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March 22, 2019

What do "person" and "blessed" mean in Psalm 1?

Curious Christian Blog, at BiblicalTraining.org

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 two specific words in this Psalm: person and blessed.

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 third person singular, it is either 'he' or 'she' and that is the problem. If you say 'he', you 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. 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 words. His name means, ‘I am who I am.’

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 ashreBaruk 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 we know, of course, that he never married. So Jesus wasn’t telling them to multiply physically, rather be fruitful and multiply 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 (µακάριος) 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 (Μακάριοι) 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 icehouse'.  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 a correct word but it is conceptually correct. So 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. 

Reflection

How should the words 'person' and 'blessed' be translated in Psalm 1? Is blessed the same as 'happy?' Why is it so important that you have a correct definition? How can you consider yourself as 'blessed' even in the 'unhappy' times?

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