Psalm 1 Translation and Commentary

Translation and Summary

Translation

Verse 1: Blessed is the man, not walks in the counsel of the wicked, in sinners way not stands, and in seat of scoffers not sits;

Verse 2: rather[1], in the instruction of the LORD he delights and in that instruction he meditates day and night.

Verse 3: and he will be like a tree planted above streams of waters, which fruit gives in season and leaf not fade, and all that he does prospers.

Verse 4: Not so the wicked, rather like the chaff which is driven away by wind.

Verse 5: Therefore, not stand wicked in the judgment and sinners in the congregation of the righteous;

Verse 6: because, knows the LORD the way of the righteous but way of wicked perish.

Comparison Summary

            The overall flow of the Psalm is a different between the translations. In Psalm 1 there are three couplets and a mid-point. The ESV and my translation recognize this by using a semicolon in verse 1-2 and verse 5-6 and a period in verse 3-4. Next, of the four translations only mine and the ESV keep the word “אִ֗ישׁ” a male noun and keep it singular. Both the NLT and NIV remove the gender and the NLT makes it plural using the word “those.” The NLT and the NIV keep these themes for the person(s) being spoken of throughout their translations. My translation and the ESV use a literal methodology and that is seen in word choice. An example of word choice is the word “עֲצַ֪ת” (council). The ESV stays with the literal, however, the NLT changes it to “advice” and the NIV translates it “step”, which is the farthest from the literal translation. Obviously, many of the translational choices are about readability. In my translation I intentionally stayed with original word order as much as I could and stayed within the gender and number of the words. This results is my translational being the least readable of the four.

Theological Words Summary

יֶהְגֶּ֗ה (meditate)

The root is “הגה” which is to “moan, growl, utter, speak, muse.”[2] This word is used Joshua[3] in a fashion very similar to Psalm 1. In the Joshua context the word meditate is connected with the concept of speaking the words of the Law. Three alterative uses are in Isaiah 16:7, 38:14, 59:13 where they are translated “mourn,” [4] “I moan,” and “uttering.” The phrases meditate(s) and law appear together in three places Josh 1:8, Ps 1:2, and Ps 119:97. In each of those cases the context is that meditation on the law is brings good.

פִּרְיֹ֨ (fruit)

The root “פרה” is used 344 times in scripture and means “fruit; offspring, descendants; produce.”[5] The nature of this word is that it crosses the testament boundary and is connected by concept/meaning with the word “καρποὺς” (fruit). Jesus in Matthew 7:17 and Paul in Galatians 5:22 use this word “καρποὺς” when talking about the type of actions that someone does or the action that God produces in someone. The use in Psalm 1 is conceptually connected to Jesus and Paul’s usage in that good fruit is evident in the life of those that follow God.

מִּשְׁפָּ֑ט (Judgement)

This root “מִשְׁפָּט” is used 422 times in the old testament and it is about justice: “The term is often used to express both the attribute of justice as well as the execution of judgment in litigation.”[6] A good clear example is, Exodus 23:6 “You shall not pervert the justice due to your poor in his lawsuit.”  This word also has the definite article, indicating a definite time in which this will take place. Conceptually the idea of the judgment has always existed in Biblical language and it is a cross testament concept.

Verse-by-Verse Commentary

1)         The word translated blessed could also be translated as happy.[7] It is the same word used when the Queen of Sheba spoke of the fortune of Solomon’s servants in 1 Kings 10:8. This happy blessing is conditioned on a way of life. In the first verse we see the author use the words walk, sit, and stand. This gives the idea of a full life of activities. When a person is going about their day, they are in one of these three states: walking, standing or sitting. Also connected to the three states are three types of companions, wicked, sinner, and scorner. So, the happy man is the one that, no matter part of the day he is in, is avoiding three types of influence.

2)         The words “כִּ֤י אםִ֥” (because if), which according to Garrett are best rendered “rather,”[8] starts the next verse. This shows that verse two is antithetical parallelism, the opposite of the action in verse one. Verse one is about what the happy man does not do and verse two is about what he does do. The opposite, what he does do, in this case is to imbibe the induction of the LORD. In the first verse, walking, standing and sitting represented the idea of every place in life; the concept of day and night in verse two represent a completed life again. So, this happy man is about the instruction of the LORD in every part of their life. An interesting note is the concept of mediation. Much of western thinking is influenced by far east concepts of meditation. Eastern meditation is usually the practice of completely emptying the mind. The Psalmist here does not seem to think of meditation in the terms of emptying the mind, rather it is the concept of filling the mind in order to mouth or mumble the words of the instruction.

