◄ Psalm 1 ►
Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
This Psalm is the development in poetical language and imagery of the thought repeated in so many forms in the Book of Proverbs (e.g. Proverbs 2:21-22), that it is well with the righteous and ill with the wicked. The belief in Jehovah’s righteous government of the world was a fundamental principle of Old Testament religion, and it is here asserted without any of those doubts and questionings which disturbed the minds of many Psalmists and Prophets, especially in the later stages of Old Testament revelation.
The Psalm forms an appropriate prologue to the Psalter, which records the manifold experiences of the godly. For it affirms the truth to which they clung, in spite of all appearances to the contrary, in spite of the sufferings of the righteous and the triumphs of the wicked, that the only sure and lasting happiness for man is to be found in fellowship with God.
The Psalm expresses a general truth, and does not appear to refer to any particular person or occasion. Hence date and authorship must remain uncertain. Some (without good reason) have assigned it to David, during his persecution by Saul, or during Absalom’s rebellion: Dean (now Bp.) Perowne conjectures that it may have been written by Solomon as an introduction to a collection of David’s poems: Prof. Cheyne thinks that it was a product of the fresh enthusiasm for the study of the Law in the time of Ezra.
Two considerations however limit the period to which it may be assigned.
(1) It is earlier than Jeremiah, who paraphrases and expands part of it in ch. Psalm 17:5-8 with reference to Jehoiakim or Jehoiachin.
(2) The most striking parallels in thought and language are to be found in the middle section of the Book of Proverbs (10–24), which dates from a comparatively early period in the history of Judah, if not from the reign of Solomon himself. The ‘scorner’ is a character hardly mentioned outside of the Book of Proverbs: the contrast of the righteous and the wicked, and the belief that prosperity is the reward of piety, and adversity of ungodliness, are especially conspicuous in the middle section of that book: and further striking coincidences in detail of thought and language will easily be found.
The absence of a title distinguishes it from the mass of Psalms in Book I., and points to its having been derived from a different source. It may have been composed or selected as a preface to the original ‘Davidic’ collection (Introd. p. lviii), or, though this is less probable, placed here by the final editor of the Psalter.
The Psalm consists of two equal divisions:
i. The enduring prosperity of the righteous (Psalm 1:1-3),
ii. contrasted with the speedy ruin of the wicked (Psalm 1:4-6).
Observe the affinity of this Psalm to 26; and still more to 112, which celebrates the blessedness of the righteous, and begins and ends with the same words (Blessed … perish): and contrast with its simple confidence the questionings of 37 and 73, in which the problem of the prosperity of the wicked is treated as a trial of faith.
Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful.
1. More exactly:
Happy the man who hath not walked in the counsel of wicked men,
Nor stood in the way of sinners,
Nor sat in the session of scorners.
Blessed] Or, happy: LXX μακάριος. Cp. Matthew 5:3 ff. The righteous man is first described negatively and retrospectively. All his life he has observed the precept, ‘depart from evil’ (Psalm 34:14).
the ungodly] Rather, wicked men: and so in Psalm 1:4-6. It is the most general term in the O.T. for the ungodly in contrast to the righteous. If the primary notion of the Hebrew word râshâ is unrest (cp. Job 3:17; Isaiah 57:20-21), the word well expresses the disharmony which sin has brought into human nature, affecting man’s relation to God, to man, to self.
sinners] Those who miss the mark, or go astray from the path of right. The intensive form of the word shews that habitual offenders are meant. Cp. Proverbs 1:10 ff.
the scornful] Better, as the word is rendered in Proverbs, scorners: those who make what is good and holy the object of their ridicule. With the exception of the present passage and Isaiah 29:20 (cp. however Isaiah 28:14; Isaiah 28:22, R.V.; Hosea 7:5) the term is peculiar to the Book of Proverbs. There ‘the scorners’ appear as a class of defiant and cynical freethinkers, in contrast and antagonism to ‘the wise.’ The root-principle of their character is a spirit of proud self-sufficiency, a contemptuous disregard for God and man (Proverbs 21:24). It is impossible to reform them, for they hate reproof, and will not seek instruction (Proverbs 13:1; Proverbs 15:12). If they seek for wisdom they will not find it (Proverbs 14:6). It is folly to argue with them (Proverbs 9:7-8). They are generally detested (Proverbs 24:9), and in the interests of peace must be banished from society (Proverbs 22:10). Divine judgements are in store for them, and their fate is a warning to the simple (Proverbs 3:34; Proverbs 19:25; Proverbs 19:29; Proverbs 21:11).
The three clauses of the verse with their threefold parallelism (walk, stand, sit: counsel, way, session: wicked, sinners, scorners) emphasise the godly man’s entire avoidance of association with evil and evil-doers in every form and degree. They denote successive steps in a career of evil, and form a climax:—(1) adoption of the principles of the wicked as a rule of life: (2) persistence in the practices of notorious offenders: (3) deliberate association with those who openly mock at religion. With the first clause and for the phrase counsel of the wicked cp. Micah 6:16; Jeremiah 7:24; Job 10:3; Job 21:16; Job 22:18 : for stood &c., cp. Psalm 36:4. For both clauses cp. the concrete example in 2 Chronicles 22:3-5. With the third clause cp. Psalm 26:4-5.
1–3. The happiness of the righteous.
But his delight is in the law of the LORD; and in his law doth he meditate day and night.
