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Bible Commentaries

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible
Psalms 1

 

 

Introduction

BOOK ONE ( Psalms 1-41).

Psalms 1.

This psalm is introductory to the whole collection. The entire psalm extols the blessedness of the one who avoids the path of the sinful, and delights in the Instruction (Law) of YHWH, walking in its truth. Such a person chooses the way of righteousness.

The Psalm initially declares what the way of the righteous is by describing what it is not, and this is followed in Psalms 1:2 by an indication of what specifically differentiates the righteous, resulting in Psalms 1:3 in the declaration of their great reward, that their lives flourish and blossom like a tree beside life-giving streams.

In Psalms 1:4 he points out that the way of the unrighteous is the very opposite of that. For instead of being firmly rooted they are swept away as the chaff is swept away by the wind, with the result that, in contrast with the righteous they will be unable to face God when He judges (Psalms 1:5). Psalms 1:6 then summarises the situation, explaining that the way of the righteous is known to God, while the way of the unrighteous perishes. It is the righteous who truly live.


Verses 1-3

The Way of the Righteous.

‘Blessed is the man,

Who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked,

Or stand in the way of sinners,

Or sit in the seat of the scornful.

But his delight is in the law of YHWH,

And in his law he meditates day and night.’

The psalmist first declares that the righteous are blessed. To be righteous means to be in a right relationship with God, having a heart that responds to Him and His word, and walking in His ways, using the provided means of mercy and forgiveness from a true heart. To be blessed means to prosper in the right way, to prosper in spirit. It is to enjoy God’s approbation. And it is to enjoy the exultancy that comes from it. We might translate this as ‘O the multiple blessednesses’. It is plural and emphatic, and speaks of great joy.

And then he explains why such a person is blessed, first negatively and then positively. Firstly he declares that the righteous are blessed because of what they do not do. They do not live in a way that results from following the counsel and advice of the wicked, they do not align themselves with the behaviour of the sinful and wrongdoers, who come short of the mark, and they do not reveal themselves as those who associate with the scornful, the ungodly, those who mock at the ways of YHWH, by sitting among them and seeming to be one of them. They stand up for truth.

So the first negative is that they do not ‘walk in the counsel of the wicked’. To walk is to go deliberately along in a certain way. It is to have an attitude that determines the direction that you take, and then to follow that attitude through continually. Thus the righteous do not listen to the advice and planned purpose of the wicked, that is, of those who choose to disobey God’s laws, who behave ‘wickedly’, and who are willing to do anything to advance themselves or to find enjoyment at the expense of others, and who counsel others to do the same. Such men say ‘you have to look after yourself in this life’ and ‘this is business’. They point out that those who are too fussy will not ‘get on’. They advise us that a little bit of sin is fun and does no one any harm. They will even go so far as to say that it is bad for us to repress our feelings and that we should express our natural desires, meaning simply by this that we should ‘let ourselves go’. (There is of course sometimes some truth in some of this in some instances, but they take it to excess). ‘The wicked’ is the most common expression in the Old Testament for those whose lives are contrary to God’s ways. They are those who are not in harmony with God.

But the righteous will close their ears to such advice. They will refuse to take the way of such people (Job 21:16; Job 22:18), and will reject the very way such people plan their lives (see the use of ‘counsel’ in Exodus 18:19; Micah 6:16). They will reject the whole attitude which lies behind it. For they know that it is selfish and inconsiderate, harmful to others and displeasing to God.

So while the wicked are set on a determined course which means ignoring God’s commandments, thinking that it will result in prosperity, power, freedom and fun, the righteous take up another position. The righteous take up the position of obedience to God. They walk with God, knowing that this will bring them blessing, spiritual power, true freedom and fullness of joy. Each of us has to choose which way we walk.

