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Psalm 1

 

STROPHE DIVISIONS OF MODERN TRANSLATIONS*

NASB NKJV NRSV TEV NJB
The Righteous and the Wicked Contrasted
No MT Intro
The Way of the Righteous and the End of the Ungodly The Contrasting Fate of the Righteous and the Wicked
(A Wisdom Psalm)
True Happiness The Two Paths
1:1-3 1:1-3 1:1-3 1:1-3 1:1-2
        1:3-4a
1:4-6 1:4-6 1:4-6 1:4-6  
        1:4b-6

* Although they are not inspired, paragraph divisions are the key to understanding and following the original author's intent. Each modern translation has divided and summarized the paragraphs. Every paragraph has one central topic, truth, or thought. Each version encapsulates that topic in its own distinct way. As you read the text, ask yourself which translation fits your understanding of the subject and verse divisions.
 In every chapter we must read the Bible first and try to identify its subjects (paragraphs), then compare our understanding with the modern versions. Only when we understand the original author's intent by following his logic and presentation can we truly understand the Bible. Only the original author is inspired—readers have no right to change or modify the message. Bible readers do have the responsibility of applying the inspired truth to their day and their lives.
  Note that all technical terms and abbreviations are explained fully in the following documents: Brief Definitions of Greek Grammatical StructureTextual Criticism, and Glossary.

READING CYCLE THREE (see "Guide to Good Bible Reading")

FOLLOWING THE ORIGINAL AUTHOR'S INTENT AT PARAGRAPH LEVEL

This is a study guide commentary which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

Read the chapter in one sitting. Identify the subjects (reading cycle #3). Compare your subject divisions with the five translations above. Paragraphing is not inspired, but it is the key to following the original author's intent, which is the heart of interpretation. Every paragraph has one and only one subject.

1. First paragraph

2. Second paragraph

3. Third paragraph

4. Etc.

 

CONTEXTUAL INSIGHTS

A. This is a general introduction to the Psalter. Kyle Yates, in his wonderful book Preaching From the Psalms, pp. 115-124, says this psalm describes "the kingdom man."

1. his character

2. his influence

3. his conduct

4. his destiny

 

B. This Psalm expresses the traditional Jewish teaching that in this life the righteous will be blessed and the wicked punished (i.e., the two ways, cf. Deut. 30:1,15-20). There are types of people who are similarly described in Jer. 17:5-8.

 

C. Jesus apparently used Psalm 1 as a basic outline for His Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 5-7.

In this context these words are not addressed to all humans, but to the covenant people, people who know YHWH's revelation but have chosen to ignore it. It seems that Matt. 7:13-14 is also based on this same crucial aspect of faith. Below are the notes from my commentary on Matthew. You can see the entire commentary at www.freebiblecommentary.org.

 

MATTHEW 7

 

Matt. 7:13 Does this verse imply (1) entering a gate and then walking on a path; or (2) walking on a path which leads to a gate; or (3) is it an example of Hebrew parallelism? The fact that the gate appears first and then a way implies that this is referring to one's coming to know God in a personal way through Jesus' teachings and then living a new kingdom life. Some of the confusion here can be attributed to the threefold aspect of biblical salvation: (1) initial faith and repentance; (2) lifestyle Christlikeness; and (3) eschatological culmination. This parable is paralleled in Luke 13:23-27. See Special Topic: Use of "Door" in the NT at Matt. 6:6.

▣ "the narrow gate" This type of proverbial truth has traditionally been known as "the two ways" (cf. Deut. 30:15, 19; Ps. 1; Pro. 4:10-19; Isa. 1:19-20 and Jer. 21:8). It is hard to identify to whom Jesus was speaking: (1) to disciples, (2) to Pharisees, or (3) to the crowd. The general context would imply that the verse relates to Matt. 5:20 and Matt. 5:48. If so, then this would imply that the restricted nature of the gate was not rules, like Pharisaic legalism, but lifestyle love flowing out of a relationship with Christ. Christ does have rules (cf. Matt. 11:29-30), but they flow from a changed heart! If we place this verse in relation to a Jewish-Gentile context (cf. Ps. 6:7, 32), then it relates to belief in Jesus as Savior (gate) and Lord (way).

Starting with Matt. 7:13-27 there is a series of contrasts related to religious people.

1.the two ways of performing religious duties (Matt. 7:13-14)

2.the two types of religious leaders (Matt. 7:15-23)

3.the two foundations of a religious life (Matt. 7:24-27)

The question is not to which group of religious people Jesus referred, but to how religious people respond to their understanding of God's will. Some use religion as a guise to gain immediate praise and rewards from men. It is a "me" and "now" focused lifestyle (cf. Isa. 29:13; Col. 2:16-23). True disciples order their lives in light of Jesus' words about the present and coming Kingdom of God.

