Lecture 2 - Psalm 1

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Lesson

Exegesis and exposition of Psalm 1

02 Monday 2

Outline

Introduction

I. Life Pictured as a Journey

II. Translation (Important Words)

A. Person

B. Blessed

C. Way

D. Righteous

E. Torah

III. Structures – How is it put together?

A. Stitching, Concentric Parallelism and Couplets (Quatrains)

B. Causes and Consequences

Transcription

Course: Book of Psalms

Lecture: Exegesis and Exposition of Psalm 1

This is the 2nd lecture in the online series of lectures on Psalms by Dr Bruce Waltke. Recommended Reading includes: The Psalms as Christian Lament, James Houston, Bruce Waltke; The Psalms as Christian Worship: An Historical Commentary, James Houston, Bruce Waltke

Introduction

In the Book of Psalms we have hymns such as the songs of Zion and songs celebrating that the Lord is King which is sometimes called an enthronement Psalm. We sing in a hymn, ‘The Lord Reigns.’ There are also petition Psalms which are motifs of which are made up of about five different elements addressing God in some way. There is often an introductory petition with a lament which is a complaint; both terms are sometimes used. But David’s Psalm 51 is a confession psalm which isn’t a complaint, but instead, it is a lament. But other psalms like Psalm 44 where see suffering unjustly; this would be a complaint. They usually contain a section on confidence. What can change the dark mood of despair and bring it into confident petition.  So there is usually a section on trusting God in the midst of your adversity. Then you have the petition itself, but Psalm 63 interestingly enough is no petition. It is only a lament. The solution in Psalm 63 is to remember. And then they end with some form of praise, either going directly into praise or they anticipate that when God answers prayer, they will praise. A subtype of that are songs of confidence such as Psalm 23. This is the confident section of a lament Psalm. The third kind of Psalm is instruction and they punctuate the Psalm that makes it didactic or teaching. So the very first Psalm is not petition nor praise but instruction. This Psalm prepares you for interring into the psalter. Just as you would not enter into worship in an unclean state as God doesn’t want worship from unclean hands. It is abominable to him. So to in approaching Psalms, we need to go through Psalm 1 in order to enter into spirit of humbleness and humility, the place where God wants us. This is not concerned with adherence to the law which is legalism but instead it is concerned with dependence upon God of us to live the life he wants us to live.

I. Life Pictured as a Journey

We will do an exegesis, reflection and exposition of Psalm 1. I call Psalm 1 the Wicket Gate into the Psalter. Entering into Psalms is like comparing our life to Pilgrim’s Progress – we are strangers on the earth and our lives consist of a journey. Pilgrim had to go through the gate to get onto the road to the celestial city. There was no other way otherwise he would have had to return to the city of destruction. So Psalm 1 is the gate that you must go through in order to enter into the Book of Psalms. If you try to bypass this initial Psalm, you may never enter into the understanding of Psalms.

II. Translation

1Blessed is the person who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers;
2 but their delight is in the law of I AM, and on their law they meditate day and night.
3 That person 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 they do, they prosper.
4 The wicked are not so, but are like chaff that the wind drives away.
5 Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous;
6 for (I AM) God knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish.

Let’s look at specific words in this Psalm:

A. Person

The word ‘person’ in Hebrew here is ‘ish’ which is an individual in contrast to others. The individual person however realizes that Israel was a male oriented society. But how do you translate this in terms of inclusive language. One of the problems in translation is the use of pronouns; they are all inclusive: I – male / female, you – male / female, we – male /female and singular plural: they – male / female but when you get to the 3rd person singular it is either he or she and that is the problem. If you say he, I eliminate the she and I don’t think that was the intention of the Scriptures. We learned in Proverbs that the mother taught the child along with the father. For translation, in order to use inclusive pronouns, the shift was ‘blessed are those who’ and then we could go with ‘they’ not just ‘he’. So ‘they’ is now acceptable for the singular. The NIV had not moved in that direction. Anyway, I translated it as ‘person’, so verse 1, ‘blessed is the person.’ Be aware in making such a change, there is something lost in the process. In verse 2, I shifted to the plural in regards to ‘their delight’ and again with the second part of the verse, ‘their law.’ In verse 6, I translated ‘The Lord’ using the words ‘I AM’, as this is what his name means in his own mouth. His name means, ‘I am who I am.’

