descriptive of the wicked, in respect to their internal state, their violent commotions within, the disquietude, springing from sinful desires, which constantly impels them to fresh misdeeds. The word חטאים , “sinners,” designates the same persons in respect to the lengthened series of sinful acts which proceed from them. Finally, the word לצים , “scornful,” brings into view a peculiarly venomous operation and fruit of evil. But in the verbs we can the less conceive of a climactic gradation being intended, as Stier’s assumption, that the middle verb עמד signifies not, to stand, but to continue, to persevere, destroys the evidently intentioned combination of the three bodily states of waking men. The verse simply declares in the most expressive manner possible, the absence of all fellowship with sin.

Verse 2

Ver. 2. The fellowship with unrighteousness, which the godly man zealously shuns, is here placed in opposition to God and His law, which he zealously seeks. But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and in His law he meditates day and night. תורה never has the general signification often ascribed to it here by expositors— doctrine; but always the more special sense of law. That this is the import here, is perfectly obvious from a comparison of the parallel passages, which show also, that the law meant here, is that, written, according to Psalms 40:8, in the volume of the book or roll, called the law of Moses, which is always to be understood wherever the law is spoken of in the Psalms. The writer does not mean the natural law spoken of in Isaiah 24:5, and throughout the entire book of Job, and which, being darkened and disfigured by sin, could be but little regarded and seldom mentioned by those who walk in the clear light of revelation. These parallel passages are, Deuteronomy 6:6-7, where Moses says to the people: “And these words, which I command thee this day, shall be in thine heart. And thou shalt teach them diligently unto thy children, and shalt talk of them,” etc. ( Deuteronomy 11:18 ff.); and Joshua 1:8, where the angel says to him: “This book of the law shall not depart out of thy mouth; but thou shalt meditate therein clay and night, that thou mayest observe to do according to all that is written therein: for then thou shalt make thy way prosperous.” This last manifestly stands in a very near relation to ours, not merely from the meditation spoken of, but also from the prosperity connected with it. Just as what the angel speaks to Joshua rests on the ground of those passages of the Pentateuch, and points to it (comp. also Deuteronomy 17:19, which contains a like word of exhortation to the future king of Israel); so the author of our Psalm points to the exhortation addressed to Joshua, who stood forth there as a worthy type of the fulfilment of what is here required, and in whose experience, the reward here promised found a sure guarantee for its realization. How De Wette could think that the love and study of the law being enjoined, is a proof of the later production of the Psalm, can scarcely be imagined, since a profound investigation into the nature of the law, the converting of it into juice and blood, might be proved by many passages to have been even held by believers of the Old Testament, to be the highest end of their life. How much David fulfilled this condition, how intimate a knowledge he had of the law, even in its smallest particulars, and how constantly it formed the centre of his thoughts and feelings, the delight of his heart, will be placed beyond all doubt, by this exposition. Indeed, the ( Psalms 15) fifteenth Psalm, which the dullest critic must ascribe to David, may serve, notwithstanding its limited compass, for ample proof; for it contains close and continued verbal references to the Pentateuch. Comp. also Psalms 19. Besides, what is here meant, is not that habit of speculating and laborious trifling upon the law which was quite foreign to the practical turn of the Old Testament saints, but a meditation referring directly to the walk and conduct. This follows, as is well remarked by Claus, from the whole context, which is throughout practical. The subject in Psalms 1:1 is, “fellowship with sin:” in Psalms 1:3-6, “the different portions of the righteous and the wicked.” How, in such a connection, could Psalms 1:2 refer to the theoretical study of the law, and not rather to the occupation of the heart with the subject and matter of the Divine Word? To this result we are led also by a comparison of the parallel passages, in which the reading and meditating are expressly mentioned as means to the keeping and doing. Luther remarks on the words, “His delight is the law of the Lord:” “The prophet does not speak here of such an inclination, or liking as philosophers and modern theologians talk of, but of a simple and pure pleasure of heart, and a particular desire toward the law of God, which possesses him whom this Psalm pronounces blessed, and who neither seeks what the law promises, nor fears what it threatens, but feels that the law itself is a holy, righteous, and good thing. Therefore, it is not merely a love for the law, but such a sweet pleasure and delight in it, as the world and its princes can neither prevent nor take away by prosperous or adverse circumstances, nay, which shines triumphantly forth through poverty, reproach, the cross, death, and hell; for such desire shows itself the most in necessities and distresses, in adversity and persecution. Now from all this it seems manifest, that this Psalm (unless it should be understood of Christ alone) is nothing else than a mirror and goal, toward which a truly pious and blessed man must strive and labour; for in this life there is no one, who is not conscious of lacking to some extent this delight in the law of the Lord, by reason of the lust and the law in his members, which decidedly and wholly oppose this law of God; as St Paul complains, in Romans 7:22-23, saying: I delight in the law of God after the inward man; but I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin, which is in my members.”

