Notes based on J. Clinton McCann Jr. Great Psalms of the Bible (Westminster John Knox Press, Louisville KY, 2009).
It is not a coincidence that the Book of Psalms begins with this one. Beginnings, endings etc. matter.
What does it mean to “be blessed / be happy”? Did they understand this in a way different than most of us today? “Blessed are the poor ….”
God’s Law = Torah = God’s Word, teachings = 5 Books of Moses = Bible + rabbinic interpretation and re-interpretation over time = Jesus, the Word made flesh (for Christians)
Psalm 1 essentially advocates a God-centered life as opposed to a self-centered life. This is rather counter-cultural today. What this would really mean, then and now, is laid out in the whole of the Psalms and all of the Torah.
Psalms were the hymns of the temple and have been the hymns of the church for nearly three millennia. “lex orandi, lex credendi” = what we pray is what we believe. In essence – the heart precedes the head, and not the other way around. (Which is why it can be SO hard to change someone else’s mind with a discussion of the facts.) Worship (prayers, gestures, words, symbols, etc.) shapes us slowly and subtly and over time as a community and as individuals.
1 Blessed is the man who does not walk
in the counsel of the wicked,
Nor stand in the way of sinners,
nor sit in company with scoffers.
2 Rather, the law of the LORD is his joy;
and on his law he meditates day and night.
3 He is like a tree planted near streams of water,
that yields its fruit in season;
Its leaves never wither;
whatever he does prospers.
4 But not so are the wicked, not so!
They are like chaff driven by the wind.
5 Therefore the wicked will not arise at the judgment,
nor will sinners in the assembly of the just.
6 Because the LORD knows the way of the just,
but the way of the wicked leads to ruin.
Verse 1 notes
The “happy” are the righteous.
The “wicked” are also called sinners, scoffers. Later in Psalms: enemies, foes, adversaries, evil-doers. A scoffer, then as now, refuses to be taught / to learn. We know they exist today – that they existed back then is perhaps a surprise. (p. 5) “In a word, wickedness is extreme autonomy – self assertion and self-directedness – over against God and God’s teaching.”
The righteous are NOT perfect or sinless – but those who strive to do God’s will, those engaged in the attempt to live a God-centered life. It is NOT, therefore, a state of being that can be attained, it is a way of living.
Verse 2 notes
Torah night and day – be in relationship with God. It’s NOT a matter of simply studying or learning. Pirke Avot 3:12 “… Anyone whose good deeds exceed his wisdom, his wisdom will endure; but anyone whose wisdom exceeds his good deed, his wisdom will not endure.”
Pirke Avot 2:9 “… If you have studied much Torah, do not take credit for yourself, because that is what you were created to do.” Baltimore Catechism: Why were you created? To know, love and serve God in this world and the next.
Verses 3 and 4 notes
The tree planted by the water will thrive in good times, endure the bad times. Not so the chaff- without roots and without substance they are easily blown away.
Pirke Avot 3:22: “…But one whose good deeds exceed his wisdom, to what is he likened? – to a tree whose branches are few but whose roots are numerous; even if all the winds in the world were to come and blow against it, they could not budge it from its place, …”
(p. 9) “For Psalm 1, the book of Psalms, and the Bible in general, locating oneself in relationship to God means enduring happiness and life; choosing alienation from God means destruction and death.”
Verses 5 and 6 notes
May be a light foreshadowing of a belief in a Final Judgment but McCann thinks it unlikely (early date for the Psalms, late date for belief in judgment and resurrection). Perhaps it is the judgment of bad times, the judgment of suffering, even the judgment that comes with death (and the consequent looking back over ones life), the judgment after death when the wicked are quickly buried and forgotten.
Psalm 1 for today
70’s dubbed the “ME decade”
(p. 11): “To be sure, selfishness and self-assertion have always been a problem in human history (see Gen. 3), but coupled with our incredible affluence, our range of options, and our dazzling technology in contemporary North America, the danger is that we will raise selfishness to a whole new level.”
Isolation of the self from other people, nature / creation, from God. What appears to be good for me today without consideration of the rest of the world or tomorrow.
Defining ourselves based on what we have accumulated vs who we ARE.
(p. 12) “… our misguided pursuit of happiness is producing isolation, alienation, addiction, boredom, and conformity, Psalm 1 invites a pursuit of happiness that promises relationship with god and with one another.”