2. The positive principle and source of the righteous man’s life. The law of the Lord is his rule of conduct. It is no irksome restriction of his liberty but the object of his love and constant study (Deuteronomy 6:6-9). True happiness is to be found not in ways of man’s own devising, but in the revealed will of God. “The purpose of the Law was to make men happy.” Kay. Cp. Deuteronomy 33:29.
his delight] The religion of Israel was not an external formalism, but an obedience of the heart. Cp. Psalm 37:31; Psalm 40:8; Psalm 112:1; Psalm 119:35; Psalm 119:97.
the law of the Lord] The Hebrew word tôrâh has a much wider range of meaning than law, by which it is always rendered in the A.V. It denotes (1) teaching, instruction, whether human (Proverbs 1:8), or divine; (2) a precept or law; (3) a body of laws, and in particular the Mosaic law, and so finally the Pentateuch. The parallel to the second clause of the verse in Joshua 1:8 suggests a particular reference to Deuteronomy; but the meaning here must not be limited to the Pentateuch or any part of it. Rather as in passages where it is parallel to and synonymous with the word of the Lord (Isaiah 1:10; Isaiah 2:3) it should be taken to include all Divine revelation as the guide of life.
meditate] The Psalmists meditate on God Himself (Psalm 63:6); on His works in nature and in history (Psalm 77:12; Psalm 143:5).
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.
3. The consequent prosperity of the godly man is emblematically described. As a tree is nourished by constant supplies of water, without which under the burning Eastern sun it would wither and die, so the life of the godly man is maintained by the supplies of grace drawn from constant communion with God through His revelation. Cp. Psalm 52:8; Psalm 92:12; Psalm 128:3; Numbers 24:6. If a special tree is meant, it is probably not the oleander (Stanley, Sinai and Palestine, p. 146), which bears no fruit; nor the vine (Ezekiel 19:10); nor the pomegranate; but the palm. Its love of water, its stately growth, its evergreen foliage, its valuable fruit, combine to suggest that it is here referred to. Cp. Sir 24:14; and see Thomson’s Land and the Book, p. 48 f.
the rivers of water] Better, streams of water: either natural watercourses (Isaiah 44:4): or more probably artificial channels for irrigating the land. Cp. Proverbs 21:1; Ecclesiastes 2:5-6.
and whatsoever &c.] Or, as R.V. marg., in whatsoever he doeth he shall prosper. The figure of the tree is dropped, and the words refer directly to the godly man. The literal meaning of the word rendered prosper is to carry through to a successful result. Cp. Joshua 1:8; and for illustration, Genesis 39:3; Genesis 39:23.
The ungodly are not so: but are like the chaff which the wind driveth away.
4. In sharp contrast to the firmly-rooted, flourishing, fruitful tree is the chaff on the threshing-floor, worthless in itself, and liable to be swept away by every passing breeze.
The scattering of chaff by the wind is a common figure in the O.T. for the sudden destruction of the wicked. Cp. Psalm 35:5; Job 21:18; Isaiah 29:5; Hosea 13:3. Here it describes their character as well as their fate. It would be vividly suggestive to those who were familiar with the sight of the threshing-floors, usually placed on high ground to take advantage of every breeze, on which the corn was threshed out and winnowed by throwing it up against the wind with shovels, the grain falling on the floor to be carefully gathered up, the chaff left to be carried away by the wind and vanish.
The P.B.V. following the LXX and Vulg. adds from the face of the earth. Cp. Amos 9:8; Zephaniah 1:2-3.
4–6. The character and destiny of the wicked.
Therefore the ungodly shall not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous.
5. Therefore] The real character of the wicked will be manifested in the judgement. Since they are thus worthless and unstable, destitute of root and fruit, the wicked will not hold their ground in the judgement, in which Jehovah separates the chaff from the wheat (Matthew 3:12).
stand] So Lat. causa stare, and the opposite causa cadere. Cp. Psalm 5:5; Psalm 130:3; Nahum 1:6; Malachi 3:2; Wis 5:1.
in the judgment] Not, before a human tribunal: nor merely in the last judgement, (as the Targum and many interpreters understand it): but in every act of judgement by which Jehovah separates between the righteous and the wicked, and vindicates His righteous government of the world. Cp. as an illustration Numbers 16. Each such ‘day of the Lord’ is a type and pledge of the great day of judgement. Cp. Isaiah 1:24 ff; Isaiah 2:12 ff.; Malachi 3:5; Ecclesiastes 12:14.
in the congregation of the righteous] The ‘congregation of Israel,’ which is the congregation of Jehovah,’ is in its true idea and ultimate destination, the ‘congregation of the righteous’ (Psalm 111:1). It is the aim of each successive judgement to purify it, until at last the complete and final separation shall be effected (Matthew 13:41-43).
For the LORD knoweth the way of the righteous: but the way of the ungodly shall perish.
6. The teaching of the Psalm is grounded on the doctrine of divine Providence. Each clause of the verse implies the supplement of its antithesis to the other clause. ‘The lord knows the way of the righteous,’ and under His care it is a ‘way of life’ (Psalm 16:11; Proverbs 12:28); ‘a way of peace’ (Isaiah 59:8); ‘a way eternal’ (Psalm 139:24). Equally He knows the way of the wicked, and by the unalterable laws of His government it can lead only to destruction; it is a way of death (Proverbs 14:12).
knoweth] Divine knowledge cannot be abstract or ineffectual. It involves approval, care, guidance; or abandonment, judgement. The righteous man’s course of life leads to God Himself; and He takes care that it does not fail of its end (Nahum 1:7; 2 Timothy 2:19).
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