Psalm 1

1 Blessed is the man
who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,
       nor stands in the way of sinners,
nor sits in the seat of scoffers;
   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
       that yields its fruit in its season,
and its leaf does not wither.
       In all that he does, he prospers.
   The wicked are not so,
but are like chaff that the wind drives away.
   Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous;
   for the Lord knows the way of the righteous,
but the way of the wicked will perish. [1]

Do you ever get songs stuck in your head? The words and music play over and over in your brain in a seemingly infinite loop. Maybe it’s a catchy commercial jingle, some TV show theme song, or some pop music masterpiece you just heard on the radio or a podcast. Music drives words into our mind in a way words alone rarely do. The book of Psalms is a book of songs, words set to music written and collected for Israel’s use in temple worship.

Psalms is the most quoted OT book in the New Testament. Jesus used its songs to identify himself as the promised Messiah, both as David’s greater son and as the suffering servant.  The first sermon preached in the NT, at Pentecost (Acts 2), cites Psalm 16 and Psalm 110. Songs, stuck in the heads of the NT writers, explain the person, work, and Kingdom of Messiah Jesus. The Psalms are our entrance into heaven’s opera house where Messiah sings to us, and with us, and for us.

The book of Psalms is a collection of 150 hymns written over the life of Israel from the time of Moses to the people’s return from Babylonian captivity. They were edited into the collection we have beginning in Israel’s exile and finished sometime after their return to Jerusalem. Many of these hymns were written out of deeply personal experiences (73 by David), but they were all intended to be sung collectively by the congregation of Israel during temple worship.

By inspiration of the Spirit, Moses wrote the five books of Torah to instruct Israel’s worship of God. But it was David who “transformed that liturgy into opera…. [He] staged that ritual at the temple (Psalm 132), gave it choreography (Ps. 68:24–27), as well as the music and the libretto of the Psalter (1 Chron. 16:4–6; Psalm 150). The Psalter refers to every aspect of Israel’s liturgy: its sacred site (Mount Zion, Ps. 2:6), its sacred objects (e.g., the altar, Psalm 26), its sacred seasons (e.g., Ps. 81:3), and its sacred …anointed king [Ps. 2:2] …. The dramatic liturgy represents heaven on earth, and worshipers sing these songs to God and to one another in their personal and passionate relationship with the triune God.”[2]

Like the 5 books of Moses, editors collected the hymns of Israel into 5 books, though there is no one-to-one correspondence between the books of the Pentateuch and the books of the Psalms. There is a thematic structure to the 5 sections of the Psalms. Book One (1-41) centers around the psalms of David as he struggled to build his messianic kingdom. Book Two (42-72) focus on Messiah’s victories over the nations climaxed in the worldwide reign of David’s son, Solomon. Book Three (73-89) presents the great conflict between God’s kingdom and worldly kingdoms ending with God’s kingdom scattered and Messianic King’s crown thrown to the dust.[3]

Book 4 of Psalms (90-106) begins with the song of Moses as the great pivot point of the entire collection of Psalms, inviting reflection on the eternal sovereignty of Israel’s covenant God. The theme of book 4 is found in the repeated phrase “the Covenant God is King” (93, 96, 97, 99). Book 5 (107-150) commands God’s people to thankfulness and praise. It’s sprinkled with some Davidic psalms relevant to the time of Israel’s exile. The final section of hymnody reaches its crescendo in the final five psalms with the commanding refrain of Hallelu – YAH like a rolling tympani and crashing symbols blending with into a majestic final chord progression of horns and strings and loud voices crying out in thankful worship.[4]

The Psalms are the musical liturgy of God’s people. But sinful creatures are inherently tempted to use liturgy (“public service”) as a means of trying to manipulate God into giving us what we want. Others of us see this liturgy only as a rigid form for religious procedures. Psalm 1 and 2 form the gateway to all the Psalms, recognizing these human tendencies. The key that opens the gate to the Psalms is not self-interest or self-promotion but delight in the teachings (Torah) of the Covenant God in and through his Messiah, given for humans to learn the will of God for our well-being.[5]

