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Copyright © 2008
Willem A. VanGemeren
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Chapter One Text and Exposition
I. Book I: Psalms 1-41
I. Psalms 1-2 Prologue: Wisdom; God's Kingdom; Messianic Agen II. Psalms 3-41 A. Psalms 3-32 Psalms of David 1. Psalms 3-8 From Order to Disorder and Back to Order a. Psalm 3 Trouble; Quietness b. Psalm 4 Trouble; Quietness c. Psalm 5 Trouble; Quietness d. Psalm 6 Deep Trouble e. Psalm 7 From Lament to Confidence in Yahweh to Praise f. Psalm 8 The Glory of Yahweh's Creation; Dignity of the Ideal Human 2. Psalms 9-14 From the Glory of Humans to Their Folly a. Psalms 9-10 From Praise to Lament (9); Abandonment; Oppression; Prayer; Confidence (10) b. Psalm 11 Yahweh's Righteous ness; Collapse of Order c. Psalm 12 Prayer; Prayer of Imprecation; Divine Oracle of Deliverance d. Psalm 13 Great Anguish; Confidence in Yahweh e. Psalm 14 The Folly and Evil of Human Beings 3. Psalms 15-17 Dwelling with Yahweh; Blamelessness; Evil a. Psalm 15 Dwelling with Yahweh; Blamelessness b. Psalm 16 Commitment to Integrity; Eternal Pleasures at Yahweh's Right Hand c. Psalm 17 Commitment to Integrity; Evil; Seeing Yahweh 4. Psalms 18-23 The King: His Victory; His Suffering; His Deliverance; Praise a. Psalm 18 Confidence in Yahweh; Evil; Deliverance; Commitment to Integrity; God's Perfect Word b. Psalm 19 God's Glory in Creation; Perfection of God's Word; Commitment to Integrity c. Psalm 20 Prayer for the King and the Community d. Psalm 21 The King's Joy; Confidence; Praise e. Psalm 22 The king's Abandonment; Suffering; Prayer; Praise f. Psalm 23 Yahweh is the King's Royal Shepherd 5. Psalms 24-28 A Lifestyle of Integrity a. Psalm 24 Yahweh is the Great King over the Earth; Invitation to Integrity b. Psalm 25 A Lifestyle of Wisdom c. Psalm 26 Commitment to Integrity; Prayer for Redemption d. Psalm 27 Confidence in Yahweh's Presence; Prayer; Hope in His Presence e. Psalm 28 Prayer; Evil; Confidence 6. Psalm 29 Yahweh's Glory; His Power in Nature; Redemption of His People 7. Psalms 30-32 Yahweh's Absence and Presence a. Psalm 30 Absence; Pain; Prayer; Restoration b. Psalm 31 Absence; Anguish; Prayer; Presence; Thanksgiving c. Psalm 32 Confession of Sin; Restoration; Presence; Way of Wisdom B. Psalm 33 Orphan Psalm: God's Wisdom in Creation; His Presence with the Godly; Way of Wisdom C. Psalms 34-41 Psalms of David 1. Psalm 34 Thanksgiving; Yahweh's Presence with the Poor in Spirit; Way of Wisdom 2. Psalms 35-41 Evil; Suffering; Prayers for Deliverance a. Psalms 35-37 Evil; Folly; Triumph of Wisdom 1). Psalm 35 Evil; Prayer for Vindication and Joy of Retribution 2). Psalm 36 Evil; Nature of Wisdom and Folly 3). Psalm 37 Invitation to Wisdom; Longevity of the Wise b. Psalms 38-41 Anguish; Confession of Sin; Prayer for Deliverance 1). Psalm 38 Adversities; Anguish; Confession of Sin; Prayer for Deliverance 2). Psalm 39 Nature of Human Existence; Suffering; Hope 3). Psalm 40 Thanksgiving; Commitment to the Lord; Anguish; Confession of Sin; Prayer 4). Psalm 41 The Happiness of the Godly; Sin; Adversity; Prayer for Healing; Confidence in God's Blessing
A. Psalm 1: God's Blessing on the Godly
The first psalm appropriately introduces the book of Psalms, with its pronouncement of blessing on all who respond in fidelity to the God of the covenant. The covenant not only forms the background for distinguishing the righteous from the wicked but also provides the basis for the blessing on the righteous and the curse on the wicked.