B. Blessed

For the first word ‘blessed’, what does this mean? Many translate this as happy which is inadequate. I don’t think we have a word for it in English. But in Hebrew there are two different words: baruk  and ashre. Baruk means to be filled with potency for life. It is the ability to reproduce so that when God blessed the creation, it was to be fruitful and multiply. Jesus blessed the disciples but know, of course, that he never married. So Jesus wasn’t saying to them to multiple physically but be fruitful and multiple spiritually. The other way to bless is ashre which means that you have a blessed destiny usually referring to the future. That blessed future is based upon your present relationship with God. According to Job 5:17-18, ‘blessed is the one whom God corrects; so do not despise the discipline of the Almighty.’ For God wounds, but he also binds up; he injures, but his hands also heal. Another illustration is from Matthew 5:3-12; ‘blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.’ So the blessed person is a person who has this future reward. That is not translated through the use of the word ‘happy’. It is more than just being happy. I would translate it as ‘how fortunate’, but the trouble with that is that it sounds like fate. Another point, you can capture the notion through translation but you can never capture the sounds or the original language.

The first three words of the book of Psalm transliterated: Ashre ish Asher (Blessed is the person). Ashre is made up of the difference between A and ice house and an ice house.  Compare the sound in a nice house with that of an ice house. The first letter of the Hebrew Alphabet is phonemic. When you say ‘ice’ it is the way you say the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet as in the sound ‘alif’. Look how it is combined with the ‘sh’, as in shin. So you have Ashre. In ish and asher, you can hear the accent for that. Teaching Hebrew is frustrating because you can’t translate the poetry that is in it. ‘Nor stand in the way of sinners’ was changed in the NIV. To the biblically uneducated, this could be that we are not to oppose sinners.  NIV reads, ‘he does not stand in the way sinners take.’ But the ‘take’ is not in the Hebrew text. This is not correct word but it is conceptually correct, but then the translation is accused of being inaccurate. Know that poetry is fugitive language, it is short and concrete. It is an elevated style of speaking. This psalm also has two dominate metaphors in it; comparisons of life. One is verse 3 of tree and chaff in verse 4, while the other comparison is of way in verse 6.

C. Way

The word ‘way’ is a dominate metaphor throughout Scripture. Jesus says, ‘I am the way, the truth and the life’, and ‘walk in the way.’ It deals with character and disposition; when you talk about a way, you commit yourself to it which in turn reflects on your heart. A basic disposition that in God’s sovereign grace moves us to walk in a certain way, so the first cause of all good is God. A perfect gift comes from God; faith comes from God. There is no good thing in us. We do not generate faith; we are totally dependent upon God. My heart is inclined toward you, oh God. The second one is context; as you are in a community, you are in context of those who are saints. We minister to sinners and we are identified with the people of God. We should live in the context of God’s Word, not in the context of what is on television or the internet or the movies which is more and more, simply, sex and violence. We should live in the context of faith, hope and love and virtue. These things are part of the ‘way’.  The third one is the conduct itself; how and where to walk. What exactly do you do? So you have the basic nexus of cause and consequences. Blessed is the person who has this way, who walks in the way of character, context, conduct and consequence.

We have an inclusion, an item that begins and ends with the same. It begins with a metaphor of way and ends with the metaphor of way. So he doesn’t walk in the way of sinners for the Lord knows the way of the righteous in verses 1 and then in verse 6; for the Lord in that context, character and conduct and consequence. That is where God is, for God knows that way and therefore because God is spirit, he is there in that way and thus you are participating in eternal life because you are with God and his way. Your spirit and his spirit are united, whereas the way of the wicked, God is not there at all. There is no presence of God and therefore it is death.

D. Righteous

The next word I deal with is the word, ‘righteous’.  In the Book of Proverbs, righteous are those who disadvantage themselves to advantage others. And the wicked are those who disadvantage others to advantage themselves. So the righteous give way to the other person, but the wicked put themselves before the other person. I want to quote Thomas McCreesh who wrote the book ‘Biblical Sound and Sense’. In his explanation of righteous, he divides it into two paragraphs; the first starts off with regards to God and the second starts off with regard to humanity. The righteous and the wicked are dominate throughout the Book of Psalms. He says then, ‘With regard to God: “depend on God for protection (34:6[7[), plead to God for forgiveness (38:18[19]; worship God in humility (17:15). They call on and align themselves with the righteousness of God (5:9[8[). (All of this comes out of the Psalms) They are rooted in the house of I AM, feed on his word and find access to God through prayer. They relate to God as a servant to a king who is their lord. Their child-like faith in his reign is their ultimate source of security. Their affirmation, “I AM reigns” is often offered amid circumstances that would seem to indicate that the wicked reign. With regard to humanity, in aligning themselves with God they love and serve their neighbors. Their faith in God and their obedience to him are inseparable (Psalms 15, 24). They have clean hands and pure hearts (24:4a). Ethics begins with dependence upon God, not an adherence to a legal code.’