It is a great thing, therefore, to have one’s delight in the law of the Lord. The natural man, even when the consciousness of the holiness of the law is awakened in him, and he anxiously strives to satisfy it, never gets beyond the region of fear. Even the regenerate, although delight in the law predominates in them, yet have constantly to struggle with their sinful propensities. Perfect delight in the law presupposes a perfect union of the human with the Divine will, perfect extirpation of sin—for the measure of sin is the measure of dislike to the law—perfect holiness. And since this is not to be found in the present life, what man can complain if he does not experience a perfect fulfilment of the saying, “Everything he doeth prospers?” Christ alone, who was the only righteous one on earth, could have laid claim to such a fulfilment: He, however, freely renounced it and bore the cross, when He might well have sought to rejoice. Those who are compelled to suffer, receive a testimony that they are sinful; and the fact, that none experience uniform prosperity, is a declaration on the part of God, that there is sin still dwelling even in His saints.

On the “day and night,” J. H. Michaelis remarks: “Indefesso studio, ut cessante etiam actu, nunquam tamen cesset pins affectus.” Instead of meditating, Luther has speaking; but he remarks at the same time that “the speaking here meant, is not the mere utterance of the lips, which even hypocrites are capable of, but such speaking as labours to express in words the feelings of the heart.” The construction with ב , however (yet, compare דבר with ב in Deuteronomy 6:7), and especially the mention of night, recommends the first signification. Such meditation day and night, he only practises who, as Luther puts it, “has, through desire, become one cake with the word of God; as, indeed, love is used to reduce him who loves, and that which is loved, to one substance.”

The construction of the הגה with ב , implies, that the person who meditates, loses himself in his object.

Verse 3

Ver. 3. And he is like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that brings forth his fruit in his season, and whose leaf does not wither, and whatsoever he does he prosperously executes. The ו , and, is not to be translated for. For the verse does not contain the reason, but the carrying out of the אשרי . The meaning was perceived quite correctly by Luther: “After the prophet has described, in vers. 1 and 2, the man who is blessed before God, and painted him in proper colours, he goes on here to describe him still further, by means of a very beautiful image.” על , by, properly upon. A thing is said to be upon one, if it projects over, or generally rises higher. Hence this preposition, which in common use is rendered by, beside, when the discourse is of a lower object, in juxtaposition with a higher, is very frequently employed in reference to streams, springs, and seas.

The comparison of a prosperous man to a tree planted beside a river, which is peculiarly appropriate in the arid regions of the East, occurs also in Jeremiah 17:8. There, however, it is only the imitation and further extension of our passage. [Note: See Küper Jerem. libr. sacr. interp. p. 162.] Nothing but the greatest prejudice could have inverted the relation of these two passages to each other. The sentence in Jeremiah has all the appearance of a commentary or paraphrase. In Psalms 92:12, “The righteous shall flourish like the palm tree,” the particular is put instead of the general. With the expression “in his season,” compare that in Mark 11:13, “for it was not the time of figs.” Most of the older expositors refer the words, “bringeth forth his fruit,” of good works; but the connection shows, that fruitfulness here is considered merely as a sign of joyful prosperity. The figure was embodied in an appropriate symbolical transaction by Christ, when He cursed the fig tree. Because the Jewish people did not answer the conditions laid down in Psalms 1:1 and Psalms 1:2, they could no longer be as a tree yielding its fruit in its season: to the tree, therefore, by which the nation was represented, the evil word was spoken, “Let no fruit grow on thee henceforward for ever,” Matthew 21:19. In the words: “Whatsoever he doeth he successfully accomplisheth,” the author returns from the image to the object, explaining the former. The word הצליח is to be taken here, not as many expositors do, in an intransitive sense, for then we should have expected לו , but transitively, to accomplish successfully; so generally; see, for example, 2 Chronicles 7:11. The intransitive signification, when more closely considered, does not occur even in the single passage which Winer has referred to as an example of it, Judges 18:5. The hiphil everywhere retains its own meaning. There appears to be an allusion to Genesis 39:3-4, where the same expressions are used of Joseph, whose prosperous condition was a pledge of like prosperity to those who resemble him in disposition.