The placement of this psalm at the beginning of the Psalter is significant, for it invites anyone to delight himself or herself in the Lord and in his revelation. The Psalter democratizes the prayers of David, Solomon, and the other authors by encouraging anyone to take hold of the instruction (wisdom, laments, praise) of the Psalter. The first psalm sets the tone for the entire Psalter, with its concern for God and godly living and with the hope of ultimate justice (retribution, v.6).
Psalms 1 and 2 are bound together by the opening (1:1) and by closing (2:12) with a blessing. Through these blessings, the Psalter defines the godly as all who delight themselves in the Lord (1:2) and who find refuge in God's anointed one (2:12). But the subsequent psalms (see esp. Pss 3; 25; 32; 40; 41) bear out the weakness of the Davidide. He is weak on account of his many enemies (3:1), because of his sins (40:12; 41:4), and even because of his own rebelliousness (32:3-5). The placement of Psalm 1 is significant in that it sets forth God's "ideal" person (Ps 1). The Davidides did not live up to this ideal. The Psalter is not predicting Jesus as the Messiah, but it is instructing the godly to look for the kind of messiah with whom the Lord is pleased (40:8) and who does not sin against the Lord (40:12). In view of the inherent deficiencies of the Davidides, the Psalter instructs anyone to learn from David's frailty, to await divine retribution, and to long for the "ideal" Davidide.
Psalm 1 sets the tone for the whole Psalter (see Introduction). The happiness of the godly contrasts strongly with the condemnation of the wicked. The future belongs to the godly, even when the wicked are enjoying temporary power and prestige. The godly separate themselves from the control of the wicked in favor of the Lord. Their delight is in him. The idealization of the godly person may well be intentional (see Ps 8), so as to contrast what God expects from his people and especially from the messianic agent (Ps 2). Both Israel and the Davidides failed to live up to this ideal. The best of the godly Israelites and of the Davidides were unable to bring in the state of happiness and peace to which Psalms 1 and 2 (cf. Ps 72) witness. The apostolic reading of the life and ministry of Jesus Christ in the light of the Psalter helps the modern reader see how the Psalter witnesses to Jesus as "the human" who alone has pleased God and by whom alone redemption, happiness, and peace are secure.
Psalm 1 is a wisdom psalm and shares many features common to the book of Proverbs and to other psalms designated as wisdom psalms (34; 37; 49; 73; 111-12; 119; 127-28; 133; see Introduction). Psalm 1 holds forth the blessedness of godliness and encourages the godly to pursue the way of God over against the way of the world. The psalm encourages wisdom as the way of life by emphasizing the blessedness of the righteous, the adversity of the wicked, and the contrasting ways of the righteous and the wicked.
As a didactic psalm, Psalm 1 encourages the pursuit of godliness by contrasting God's rewards and his judgment; therefore, the psalm tends to be idealistic. For example, it does not claim to deal with the totality of human life, such as the problems of suffering (cf. Pss 37; 73; Job) or the meaning of life (Ecclesiastes). The imagery of Psalm 1 resembles Jeremiah 17:7-8 but differs in structure (cf. James A. Durlesser, "Poetic Style in Psalm 1 and Jeremiah 17:5-8," Sem 9 : 30-48). The contrastive juxtaposition between the righteous and the wicked is heightened by the change from positive (P) to negative (N) verbal forms (NPPNNP), as analyzed by Rosario Pius Merendino ("Sprachkunst in Psalm 1," VT 29 : 45-60).
