Psalm 1

The Hebrew word (’ashréy) and the corresponding Greek term (makários), in the Septuagint, are descriptive of an enviable or highly desirable state, one of well-being and contentment. These expressions have been defined as meaning “blessed,” “happy,” “fortunate,” “privileged,” and “prosperous.” In the context of this psalm, the Hebrew term is descriptive of the rewarding, secure, and contented life of a devoted servant of God. This kind of life results from an implicit trust in the Almighty.

“Man” is a rendering of the Hebrew ’ish, not ’adhám (earthling), and may, in this case, designate one who has the bearing or dignity of a man. He would be a man in the real or best sense of the word. Such a man is pronounced “fortunate” because of what he refuses to do and also on account of what he practices.

He “does not walk in” or follow the counsel or advice of the “wicked,” those whose attitude, words, and deeds are contrary to the dictates of a clean conscience and the revealed will of God. Instead of acting on their advice, he rejects their principles or manner of thinking, dealing, and acting.

Such a man “does not stand in the way” or path of “sinners” — of those habitually missing the mark of moral rectitude in attitude, speech, and action. To “stand” in their way would mean deliberately to position himself in their path, persisting in following the same course they do. Instead, he shuns their “way” completely.

“Ridiculers” are persons who mock all that is good, upright, and godly. In the Septuagint, the Hebrew word (lits, luts) for “ridiculer,” “mocker,” or “scorner” is rendered loimós, which signifies “plague,” “pestilence,” or “pest” and, therefore, one who is a plague to others, a pestilent person, or a troublemaker. The man who is pronounced “fortunate” does “not sit in the seat of ridiculers.” Never is he found in the company of insolent mockers. He does not seat himself with them, placing himself in their circle and joining them in insolently mocking what is deserving of praise.

More is involved, however, than rejecting the advice of godless persons and avoiding their company. The psalmist next focused on positive action. To introduce what the reverential man does, he used the expression ki ’im (evidently meaning “but”). In the Septuagint, ki ’im is translated allá (but), which is a stronger indicator of contrast than (also meaning “but”).

The individual’s delight is “in the law of YHWH.” At the time this psalm was composed, the Mosaic law served as the divine guide for the Israelites. Its lofty principles set them apart from other peoples and, when followed, resulted in blessings for them. (Deuteronomy 28:1-14; Isaiah 48:17)

The ultimate Source of this law is not a nameless higher power, but a personal God who has communicated his will and purpose to humans. Based on his words to Moses, the four Hebrew consonants, YHWH, making up this name evidently incorporate the verb “to be” (Exodus 3:14; compare the Septuagint reading, egó eimi ho ón [I am the one who is], and the words of Revelation 1:4, ho ón kaí ho en kaí ho erchómenos [the one who is and who was and who is coming]). In view of the Septuagint reading of Exodus 3:14 and the words of Revelation 1:4, the name apparently identifies the Supreme Sovereign as the One who is and continues to be and as the ultimate Source of everything that exists and that will come to be in fulfillment of his word and purpose. The name stands as an absolute guarantee that the Supreme Sovereign would never deviate from what he has declared or revealed he would prove himself to be. He and his word, therefore, are deserving of the utmost confidence. Whereas the Greek eimi (am) is in the present tense, the Hebrew expression ’ehyéh is in the imperfect state. Hence, the words of Exodus 3:14, ’ehyéh ’ashér ’ehyéh, may be rendered “I will be who I will be.” This suggests that the Almighty would prove to be exactly who he has revealed himself to be. (A fragment of a Greek translation of the book of Leviticus [thought to date from the first century BCE] transliterates the divine name as IAO, which would suggest the pronunciation Yahoh. This Greek transliteration may have been widely known, for it is found in the writings of the historian Diodorus Siculus [c. 80 BCE to c. 20 BCE]. Diodorus Siculus mentioned Moses [Moyses] and the God who is invoked as Iao. [Book I, 94])

Recognizing that adhering to YHWH’s law would result in benefits and blessings to himself and others, the godly man finds “delight” (chéphets) or pleasure in it. The Septuagint rendering for chéphets is thélema (wish or desire), a rendering suggesting that the upright man truly wants to live up to the “law of YHWH.”

“He meditates on his law day and night.” The Hebrew word for “meditate” (hagáh) can also mean “wail” or “mourn,” “growl” (like a lion), or “coo” (make a mournful sound like a dove). (Isaiah 16:7; 31:4; 38:14) In this context, hagáh describes the indistinct, audible speaking to oneself as when muttering, making sounds comparable to mourning, cooing, or growling. The expression “day and night” is indicative of continued reflection on YHWH’s law. There is never a time during the periods of wakefulness — whether day or night — when the upright man forgets about the “law of YHWH.” In his attitude, words, and actions, such a man always seeks to follow it.

On account of finding pleasure in obedience to the “law of YHWH,” making it his constant concern, the reverential man enjoys the security that is comparable to a firmly rooted, flourishing tree planted by a never-failing source of water. Even in a period of drought, such a tree will bear fruit and its leaves will not wither. Likewise, the righteous man’s activity (his fruitage) will be crowned with success. Because of desiring to be guided by YHWH’s law in all he does, the upright man enjoys blessed results. Unlike a tree from which unripe fruit drops and the leaves of which wither from lack of water, he succeeds, prospers, or flourishes in what he undertakes. This does not mean that the righteous man is exempt from the trials, afflictions, and failures common to human experience. His living as a devoted servant of God, however, will never lead to disappointment or frustration. There is the enjoyment of security by reason of experiencing God’s love and tender care.

For the wicked, persons who repeatedly refuse to heed YHWH’s law, there is no stability, no security. As in verse 2, the Hebrew expression ki ’im (but [verse 4]) is rendered allá in the Septuagint and serves as a marker of contrast. Even though the ungodly may seem to prosper for a time on account of their clever scheming, they are not immune to being brought to justice. Like the wind that separates the grain from the worthless chaff, the day of reckoning will expose the wicked. They will then come to nothingness, as if being blown away like the refuse of the winnowing process.

The wicked will not be shielded from a calamitous fall when judgment is passed upon them. Instead of being vindicated by the judgment and thus standing as approved persons on account of a favorable verdict, they will be condemned for their lawless deeds. Sinners, persons who deliberately and habitually miss the mark of moral rectitude in attitude, word, and deed, will not succeed in representing themselves as being part of the assembly of the righteous. Any pretense on their part will be exposed as a worthless sham.

Because YHWH knows the way of the righteous, lawless ones have no hope of passing themselves off as belonging to the company of the upright and thereby escaping adverse judgment. YHWH recognizes as approved only the way or course that upright persons follow. The Hebrew word for “know” (yada‘) or “recognize” can include the thought of “watching” or “taking note.” Accordingly, YHWH also observes the conduct of the righteous and blesses it.

The way of the wicked, on the other hand, is comparable to a path that leads nowhere. It has no noble end in view. This way is like a path that eventually becomes indistinguishable from the surrounding terrain. Like such a path, the way of the wicked will “perish,” dead-ending. Since the Almighty will not tolerate the wicked indefinitely, the way they are following will come to a disastrous termination.