▣ "for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction" "Way" can be (1) a metaphor for lifestyle and (2) the earliest title of the church (cf. Acts 9:2; 19:9,23; 22:4; 24:14,22; 18:25-26). This verse implies that salvation is not an easy decision which fits in with the mainstream of culture, but a decisive change of life which issues in obedience to the principles of God. The fact that one way leads to destruction shows the ultimate outcome of those who live lives independent of God. Often they seem very religious (cf. Isa. 29:13; Matt. 7:21-23; Col. 2:23)!

This phrase has a typical Greek manuscript variable. In the first of the verse it says, "enter by the narrow gate," but in the second half "the gate" is omitted in the uncial manuscript א*, some old Latin manuscripts, some Vulgate manuscripts, the Diatessaron, and the Greek texts used by Clement and Eusebius. It is present in the uncials א1, B, C, L, W, and some old Latin, Vulgate, Syriac, and Coptic manuscripts. So the question is, "Was it inserted for balance" or "fell out by accident?" The UBS4 gives the longer text (i.e., its inclusion) a "B" rating (almost certain). However, its inclusion or exclusion does not change the meaning of the text. This is true of the vast majority of the NT variations in the 5,300 Greek New Testaments in existence today! See Bruce Metzger, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament, p. 19.

Matt. 7:14 In a day of "easy-believeism" this is a needed balance! This is not saying that Christianity is dependent on human effort, but rather that the life of faith will be filled with persecution. "Narrow" in this verse shares the same root word as "tribulation" or "persecution" in other NT passages. This emphasis is the exact opposite of Matt. 11:29-30. These two verses could be characterized as the "gate" and the "way." We come to God through Jesus as a free gift of God (cf. Rom. 3:24; 5:15-17; 6:23; Eph. 2:8-9), but once we know Him, it is the pearl of great price for which we sell all that we have to follow Him. Salvation is absolutely free, but it costs everything that we are and have.

The phrase "few they are that find it" should be compared with Matt. 7:13 and Luke 13:23-24. The question is "are more going to be lost than saved?" Is the verse teaching this numerical distinction?

 

D.The rabbis combine Psalm 1 and 2 into one psalm. This may be confirmed in

1. Acts 13:33, which calls Psalm 2 "the first psalm"

2. the use of "blessed" in Ps. 1:1 and 2:12 may be a literary technique called inclusio

3. surprisingly neither Psalm 1 nor Psalm 2 has an introductory phrase in the MT

 

WORD AND PHRASE STUDY

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: PSALM 1:1-3
 1How blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked,
 Nor stand in the path of sinners,
 Nor sit in the seat of scoffers!
 2But his delight is in the law of the Lord,
 And in His law he meditates day and night.
 3He will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water,
 Which yields its fruit in its season
 And its leaf does not wither;
 And in whatever he does, he prospers.

1:1-3 There seems to be a progression of time elements in these opening verses. Hebrew verbs do not express time, only context. It is possible that

1. the perfect verbs of Ps. 1:1 denote past time (i.e., how that person lived)

2. the imperfect verb of Ps. 1:2 denotes current time (i.e., way the person lives every day)

3. verse 3 starts out with a perfect verb with a waw (see Hebrew grammar article beginning on page iii) which could denote a future condition like blessedness (i.e., expected fruitfulness)

 

1:1 The word "blessed" is plural but the object is singular, "the man." This could be explained by

1. the plural is a Hebrew way to denote all the blessings of God

2. "the man" is a singular plural denoting all men who know and obey God (i.e., James 1:2-23). This is how the term "a tree" is used in Ps. 1:3a.

This word ("blessed," BDB 80) means "happy," "honored," or "well off" (cf. Matt. 5:3-12).

No human can be "happy" apart from God. We were created by Him and for Him (cf. Gen. 1:26-27; 3:8). Until our relationship with our Creator is vibrant, all other areas of physical life cannot bring true, lasting happiness! This relationship has observable characteristics!

Notice the three Qal perfect verbs which denote characteristic actions and attitude (i.e., settled character).

1. does not walk in the counsel of the wicked

2. does not stand in the way of sinners

3. does not sit in the seat of scoffers

The "blessed" faithful follower is described by negations in Ps. 1:1 and by their actions in Ps. 1:2.

▣ "walk in the counsel of the wicked" This speaks of one's lifestyle associates. This emphasis on lifestyle is reinforced by the use of the verbs "walk. . .stand. . .sit." We are affected by the group to which we belong, our peers (cf. 1 Cor. 15:33).

The term "wicked" (BDB 957) refers not only to active law breakers (i.e., commission and omission) but also to those who leave God out of their lives (i.e., practical atheist).

▣ "Lord" This is the covenant name for Israel's Deity, YHWH.