The structural divisions bring out the discriminating way of the godly, who live on earth with a constant consideration of the future when the Lord shall judge the wicked and reward the godly (see W. Vogels, "Structural Analysis in Psalm 1," Bib 60 : 410-16; Miller, Interpreting the Psalms, 81-86). The main divisions are as follows:
A The Discriminating Way of the Godly (vv.1-2) B The Future of the Godly and the Wicked Contrasted (vv.3-5) A' The Discriminating Way of God (v.6)
The structural chiasm (ABB'A') is also found at the beginning and end as an inclusio:
A Dissociation from the Wicked (v.1) B Association with God (v.2) B' God's Association with the Godly (v.6a) A' God's Removal of the Wicked (v.6b)
The first psalm may have consisted of Psalms 1 and 2. According to some ancient MSS, the quotation of Psalm 2:7 in Acts 13:33 is introduced as "the first psalm." In rabbinical traditions, the first two psalms were also united as one (cf. Craigie, 59; b. Ber. 9b). W. H. Brownlee ("Psalms 1-2 as a Coronation Liturgy," Bib 52 : 321-36) argued in favor of the unity of the two psalms. But the evidence is not decisive. In any case, the matter is of no great importance, because the message of the first psalm stands on its own. It is a didactic psalm with an invitation to wise-"godly"-living. The second psalm, a royal psalm, brings out the folly of the nations who do not submit themselves to God and his anointed and concludes with a call for wisdom (2:10-12). The call to respond wisely by dissociation from sinners (1:1) parallels the rebuke to kings and nations to submit themselves to the Lord and his messiah (2:10). Moreover, the introduction "blessed is" at the beginning of Psalm 1 (v.1) forms an inclusio with Psalm 2:12b by the formula "blessed" ('asrê). In spite of these factors, the traditional treatment of each psalm as a unit, bound together by the inclusionary motif ("blessed") and by the appeal to wisdom, is sustained. For a literary evaluation of Psalm 1, see Alter, 114-17.
1. The Discriminating Way of the Godly (1:1-2)
1 Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers. 2 But his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night.
1 The opening phrase of the psalm ("Blessed is the man") is an appropriate introduction to the book of Psalms. The psalms encourage both individuals and the community of God's people to live for God's glory. The formula "Blessed is the man" evokes joy and gratitude, as human beings may live in fellowship with their God. Blessedness is not deserved; it is a gift of God. God declares sinners to be righteous and freely grants them newness of life in which he protects them from the full effects of the world under judgment (Ge 3:15-19). Outside of God's blessing, people are "cursed" and ultimately lead meaningless lives (Ecc 1:2). The word "happy" is a good rendition of "blessed" ('asrê, GK 897), provided one keeps in mind that the condition of "bliss" is not merely a feeling. Even when the righteous do not feel happy, they are still considered "blessed" from God's perspective. He bestows this gift on them. Neither negative feelings nor adverse conditions can take away his blessing.
The blessing of God rested on Abraham (Ge 12:3) and was incorporated into the Abrahamic and Sinaitic covenants (Ge 17:2-16; Dt 7:13; 28:3-6). For the godly, blessing is both the experience and anticipation of the fulfillment of God's promises (cf. Dt 30:15-20). Since a person's being is both physical and spiritual (Ge 2:7), God's blessings extend to the whole person (cf. Pss 34, 127).
While one's "happiness" is a free gift from God, it must be promoted by two kinds of activities-dissociation from the wicked and association with God (v.2). Dissociation is brought out by means of three negative sentences. The godly person does not (1) walk (halak) in the counsel of the wicked, (2) stand ('amad) in the way of sinners, or (3) sit (yasab) in the seat of mockers; rather, such a person reflects on the Lord in his or her walking, standing, and sitting (cf. Dt 6:7; see Gunnel André, " 'Walk,' 'Stand,' and 'Sit' in Psalm i 1-2," VT 32 : 327).
