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In some ways, this study about Psalm 1 is difficult to write. This psalm encourages us to think about what is being said... and the more a person thinks about it, the more he will find in it! As a result, it could be said that this study is incomplete! It is "open ended."
This psalm encourages us to meditate on or delight in the Law of the Lord. It does so, not by command (as Joshua 1:8 does), but by example. It describes what the person is like, who meditates on God's Word. Simply stated, he is blessed. In Joshua we read that if we obey the command to meditate/think on the Word, we will prosper and be successful. Here it simply says that the one who does this does prosper. It's just a fact of life.
The more that a person wants to do what "blessed people" do (described in verses 1-2), the more he will be blessed! The more you learn God's Word and let it influence the way you think and live, the more you will be like the blessed person described here. [Of course, there is also the contrasting principle, for those who do not have such desires (verses 4-5) and it is definitely not a blessing!]
Though this study is patterned after the New International Version, you are encouraged to read Psalm 1 in other translations. Here is my own translation of this psalm:
Blessed is the person
who does not follow the advice of the wicked,
or choose the way of sinners,
or associate with those who mock,
but who instead delights in the teachings of the Lord,
and thinks about those teachings day and night.
He is like a tree planted by streams of water
- a tree that produces fruit in its season,
and whose leaves do not wither.
Everything he does prospers.
Not so for the wicked!
They are like empty grain husks
that the wind blows away.
So the wicked will not be left standing at the judgment.
Sinners will not be left standing with the righteous people.
For the Lord watches over the way of righteous people,
but the way of the wicked leads to destruction.
As you begin, start with the whole psalm. Observe the two types of people, the two ways, and the two results. Observe the primary emphasis: the way God wants us to follow! Then begin looking more closely at the individual sections... and finally at the words and phrases.
This psalm is readily divided into 3 sections:
As you look closer at the sections, focus on the flow of thought, or "thought patterns." (If you have learned about the way Hebrew poetry is structured, you will find it helpful.)
We will first look at the whole passage (summarized) and then take a closer look at the individual parts.
Here, the psalm is summarized in order that we can quickly see the structure or patterns. The three sections (mentioned above) are numbered. Both of the first two sections can be divided into three parts:
a. A description of who the person is (righteous or wicked).
b. What he is like.
c. The end result of his way of life.
Here is the summary:
1a BLESSED IS THE MAN... who does not do (the things of v. 1) BUT who does (the things of v.2) b He is like a tree (described in v. 3) c (Therefore): what he does prospers (v. 3b)
2a NOT SO (the man who is) ...wicked. b He is like chaff (described in v. 4) c Therefore: he will not stand... (etc. - v. 5)
3 FOR: ... (explaining why the above verses are true - v. 6) - the LORD watches over the one (= the righteous, as defined in v. 1-3) - the LORD is against the other (= the wicked, anyone not described in v. 1-3)
Having got this far, seeing the basic flow of thought, we can now proceed to a more in-depth look at the verses.
First, consider the description of the blessed one. (I've joined together the parallel concepts, such as walk/sit/stand, which are found in the separate lines of the verses. They can be examined individually, later.)
1 HE DOES NOT... walk/stand/sit
in the counsel/way/seat
of the wicked/sinners/mockers.
2 HE DOES... delight in / meditate on the Law of the Lord...
day and night.
As a result of this (because of what he does and what he does not do)...
1 HE IS LIKE: a tree.
2 HOW? Two ways: fruitful
provided for (leaves NOT withering)
3 The final result (or the application of this truth):
= whatever he does prospers.
The "not so" person is also described, but the description is much shorter. He is simply described as "wicked."
1 HE IS LIKE: chaff.
2 HOW? One way is described: He will be "blown away."
3 The final result (or the application of this truth ): = the wicked/sinners will not stand in the judgment/assembly.
Why will the wicked not stand? For that matter, why also will the blessed one's ways prosper? See verse 6:
1 THE WAY OF THE RIGHTEOUS: the LORD watches (= implying protection and care) 2 THE WAY OF THE WICKED: perishes
It's just a fact of life: these two things happen this way. (And since we know it, it's up to us to decide which way we are going to follow!)
This is a serious issue. Throughout Scripture, people are divided into two categories. There isn't a third category.
Many people want to call themselves "Christian," even though the characteristics of the righteous are absent from their lives. Yet in this psalm, there are people who do meditate on, and delight in, God's Word, and there are people who don't. What other category is there? Either you do or you don't! And if you don't, you are, by definition, wicked.
This doesn't mean you aren't "religious." It doesn't mean you go around murdering people, committing sexual sin, lying, and the rest. Some wicked people will do things like that, but others will look good and morally upright, and perhaps even religious. The problem is that they don't delight in God and his Word - and that is an even greater sin, than murder, adultery, or lying. Why? Because it deals with our primary obligation of loving God with all our heart, soul and mind. Love for neighbor, though important, is secondary, in comparison. (Matthew 22:36-40.)