Verse 4

Ver. 4. The ungodly are not so, but are like the chaff, which the wind drives away. Luther: “When Scripture speaks of the ungodly, take heed not to fancy, as the ungodly are prone to do, that it refers to Jews and heathens, or to any other persons whatever, but do thou thyself shudder before this word, as respecting and concerning also thee. For an upright and godly man fears and trembles before every word of God.” For the understanding of the figure, to which John the Baptist makes reference in Matthew 3:12, as also to that of the tree in Matthew 3:10 (which occurs moreover in Job 21:18), we may remark, that, in the East, the threshing-floors are placed upon heights. They throw aloft the corn that has been threshed, until the wind has driven the chaff away.

Verse 5

Ver. 5. Therefore the ungodly shall not stand in the judgment. The על כן , therefore, occasions great difficulty to those who fail in perceiving aright the relation between Psalms 1:5-6, and Psalms 1:3-4. Some, as Claus, have been led thereby to adopt instead, the meaning, because, which the phrase in the original is alleged frequently to have. That the ungodly stand not in the judgment, they consider to be the reason why, according to Psalms 1:4, they fly away as the chaff. But it has already been proved by Winer, what is indeed self-evident, that על כן never bears this meaning, which is precisely the reverse of its usual one; that it always indicates the consequence, never the cause. Those who adopt the common signification, cannot properly explain how that should be here described as a consequence flowing from the statement in the preceding verse, which appears to be simply co-ordinate with it. Amyrald alone, of all expositors, seems to have got upon the right track, and thus paraphrases: “But although the providence of God, whose ways are sometimes unsearchable, does not always make so remarkable a distinction between those two kinds of men, still the future life (he erroneously understands by the judgment, only the final judgment) shall so distinguish them, that no one shall any longer be able to doubt who they are that followed the path of true prosperity.” In Psalms 1:3 and Psalms 1:4, the idea expressed was one which holds for all times in respect to the lots of the righteous and the wicked. And from this truth, which can never be a powerless and quiescent one, is here derived its impending realization: so certain as salvation is to the righteous, and perdition to the wicked, the judgment must overthrow and set aside the latter, and exalt the former to the enjoyment of the felicity destined for them. That the therefore refers, not simply to Psalms 1:4, but also to Psalms 1:3, is clear from Psalms 1:6, where the subject of both verses is resumed, and is advanced as the ground of what is said in Psalms 1:5. When the narrow view of the therefore is adopted, it is impossible to tell what to do with the first clause of Psalms 1:6, “for the Lord knoweth the way of the righteous,” and we are driven to the interpolation of some such word as only or indeed. The universality of the conclusion, and its reference to both the classes of men with which the Psalm is occupied, are quite lost. Psalms 1:5 forms quite a suitable deduction from Psalms 1:3 and Psalms 1:4, if we only consider that judgment against the wicked involves also the deliverance of the righteous who had suffered under their oppressions and annoyances. Indeed, Psalms 1:6 requires us to view it in that as it can only then form a suitable continuation.

The whole context shows, that by the judgment we are to understand God’s; in particular, it appears from the following verse, where the fact that the ungodly shall not stand in the judgment, is founded on the truth that the Lord knoweth the way of the righteous. The reference to a human judgment, which has again been lately maintained by Hitzig, is altogether objectionable. De Wette narrows the expression too much, when he would understand it only of general searching, theocratic judgments. Ewald justly refers the words to the process of the Divine righteousness, which is perpetually advancing, though not every moment visible. All manifestations of punitive righteousness are comprehended in it. “For God will bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil.” Ecclesiastes 12:14.

And sinners (shall not stand) in the congregation of the righteous; i.e. those who, by turning away their hearts from God, have internally separated themselves from the kingdom of God, shall also be outwardly expelled by a righteous act of judgment.

