Psalm 1 Resources
NOTE: Any and all formatting errors and problems with this page are mine (Ken Verhulst) and Not Graham's--so please don't blame him!
1 Blessed is the one
who does not walk in step with the wicked
or stand in the way that sinners take
or sit in the company of mockers,
2 but whose delight is in the law of the Lord,
and who meditates on his law day and night.
3 That person is like a tree planted by streams of water,
which yields its fruit in season
and whose leaf does not wither—
whatever they do prospers.
4 Not so the wicked!
They are like chaff
that the wind blows away.
5 Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous.
6 For the Lord watches over the way of the righteous,
but the way of the wicked leads to destruction.
(New International Version 2010)***An article Robyn wrote a few years ago based on Psalm 1 and how we need to be "deep rooted" influences in our society is available at Examiner.com.
This Psalm, selected (or possibly purpose-written) as the introduction to the Book of Psalms, is a
simple summary of the whole book, and indeed of one of the dominant themes of Scripture. It speaks
boldly and definitively of there being just two ways to live: the way of the righteous and the way of the wicked.
The first it identifies as a way of living that is steeped in God’s Word; the second is the way of the world.
Some commentators call Psalm 1 a “Torah psalm” (like 19 and 119) primarily focused on defending and extolling
the “Torah community” – the foundation of Jewish exilic culture on the traditions and structure and security of Torah
(generally the first five books of the Bible). I prefer the view of those who see it is as a “wisdom psalm”. For
example, the parallels with Proverbs 1-2 are quite considerable.
Throughout the psalms we see this contrast: it may seem as though the way of the world is succeeding, but its
victories can never last. Only God’s way, the way of those who follow Him, can ultimately prosper.
Psalm 1 has several vivid images, and a wide array of poetic devices. Hebrew poetry isn’t recognizable so much by
rhyme and rhythm, but more through its use of parallelism of various kinds. But in common with Western poetry, it
also makes considerable use of metaphors, similes, allegories, and plays on words (including alliteration, puns).
Without getting into any technical details (which I’m not at all qualified to do), suffice to point out that
there are simple and extended examples of synonymous and antithetical parallels throughout Psalm 1. The first
makes a point
and then stresses it with another statement close in meaning; the second expresses a contrast
between two statements.
In fact Psalm 1 is in its entirety a contrast between two ways of living. The way of the righteous person,
described in verses 1-3, and the way of the wicked or godless person in verses 4-5. Verse 6 summarizes with a final comparison.
Here are a few personal expository notes on the psalm that have come out of my preparation for this study.
•This psalm talks about a way of living – the way of the righteous. Jesus tells us clearly that He is that Way
(John 14:6). Jesus is the Door – allowing us to enter this life of the way of the righteous by giving us His own
righteousness. Jesus is also Himself the Way. If we want to know what it looks like to live as this psalm demands,
we need only look at the one perfect Human, the one who fully realized God’s plan for humanity, Jesus.
•Verses 1, 2 and 3 respectively of Psalm 1 point to Jesus as the Way, the Truth and the Life
•The life of Christian discipleship is referred to by the early Church as the Way (Acts 9:2; 19:2; etc).
•Blessed – happy (actually plural, so “oh the happinesses of the one ...”). Compare with the first blessing of
God to Adam and Eve in Gen 1:28 and with Jesus’ statements of blessing in Matthew 5:3-12.
•“the one” – though usually translated “man” this is impersonal and better translated as “one” or “person”.
•Notice the threefold progression into evil. Another form of parallelism here: in each clause, there is a verb
and two indirect objects – each progresses into degrees of disobedience: stands-counsel-ungodly;
o It starts with standing – passive acceptance – in the counsel of the ungodly – taking in and tacitly
acknowledging the advice of the world, of those who don’t know God’s ways.
o It progresses to walking – now taking action – imitating the ways of sinners – focused on ourselves, our own
rights, the world’s values, and setting our own priorities accordingly.
o It ends with sitting – comfortable, settled – fully assimilated in the seat of mockers – those who deny and
actively rebel against God. It would seem that from here there is no going back, except by the grace of God.
•Compare Josh 1:8 “Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you
may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful.” There is a clear
connection between meditating on the word and being “successful” or “prospering”. But this isn’t the world’s
definition of success (money, status, even fulfillment and “happiness”) – success here has to do with living as
God intended, in His image, in the imitation of Christ.
•Compare also Romans 12:2 – the way of the righteous is one that is transformed by the renewing of our minds
(through meditation on Scripture) rather than conforming ourselves to the way of the world (standing, walking and sitting).
•See the beauty of this verse – read it slowly, letting the building parallel clauses wash over you:
That person is like a tree
planted by streams of water,
which yields its fruit in season
whose leaf does not wither—
whatever they do prospers.
•This is a tree deliberately planted, not accidentally growing – a point of great security for us. Jesus says
“Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be pulled up by the roots.” (Matthew 15:13). But we are
planted by the Father.
•This is a tree deliberately watered. Likely the word translated variously rivers or streams, refers to
irrigation canals such as those that were commonplace in Egypt. As we live “in the Word” we are watered by the
Holy Spirit. See also Psalm 42:1; Jer 31:9; John 4:13-14; Rev 22:1-2 – not enough space here to explore all these!
•We will bear fruit – the fruit of the Spirit. The outpouring of the life of Christ through us includes the
fruit of Gal 5:22-23. If we’re that tree planted by streams of water, we should expect our lives to be
characterized by “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control”
whenever they are needed by situations, relationships, communities – that is fruit in season.
•This is no deciduous tree – the leaves remain healthy year-long. As we remain in Christ the True Vine (John 15:4-5)
so we will continue to exhibit the characteristics of this metaphorical tree – fresh, alive, fruitful,
sheltering, refreshing, beautiful.
•What a contrast to the permanence of the tree planted by streams – visualize in the winnowing process how the
dry, light, rootless husks are blown away in the wind.
•Compare Jesus parable of the weeds (Matthew 13:24-29, explained in 13:36-43)
•See Is 41:16 for a similar contrast and reference to winnowing – in this case God’s people will be the agent
of the final defeat of His enemies, those who live the way of the ungodly.
•The way of the wicked can only end up one way. As the next verse states, it is the way of destruction
(see also Prov 13:15)
•Destruction here means separation from God and His people – permanent exile (as contrasted with the temporary
exile experienced by God’s people at the time the book of Psalms was assembled, and also by us as we live in a
•This verse summarizes the psalm with a final antithetical parallel introduced by a “not so” – this is pretty
black and white.
•There are two ways – the way of the righteous and the way of the wicked. God watches over, directs, protects
•The way of the wicked is not directed by God. Instead it has its own natural path, and only one result –
destruction. If we are not directed by God, if we are not blessed, planted and watered by God, then left to our
own devices we must fail.
•We are called to spend time in God’s Word: regularly, and intensely (rediscovering meditation). More than
that, though, we are called to allow the Holy Spirit to transform our lives through the impact of the Word, so
that we become increasingly like Christ
•Then we can expect to exhibit the fruit of the Spirit
•The alternative, living the world’s way, will in the end prove to have been fruitless and pointless. Only to
the extent that we live the Way – following Christ – can we expect that God will work through us (though by His
grace He may work despite us!)
•Those who reject the righteousness of God, as offered by Christ, cannot expect to be included ultimately in
the assembly of those who revel in the presence of God. This is the greatest possible loss that any person, made
in His image and designed to dwell with Him, could ever experience.