SPECIAL TOPIC: NAMES FOR DEITY

▣ "path of sinners" In the root meaning of the word "path" is "way" (cf. Ps. 1:6 [twice]) and is another term used for lifestyle. NT faithful followers were first described as people of "the Way" (cf. Acts 9:2; 19:9,23; 22:4; 24:14,22). This implies that biblical faith is more than assent to a doctrine or the participation in a ritual, but also lifestyle obedience and personal relationship (i.e., "walk," cf. Eph. 4:1,17; 5:2,15).

▣ "the seat of scoffers" We all have presuppositions about life. "Scoffers" (BDB 539, KB 529, Qal participle) represents the stereotype of an irreligious pessimist (i.e., Isa. 5:19; Jer. 17:15; Ezek. 12:22,27; Mal. 2:17; 1 Tim. 4:1; 2 Tim. 3:1-5; 2 Pet. 3:3-4; Jude Ps. 1:18).

1:2 "his delight is in the law of the Lord" The term "law" (BDB 435) means "teaching." In the Psalms "the law" always refers to the general teachings of God (cf. Psalm 119), not just the writings of Moses. The law was not a burden to the OT believer (cf. Ps. 19:7-13), but the very revelation of YHWH for longevity, peace, security, joy, and abundance.

SPECIAL TOPIC: Terms for God's Revelation (Using Deuteronomy and Psalms)

▣ "he meditates day and night" This verb (BDB 211, KB 237, Qal imperfect) denotes a "soft reading" of YHWH-revealed truths. The ancients did not read silently, so it must refer to quiet reading.

Notice how this verb is used.

1. meditating on YHWH's teachings — Ps. 1:2; Jos. 1:8

2. meditating on YHWH Himself — Ps. 63:7

3. meditating on YHWH's deeds — Ps. 77:13; 143:5

4. meditating on terror — Isa. 33:18

What do you meditate on?

Our thought life is the seed bed for our actions (cf. Pro. 23:7). This verse emphasizes the principle of continually (i.e., day and night) keeping God and His will in our consciousness. This was the original purpose symbolized in Deut. 6:8-9. I have included the comment from these verses here.

 

Deuteronomy 6

Deut. 6:8 "you shall bind them as a sign on your hand and they shall be as frontals on your forehead" Originally this phrase seems to be used as a metaphor (cf. LXX). The context is lifestyle-teaching opportunities for God's word. However, the rabbis took this verse very literally and they began to wrap a leather strap around their left hand with a small box (tefillin) attached which contained selected Scriptures from the Torah. The same kind of box was also strapped to their forehead. These "phylacteries" or "frontals" (BDB 377) are also mentioned in Deut. 11:18 and Matt. 23:5.

Deut. 6:9 "And you shall write them on the doorposts of your houses and on your gates" This again is a symbolic gesture that God is to have a part, not only in our home life, but in our social life (i.e., gate, cf. Deut. 21:19; 22:15,24). As the threshold (BDB 265) of the home was often seen as the place of the demonic in the Greek and Roman worlds, in the Jewish world it represented the presence of God (i.e., the place where the blood of the Passover was placed, cf. Exod. 12:7,22,23).

"Your gates" (BDB 1044) may refer to the place of social meeting and justice (i.e., like the city gates). Usually, these small boxes and door markers (mezuza) contained several set passages of Scripture: Deut. 6:4-9; 11:13-21 and Exod. 13:1-10,11-16.

 

1:3 "like a tree" There is a striking metaphor of this in Jer. 17:5-8. For a desert community, the fruitful tree was a symbol of strength and prosperity.

The verb (BDB 1060, KB 1670, firmly planted," Qal passive participle) means "transplanted" (cf. Ps. 92:14; Jer. 17:8; Ezek. 17:10,22; 19:10,13; Hos. 9:13). This implies that this person, like all people, was not originally a fruitful believer. Maturity takes time, effort, and especially the grace of God. Paul uses a litany of OT texts to illustrate the initial evil of humans after the Fall (cf. Rom. 3:10-18).

1. vv. 10-12 — Ps. 14:1-3; 53:1-4

2. v. 13 — Ps. 5:9; 140:3

3. v. 14 — Ps. 10:7

4. vv. 15-17 —Isa. 59:7-8

5. v. 18 — Ps. 36:1

All of us are "transplanted" from rebellion into blessedness!

▣ "streams of water" This is plural and speaks of an elaborate irrigation system.

▣ "yields its fruit in its season" This is a biblical metaphor to describe a mature spiritual life (cf. Matt. 7:15-27). The goal of faith is faithfulness! This same imagery has an eschatological setting in Revelation 22.

▣ "its leaf does not wither" This is an eschatological theme (cf. Ezek. 47:12; Rev. 22:2). Agricultural metaphors were very powerful for farmers and herders in semi-arid areas.

