I’ve posted my own notes on Psalm 1. Here I present you with a commentary from Father Patrick Boylan’s A STUDY OF THE PSALTER IN LIGHT OF THE HEBREW TEXT. The work is in the public domain. At the end of his commentary I present some NT texts for “Christianizing” the Psalm for meditations or sermons.
PSALM 1; THE TWO PATHS
Introduction and overview
In this psalm, which serves as a sort of introduction to the Psalter, one of the most fundamental thoughts of Hebrew speculation finds expression. The just man, it tells us, prospers in all things, while the wicked man’s life ends in failure. The psalm, however, dwells rather on the success of the just than on the failure of the wicked. It depicts the ideally just man first negatively (verse 1), then positively (2-3), and then in contrast with the wicked (4-5). The just man show no tendency to adopt the ideas of the godless who set no value on the Law, or to associate himself with the sinners who openly oppose the Law, or help in spreading the corruption of those who sneer at the Law’s requirements. His heart is fixed on the Law, and he constantly murmurs to himself it precepts. His life is rich in works of the Law, so that it reminds one of the verdure of the tree that blooms and bears fruit beside the running waters of irrigation channels. As one might well expect, their is a blessing on all his toil, and his every enterprise succeeds.
Over against the continued prosperity of the just we see the instability of the godless. They are like the dust of the road in a storm, or like the chaff which the wind whirls away from the winnowing on the hill-top. They will not succeed in the great trial, nor hold place in the assembly of the just when the trial is over.
The loving eyes of God are on the path of the just; but the path of the wicked leads to death.
The psalm bears no title, and neither its date nor its author can be determined. The picture of the just man’s success, and the sinner’s failure is painted in the spirit of the ancient Hebrew belief, and may well belong to the Davidic age. Yet, it is not connected by a superscription with the Davidic or any other ancient collection of psalms, and many modern critics believe that it was written expressly by a comparatively late poet (possibly the first editor of the Book of Psalms) to serve as an introduction to the whole collection of Psalms. The extraordinary parallelism of Jeremiah 17:5-8 to this Psalm is regarded by many critics as proof that the Psalm is subsequent at least to the time of Jeremiah. It is interesting to note that in Acts 13:33, according to a reading of some importance, Psalm 2 is called the “first” Psalm.
Read the Psalm in either English or Latin HERE.
NOTES ON PSALM 1
1) The three verbs, walk, stand, sit, are connected with the three things, counsel, path (way), seat (chair), and have the three distinct subjects, the godless, sinners and mockers (pestilence is a bad translation). A climax is, evidently, intended. As the good man is described as the man whose pleasure is the Law of Israel (the Law of Moses), so the various classes of the wicked are characterised by different degrees of indifference or hostility to the Law. Some seem to forget the law; others act openly against it; others carry on a campaign of sneering and contempt against it. The Hebrew text of the third clause may be understood of a circle or group of mockers, rather than of a teachers chair, around which mockers are gathered. The pious Israelite will separate himself completely from sinners and skeptics. This tendency to aloofness was carried to extremes by the Pharisees (“The separated ones”).
2) The just man, on the other hand, is quite taken up with the Law: It is a “torch for his feet.” (Psalm 119) It is always in his heart, and always on his lips (as prescribed in Dt 6:6-8). Meditates means, according to the Hebrew, not silent contemplation, but audible murmuring of the words of the Law. This verse and the following are echoed in, or are an echo of, Joshua 1:8 “This book of the Law shall not depart out of thy mouth, and thou shalt ponder over it murmuringly day and night, so that thou mayest be constant in acting as is prescribed therein: for then thou shalt make thy way to prosper, and then thou shalt have success.”
3) The decursus aquarum (Hebrew, “divisions of waters”) are irrigation canals such as might be seen in Babylonia or Egypt rather than in Palestine. For the comparison see Ps 51:10 (52:10); 91:13 (92:13).
4) The Hebrew compares the wicked with the chaff which is whirled from the threshing floor. The threshing, or winnowing usually took place on a raised ground in an exposed position (see Mt 3:1). The instability of the godless is often similarly suggested elsewhere in scripture. See Hosea 14:3-”They shall be as the morning cloud, as dew of the dawn that vanishes, like chaff that is whirled away from the threshing floor, like smoke from the chimney.” Again, Isaiah 17:12-”The nations…shall be chased like chaff on a mountain before the breeze.” See also the passage in wisdom 5:14-”The hope of the godless is like dust (chaff) swept along by the wind, and like thin (sea) foam scattered by the storm, and like smoke dispersed by the breeze, and like the remembrance of a one-day guest.” “From the face of the earth” is not in the Hebrew. It goes naturally enough with pulvis (chaff). The Greek can mean chaff or dust.
5) The trial is the great Messianic Assize, the final judgment where the wicked shall be set apart from the good in the sight of all. The way of the wicked is their path of life, or plan of action. The just will form and exclusive group after the separation; the wicked will have no part with them (see Is 4:3). The Hebrew has “will not stand in the trial,” i.e. will not prevail in it. “resurgent” (“rise again” with its suggestion of the Resurrection of the Just) is due to the Christian imagination of the translator.
