Psalm 1

Psalm 1 describes two ways of being human and reveals that what we choose to meditate on makes all the difference.

Visual Commentaries Apr 10, 2023
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  1. Psalm 1 begins by describing a person who is “blessed.” When we see the word “bless” in our Bibles, it could be translating one of two different Hebrew words, barukh (ברוך) or ashrey (אשרי). Which Hebrew word is used in Psalm 1, and what is the difference between the two? Why is it significant that the poet uses this word here?
  2. Read Psalm 1:1 and notice the progression from from walking, to standing, to sitting. What are the destructive ways of being human associated with each word, and how would you describe those ways in your own words?
  3. Read Psalm 1:2-3. We have seen what happens to people who ultimately sit or “plant” themselves on paths that lead to ruin. How do people plant themselves in ways that bring life instead?
  4. Read Genesis 2. What garden of Eden language do you notice in Psalm 1? How is the “blessed” human in Psalm 1 similar to God’s ideal for humanity presented in Genesis 2?
  5. When humans meditate on and live by God’s instruction, they begin to taste abundant life for themselves and others, which is called “success” or “prospering.” In other words, God’s wisdom leads to the good life. How is this definition of “success” and “the good life” different from your culture’s definition of these things?
  6. How does the psalmist contrast the path of the wicked with the path of the one who meditates? Look for repeated or similar words and phrases. What do you notice? What is the decision human beings face that will determine which of the two paths they will follow?

Scripture References

Psalms 1 Psalms 1:1 Psalms 1:2 Psalms 1:3 Psalms 1:4 Psalms 1:5 Psalms 1:6


Introduction [00:00-00:29]

Tim: The biblical book of Psalms is a collection of ancient Israelite poems.

Jon: The first poem in this collection is Psalm 1.

Tim: Psalm 1 is a reflection on two different ways of being human. There’s the person who’s like a blossoming tree of life planted by a stream. Then there’s the person who’s like chaff that’s blown away in the wind.

Jon: The poem begins, “Blessed is the man who…” But what does that even mean, to be blessed?

Two Hebrew Words for “Blessed” [00:30-02:09]

Tim: Well, when we see the word “bless” in our Bibles, it could be translating one of two different Hebrew words. There’s barukh (ברוך), which describes a person who is experiencing God’s favor and abundance in their lives. This usually gets translated as “blessed.”

But Psalm 1 begins with a different word, ashrey (אשרי). This word refers to what people say about a person who is barukh. It’s a way to express how desirable and good it is when someone experiences God’s blessing. It’s like saying, “Hey, that person over there, they have the good life.”

Jon: So it could be translated “oh the good life of the man.”

Tim: Exactly. And that good life results from three choices this person makes.

Jon: It’s the man who “doesn’t walk by the counsel of the wicked, doesn’t stand in the path of sinners, and doesn’t sit in the seat of mockers.”

Tim: Notice the progression here. The man goes from walking, then to standing, then to sitting.

Jon: It is a progression from movement towards becoming stuck.

Tim: Right. And these three words are three destructive ways of being human that you can get trapped in.

So “the wicked” is the kind of person who is morally backwards—they think that evil is good and good is evil. “Sinner” is a word that refers to missing the target. And in the Bible, the target is loving God and loving your neighbor as yourself1. So sin is a failure to love others well. And “the mocker” is somebody who can’t even appreciate goodness or beauty anymore. They’re so jaded all they can do is show contempt for anything that’s not like themselves.

Jon: So this is an invitation to stop and meditate on how our choices slowly shape us over time.

What We Meditate On Matters [02:10-04:03]

Tim: Right, and speaking of meditating, that’s where the poem goes next. “Rather, his delight is in the instruction of Yahweh, and on his instruction, he meditates day and night.”

That word “instruction” is the Hebrew word torah, which means God's teaching or wisdom. And notice the symmetry of this sentence. “He delights in the instruction; on the instruction he meditates.”

Jon: I meditate on what I delight in.

Tim: And the more I meditate, the more I delight. These two lines are like an infinity loop.

Now, this word “meditate” is the Hebrew word hagah. It’s used elsewhere to describe the sound of a pigeon cooing or of a bear moaning as it chews its food2. For humans, it means quietly reciting the words of Scripture aloud or in your mind as a way to focus your attention so that these words become part of you.

Jon: And that kind of meditation is the pathway to the good life?

Tim: Apparently. Let’s read on to see why.

Jon: “And he will become like a tree planted by streams of water, which gives its fruit in its time, and its leaf does not whither, and everything he does, he makes it successful.”

Tim: So earlier in the poem, there was a “planting yourself” that leads to ruin. But through meditating on God’s instruction, you can plant yourself in a way that brings life. And notice all the garden of Eden language—a tree growing by streams of water, abundant fruit, leaves that never wither.

Jon: This is like being a tree of life3.

Tim: Yes. When humans meditate on and live by God’s instruction, they begin to taste abundant life for themselves and for others. And that’s why it’s called “success,” which links us back to the opening word, ashrey. God’s wisdom leads to the good life. And with that, the poem’s first part comes to a close, and the second part begins.

A Choice Between Two Paths [04:04-05:13]

Jon: “But not so the wicked; rather, he is like chaff that the wind drives away.”

Tim: So notice the contrast. One kind of person is like a tree firmly planted, full of fruit, while the other person is like an empty husk of a wheat that flakes off and blows away.

Jon: “Therefore, the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous.”

Tim: Remember, the meditator decides not to stand in the path of sinners, and that contrasts now with the wicked, who are unable to stand when God brings justice.

Jon: “Because Yahweh knows the path of the righteous, but the path of the wicked will perish.”

Tim: And so we end where we began, choosing between two paths—two ways of being human that lead to flourishing life or withering ruin.

Jon: And the difference is about what you meditate on.

Tim: Yeah. This poem, and all of God’s instruction, are designed for a lifetime of meditation, reading and re-reading slowly, allowing it to guide all of our choices. And the result is to become a tree of life for others.

1. Lev. 19:18; Deut. 6:4-5; Matt. 22:35-40
2. Isa. 59:11
3. Gen. 2:9-10

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