The external church or community can only for a time be different from the company or congregation of the righteous. For God will take care that it shall be purified from the leaven of the ungodly, which, however, will not be fully accomplished before the close of this present world. That the congregation of God, in its true idea, is the congregation of the righteous, embodies a prophecy of the excision and overthrow of sinners: An allusion is kept up through the whole verse to the expression used in the Pentateuch, regarding the transgressors of the Divine law, “That soul shall be cut off from his people,” that is, it would be ipso facto separated from the community of God; and the declaration is commonly followed by an announcement of the particular manner in which the judgment, already pronounced, should be outwardly executed, or would be executed by God. We understand, therefore, the community or congregation of the righteous to be a designation of the whole covenant-people, according to its idea, in reference to which the Israelites are elsewhere (for example, Numbers 23:10, Psalms 111:1) called ישרים , upright, or even holy (comp. “Ye shall be holy, for I am holy,” Leviticus 19:2; Numbers 16:3). That this idea shall one day be fully realized, is intimated by Isaiah in Isaiah 9:9, Isaiah 54:13. עדה , congregation, is a standing designation of the whole community of Israel (see Gesen. Thes. on the word). The whole people are referred to in the parallel passage, Ezekiel 13:9, “And My hand shall be upon the prophets that see vanity, and that divine lies; they shall not be in the assembly of My people, neither shall they be written in the writing (book) of the house of Israel, neither shall they enter into the land of Israel.” Accordingly, “sinners in the congregation of the righteous” may be regarded as equivalent to “sinners in the congregation of Israel,” it being the congregation of the righteous. An example of this reaction of the idea against a state of things at variance therewith, is to be found in the overthrow of the company of Korah, of whom it is said, Numbers 16:33, “They perished from among the congregation.” Then, also, in the fate of Saul and his party. The more careless men are in wielding the discipline of the Church, the more vigorously does God work. De Wette and others understand by the righteous, the elite, the fortunate citizens of the theocratic kingdom who stand the test. But this is inadmissible, for the one reason, that the words, “they shall not stand,” that is, “they shall not remain, among the righteous,” presuppose that they had belonged to the community of the righteous up to the judgment, which was to throw them off, like morbid matter from the body in the crisis of a disease.

Verse 6

Ver. 6. For the Lord knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the ungodly shall perish. According to various expositors, the two members of the verse do not correspond exactly, and something must be supplied in each. God knows the way of the righteous, and therefore they cannot fail to be prosperous; He knows the way of the wicked, and therefore they cannot fail to perish. But this exposition is not to be approved. The figure of “the way” is used in the Psalms in two senses, first of the conduct, and then of the portion, the lot or destiny. The latter signification is by far the most common; comp. Psalms 37:5, Psalms 37:18, Psalms 37:23; Isaiah 40:27. Now, according to the above exposition, the first signification must be taken; but the second clause shows that the other ought to be preferred. The perishing applies only to the circumstances of the wicked. They who would refer it to the moral walk, must torture the word with arbitrary meanings (אבד always means “to perish”), or cloak the difficulty by periphrases which introduce new thoughts. And where the parallelism is so marked, the way must be taken in the same sense in the first clause. For understanding it of the affairs, the corresponding passage in Psalms 2:12 may be regarded as a confirmation. Indeed, it would never have been viewed otherwise, if only the relation between this verse and Psalms 1:3 and Psalms 1:4 had been rightly perceived, in which the things befalling the righteous and the wicked are alone discoursed of: the righteous are prosperous, the wicked are unprosperous; therefore the wicked shall not stand, etc. As here it is said of the way of the wicked, that it perishes, so of his hope, in Job 8:13; Proverbs 10:28. The knowing here involves blessing, as its necessary consequence. If the way of the righteous, their lot, is known by God as the omniscient, it cannot but be blessed by Him as the righteous. Hence there is no necessity, in order to preserve the parallelism, which exists otherwise, to explain ידע by “curae cordique habere,” a meaning which it properly never has. It is enough if only God is not shut up in the heavens with His knowledge; the rest flows spontaneously from His nature, and needs not to be specially mentioned. How little the ידע in such connections loses, or even modifies its common signification, appears from the parallel passage, Psalms 31. “Thou considerest my trouble, Thou knowest my soul in adversities,” where the knowing is parallel with considering or seeing. It is justly remarked by Ewald, that the issue in Psalms 1:5 and Psalms 1:6 is truly prophetical, perpetually in force, and consequently descriptive of what is to be for ever expected and hoped for in the course of the world. To limit it to peculiarly theocratic affairs, is as certainly false as God’s righteousness which is inherent in His nature, and consequently the moral order of the world, is unalterable. Luther: “At the close of this Psalm, I would admonish, as did also many holy fathers like Athanasius and Augustine, that we do not simply read or sing the Psalms, as if they did not concern us; but let us read and sing them for the purpose of being improved by them, of having our faith strengthened, and our hearts comforted amid all sort of necessities. For the Psalter is nothing else than a school and exercise for our heart and mind, to the end, that we may have our thoughts and inclinations turned into the same channel. So that he reads the Psalter without spirit, who reads it without understanding and faith.”

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Bibliographical Information
Hengstenberg, Ernst. "Commentary on Psalms 1". Hengstenberg on John, Revelation, Ecclesiastes, Ezekiel & Psalms. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/heg/psalms-1.html.