Introduction to Psalms
The english word Psalms is derived from the Greek word ψαλμός (psalmos), and the Hebrew title for the Psalms is תְּהִלִּים (tĕhillîim) meaning songs of praises (Berlin and Brettler, 1265) In the Hebrew scriptures there are 150 praises and has been used as a songbook and prayerbook by Jews and Christian throughout the centuries.
The psalms have been written by several authors and have been compiled and edited to create a psalter. Through the use of titles, many of psalms have been attributed to identifiable authors. These authors include David, Moses, Solomon, Asaph, Heman, Ethan and the Sons of Korah. David wrote the Majority of the psalms with 73 attributed to him. There are some psalms that are designated as having unknown authorship. Some of the psalms date to the middle of the second millennium BC (2000-1000 B.C.E) whereas others date to the postexilic era (after 539 B.C.E) (Hill and Walton, 274).
The psalms are divided into five books: Psalms 1-41, 42-72, 73-89, 90-106, and 107-150. This division may reflect the five books of the Law seeing that much is said about the Law in the Psalms. The following is a brief outline for Psalms (Hill and Walton, 278)
|I. Introduction (1-2)||V. Introspection about the destruction of the temple and exile (90-106)|
|II. David’s conflict with Saul (3-4)||VI. Praise and reflection on the return and the new era (107-45)|
|III. David’s kingship (42-72)||VII. Concluding praise (146-150)|
|IV. The Assyrian crisis (73-89)|
Moreover, the psalms have been classified into types based on their characteristics: Hymns are characterized by songs of praise and thanksgiving to God for His goodness and greatness. Penitential psalms are confessional in nature and focus on repentance of sin with an appeal for mercy and forgiveness. Wisdom psalms offer general insight about life, faith and relationship with God. Royal psalms focus on God’s kingly rule of his people through God’s chosen man, the son of David. Messianic psalms describe a coming anointed one who will restore and save his covenant people. Imprecatory psalms call out for the judgement of God upon his enemies and the enemies of his people. Lament psalms voice one’s condition of disappointment, confusion, doubt and disillusionment but also statements of hope and trust (Arnold and Beyer, 307-311).
In view of this background and literary information, Psalms 1:1-6 has an unknown author and date and fits within the whole of the book by acting as an introductory and wisdom psalm inviting individuals to read, meditate upon and use the entire book for the way to the blessed life.
Commentary on Psalms 1:1-6
1 The Hebrew phrase אַשְׁרֵי־הָאִיש (ašre hoǐš) meaning blessed the man (Brown, Driver and Briggs, 81) may be viewed as the start of a beatitude which are scattered throughout the Psalms and appears to have been a widely used literary device in the psalms dated in the post-exilic era. Thus, this may give a hint to the dating of Psalms 1 (and 2 since there is a similar construction at the end) (Mays, 41). Nevertheless, this beatitude is complex because it first states what the blessed do not do …does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers. Then, in the next line it states what the blessed do.
2 The commended conduct done by the blessed is engagement in the Law of the Lord. The author writes, But his delight is in the law of the Lord and on his law he meditates day and night. The emphasis is on the study of the Torah for the sake of study. This is similar to the instruction given in Joshua 1:7-8 “…Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left,that you may be successful wherever you go. 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….” However, the result of such a focus will certainly keep one away from the way of the wicked and sinner (Berlin and Brettler, 1269).
3 Simile is used in this verse which is defined as “a figure of speech that compares two things using the words ‘like’ or ‘as’ ” (Klein, Blomberg and Hubbard, Jr, 304). He 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. John of Damascus comments on this type of simile, “The soul watered by sacred Scripture grows fat and bears fruit in due season, which is the orthodox faith, and so is it adorned with its evergreen leaves, with actions pleasing to God, I mean. And thus we are disposed to virtuous action and untroubled contemplation by the sacred scriptures” (Blaising and Hardin, Faith and Works).
4 Another simile is used but this time it is pertaining to the wicked. The image is of the winnowing process where the threshed corn is tossed up so that the chaff is blown away. The message is that the life of the wicked is meaningless and without value (Prinsloo, 365).
5-6 These verses are an example of a chiastic pattern in Hebrew poetry. Chiasm is a structural form where the word order of a subsequent line appears in reverse order to the previous line (ab/ba) (Klein, Blomberg, and Hubbard, Jr.,298). (v.5) Therefore the (a)wicked will not stand in the judgement, nor sinners in the assembly of the (b)righteous (v.6) for the Lord watches over the way of the (‘b)righteous, but the way of the (‘a)wicked will perish. The contrasting between the righteous and the wicked reaches its culmination and those who walk the way of the righteous will remain in the secure and loving arms of the Lord, but for those who walk the way of the wicked will have have no future with the Lord and perish as a result.
Arnold, Bill T, and Bryan Beyer. Encountering the Old Testament : a Christian Survey. Grand Rapids, MI : Baker Academic, 2008.
Berlin, Adele and Marc Zvi Brettler eds. The Jewish Study Bible. 2nd ed. Oxford, NY : Oxford University Press, 1999.
Blaising, Craig A, and Carmen Hardin. Ancient Commentary on Scripture. Psalms 1-50. epub edition. Downers Grove, IL : InterVarsity Press, 2008.
Brown, Francis, S.R. Driver and Charles Briggs. The Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon : with an Appendix Containing the Biblical Aramaic : Coded with the Numbering System from Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible. Peabody, MA : Hendrickson Publishers, 1996.
Hill, Andrew E, and John H. Walton. A Survey of the Old Testament. Grand Rapids, MI : Zondervan Pub. House, 1991.
Klein, William Craig L. Blomberg and Robert L. Hubbard, Jr. Introduction to Biblical Interpretation. Revised and Updated ed. Nashville: TN:, Baker Academic, 2004.
Mays, James Luther. Psalms. Louisville, KY : John Knox Press, 1994.