George Booker
Psalms Studies - Book 1

Psalm 1

1. A Beginning

Why does the volume of psalms begin in this way? First, to emphasize that in life there are only two ways. There is no alternative to these. “Spirit” and “flesh”, sheep and goats, good fish and bad fish, vessels to honor and vessels to dishonor! The character of God and the character of man (Isa. 55:8,9). A man is either in the narrow way or the broad way (Matt. 7:13,14). In one form or another this is the constant emphasis of the entire psalter.

2. Title

There is no title; in Book 1 this is true also with Psalms 2, 10, and 33. All the rest are psalms of David. But so also is Psalm 2, as its details and apostolic authority clearly establish. And Psalm 10 really belongs to 9. Psalm 33 remains as a problem, along with Psalm 1, which in some respects it closely resembles. Psalm 1 gives the impression of having been written specially as a formal introduction to the 150. If this is correct, since there is copious evidence that the Book of Psalms took its final shape through the guided labors of “the men of Hezekiah” (Prov. 25:1; see Introduction, Chapter 8), who — in his time — wrote it? Isaiah? Hezekiah himself? Or was it a psalm of David specially selected at that time for its suitability to introduce all the rest? These are not questions of great importance. The big thing is the psalm itself, profound in character and concentrated in its ideas.

3. Structure

The shape of the psalm is simple:

1-3.         The godly        
        4,5.         The ungodly
6a.         The godly        
        6b.         The ungodly

And especially verse 1 may be noted for its three triple-parallels:


4. Historical allusions

  1. The divine discrimination between godly and rebellious, so marked here, is well illustrated in the dramatic episode of Korah and his company. Note in Numbers 16:18-27 the emphasis on separation, and in vv. 31-35 on judgment. And in Numbers 17:8 there is vindication — an apparently dead stick comes to life, and “brings forth fruit in his season”.
  2. The exhortation to Joshua after the death of Moses is, so to speak, almost spoken in the words of Psalm 1, especially Joshua 1: 7,8. And the assurance of good success matches Psalm 1:3.

5. Messianic reference

It follows easily from Par. 4b that this psalm is specially a psalm of Messiah. The verbs are all in perfect tense, as though to emphasize ‘he never did walk....’, etc. Such an implication can be perfectly true only of Jesus. How often Jesus must have found reassurance from the warm strength of the words here. There must have been times when “whatsoever he doeth shall prosper” may have been difficult to reconcile with his current experiences. Here, then, is faith — the wellspring of all that Jesus did. “The Lord knoweth the way of His Righteous One” — that is sufficient, not only for the Lord’s Christ, but also for those in him. He “bringeth forth his fruit in his season.” Here again is faith that, in spite of present appearance, there will be fruit, and not just a cursed and shrivelled tree.

6. Other details

Jeremiah’s rewording of this psalm (17:5-10) is fluent and very telling. There were plenty of times when the prophet needed such words to fortify his flagging courage.

Blessed. The word means “happy” (NEB). Despite all his tribulations the man of godliness is far happier (not in the sense of aimless frivolity, but in the sense of spiritual contentment) than any other man. Psalm 41 (at the end of Book 1) begins on the same note. And note also 2:12.

The man. Ish: a strong vigorous man, i.e. Christ. This man is blessed because of his actions, in contrast to the man (adam: signifying earthly origin) of 32:1,2 (the second “beatitude” in the psalms) — who is blessed, derivatively, because his sins are forgiven. The adam is in fact forgiven his sins only through the ish who lived a sinless life!

Walketh not. “Live fish swim against the stream. Dead ones go with it” (Fuller). Compare Paul’s extensive list of contrasts between light and darkness in 2 Cor. 6:14-18, and note the positive sequence in Isa. 40:31.

The counsel of the ungodly. The word for “counsel” is very similar to “tree” (v. 3), and to “chaff” (v. 4). Consider Luke 23:51; Psa. 119:63; 26:3-5.

Walketh... standeth... sitteth. These stages of retrogression are illustrated by Peter’s experience: Matt. 26:58,70-73. They picture a steady descent from casual contact with evil to close cooperation with it.
His delight is in the law of the Lord. “Delight” = “inclination” in Hebrew. Especially true of Jesus: 40:8; Heb. 10:7-9. Compare Psa. 19:8a; John 7:17 (s.w.).

And in his law doth he meditate. Compare 1 Tim. 4:15. Concordance study reveals that this Hebrew word seems to be always associated with speech. (Consider, for example, 37:30: “The mouth of the righteous speaketh — s.w. — wisdom.” Also see 35:28; 71:24; Isa. 59:3,13.) It is the righteous and wise man who talks about the law of God who is like a tree of life to others, because he is sharing with them life-giving fruit. To be silent, then, when words of truth would encourage or supply needed reprimand, is to be a tree without fruit! (Note the bad use of this same word “meditate” in 2:1.)

