Psalm 1:1-2

Psalm 1:1-2

 First Impressions

 We have a very distinct contrast in the first two verses of this psalm between who isn’t a blessed man and who is.  Luther makes the clarification here, and I believe it is wise to point out, that “man” is a generic reference to a member of the human race.  The footnote in the ESV on this word reads, “The singular Hebrew word for man (ish)[1] is used here to portray a representative example of a godly person.”

The psalmist first delves into who is not a blessed man.  Note the increasing level of comfort the sinner has with ungodliness: he “walks…in the counsel of the wicked”; he “stands in the way of sinners”; and he “sits in the seat of scoffers”.  Luther makes two interesting observations on this progression.  First, he says that the Hebrew word for “column” derives it’s origin from the concept of standing.  This would definitely bring a more permanent connotation to the phrase than a simple “standing”.  Second, he says that to “sit in the seat of scoffers” means that you are a master or a teacher.  It carries with it the picture of a scribe “sitting in the seat of Moses” (Matt. 23:2).[2]

In contrast, the man who is “blessed” is one who delights in the law of the LORD, “and on his law he meditates day and night.”  The blessing stems from where a person receives their counsel.  The “law of the LORD” is the polar opposite of “the counsel of the wicked”.  The person who receives, and heeds, the counsel of the Lord is blessed indeed.

Not only does the blessed man receive the counsel of the Lord in his law, but the Lord’s counsel actually consumes him.  “On his law he meditates day and night.”  Luther allows here for the possibility of an allegorical interpretation of “day and night”, saying that whether it means the different parts of a 24-hour day, or whether “day” refers to prosperous or blessed times in life and “night” refers to the adversarial trials and tribulations we all face, the point remains the same: the blessed man’s thoughts are on the Word of God constantly.

Insights from the Septuagint[3]

 1Blessed is the man

   who walks not in the advice of the ungodly,

   nor stands in the way of the sinful,

   nor sits on the seat of troublemakers,

 2but his desire is in the law of the Lord,

   and on his law he will meditate day and night.[4]

 There are a couple of interesting insights the Septuagint provides us with.  For one, all of the verbs in verse one are aorists.[5]  I don’t exactly know if there’s any significance for interpretation there, so I’ll chalk that one up to ignorance.  There are a couple of words that are worth studying, however.

First, the word that I translated “troublemakers” is literally the word for “plague” or “pestilence”.  “Troublemakers” is an acceptable translation in certain situations according to one lexicon, but I love the picture that “pestilence” paints of the wicked.  The activities of the wicked, and the consequences of sin, are indeed a plague or pestilence on the human race.

Second, the word for “he will mediate” seems to hold with it an aspect of action.  Other acceptable translations of the same Greek word include “to practice” and “to continue to do”.  When used this way, the definition of the word is, “to continue to perform certain activities with care and concern”.[6]  We should expect that if we are meditating on the Word of God, it will motivate us to action – especially since the Word of God reveals to us all that God has done for us (see below).

Law & Gospel[7]

 The law shows itself almost immediately in this passage.  As we read the first two verses, we’re tempted to ask ourselves, “Do I walk in the counsel of the wicked?  Do I stand in the way of sinners?  Do I sit in the seat of scoffers?”  If we’re honest with ourselves, and we’re consistent with Scripture, we must answer yes.  God knows the condition of our hearts.  In fact, in Gen. 8:21, God Himself acknowledges that, “the intention of man’s heart is evil from his youth.”  This is not a good start for the reader.  We are already firmly in the “not blessed” camp.

Thankfully, the gospel is also present in these two verses.  First of all, it is in the word “blessed”.  If the intention of each one of our hearts is evil from the very beginning of our lives, as God has said, it would be impossible for the psalmist to know what a “blessed” individual even looks like.  But blessedness does occur.  That is because God declares us righteous as we stand before Him, not on account of our behavior (which is demonstrably evil), but on account of His Son Jesus Christ, who took the punishment we deserved for our sins.  Jesus took our place on the cross, and then He rose from the dead three days later to demonstrate to all that He conquered sin, death, and the devil.

As those who trust in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness off sins as the Bible has promised, we are made into a new creation.  2 Cor. 5:17 says, “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.  The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.”  This shows up in the first two verses of Psalm 1 as well.  The blessed man delights in the law of the Lord and meditates on it day and night.  This would simply not be the case if we have not been redeemed by Jesus Christ.

Apart from Christ, we are nothing but slaves to sin (John 8:34).  We constantly live out the progression that Psalm 1:1 talks about.  This is why the delight of those who have faith in Jesus Christ is in the law of the Lord (the Word of God): it is the Word of God that tells us everything that God has done for us to reconcile us to Him (Rom. 1:16; 2 Cor. 5:18-19).  “Thanks be to God for his inexpressible gift! (2 Cor. 9:15)

These two verses are packed with vivid imagery.  The imagery will become even more beautiful as we move through the rest of the Psalm.

[1] No jokes from those unable to suppress their inner feminist please, it’s pronounced “eesh”, not “ish”.

[2] Martin Luther, vol. 14, Luther’s Works, Vol. 14 : Selected Psalms III, ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald and Helmut T. Lehmann, Luther’s Works (Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1999),Ps 1:1.

[3] Remembering that I am a barely intermediate and mostly uninformed student of the Greek language

[4] This is my own personal translation using various helps such as lexicons and tools that parse out the Greek words for me.  I cannot state enough times that I am not an expert in Greek.  I know enough to get by, but I will make mistakes from time to time due to lack of knowledge about the grammar and/or vocabulary.

[5] I will try to explain various Greek terms in future posts.

[6] Johannes P. Louw and Eugene Albert Nida, vol. 1, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament : Based on Semantic Domains, electronic ed. of the 2nd edition. (New York: United Bible societies, 1996), 655.

[7] A basic tenet of Lutheran theology states that the Word of God is divided in two parts: passages of law & passages of gospel.  The law always accuses us of sin and drives us to despair because of our incapability to save ourselves.  The gospel shows us all of the promises of God in which He acts on our behalf to reconcile us to Him.

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  1. Psalm 1:3-4 « ophelimos
  2. Psalm 1:5-6 « ophelimos
  3. Responding to Psalm 1 « ophelimos

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