‘Stand in the way of sinners’. The first phrase described the walk of the sinner. This describes his stance. The sinner takes his stance in the way that sinners, those who ‘come short of the mark’, take, with the full intention of joining them. This is a matter of deliberate choice. He takes his stance on refusing to love his neighbour, and instead puts himself and his desires first. He fails to show compassion and mercy, and instead fights to ensure that he gets his rights, and that no one interferes with his liberties or his pleasures. He takes his stance on easy living. He chooses ‘the broad way’ (Matthew 7:13).

But the righteous do not take their stance in the way of sinners. They take their stance on the word of God, and on obedience to that word. They take their stance in the way of His instruction. They study His word and seek to live it out. Each of us has to choose our stance, and that will very much determine what we are and what we become.

Thirdly, the righteous do not ‘sit in the seat of the scornful’. There are always those who are scornful of right living, of being particular to obey God’s commands, and of adherence to the word of God. They are often supercilious and scornful of anyone who does not see things as they do. It is the most difficult thing for the godly person to fight. It is not opposition or persecution, it is simply contempt. And that is hard to bear.

In the twenty first century it includes those who are scornful of reliance on the word of God. They make clear their contempt of anyone who dares to really believe that the Bible is the word of God, even though men with powerful minds do believe it. They reveal their contempt of those whom they see as ‘narrow-minded’, those who put God’s will first. They consider it foolish and old-fashioned. Their view is often that rules and regulations do not matter. That what matters is to do our own thing, to be free. Others do the opposite and make rules and regulations everything. But they too scorn the way of faith and trust. The righteous, however, do not join with these people or take up their position. Nor do they sit among them as though they are one with them. They stand out and make their position clear. They recognise that the freedom that these people seek can lead to scepticism and bondage.

Being scornful is elsewhere connected with those who are at ease and enjoy over-excess of wine, with the attitude of those who consider themselves superior (Hosea 7:5). Scorners pride themselves on what they are and deride others (Psalms 119:51). They are in contrast with the wise who seek to live rightly and gladly accept criticism (Proverbs 9:8). They refuse to listen to rebukes (Proverbs 13:1; Proverbs 15:12). They consider themselves right all the time. They are in an entrenched position.

‘The seat of the scornful’ can be contrasted with ‘the seat of the elders’ which was occupied by those who praised YHWH for His goodness (Psalms 107:32). Here too, in the seat of the scornful, we often have learned and important men (compare Isaiah 28:14), but their learning has taken them in the wrong direction. They are self-satisfied. They are scornful of God’s word. They are scornful of God’s ways. They are scornful of simple faith.

The problems were not basically different in the psalmist’s day from our own day. They are the problems that men continually face. They simply often express them in a different way.

So the psalmist has dealt with a man’s walk and what advice he listens to, his stance and what position he takes up, and whom he takes up company with, and how he views things, and points out that the way of the world, the path of the wicked and the unrighteous, and the position of the scornful are to be avoided.

The righteous man takes the high road. He rises above what is wrong. He keeps himself clear of anything that can taint his life. He delights in the law of God. In contrast the very sinful take the low road. They are the ultra wicked. They are mixed up in everything that is unpleasant. But most take the middle road, the way of ease and non-exertion, of compromise and self-consideration. They come short of God’s requirements. They come short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). That is ‘the way of sinners’.

‘But his delight is in the instruction of YHWH, and in his instruction he meditates day and night.’ This is the positive side. The righteous man delights in God’s ways, in the ways of YHWH, the covenant God whom he sees as being his Deliverer and Saviour. He longs to know God’s will, he wants to know the Lawgiver Himself. So he meditates day and night in His ‘instruction’ (torah - Law), His word.

This is what lifts him above the world and its ways, this is what sets him on the high road, for he lives in the rarified atmosphere of God’s revelation of Himself. He listens to the word of God (Isaiah 1:10; Isaiah 2:3). He goes into a private place to meet with God. He comes to know God and the ways of God, and thus he knows that there is no other way worth following.

