Psalm 1 (and 2) have been called “the entryway into the sanctuary of the Psalms” 1. It is considered a Wisdom Psalm because it tells us how God wants us to live our lives for His glory by using very sharp contrasts between the righteous and the wicked. This is a very commonly used Hebrew poetic form called “parallelism.” The Reformation Study Bible defines parallelism as “The repetition of ideas [where] an idea is stated and then immediately expressed again in different words, with the concepts of the two lines corresponding more or less closely” 1. Without being able to distinguish these sharp contrasts and expansion of ideas given to us from Jewish literary devices, we would not be able to rightly study the Psalms or any book of the Bible.
There are several types of parallelism (1), all of which, I believe, are found in Psalm 1:
Synonymous: idea is repeated in a similar way (v. 5).
Antithetic: the idea is stated by opposition (vv. 1, 4, 5, 6).
Synthetic: the second line develops or extends the thought of the first rather than merely repeating it (vv. 1, 2).
Emblematic: one line is a figure of speech and the other puts the same idea literally, explaining the figure (v. 3).
Step, staircase, or climactic: the succeeding lines carry the idea forward, each one adding a new element to what went before (vv. 1, 3).
It is not my intention to go into greater detail on the Psalms’ poetic structure in this entry. I just intended to show that the Psalms, like every book of the Bible, has its own genre, or “a category of artistic composition, as in music or literature, characterized by similarities in form , style, or subject matter.” 2
For more on this topic, please read my following entries on this page.
With this fact in mind that the Psalms are poems and songs, let us dive into Psalm 1:1.
“How blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, nor stand in the path of sinners, nor sit in the seat of scoffers!” (Psalm 1:1, NASB).
“Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers” (Psalm 1:1, ESV).
“Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful” (Psalm 1:1, KJV).
The reason why I think it is important to use several translations is because different translations enrich our understanding of particular words and how they connect to convey the original message intended by the author, which will then allow us to draw Biblical applications for our corporate and individual worship of God through the Psalms. Of course, some translations I stay away from because they are written to tickle the ears of people by watering down the message almost completely (i.e. The Message Bible Version, or the New Living Translation Bible Version). There is a certain strength, firmness, and accuracy to some Bible versions that I believe make them the best to use in Bible studies.
Please notice with me the words I purposely emphasized in this verse. The very first word in this verse shows the exclusivity of blessedness; in other words, that blessedness is not found in “the counsel of the ungodly…the way of sinners…the seat of the scornful” but rather in “the law of the LORD” (v. 2).
Martin Luther comments on this word,
“This teacher, however, deriving his doctrine from heaven, and detesting all the devoted endeavors of men, gives this only true definition of blessedness which is wholly unknown to men — that he is the “blessed” man who loves the law of God. It is, indeed, a short definition, but it contains a savour that is contrary to all human ideas, and especially to human wisdom.” 3
In the very introductory words of the Psalms we are given a very sharp contrast between the blessedness of the man who stays away from wickedness, and the curse that falls on wicked men for walking, standing, and sitting on wickedness. There are no introductory words that lead into this idea of a separation between the wicked and the righteous; it is abrupt and to the point. There are no explanations or anything prior to this distinction; the Psalmist starts right away by making an unmistakable and indisputable statement that clearly defines what will be the prominent mark of a righteous person (his delight in the law of the LORD (v.2)), and that of a wicked person (his delight in wickedness). It is very important to emphasize and notice this right from the outset because the writer does this right from the start.
The Psalmist does not define blessedness by what it is (at first), but by what it is not. It is very important to notice that; before the Psalmist defines what blessedness is, he must be absolutely clear on what blessedness is not.
Proverbs 4:13-26 gives a good summary of the blessedness of the man who finds wisdom in the law of the LORD.
The Psalmist begins his Psalm by defining “blessedness” in the negative in three ways:
1) Blessedness will follow the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked (ungodly).
2) Blessedness will follow the man who does not stand in the way of sinners.
3) Blessedness will follow the man who does not sit in the seat of scoffers (the scornful).
We will look at these in our next entry, so stay tuned!
1 The Reformation Study Bible. Lake Mary, FL: Ligonier Ministries, 2005. Print.
2 “genre”. Oxford Dictionaries. April 2010. Oxford Dictionaries. April 2010. Oxford University Press. 12 November 2011 <http://oxforddictionaries.com/definition/genre?region=us>.
3 Luther, Martin, 1483-1546; Lenker, John Nicholas, 1858-1929. Luther’s commentary on the first twenty-two Psalms : based on Dr. Henry Cole’s translation from the original Latin (Kindle Locations 647-651). Sunbury, Pa. : Lutheran’s in All Lands Co..