It is God’s Messiah who will bring the kingdom of perfect Torah-keeping righteousness into the world. Psalm 1 focuses on the blessed path of Torah. Psalm 2 points the worshipper to Messiah (the man of Ps. 1). Both set the contrast between the self-worshipping world and worship of the Covenant God (“YHWH”), leading the worshipper into God’s temple. This pattern of a Torah psalm followed by a Messianic psalm is repeated two more times in the psalter (Pss. 18-19, Book One; 118-119, Book Five).[6] Torah and Messiah, law and gospel – both are equally essential for the fulfillment of God’s covenants and his kingdom.[7]


The Wicked

Psalm 1 identifies two groups of people based on their relationship to God’s law. The wicked despise Torah in their attitudes, speech, and actions, while the righteous delight in it. The unknown psalmist sings of three postures: walking, standing, and sitting. The just man will not be found: following the counsel of the godless, standing in the way that sinners go, seated among the scoffers. Warnings against these three categories are found all through the Bible’s wisdom literature, but the scoffers (letsim) are the very climax of evil. Scoffers are the unteachable, so curved inward upon themselves they refuse any reproof from the wise. Outside of this verse and Isaiah 29:20, “scoffer” is found only in the Book of Proverbs (14 times) and is a synonym for the very height of rebellion.[8]

The psalmist shifts back and forth from positive virtue (+) to negative vice (-): -(v. 1), +(v. 2), +(v. 3), -(v. 4), -(v. 5a), +(v. 5b), +(v. 6a), -(v. 6b). His first three verses profile the righteous against the wicked, and his last three, the wicked against the righteous. Striking contrasts abound between them from the first word, “rewarded” [“blessed”] (of the righteous), to the last word, “perish” (of the wicked).[9]

The same idea of a blessed path and a cursed path is found in Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, which is closely connected with the themes of Pss. 1 and 2. The last section of Jesus’ sermon lists a series of choices: “two gates and two roads, two trees and their two types of fruit, two houses, and two foundations. The part regarding the two ways says, “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” (Matt. 7:13–14).”[10]

In Ps. 1:1, the progression along the path of death moves from associating with and listening to the wicked (walks … in the counsel of the wicked), to living like them (stands in the way of sinners), to assuming the seat of the teacher (sits in the seat of scoffers).[11] To sit in the seat is to assume the authority of a rabbi. The scoffer not only rejects Torah but actively teaches others to reject it.

The Righteous Man

The second character of this Torah psalm is the man. He is not simply a blessed man in general. He is the representative man [ אַ֥שְֽׁרֵ ]. He could be translated as the prince, the champion, or even the ruler/teacher (since he sits in the seat of Torah, not the scoffer’s seat).  “It is not man in general. In truth, it really is not simply a “human being.” The underlying words, here translated as “man,” are emphatically masculine—that is, gender specific…. The “man” of reference here is a particular man.”[12]

The first thing our prophet tells us is that this man’s delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night. [13] We hear the word “meditate” and tend to think of some mystic internalization, a quiet pondering of scripture in our hearts. Memorizing and thinking upon scripture is a great spiritual discipline. But this word “meditate” [ יֶהְגֶּ֗ה ] means to speak, to vocalize, even to sing.[14] Our representative man has God’s teachings upon his lips day and night – all the time; there is no time at which our representative righteous man is not speaking God’s word.

Those who pursue wisdom will follow the lead of the blessed man by speaking the teachings of God. In the context of this opening psalm, those seeking blessing will speak and sing the psalter as they worship in the temple of their Covenant God. The Psalms are Torah, not simply in the narrow context of the Mosaic Covenant, but also in the broader context of “the teaching, the instruction of the Lord.”[15]


To what does the prophet compare our blessed representative man who speaks Torah? “He is like a tree /planted by streams of water /that yields its fruit in its season, /and its leaf does not wither. /In all that he does, he prospers.[16]

Can you picture this place with abundant water and fruiting trees where our representative man speaks and does the perfect will of his Covenant God? The book of Psalms, as collected and arranged during and after the Babylonian exile, is about God’s rule over the earth through his Messiah-King. How is God going to make good on his covenant with King David when there is no longer a nation-state of Israel with a Davidic King?

