Exegetical Insight on Psalm 1 (part 1)
John D. Telgren

In some ways, the 1st Psalm is a wisdom Psalm in that it gives us a picture of a successful life for the righteous. In the first three verses, the Psalm reflects on the characteristics of the righteous.

1) The righteous do not hang out with the wicked. “O the blessedness of the man who does not walk in the counsel of wicked ones, and in the way of sinners does not stand, and in the seat/dwelling of scorners does not sit/remain (Psalm 1:1).” The Psalmist declares that the righteous do not stand with or remain with the wicked. No matter how hip, cool, or in they are, he doesn’t spend all his time in their hang out.

2) The righteous delight in God’s instruction. “But in the instruction of Yahweh is his delight, And in his instruction he muses/growls/meditates by day and night (Psalm 1:2)." The righteous “muses” on the Lords instruction. This word is used of the sound a lion, (Isa 31:4) and the sound of a dove (Isa 38:14; 59:11). When used of people, it means to mutter or mumble. What an interesting choice of words! As a lion purrs when they are content, the righteous delights in the instruction of Yahweh. He gets excited about spending time with the Lord’s word! It invokes an emotional reaction similar to the purring of a lion.

3) The righteous are solid. “And He is like a tree transplanted by channels/canals of waters which gives its fruit in its time and its foliage does not whither (Ps 1:3a).” Some Bibles translate “peleg” as “rivers” or “streams,” which is incorrect. “Peleg” means canal or channel. It is man made. So the image is not of a lush countryside with a huge oak tree at the edge of a great river. The image is of a countryside with sparse water and an irrigation ditch with a tree transplanted by it. There is a scarcity of water in that place, but in the middle of it is this healthy tree that has been cultivated. It is a healthy tree that doesn’t whither and die in the heat. But it takes work. The ditch has to be maintained, and the tree has to be pruned.

4) The righteous are productive. “...which gives its fruit in its time and its foliage does not whither, and all that he does, he causes to advance/prosper (Ps 1:3b).” This is a tree that bears fruit. All that he does, he causes to advance, or proper. In other words, the righteous are successful. In fact, the word “blessedness” at the beginning of this Psalm is not the normal word for blessedness. In Hebrew, it is usually “barak.” This word is “ashar,” which has the root meaning of advancing or going forward. Verse four closes with the same thought. The righteous advance, they progress. The righteous ones are successful.

Being successful begins with delighting in God and with not hanging out with the wicked. This is an affirmation for us as we spend time reading and reflecting on God’s word. In our time, we will bear fruit as the tree of the Psalm.