1:3-4 "whatever he does, he prospers. . .the wicked are not so" This is the OT view that temporal blessings and cursings were based on one's spiritual life (cf. Deuteronomy 28 and 30).

However, this must be balanced with the life of Job, Psalm 37 and 73, and also NT revelation. The OT is a performance-based covenant but the NT is a grace-based covenant (cf. Jer. 31:31-34; Ezek. 36:22-38; Eph. 2:8-10). Both were meant to produce godly followers who demonstrate the character of YHWH.

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: PSALM 1:4-6
 4The wicked are not so,
But they are like chaff which the wind drives away.
 5Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
Nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous.
 6For the Lord knows the way of the righteous,
But the way of the wicked will perish.

1:4 "like chaff" This is a common biblical metaphor for that which is transitory, temporary, or fleeting (cf. Ps. 35:5; 83:13; Job 21:18; Isa. 17:13; 29:5; 40:24; 41:15-16; Jer. 13:24; Hos. 13:3).

There are two ways to look at the judgment of the wicked.

1. temporal — no joy, no prosperity, early death (cf. Matthew 7)

2. eschatological — end-time judgment scene, where one's eternal destiny is revealed (cf. Matthew 25; Revelation 20)

 

1:5 "stand" This verb (BDB 763, KB 840) has the connotation of a legal setting (cf. Pro. 19:21; Isa. 14:24; note Rom. 8:31-38). Sinners/wicked will have

1. no right to present their case

2. no right to even be present in court

3. no possible excuses

4. no hope for a positive judgment

 

"the judgment" This implies that individuals are responsible for their actions and will one day give an account to God (cf. Matt. 25:31-46; 1 Cor. 3:10-15; Rev. 20:11-15). In the OT this truth is gradually developed (cf. Job 19:25-27; Dan. 12:2).

▣ "the wicked. . .sinners" There are several descriptive titles given to those who do not "walk/stand/sit."

1. the wicked, Ps. 1:1, 5, 6 (BDB 957)

2. sinners, Ps. 1:1, 5 (BDB 308)

3. scoffers, Ps. 1:1 (BDB 539)

The NIDOTTE, vol. 3, p. 1202, lists the different Hebrew terms that describe those who do not know and follow YHWH (i.e., the righteous).

1. workers of iniquity — Ps. 28:3; 92:7; 101:8; 141:9

2. evildoers — Ps. 26:5; 37:9; Pro. 24:19

3. evil men — Ps. 10:15; Pro. 4:14; 14:19; 24:20

4. ruthless men — Job 15:20; 27:13; Isa. 13:11

5. sinners — Ps. 1:1,5; 104:35

6. scorners — Ps. 1:1; Pro. 9:7

7. liars — Ps. 58:3

8. transgressors — Pro. 2:22; 21:18; Jer. 12:1; Hab. 1:13

9. the enemy — Job 27:7; Ps. 3:7; 17:9; 55:3

 

▣ "in the assembly of the righteous" Notice the parallelism between this phrase and "in the judgment." These phrases must refer to a gathering of true, faithful followers where the wicked are not recognized or able to speak.

The "assembly" can refer to

1. gathered worship (i.e., Ps. 22:25; 35:18; 40:9-10)

2. a title for the people of God (i.e., Exod. 12:3,6,19,47; 16:1,2,9,10,22)

 

SPECIAL TOPIC: RIGHTEOUSNESS

1:6 "the Lord knows" The term "know" means "intimate personal relationship" (cf. Gen. 4:1; Jer. 1:5).

SPECIAL TOPIC: KNOW (USING MOSTLY DEUTERONOMY AS A PARADIGM)

▣ "the way of the wicked will perish" The theological question is what does "perish" (BDB 1, KB 2) mean?

1. total non-existence (i.e., annihilation)

2. will not last on earth (i.e., death)

The issue has become acute in the modern discussion of an eternal hell. Some evangelical scholars (i.e., John Stott) advocate a period of judgment, then non-existence for sinners instead of an eternal punishment. My problem is that the same word, "eternal," used in Matt. 25:46, describes both "punishment" and "eschatological life." I cannot see how an inspired writer can use them with differing senses in the same verse.

SPECIAL TOPIC: Where Are the Dead?

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

This is a study guide commentary which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

These discussion questions are provided to help you think through the major issues of this section of the book. They are meant to be thought provoking, not definitive.

1. What does the phrase "the two ways" mean?

2. Describe the difference between the righteous man and the wicked man from this Psalm.

3. Explain the use of the metaphors:

a. walk. . .way

b. tree

c. chaff

4. Does this Psalm teach an eschatological judgment or temporal judgment?

5. How does this Psalm relate to Job, or Psalm 37 and 73?

6. Why is this Psalm considered an introduction to the whole Psalter?