When we stand before God, we are weak and therefore we ask God to keep us from temptation. We can’t handle the wicked world around us; we need God to handle it for us. In Psalm 23, we pray, don’t lead me into temptation. The stand of the righteous before God sets them apart from the wicked. While the righteous praise God (33:1) and pray to God when in trouble (37:39-40), the wicked – almost always a group – flatter themselves (36:3a) and seek to advance their own cause at any cost. Greedy for gain, the wicked curse and renounce I AM (10:3). This difference between the righteous and the wicked in turn produces a way of life that is diametrically opposed to each other. The wicked are oppressive and violent and take advantage of the righteous. The righteous are often powerless before the wicked and therefore seek God’s mercy and justice (Psalm 143).’ Note that the righteous never take it into their own hands to avenge themselves. They depend upon God.

E. Torah

The last word that I need to discuss is the Law or Torah in Hebrew. Torah basically means catechistic instruction. It is not a legal term of the law with penalties. The Ten Commandments have no penalties to them. They are a way of life; it is a catechism. This is the way of life, you believe God redeemed you; he gives us a destiny and hope and as a result we live a way that is pleasing to him. So Torah means teaching and Torah refers to the Mosaic Law throughout the Psalms. So the Psalms are consistent with Moses and any teachings from the Old Testament must be consistent with Moses, and any teachings from the New Testament must be consistent with Paul. Note that in this sense, Mt Sinai is greater than Mt Zion, if we can use this analogy. 

III. Structures – How is it put together?

A. Stitching, Concentric parallelism and Couplets

Now the job of exegesis is find out what God wants to say in the Scripture. Now God is ascetic; he is a poet and the way of teaching theology is through poetry. You could look at this in a number of ways. The first point is a stitching effect. So here the idea of stitching can be seen by assigning a (+) to the righteous and a (-) to the wicked. So we have: he delights is in the law of the Lord (+), that person is like a tree (+), then the others are like chaff (-), the wicked do not stand (-), the righteous stand (+), the Lord knows the way of the righteous (+), and finally, the way of the wicked (-). So it goes minus, plus, plus, minus, minus, plus, plus, plus, and minus. This is part of the poetry you see. It is stitched together by this alternation of plus and minus.  Now, we see in C.S. Lewis in his reflection on the Psalms where he says a lot of good things. He has been canonized in the Anglian church and the American Episcopalian Church, but I think people quote him too authoritatively. The whole of his apologetics is based on the free will of man. In reflection of the Psalms, he says that Psalms are like pieces of embroidery or Danish lace. It has all kinds of patterns and designs to it. You can outline it in number of ways. It depends on what pattern you want to follow. In addition to the stitching pattern, you could have two equal halves based on ‘way’. The first half would be the way of the righteous and the second half is the way of the wicked. This comes in the form of concentric parallelism. Look at the following:

Two equal halves based on ‘way’ – Concentrix Parallelism

 

Verses

I. Way of righteous

1-3

 

A. Cause: Character, context, conduct

1-2

 

 

B. Consequence pictured: tree (leaves and fruit)

3a

 

 

 

C. Consequence in future plainly stated: prospers

3b

II. Way of Wicked

 

 

 

 

C’. Consequence plainly stated: No prosperity

4a

 

 

B’. Consequence pictured (future): chaff

4b

 

A’. Cause: the Lord knows way of righteous

5-6

 

The way of the righteous will have life and eventually be rewarded while the consequences of the wicked will not have life nor will they be rewarded. The Lord knows the way of the righteous which is the cause. We also can look at it in terms of couplets which are very common. This relates to a quatrain which is a poem that consists of pairs like 1, 2; 3, 4; 5, 6 and this is how I’m going to exposit this Psalm. It begins with the cause of the way of verses 1 and 2; then the consequences are pictured in verses 3 and 4 which is in the present being the tree verses the chaff. The consequences are plainly stated with respect to the future. That is how I look at it, as three Quatrains.