Day and night, thus covering an entire day.
A tree (of life) planted by the rivers of water. Compare Gen. 49:22; Rev. 22:1,2.

Planted. The tree does not plant itself there. It has to be put there; it is transplanted (cp. 80:8; Isa. 60:21; Matt. 15:13; Eph. 3:17). Christ the perfectly righteous man is like a tree “planted”. The dead cross on which his body was impaled becomes a “tree” of life (Acts 5:30; 13:29; 1 Pet. 2:24). “Cursed” is the man who dies on a tree (Gal. 3:13; Deut. 21:23), yet “blessed” is the man who, dying, becomes a tree of life — sending forth rivers of healing waters (John 7:37,38; 19:34; 1 John 5:6; 1 Cor. 10:4; Zech. 13:1).

Rivers of waters might be translated “divisions of waters” (RSV, NIV: “streams”; NEB: “watercourse”)— i.e. irrigation? An allusion to the Garden of Eden (Gen. 2:10,15)? Cp. Psa. 36:8.

That bringeth forth his fruit in his season. John 15:5,8,16 suggests that the “fruit” are converts. Jude 12 speaks of trees with “withered (useless) fruit, and without (good) fruit”. This precisely described the Judaizing element in the early ecclesia; cp. the cursed fig tree of Israel (Matt. 21:19,20). And see also Prov. 11:30; Matt. 12:33; Gal. 5:22,23.

His leaf also shall not wither. This language suggests that there may be hard seasons to endure, but not permanent damaging results. When the heat of persecution or trial threatens this “tree”, it will still be green and bountiful (63:1; Jer. 17:7,8; Amos 8:11). (Or, alternatively, the tree is an evergreen!)

Whatsoever he doeth shall prosper: Gen. 39:3,23 — another link (cp. v. 3) with Joseph. The “well-beloved Gaius” also was one of this sort (3 John 2).
The ungodly are described in more curt fashion.

Not so. LXX repeats this phrase: Not so, the ungodly, not so! What a terrible amount of denunciation is crowded into a few short words! What a vast and unbridgeable gulf between the two.

Like the chaff which the wind (the Spirit!) driveth away. A repeated figure for the spiritually lightweight and worthless wicked: 35:5; Job 21:18; Isa. 29:5; Dan. 2:35; Hos. 13:3; Matt. 3:12; Luke 3:17; 1 Cor. 3:12,13. The chaff, or husk, is only for the passing benefit of the seed, and at the harvest-time is disposed of without regret or loss.
Therefore the ungodly shall not stand. Without a leg to stand on! Plainly this means ‘stand approved’ (“stand firm”: NEB), as in Luke 21:36. LXX uses the New Testament word for resurrection (but this is not always the meaning of the word). The word is also used of the Israelites who could not “stand” or “rise up” before their enemies (Josh. 7:12,13; cp. Nah. 1:6; Mal. 3:2), but being defenseless were put to flight.

In the congregation of the righteous. Just as the righteous has no wish to share the fellowship of the ungodly (v. 1), so the ungodly will not be allowed in the fellowship of the righteous. “For they are not all Israel, which are of Israel” (Rom. 9:6).
The Lord knoweth the way of the righteous: He “watches over” (NIV, NEB), understands, and supervises (Phil. 2:13) the way of the righteous, for they are His (2 Tim. 2:19; Prov. 3:6). Everything is directed by God for their special and ultimate benefit (Rom. 8:28,31). “He knoweth the way that I take: when he hath tried me, I shall come forth as gold” (Job 23:10).

The way of the righteous. The “way” is the name given to the Christian movement in the Acts (9:2; 19:9,23; 22:4; etc.).

The way of the ungodly shall perish. Also, their “desire” shall perish (112:10), and they shall have an “end” (73:3,5,16,17,19).

7. The Beatitudes in the Psalms

84: 4, 5,12
112: 1
32:1, 2
119:1, 2
128:1, 4

8. Conclusion

What happiness that man attends —
        Who walks not where the erring guide,
Who stands not where the sinner wends,
        Who sits not where the scornful chide:
The Lord’s commands are his delight —
        God’s law his study day and night.
He shall be like a tree that near
        The gently flowing river grows,
Whose fruits in season due appear,
        Whose leaf no sign of fading shows.
For, as in prudence they excel,
        So all his deeds shall prosper well.
Not so the wicked; chaff are they
        Driven by the winds; they shall not stand
The sifting of the judgment-day:
        No sinner joins the righteous band.
For godly ways the Eternal knows,
        But evil ways in ruin close.
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