PSALMS, PART 1

The Book of Psalms is really the third division of the Hebrew Bible, known as the Kethubhim, or “Writings.” However, the Kethubhim was popularly known by the name of its first book: The Psalms. So Jesus included the entire Old Testament when mentioned the prophecies about Himself:

He said to them, “This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.” (Luke 24:44)

We follow the popular Jewish name of the book, The Psalms, which is taken from the Greek translation of the Old Testament, was completed about 150 years before the birth of Jesus. Psalmoi, the Greek word, means “songs” or “sacred songs,” but its root means “touch,” as in touching the chords of a stringed instrument. The Hebrew word is Tehillim, “praises” and “songs of praise.” What does all this tell us? It tells us the purpose of gathering all these songs together in one place and why they were written in the first place: to praise God and to sung in worship services.

The Book of Psalms holds the distinction of having more authors than any other book of the Bible and it covers a longer span of time than any other book of the Bible, with the exception of Genesis. Moses, who wrote at least one Psalm (Psalm 90), lived long, long before the days of Christ, and other Psalms (Psalm 137, for example) were written at late as the end of the Babylonian exile, only about 500 years before Christ.

Many of the Psalms are anonymous, but many are attributed to David. If David did in fact write all the Psalms that include the phrase “a psalm of David,” then he must surely be the most prolific song writers of all time! That expression, though, doesn’t always mean the psalm was written by David. It may mean he wrote it, or it may mean it was written about him or even that it was written by someone else for him.

Generally speaking, the Psalms have no historical context. Many Bible scholars spend a considerable number of pages trying to determine such context, but the reality is, in most cases, they are just guessing. Because the psalms are written in such a general manner, they can be interpreted widely. It is best to recognize this, and to recognize that the real importance of the Book of Psalms does not lie in its historical context but in its human context. These are songs of praise written by real people in love with their God. Some are songs of despair, written by people experiencing great pain and suffering. And others are songs about other emotions experienced by godly men trying to fit their life of faith into the real world in which they lived.

PSALM ONE: A TALE OF TWO MEN

The first book of psalms, known as Book One, is made of the first 41 psalms. Most are thought to have been written by David, except for the anonymous ones: 1, 2, 10, and 33.

Psalm 1 is a study in contrasts and is a wisdom psalm which reflects classic Old Testament theology repeated often: the righteous prosper and the wicked perish. This psalm also sets forth what is known as “the doctrine of rewards,” another popular Old Testament idea: the righteous prosper and are happy but the wicked are always in trouble and are troubled. Most of us recognize this isn’t always true. In fact, very often the opposite is true. Many wicked people are very prosperous. What this (and many other psalms and proverbs) does is put forward general principles in life.

Psalm 1 is as interesting in its structure as in its application. Typical of Hebrew poetry, it is built around parallelism of phrasing. Verse I is a classic example of this: the righteous man does not do three things, then they are stated. But this psalm also has the chiastic structure, also characteristic of Hebrew poetry. “Chisatic” means that the first and last ideas of a verse or group of verses reflect each other and the middle ideas reflect each other: A BB A. Verses 1 and 2 demonstrate this.

1. The righteous man is a happy man, vs. 1

Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers.

Verse 1 may be considered a beatitude, or an invocation of blessing. The word “blessed” means “happy.” In this verse, the righteous man is happy because of what he does not do. Faith, naturally, is more than a bunch of “do nots,” but the negatives are part of the life of faith. Like they say, if you want to build a road, you often have to blast and excavate, and similarly a life of holiness cannot be lived without renouncing sinful conduct.

There is a clever progression of movement in the life of the righteous. In his relationship with the unrighteous, the righteous man does not walk, stand or sit with them.

  • Walk” suggests a casual association with those who are out of touch with God. These people are not necessarily anti-godly or wicked and evil, they just do not love and fear God. Therefore, any advice they may give a true believer will be devoid of God’s wisdom. Taking the advice of one like this leads to a slowing down:

  • Stand” is suggestive of being “at home” with unbelievers. Or, taking the advice of unbelievers leads to a believer taking a sinner’s stand on spiritual or moral issues. This leads to a complete end of movement:

  • Sit” obviously implies being comfortable and content among those who do not have a relationship with God. Not only that, the one-time believer now mocks or scorns the beliefs he once cherished.

The idea, if you rephrase or restate this verse is that if you “walk” and “stand” with those who do not know God, you will eventually “sit” with them; ie., become one with them. Part of holy living is separating yourself as much as is possible from the unholy.

2. What the righteous person does, vv. 2, 3

But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither. Whatever he does prospers.

We turn from the negative to the positive side. Here is what the righteous person does; this is what makes him happy. Simply put, the righteous man loves the Word of the Lord. The thing that makes him happy is meditating on the teachings of Scripture and understanding His revealed will.

The Hebrew word translated “meditate” comes from a root word which pictures one sitting by a stream, reading aloud the words of a book. It’s one who is at peace and content. As one commentator wrote:

True happiness is to be found, not in ways of man’s own devising, but in the revealed will of God. The Christian is “Bible-bred,” “Bible-led,” and “Bible-fed.”

3. Not so the wicked, vv. 4, 5

Not so the wicked! They are like chaff that the wind blows away. Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous.

The beginning of verse 4 is emphatic: NOT so the wicked!! The ungodly, unlike the righteous man, is like chaff, the waste part of wheat-threshing.

As is often pointed out, there may be some limited typology in verses 3 and 4. The water of verse 3 is a source of life, just as Christ, the Living Water, gives us life. The green, healthy leaf represents the unblemished and healthy testimony of the obedient Christian. The seasonal fruit is the fruit of the Spirit, clearly manifested in a life of service to God.

In verse 4, by way of contrast, the wicked—the unbeliever—is as useless as chaff, fit only to be disposed of. This is certainly the fate of the unsaved, who are lost.

Verse 5 begins with “therefore,” which tells us the writer is wrapping up his thoughts. Like chaff that is easily blown away and lost, the wicked will not be able stand at the judgment, nor will they be part of the righteous group. When God passes judgment and executes His perfect justice, the wicked will not be able to withstand it. Back in verse 1, the righteous man is so because he chooses not to walk, stand, or sit in the presence of sinners. Now God absolutely forbids the sinner to walk, stand, or sit in the presence of His people!

4. Summary, vs. 6

For the Lord watches over the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish.

The first phrase summarizes verses 1—3. The Lord keeps His eyes on the righteous man described in the first three verses. The second phrase summarizes verses 4 and 5.

The word “perish” is particularly ominous. It means “lost.” It’s a hopeless word; there is no hope for the ungodly. Proverbs 10:28 puts this another way:

The prospect of the righteous is joy, but the hopes of the wicked come to nothing.

Over in the New Testament, Jesus taught this truth another way:

Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it. (Matthew 7:13, 14)

That wide gate starts off leading to the wide highway, but the farther along to you get, that highway gets narrower and narrower, more and more dangerous to navigate until finally that once wide highway becomes a narrow, treacherous dirt road that leads to death. A lot of people start out on that highway because it looks so good and wide.

The other way looks narrow; it starts out like a one lane, one way avenue. But the farther along you travel down that narrow avenue, it becomes wider and wider and safer and safer and it leads to life, not death.

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. (John 10:10)

No wonder the righteous man is happy! Are you?

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