6) God’s knowledge implies interest and approval see Psalm 36:18 (37:18). the just will live in the light of God’s face, but the way of the wicked will be through darkness, and will lead to death.
There is a striking parallel to this psalm in Jeremiah 17:5-8-”Accursed is the man who trusts in men, and makes flesh his arm; but his heart is disloyal to Yahweh. He is like a leafless tree in the plain, and hath no experience of prosperity. He dwelleth in the arid tracts of the desert, in a land salt-strewn and uninhabitable. Blessed is the man who trusts in Yahweh, and whose hope is Yahweh. He is like a tree that is planted by the waters, which stretches out its roots to the brook; which feareth not when the heat cometh, whose foliage remaineth freshly green, which, even in years of drought, hath no care; and ceaseth not to bring forth fruit.”
For the contrast in the lot of the pious and the godless, see also Ex 20:5; Ezk 18.
HELPS FOR MEDITATIONS AND SERMONS. Here are some (by no means all) NT texts which relate to some of the themes and symbols of the Psalm.
A) One is not hard-pressed to find warnings concerning the avoidance of sinners and their false teaching. In fact, a number of the OT biblical passages Father Boylan quotes in his notes on verse 4 are echoed in the NT. For example, in Jude 11-13 we read: “Woe to them! They have walked down the road (path, way) Cain trod; and they have run greedily after the straying of Balaam in search of profit, and perished in Korah’s rebellion. They bring shipwreck to your love-feasts as they feast with you without fear, concerned only for caring for themselves. They are like clouds without water, driven by the wind; like trees in late autumn that bear no fruit. They are twice dead and rooted up. They are like savage waves of the sea, for they cast up like sea-foam their shameless deeds. They are like wandering stars for whom the black darkness has been eternally reserved.” (my translation). Compare with Hosea 14:3 and Wisdom 5:14 quoted above.
Many of these same images occur in 2 Pt 2:1-21. Of special note is the themes of “the way” and “destruction for abandoning the “command” (Law or teaching of the Gospel):
2:1 But false prophets also arose among the people, as false teachers will also be among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, denying even the Master who bought them, bringing on themselves swift destruction. cb(2,2); 2:2 Many will follow their immoral ways, and as a result, the way of the truth will be maligned. cb(2,3); 2:3 In covetousness they will exploit you with deceptive words: whose sentence now from of old doesn’t linger, and their destruction will not slumber. cb(2,4); 2:4 For if God didn’t spare angels when they sinned, but cast them down to Tartarus, and committed them to pits of darkness, to be reserved for judgment; cb(2,5); 2:5 and didn’t spare the ancient world, but preserved Noah with seven others, a preacher of righteousness, when he brought a flood on the world of the ungodly; cb(2,6); 2:6 and turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah into ashes, condemned them to destruction, having made them an example to those who would live ungodly; cb(2,7); 2:7 and delivered righteous Lot, who was very distressed by the lustful life of the wicked cb(2,8); 2:8 (for that righteous man dwelling among them, was tormented in his righteous soul from day to day with seeing and hearing lawless deeds): cb(2,9); 2:9 the Lord knows how to deliver the godly out of temptation and to keep the unrighteous under punishment for the day of judgment; cb(2,10); 2:10 but chiefly those who walk after the flesh in the lust of defilement, and despise authority. Daring, self-willed, they are not afraid to speak evil of dignitaries; cb(2,11); 2:11 whereas angels, though greater in might and power, don’t bring a railing judgment against them before the Lord. cb(2,12); 2:12 But these, as unreasoning creatures, born natural animals to be taken and destroyed, speaking evil in matters about which they are ignorant, will in their destroying surely be destroyed, cb(2,13); 2:13 receiving the wages of unrighteousness; people who count it pleasure to revel in the daytime, spots and blemishes, reveling in their deceit while they feast with you; cb(2,14); 2:14 having eyes full of adultery, and who can’t cease from sin; enticing unsettled souls; having a heart trained in greed; children of cursing; cb(2,15); 2:15 forsaking the right way, they went astray, having followed the way of Balaam the son of Beor, who loved the wages of wrongdoing; cb(2,16); 2:16 but he was rebuked for his own disobedience. A mute donkey spoke with a man’s voice and stopped the madness of the prophet. cb(2,17); 2:17 These are wells without water, clouds driven by a storm; for whom the blackness of darkness has been reserved forever. cb(2,18); 2:18 For, uttering great swelling words of emptiness, they entice in the lusts of the flesh, by licentiousness, those who are indeed escaping from those who live in error; cb(2,19); 2:19 promising them liberty, while they themselves are bondservants of corruption; for a man is brought into bondage by whoever overcomes him.cb(2,20);
2:20 For if, after they have escaped the defilement of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in it and overcome, the last state has become worse for them than the first. cb(2,21); 2:21 For it would be better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than, after knowing it, to turn back from the holy commandment delivered to them. (WEB bible).