“GOD Neighbor Self” versus “SELF”
BIBLIOGRAPHY FOR THE PSALMS
Alter, Robert. The Book of Psalms: A Translation with Commentary. (W. W. Norton, New York, 2007).
Brown, William P. Psalms. Part of the Interpreting Biblical Texts series edited by Gene Tucker. (Abingdon Press, Nashville, 2010).
Clifford, Richard J. Psalms 73-150. Part of the Abingdon Old Testament Commentaries edited by Patrick Miller. (Abingdon Press, Nashville, 2003).
Dahood, Mitchell. Psalms I – 1-50: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary. Volume 16 of the Anchor Bible Commentary series edited by W. F. Allbright and David Noel Freedman. (Doubleday, Garden City NY, 1965).
———————– Psalms Ii – 51-100: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary. Volume 17 of the Anchor Bible Commentary series edited by W. F. Allbright and David Noel Freedman. (Yale University Press, New Haven CT, 1968).
———————– Psalms III – 101-150: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary. Volume 17A of the Anchor Bible Commentary series edited by W. F. Allbright and David Noel Freedman. (Yale University Press, New Haven CT, 1970).
Krauss, Hans~Joachim. Theology of the Psalms. Part of the Continental Commentary series. Translated by Keith Crim. (Fortress Press, Minneapolis, 1992).
———————– Psalms 1 ~ 59. Part of the Continental Commentary series. Translated by Hilton C. Oswald. (Fortress Press, Minneapolis, 1993).
———————– Psalms 60 ~ 150. Part of the Continental Commentary series. Translated by Hilton C. Oswald. (Fortress Press, Minneapolis, 1993).
Mays, James. L. Psalms. Part of the Interpretation Bible Commentary series edited by James L. Mays, Patrick D. Miller and Paul J. Achtemeier. (John Knox Press, Louisville, 1994).
McCann Jr., J. Clinton. Great Psalms of the Bible. Westminster John Knox Press, Louisville, 2009).
Schaefer, Konrad. Psalms. Part of the Berit Olam Studies in Hebrew Narrative & Poetry edited by David W. Cotter. (Liturgical Press, Collegeville: MN, 2001)
Webster, Brian L. and David R. Beach. The Essential Bible Companion to the Psalms: Key Insights for Reading God’s Word. (Zondervan, Grand Rapids: MI, 2010).
For the leader. A psalm of David.
2 The heavens declare the glory of God;
the firmament proclaims the works of his hands.
3 Day unto day pours forth speech;
night unto night whispers knowledge.
4 There is no speech, no words;
their voice is not heard;
5 A report goes forth through all the earth,
their messages, to the ends of the world.
He has pitched in them a tent for the sun;*
6 it comes forth like a bridegroom from his canopy,
and like a hero joyfully runs its course.
7 From one end of the heavens it comes forth;
its course runs through to the other;
nothing escapes its heat.
8 The law of the LORD is perfect,
refreshing the soul.
The decree of the LORD is trustworthy,
giving wisdom to the simple.
9 The precepts of the LORD are right,
rejoicing the heart.
The command of the LORD is clear,
enlightening the eye.
10 The fear of the LORD is pure,
The statutes of the LORD are true,
all of them just;
11 More desirable than gold,
than a hoard of purest gold,
Sweeter also than honey
or drippings from the comb.
12 By them your servant is warned;
obeying them brings much reward.
13 Who can detect trespasses?
Cleanse me from my inadvertent sins.
14 Also from arrogant ones restrain your servant;
let them never control me.
Then shall I be blameless, innocent of grave sin.
15 Let the words of my mouth be acceptable,
the thoughts of my heart before you,
LORD, my rock and my redeemer.
Psalm 119 (portion)
1 Blessed those whose way is blameless,
who walk by the law of the LORD.
2 Blessed those who keep his testimonies,
who seek him with all their heart.
3 They do no wrong;
they walk in his ways.
4 You have given them the command
to observe your precepts with care.
5 May my ways be firm
in the observance of your statutes!
6 Then I will not be ashamed
to ponder all your commandments.
7 I will praise you with sincere heart
as I study your righteous judgments.
8 I will observe your statutes;
do not leave me all alone.