He does not make lists of rules he has to follow, although he carefully studies God’s word in order to obey it. He rather fixes his eye on his Creator, on the great Deliverer of Israel (as many psalms will make clear). He reads of His wondrous ways and doings, of how He defeated the power of Egypt, of how He brought them to Sinai where He revealed Himself in splendour and made His covenant with them, of how He brought His people through the wilderness in spite of their weakness and failure, and how He established them in the promised land. And he worships and honours God and gladly responds to His commands, which he sees are good and right, recognising with joy the special relationship he has with God through His gracious covenant. Indeed he is so full of God’s revelation that he cannot put it down. The instruction of his God is in his heart (Psalms 37:31; Psalms 40:8). He meditates on it and thinks about it day and night (compare Joshua 1:8). It is not a hardship, it is a joy (Psalms 112:1; Psalms 119:35).

Today we can add to this that he reads the word of God as revealed in the New Testament. He rejoices in the life and death of Jesus Christ and all that it has accomplished for us. He constantly studies the life and teaching of Jesus. He studies in order to understand all that Christ is and what He has done for us, and can be to us. And he responds to that word.

The Hebrew word translated “meditate” is used of a young lion standing over his prey and roaring his defiance (Isaiah 31:4), of the moaning of a dove (Isaiah 38:14), as meaning to think over and imagine (Psalms 2:1), as meaning to speak righteousness and wisdom (Psalms 35:28; Psalms 37:30; Psalms 71:24). Thus it contains within it both the idea of careful thought and of effective declaration to others. A man meditates so that he may speak.

We should note the change in tenses. In Psalms 1:1 the verbs are ‘definite’. The righteous man has taken up a definite attitude towards these things. He is set in his ways. In Psalms 1:2 the verbs are ‘indefinite’, indicating continuous action, he continually delights in, and continually ponders, God’s law.

The Reward of the Righteous (Psalms 1:3).

Psalms 1:3

‘And he will be like a tree planted by the streams of water,

Which produces its fruit in its season,

Whose leaf also does not wither,

And in whatever he does he will prosper.’

Here the word of God is likened to streams of water, providing the unfailing and multiplied means of life and growth. It is life-sustaining. And the one who meditates on it is like a tree, drawing through its roots on those streams of water, and thus becoming fruitful and abounding with life. Nothing about his life withers; all who see his life behold his fresh green leaves, they observe the abundance of his life. And he prospers in all he does. The thought is not of prospering physically in the sense of becoming rich, but of achieving God’s ends (Joshua 1:8), of doing well what he sets his hand to (Genesis 39:3), so that God causes it to prosper for the advantage of all (Genesis 39:23). It is of having a fulfilled life, a worthwhile life, contributing to the good of mankind. He is like a fruitful tree. He prospers in fruitfulness. And like a tree drawing water from a river he draws in to himself the word of God, and lives by it. As Jesus Himself declared, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God’ (Matthew 4:4 citing Deuteronomy 8:3).

Note also that the tree is ‘planted’ there. It did not arrive there on the wind, it did not grow there wild and by chance, it was deliberately ‘planted’. It was selected and chosen. It is God’s tree, and He is the planter. For all who delight in the word of God finally do so because the Father has drawn them (John 6:44; Deuteronomy 7:6-8). They hear His word and respond to it because He has chosen to plant them. He gives them “a festive garland instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, a garment of praise instead of the spirit of heaviness, so that they may be called ‘trees of righteousness, the planting of YHWH’ so that He might be glorified” (Isaiah 61:3). Moreover the streams of water are probably to be seen as artificial canals. They too are not there accidentally. They are God’s provision. They have been prepared in order to water the tree, so that it will not wither in the burning heat of the sun (compare Ecclesiastes 2:6, ‘I made myself pools of water that I might water from them the forest where trees were reared’).