B) One should always follow the teaching and the way of Jesus:
7:13 “Enter in by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and many are those who enter in by it. cj(7,14); 7:14 How narrow is the gate, and restricted is the way that leads to life! Few are those who find it.
cj(7,15); 7:15 “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravening wolves. cj(7,16); 7:16 By their fruits you will know them. Do you gather grapes from thorns, or figs from thistles? cj(7,17); 7:17 Even so, every good tree produces good fruit; but the corrupt tree produces evil fruit. cj(7,18); 7:18 A good tree can’t produce evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree produce good fruit. cj(7,19); 7:19 Every tree that doesn’t grow good fruit is cut down, and thrown into the fire. cj(7,20); 7:20 Therefore, by their fruits you will know them. cj(7,21); 7:21 Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter into the Kingdom of Heaven; but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. cj(7,22); 7:22 Many will tell me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, didn’t we prophesy in your name, in your name cast out demons, and in your name do many mighty works?’ cj(7,23); 7:23 Then I will tell them, ‘I never knew you. Depart from me, you who work iniquity.’
cj(7,24); 7:24 “Everyone therefore who hears these words of mine, and does them, I will liken him to a wise man, who built his house on a rock. cj(7,25); 7:25 The rain came down, the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat on that house; and it didn’t fall, for it was founded on the rock. cj(7,26); 7:26 Everyone who hears these words of mine, and doesn’t do them will be like a foolish man, who built his house on the sand. cj(7,27); 7:27 The rain came down, the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat on that house; and it fell—and great was its fall.” (Mt 7:13-27 Web Bible)
Jesus himself is the way that leads to the father and happiness:
14:1 “Don’t let your heart be troubled. Believe in God. Believe also in me. cj(14,2); 14:2 In my Father’s house are many homes. If it weren’t so, I would have told you. I am going to prepare a place for you. cj(14,3); 14:3 If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and will receive you to myself; that where I am, you may be there also. cj(14,4); 14:4 Where I go, you know, and you know the way.”cb(14,5);
14:5 Thomas said to him, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going. How can we know the way?”cb(14,6);
14:6 Jesus said to him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father, except through me. cj(14,7); 14:7 If you had known me, you would have known my Father also. From now on, you know him, and have seen him.” (Jn 14:1-7
Since the risen Christ continues his mission in and through the Church, it can now be said that the Church teaches the way since it has been empowered to teach all that Christ has commanded: “28:18 Jesus came to them and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to me in heaven and on earth. cj(28,19); 28:19 Go,* and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, cj(28,20); 28:20 teaching them to observe all things that I commanded you. Behold, I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Mt 28:18-20;
C) Christianity is not simply a belief; it is a way of life based on that belief: “5:1 Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God. Whoever loves the Father also loves the child who is born of him. cb(5,2); 5:2 By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and keep his commandments. cb(5,3); 5:3 For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. His commandments are not grievous. cb(5,4); 5:4 For whatever is born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world: your faith” (1 Jn 5:1-4 cb(3,7); “3:7 But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming for his baptism, he said to them, “You offspring of vipers, who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? cb(3,8); 3:8 Therefore bring forth fruit worthy of repentance! cb(3,9); 3:9 Don’t think to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham for our father,’ for I tell you that God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones” (Mt 3:7-9 WEB Bible). Like a vine we must be rooted in Jesus, which means we must bear fruits of love: 15:1 “I am the true vine, and my Father is the farmer. cj(15,2); 15:2 Every branch in me that doesn’t bear fruit, he takes away. Every branch that bears fruit, he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. cj(15,3); 15:3 You are already pruned clean because of the word which I have spoken to you. cj(15,4); 15:4 Remain in me, and I in you. As the branch can’t bear fruit by itself, unless it remains in the vine, so neither can you, unless you remain in me. cj(15,5); 15:5 I am the vine. You are the branches. He who remains in me, and I in him, the same bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. cj(15,6); 15:6 If a man doesn’t remain in me, he is thrown out as a branch, and is withered; and they gather them, throw them into the fire, and they are burned. cj(15,7); 15:7 If you remain in me, and my words remain in you, you will ask whatever you desire, and it will be done for you. cj(15,8); 15:8 “In this is my Father glorified, that you bear much fruit; and so you will be my disciples. cj(15,9); 15:9 Even as the Father has loved me, I also have loved you. Remain in my love. cj(15,10); 15:10 If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love; even as I have kept my Father’s commandments, and remain in his love. cj(15,11); 15:11 I have spoken these things to you, that my joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be made full cj(15,12);15:12 “This is my commandment, that you love one another, even as I have loved you. cj(15,13); 15:13 Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. cj(15,14); 15:14 You are my friends, if you do whatever I command you. cj(15,15); 15:15 No longer do I call you servants, for the servant doesn’t know what his lord does. But I have called you friends, for everything that I heard from my Father, I have made known to you. cj(15,16); 15:16 You didn’t choose me, but I chose you, and appointed you, that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain; that whatever you will ask of the Father in my name, he may give it to you cj(15,1715:17 “I command these things to you, that you may love one another. (Jn 15:1-17
Note: The WEB Bible is a Protestant translation and the reference tools found on its site are likewise Protestant in their orientation.