The perfect mood of the verbs in each case emphasizes that the godly are never involved with anything tainted with evil (Jouön, para. 112d). These three descriptions do not represent three kinds of activities of the wicked or a climactic development from walking to sitting or an intensification of the depraved activities of the wicked. Instead, the parallelism is synonymous and profoundly portrays the totality of evil. For a contrastive use of complete loyalty to the Lord, see Deuteronomy 6:7.
There are two possible translations of 'asat resa'îm-"counsel of the wicked" (NIV) and "council of the wicked" (Dahood, 1:1 - 2). The context does not determine the meaning because both meanings are possible. The usage of the phrase elsewhere ("schemes [counsel] of the wicked," Job 10:3; 21:16) and of similar phrases ("the plans [counsel] of the nations," Ps 33:10; "the advice [counsel][of] the elders," 2Ch 10:8, 13) favors the traditional translation-"counsel." The emphasis lies on the folly of the wicked rather than on the act of meeting as a deliberative body. Their whole "way" (derek) is corrupt. "Way" is a common metaphor for "manner of life" (TDOT 3:284-86; TWOT 1:196-97). The psalm contrasts the two ways-the way of sinners and the way of the righteous (v.6).
The "mockers" (lesîm) have no regard for God and his commandments. In the language of wisdom, mockers are fools (Pr 9:8; 14:6). They do not respond to instruction (9:7; 15:12) but stir up strife by their insults (22:10). They delight in mocking (1:22). Thus the way of folly is comprehensive, entailing devotion to self and to the group in all areas of life.
In contrast, the godly are devoted to the Lord in their walking, lying down, and getting up-whether at home or along the road (Dt 6:7; cf. Jos 1:7-8). In all of their activities they keep distant from the ungodly, lest they come under their influence. They carefully guard themselves in their families, businesses, and social relations as they set the terms of their relations while remaining polite and gracious (cf. Pr 25:21-22; 1Co 5:9-13; 2Jn 10-11).
2 The righteous person is positively identified by personal association with "the law of the Lord." The "law" is not to be limited to the five books of Moses or even to the OT as a whole. The Hebrew word tôrâ ("law," GK 9368) signifies primarily instruction that comes from God (see Reflections, p. 220, The Word of God). This is the distinctive difference between revelation and religion (cf. Jacques Ellul, A Living Faith [San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1983], 111-25). Revelation comes from God for the purpose of helping human beings live in harmony with God's will, whereas religion is a human attempt to order one's path and explain the surrounding world. The godly in every age live in accordance with revelation. The contents of the revelation may vary and Christians may dispute how the OT laws relate to the church today; but there should be an earnest search for and delight in doing the will of God as set forth in Jesus' teaching (Mt 6:10; 12:50; 1Jn 3:11-24; 5:2-3; see Thomas E. McComiskey, The Covenants of Promise [Grand Rapids: Baker, 1985], 66-80).
The psalmist does not speak here about the deadening effects of the law but of its life-giving aspects. Life responds to life, and spirit responds to spirit; so it is with the new life of the believer, who responds joyfully to the living God and to the Spirit, who has inspired God's word. The believer's delight is not only in knowing, studying, and memorizing God's Word, but also and especially in doing God's will rather than being deceived by the wicked. C. S. Lewis, 64, incisively observed, "this idea of the Law's beauty, sweetness, or preciousness, arose from the contrast of the surrounding Paganisms.... Christians increasingly live on a spiritual island."
"Delight" (hepsô) expresses all that makes the godly happy. The law is more than their delight-it is their chief desire. The fear of the Lord, as the beginning of wisdom, is expressed as a delight in God's law (112:1; cf. Isa 58:13-14) and not only in pious words or a good feeling about God (cf. TWOT 1:148-49).
Excerpted from Psalms Copyright © 2008 by Willem A. VanGemeren. Excerpted by permission.
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