We should also note that the tree ‘bears its fruit in its season’. Just as water does not produce instantaneous growth or instant fruit in a tree, so the word of God does not immediately bring us to maturity and fruitfulness (see Mark 4:28). God has ordained that this is a process which takes time. Thus we should not grow impatient or doubting because our progress is not as fast as we would like it to be. In due time we will come to full fruitfulness if we faint not. But we should certainly become concerned if some fruit does not at some stage become visible.


Verse 4-5

The Destruction of the Unrighteous (Psalms 1:4-5).

‘Not so the wicked!

They are like the chaff which the wind blows away.

Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,

Nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous.’

The opposite is true of the wicked. They are not fruitful. They are not firmly grounded and planted. They are not good grain. They are rather chaff, the outer husk, the useless and lifeless part of the grain. They have no substance, they have no value, and instead of being rooted in the ground they are eventually blown away by a puff of wind as useless and worthless. They cannot produce fruit. They are chaff.

So just as the chaff is blown away when the grain is tossed up, separated from the grain by the wind, so are the careless and sinful blown away in their frailty. They are blown away when God’s wind blows on them. This picture of sinners as chaff is a constant one in the Old Testament (Psalms 35:5; Job 21:18; Isaiah 29:5; Hosea 13:3), and in the New (compare Matthew 3:12; Luke 3:17), and the wind is compared in one place with ‘the Angel of YHWH’ (Psalms 35:5), that mysterious figure Who is the representation of God Himself. It is God Who blows them away.

When judgment comes they will not be able to stand (Psalms 5:5; Psalms 130:3), they will have no place in the gathering of the righteous. The thought is not specifically of some final Judgment Day, but of whenever God’s judgment comes on them (for an extreme example see Numbers 16). It is a principle of Scripture that God continually judges the wicked, even before the day of His final judgment which finally completes that judgment. Because sin must be judged and must be condemned God deals with it continually in all kinds of ways. And in the face of that judgment the wicked will be blown away. They will not be able to prevent it. They will be unable to stand. If you ‘stand in the way of sinners’, you will not be able to stand at the judgment.

‘The assembly of the righteous.’ Israel were known as ‘the congregation, the assembly’ which represented the whole of Israel as they gathered together as God’s people. But here already we see the idea of the remnant within Israel (Isaiah 6:13), the true Israel (Isaiah 49:3 with 5), the assembly of the righteous. For not all of Israel were Israel. Not all were faithful to God and the covenant. And that separation will become apparent by judgment, when the righteous are gathered as one, separated from the wicked (Matthew 25:31-46; Matthew 13:30; Matthew 24:31).


Verse 6

‘For YHWH knows the way of the righteous,

But the way of the wicked will perish.’

Every man must choose the way in which he walks, whether in the way of the word of God or in the way of sinners. And those who walk in the way of His word ‘YHWH knows’ (see Genesis 18:19), He reveals Himself to them, He meets with them, and He blesses them. They are His people and they enjoy His presence and His watch over them. And He knows their way. It is the way of life (Psalms 16:11; Proverbs 12:28), it is the way of peace (Isaiah 59:8), it is the everlasting way (Psalms 139:24). So although they may be tested in it they will finally triumph, for He is with them (see Job 23:10).

But the way of the wicked can be described quickly, its end is that they will perish. That is its one certainty. Whatever they may enjoy along the way, and that is not certain, finally they will perish (compare Psalms 73:17). All in which they are involved will be destroyed. Their way is the way of death (Proverbs 14:12).

For this whole psalm compare Jeremiah 17:7-8 where he speaks of those who ‘trust in YHWH’ in similar terms. And then he finishes by saying, ‘the heart is deceitful above all things and is desperately sick. Who can know it?’, speaking finally of those who have not trusted in YHWH.

 


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Bibliography Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Psalms 1:4". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/pet/psalms-1.html. 2013.

Lectionary Calendar
Saturday, September 21st, 2019
the Week of Proper 19 / Ordinary 24
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