Remember that some of Jesus' most scathing rebukes were directed not toward the "bad sinners" (adulterers, murders, etc.), but toward the "good, morally upright" people who thought they were better than the "sinners," but who didn't give God the honor and glory that he deserves.
For more about this topic (including the issue of inconsistent living), see the article: The Righteous and the Wicked (Psalm 1).
Dennis Hinks © 1996, 2004
An In-Depth Look at the Psalm
An In-Depth Look at the Concepts of Psalm 1
Much emphasis is often given to the supposed "progression" into compromise and sin, because of the order of the words: walk...stand...sit. But this is not the primary emphasis. These are parallel concepts: the three lines reflect similar thoughts. (See the article about Hebrew poetry for more information.) The main concern found here is the same as what is mentioned by the apostle Paul, in 2 Corinthians 6:14-7:1 (read it). This concept is mentioned many times throughout the Bible.
We will focus on the main words found in verse 1. A selection of verses which contain these words, are listed below. Though the selection is limited to the Psalms and Proverbs, you are welcome to look elsewhere in the Bible. Read some of these verses, perhaps starting with those in Proverbs. Be sure to look at the contexts of these passages, when doing so is relevant. (Many of the proverbs exist by themselves, and do not have a direct link to the verses in the context.)
The following verses were selected because they focus on the blessedness that results from our relationship with God:
Note that it is not enough to simply avoid the things mentioned in Psalm 1:1. To qualify for the description of verse 3, the characteristics of verse 2 must be present! The mere absence of "badness" does not guarantee "goodness." The "bad" must be replaced with the "good." You may wish to read passages elsewhere in the Bible, to see how widespread this concept really is. (Suggested example: Paul's epistles.)
In Psalm 32:4, God is seen as having a "heavy hand" on David "day and night," guiding him toward repentance and confession of sins. But, unlike a person filled with rebellion and unbelief, David was filled with praise! He considered himself to be blessed (vs. 1-2).
Job 21:13; 21:16; Psalm 10:5; 49:18; 73:3; Jeremiah 12:1; Malachi 3:15
Job 14:2; Psalm 37:2; 90:6; 129:6; Isaiah 40:7-8; 40:24; Matthew 13:6; Mark 4:6; Luke 8:6; John 15:6; James 1:11; 1 Peter 1:244
The plight of the wicked is summarized in two words! It's very simple: "NOT SO!" Think about the contrast with what has been said in verses 1-3. ("Meditate" on it!)
What are other characteristics of the wicked? The Psalms and Proverbs refer to them at least 135 times. Many of the verses describe their ultimate fate. Others describe what the wicked are like (character qualities) at the present time. Look at a few of these "character quality" verses from the Proverbs, given below. [Also, you may want to read an article about the nature of proverbs: "Comments About the Proverbs."]
Proverbs 4:14-19; 5:22; 9:7; 10:11,20,24,32; 11:5,11,18; 12:5-6,10,12,26; 13:5; 15:6,28; 17:23; 19:28; 21:4,7,10,27,29; 28:15,28; 29:2,7,16,27
A few verses which use "chaff" to illustrate something are given below. You may wish to look at some of them.
Psalm 35:5; 83:13; Isaiah 33:11; 40:24; Jeremiah 13:24; Hosea 13:3; Zephaniah 2:2; Matthew 3:12; Luke 3:17.
Verse 5 gives us the final "conclusion" to the plight of the wicked.
1 The wicked will not stand...
Verse 6 summarizes the whole Psalm, showing the striking contrast between the righteous and the wicked. This whole psalm is true, because...
2 The LORD watches...(over the righteous, but not over the wicked).
Let people take heed to the warning!You may wish to look for other verses in which some of the words found in verses 5 and 6 occur (just like we did with the previous verses). The questions below focus on the contrast between the righteous and the wicked, and how this issue applies to us.
Dennis Hinks © 1996, 2004
Summary and Application
Describe the individual who is called "blessed" - both the "positive" (what he is/does) and the "negative" (what he isn't/doesn't). (v. 1-2) What is his attitude toward the Bible? Describe the opposite person, the one who is "not so." (v.4+)
Both of these types of people can be described as being like something. One is like a tree; the other like chaff. Why did the psalmist characterize them in this manner? What do these things tell us about the results or consequences of each of these person's way of life?
How does "meditation" fit into the picture? Which comes first, meditation or a changed heart? (Or if you believe the issue is more complex than that, explain.)
You may want to consider memorizing Psalm 1. If you have spent much time meditating on it, it shouldn't be very difficult for you to memorize it!
Do you delight in God's Word? Do you have a desire to meditate on it? (How often do you meditate on it/think about it?) Why or why not? Does your attitude in this matter suggest anything about your nature/heart? What? Find some verses that describe your situation. (There are many, especially in the New Testament.)
Think about the contrasts given in this chapter. How do you fit in? How might you improve (even if you seem to be doing quite well)?
How are you being blessed (or not blessed)?
Dennis Hinks © 1996, 2004