3)         The tree is the concept of life, and the word stream is plural indicating abundant provision. Not just one source of provision but many streams feeding life of success. The end of the verse indicates that this happy man will have a prosperous life. The idea of the prosperity being connected to devotion comes from the Torah, instruction, itself. In Deuteronomy 12:28 Moses charges Israel “Be careful to obey all these words that I command you, that it may go well with you …”

The Psalm is in two parts and the end of verse three represents the mid-point and we understand that verse three and four make up “the centerpiece of the psalm.”[9] The second half of the Psalm acts in an antithetical parallelism to the first half. The first half is about the righteous and the second half about the wicked or ungodly. The first half climaxes in a single statement in in verse three and second half starts out with the single statement and moves into a couplet. Both halves are a direct inverse of each other.

4)         The second half of the Psalm is dedicated to discussing the wicked man and the Psalmist starts with an analogy that the wicked man compared to the righteous man is like grass compared to a tree. The comparison is also about life. The tree is planted and growing but the chaff is the byproduct of dead grasses. This structure appears in Jeremiah 17:5–8, however, the contrast here is more final. As Kidner puts it, the construction in the last half of the Psalm “goes as far beyond Jeremiah’s contrast of fruitful tree and desert shrub.”[10] The emphasis here in verse four is on the chaff and its instability. The wicked are not just dead grasses, they are blown away. They have no place or no footing, again in opposite of the tree that has a place, “above streams,” and a footing in being “planted”.

5)         Right off we see the finality of the word “מִּשְׁפָּ֑ט” (judgement). It carries the definite article. So, it is not some judgment or a possible judgement, is the definitive judgement. Isaiah 2:14 says that the LORD has a day against the wicked.[11] The Psalmist here is also referring to a specific time where the LORD calls to account the actions of the person. Here the reader gets a glimpse into why the righteous person is happy. Not only does the work of the righteous prosper, but by contrast, we understand that the righteous do stand in the judgment. The wicked man has to fear the judgement, the righteous man has no fear and therefore he is happy.

6)         Verse six forms a couplet with verse five, in a very similar fashion to verse one and two. Verse five is about what the wicked will not do and verse six is about what they will do. The final word, “אבד” (to perish) has within its domain the concepts of destruction. It indicated not just a falling away or failing, but also an active destruction. Perhaps the Psalmist intends to make a final statement that if a man cannot stand in the judgment he will be destroyed. The word is also meant to be understood as corresponding to the word “יַצְלִֽיחַ׃” (to prosper). Verse three concludes that the righteous prospers and correspondingly the conclusion for the wicked is to perish.

Application Points

            Blessedness is the first teaching point to emerge. it is worth noting that when Jesus spoke, in the sermon on the mount, he attached this concept of blessings to certain actions that best display the kingdom of God in action. It is important to note here that Jesus’ concept of being blessed is a journey to the cross and that picture of Christ’s successful work leads to the second teaching point.

Success or prospering are concepts that are often misunderstood and very often mishandled in the western evangelical context. It is important to point out that Jesus prospered at all he did, especially in his mission to “to seek and to save the lost.”[12] The prospering of a Christian is tied to the idea of kingdom work in their life. As an example, we see Paul the Apostle considering himself successful in his sufferings.[13]

The last point, the Word of God is what produces righteousness. The blessed man is blessed in being holy, set apart, from the sinner and the wicked and the scoffer and set apart for the instruction of God. Jesus’ words about freedom found in the Word are among the most poignant to understand this: “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”[14]

 

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[1]. Garrett,  D. A., & DeRouchie, J. S. (2009). A modern grammar for biblical Hebrew. Nashville, TN: B&H Academic. 82.

[2]. Francis Brown, Samuel Rolles Driver, and Charles Augustus Briggs, Enhanced Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1977), 211.

[3]. Joshua 1:8

[4]. All Scripture citations are from the ESV unless otherwise noted.

[5]. The Lexham Analytical Lexicon of the Hebrew Bible (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2017).

[6]. Matthew Aernie, “Judgment, Final,” ed. Douglas Mangum et al., Lexham Theological Wordbook, Lexham Bible Reference Series (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2014).

[7]. Joshua G. Mathews, “Blessing,” ed. Douglas Mangum et al., Lexham Theological Wordbook, Lexham Bible Reference Series (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2014).

[8]. Garrett,  D. A., & DeRouchie, J. S. (2009). A modern grammar for biblical Hebrew. Nashville, TN: B&H Academic. 82.

[9]. Derek Kidner, Psalms 1–72: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 15, Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1973), 65.

[10]. Derek Kidner, Psalms 1–72: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 15, Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1973), 65.

[11]. Isaiah 2:14

[12]. Luke 19:10

[13]. Colossians 1:24

[14]. John 8:31–32

 

Bibliography

Derek Kidner, Psalms 1–72: An Introduction and Commentary, vol. 15, Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1973), 65.

Francis Brown, Samuel Rolles Driver, and Charles Augustus Briggs, Enhanced Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1977), 211.

Garrett,  D. A., & DeRouchie, J. S. (2009). A modern grammar for biblical Hebrew. Nashville, TN: B&H Academic.

The Lexham Analytical Lexicon of the Hebrew Bible (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2017).

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