Gleanings From the Text
Psalm 1 (along with Psalm 2 in some early collections) invites and welcomes the reader and hearer, not only to the Psalter proper, but beyond to a comprehensive vision of life. As such, special consideration may be paid to its anticipatory function and paradigmatic significance.
The somewhat irregular literary structure of Psalm 1 may be summarized by this pair of telescoping statements: “Happy the one . . . whose way is known by the LORD,” and perhaps parenthetically, “Not so the wicked . . . whose way will perish.” (vv. 1, 4, 6). This “didactic poetry” (so Krauss, p. 114) thus presents two ways and their corresponding destinies (see Mays, Psalms, pp. 43–44), thereby exhorting readers and hearers to choose the abundant life (a theme to which the Johannine lections for this Sunday also relate).
Food for Thought
v. 1: The opening word, Heb. ʾašrê (Gk. makarios), is translated as “happy” (e.g., NRSV and JPS) or “blessed” (e.g., KJV and NIV). How does the choice affect the understanding of the identity or character of “the righteous”?
v. 2: “the law” (JPS: “the teaching”) is “the Torah of YHWH” (Gk. nomos kuriou). What is Torah and what is the Christian’s relationship to it? For the semantic range of tôrâ (and much more!), see S. Dean McBride, Jr., “Perspective and Context in the Study of Pentateuchal Legislation” [read at Google Books].
Are life’s possibilities really as starkly opposed as the psalmist concludes? If the profile of the “righteous” strikes one as idealistic and/or hypocritical, it might be instructive to consider the exhortations to perpetual joy, prayer, and thanksgiving in 1 Thess 5:16–18. Many of us may even find it easier to identify, for various reasons, with the “wicked”! How, then, can we preach Psalm 1 without simply moralizing?
Sink Your Teeth into This!
Mays comments that “Psalm 1 teaches that life is a journey through time; living chooses a particular route of existence” (Psalms, p. 43; emphasis mine). Heschel observed that “The Bible is more concerned with time than space” (The Sabbath, pp. 6–7) and that our goal is to “become attuned to holiness in time” (p. 10).
The vital and temporal rhythms of sowing and reaping give root to the Psalm’s contrast of fecundity (“fruit in its season,” v. 3) and barrenness (“chaff that the wind drives away,” v. 4). If the sacred journey is yet one of perpetual struggle with the two ways, then it should come as no surprise that we should experience disproportionate yields in various seasons.
By God’s grace may we all hear this word, accept it, and bear fruit!
For further reading and reflection
John Calvin, Commentary on The Book of Psalms [read at CCEL].
Abraham Joshua Heschel, The Sabbath: Its Meaning for Modern Man (Farrar, Straus and Young, 1951).
Hans-Joachim Kraus, Psalms 1–59: A Commentary (Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House, 1988), 112–22.
James L. Mays, Psalms (Interpretation; Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 1994), 40–43.
James L. Mays, Preaching and Teaching the Psalms (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2006), 161–63.
Eugene H. Peterson, The Message: The Bible in Contemporary Language (Colorado Springs: NavPress Publishing Group, 2002). [read at BibleGateway]
S. Dean McBride, Jr., “Perspective and Context in the Study of Pentateuchal Legislation,” pp. 47–60 in Old Testament Interpretation: Past, Present, and Future (edited by James L. Mays, David L. Petersen, Kent Harold Richards; Nashville: Abingdon, 1995). [read at Google Books].
J. P. Kang is a recent graduate of Union–PSCE (Ph.D., Bible, 2007), and currently calls Seattle home. He was born in Wheeling, WV, to Presbyterian minister Edwin Kang (UTS B.D., 1966) and Mae Kang, and grew up as a missionary kid in Zaïre and Japan. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and via his blog at http://mymachero.com/.