B. Causes and Consequences

First of it begins with renouncing the way of sinners and in verse 1; it is dealing with a progressive hardening of sin. There are two figures of speech here, one is an anabasis and the other is katabasis. An anabasis is Greek for building up whereas katabasis is building down. For anabasis we have counsel, then way and then seat in verse 1. You start with a way of thinking which leads to a way of behaviour and which to a seat. That is paired with a katabasis from walking, standing and sitting, a slowing down. So we have the heightening and the slowing all going together. Beginning with the counsel, there is a progressive hardening into sin and it is getting worst and worst. The Moral to this from Alexander Pope who says that vice is a monster so frightful as to be hated/need but to be seen but seen too often, too familiar that face/we must first endure, then pity, then embrace. For me being 85 years of age, there was a time when homosexuality was a vice of so frightful mien as to be hated, needs but to be seen but with the 1960s with the sexual revolution it becomes too familiar that face/ we must first endure as a sickness in the 1970s, and then with Clinton we embraced it in 1992 when he wanted to put homosexuals in the military and the president stood behind it. And now the serpent has driven the saint out of the garden. I illustrate this with the Medusa from Greek mythology with the snaky hair and hideous face. The myth was a profound insight; if you looked fully on its face, your heart would turn to stone; you wouldn’t see it anymore. I suggest that we all have Medusa boxes in our living rooms looking at sex and violence full force and our hearts have turned to stone. We are no longer affected by it. Our hearts have hardened due to this influence. This tells us a lot in terms of the context of the way in regards to the things we see and the literature we read. Another illustration comes from the novel of Stevenson’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Dr. Jekyll started out as this very kind and good doctor, but he understood that there was another side to him and dabbled with the possibility of giving expression to that other side by drinking a toxin and thus becoming the diabolical Mr. Hyde where eventually in taking his magical potion; He decides not take it one time but yet he turned into Mr. Hyde without drinking it. This is a progressive hardening into sin.

This is in contrast to the positive person who delights in the way of the Lord. Interesting, why did David find the Law as a tree of life where Paul found it a sword that killed him. The reason being, Saul came at it as a legalist, trying to adhere to it and it killed him, whereas the psalmist delighted in the Law with a total dependence on it. Therefore it could produce fruit in him and that is why you have a tension between Saul/Paul and the Psalms but Paul came at it from his own narrative as a Pharisee of Pharisees, a legalist who was going to adhere to the Law and it killed him. He couldn’t do it as none of us can. The Psalmist approaches it in terms of righteousness, not as the Pharisees understood righteousness but as the Psalmist understood righteousness which is in childlike dependence upon God. By his delight, he reflects the new heart; he loves this teaching. Be careful of the context of dispensationalism here; the Word is not just addressed to the Jews as they would say but to Christians as well. So there is the Law which is the Word of God and the Word being Jesus Christ. The final Word of God is the New Testament with the Gospels and the Epistles. So we have the whole Word of God and we are not limited to the Torah of Moses, but we have the Torah of our Lord Jesus. He mediates on the Word of God; he accepts it as a treasure and pays attention to it in prayer and seeking God. In Proverbs, the question is posed: how do you find the fear of the Lord with the answer being: my son accept my teaching and store up my commands and pay attention to them. Then he says to cry out for it and seek it like choice silk, silver and gold. This is what I mean by meditate.

In regards to consequence, you will be like a tree planted by streams of water. The word ‘streams’ means canals and there are other words associated with flowing water. There is a picture that came from the time of Ashurbanipal in Nineveh around 600 BC. The picture portrayed a temple on the topic of the picture with gardens along the side and down below. The King is in prayer in front of the pavilion in front of the temple. There is a river that is flowing from the temple, a river of life with canals coming off of it that water the garden below the temple. This is what the Psalmist has in mind in regards to the streams of water with the source being the Word of God. This is the metaphor: the Word of God is like a picture with streams of water coming off of it that produces the tree of life. This picture also has an altar on the sacred way up to the temple. By consequence you have the chaff that has no life, no worth, no root and no endurance. It doesn’t stand in time of judgement; it is righteousness that only endures. So all the pride and pomp ends up being a dead corpse.

Duration

53 min

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