Psalm 1 uses garden imagery to invite our meditation upon the blessed representative man in the state of perfect blessing, the original garden-temple of the Lord where God’s rule upon the earth began through a representative man, Adam.

We see the man planted in a place of abundant water and fruiting trees:

And the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and there he put the man whom he had formed. And out of the ground the Lord God made to spring up every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food. The tree of life was in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. 10 A river flowed out of Eden to water the garden, and there it divided and became four rivers (Gen. 2:8-10).[17]

We see Torah given to the representative man:

15 The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it. 16 And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, 17 but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die” (Gen. 2:15-17). [18]

Then we see man’s descent into death by accepting the teaching of the scoffer (that God’s Torah is a lie):

3 Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’ ” But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate. Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths (Gen. 3:1-7).[19]

Now we see the great problem. Adam, the representative man, rejected Torah. He irredeemably failed. He was exiled from the place of God’s presence (temple) just like Israel was exiled from their temple into a spiritually desolate land. There is only one hope for Adam and for Israel who both sat down in the scoffer’s chair:

15 I will put enmity between you [Satan, the scoffer] and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel” (Gen. 3:15). [20]

How can Adam, or Israel, our you and I constantly delight in and speak of Torah when we repeatedly sit in the seat of the scoffer? Adam, and Israel, and you, and I need another representative man to earn our reentry into the temple, into the paradise of God’s presence. Therefore Psalm 2, a hymn of the Messiah/King, follows this first Torah psalm – law and gospel.

The only way we can delight in Torah and sing of it without ceasing is because we have a representative man who has lived out Psalm 1 on our behalf and paid for us the death we are due. That representative man, not Adam, is the very source of Torah. God’s law describes Messiah. When we delight in Messiah, we delight in Torah.

Paul wrote in Romans 5 that the first representative man, Adam, was “was a type of the one who was to come[21] – Messiah Jesus.

…if many died through one man’s trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many. …For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brought justification. 17 For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.

18 Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. 19 For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.[22]

Our delight in Torah comes NOT in our striving to keep it and our constant failures to do so, but in the representative man who ushers us into the presence of God in a new and eternal garden-temple. There, in that place where no sin has no purchase, we who trust into the perfect life and sacrificial death of the resurrected Messiah will not only live with Messiah but we shall be like him (1 Jn. 3:2). We delight in Torah because we have Torah as our description of who Jesus is. We delight in Torah because it is our promise of who we shall one day be.

Then came one of the seven angels …and spoke to me, saying, “Come, I will show you the Bride, the wife of the Lamb.” 10 And he carried me away in the Spirit to a great, high mountain, and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God, 11 having the glory of God, its radiance like a most rare jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal. …22 And I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. 23 And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb.… 22 Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever. [23]


[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), Ps 1:1–6.

[2] Bruce K. Waltke, James M. Houston, and Erika Moore, The Psalms as Christian Worship: A Historical Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge, U.K.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2010), 129.

[3] O. Palmer Robertson, The Flow of the Psalms (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian & Reformed Publishing, 2015), 6-7.

[4] Id.

[5] Waltke, et, al., 130.

[6] Robertson, 15-16; Eugene Peterson, Answering God (New York: HarperCollins, 1989), 23-25.


[7] Robertson, 54.

[8] Reardon, Patrick Henry. Christ in the Psalms (Kindle Locations 463-465). Conciliar Press / Ancient Faith Publishing. Kindle Edition.


[9] Waltke, et. al.,131.

[10] James Montgomery Boice, Psalms 1–41: An Expositional Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2005), 14.

[11] John Calvin, Psalms, electronic ed., Calvin’s Commentaries (Albany, OR: Ages Software, 1998), Ps 1:1.

[12] Reardon, Kindle Locations 484-487. Conciliar Press / Ancient Faith Publishing. Kindle Edition.


[13] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), Ps 1:2.

[14] Peterson, 26.

[15] Robertson, 57.

[16] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), Ps 1:3.

[17] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), Ge 2:8–10.

[18] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), Ge 2:15–17.

[19] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), Ge 3:1–7.

[20] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), Ge 3:15.

[21] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), Ro 5:14.

[22] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), Ro 5:15–19.

[23] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016), Re 21:9–22:5.