Personal integrity — Psalm 1

Psalms in Book 1

Psalms in Book 1 (Psalms 1 to 41) are mostly personal songs, so I will be looking at how they apply to us personally. Social and communal aspects of life and work do not come in until the later books of psalms.

The first two psalms introduce themes that set the scene for the rest of the psalms. What I intend to do, unless the meaning is absolutely clear is to look at the different meanings that are there rather than to find a definitive meaning and say, “You are wrong” to the rest. But looking at different meanings is an academic exercise, which suits my autistic mind, but I also want to listen to the Holy Spirit to hear what God is saying to me now.

A sinle tree stands out against the night sky and is reflected in a lake.
He is like a tree planted by streams of water
Free photo by Pixabay on

The books of Psalms are roughly themed like this:

Book 1: Psalms 1 – 41: God is beside us.
Book 2: Psalms 42 – 72: God goes before us
Book 3: Psalms 73 – 89: God is all around us.
Book 4: Psalms 90 – 106: God is above us.
Book 5: Psalms 107 – 150: God is among us.

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[b] 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 judgement,
    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.

Psalm 1 ESVUK

In all that he does, he prospers

I have looked at various commentaries on this little psalm. The first one quoted verse three as if it applied to all people who do what is right by changing the subject to righteous people. The subject is the man who is blessed, or as the Jewish commentators say, the happy man. It is clear from verse 1 that this is about a singular man. Conservative evangelicals tend to apply scripture which is written about social or communal aspects of faith and apply them to individuals and conservative traditional Christians tend to do the opposite, take scripture about the individual and apply it communally. Liberal christians apply verses which are individual in a social way. I am not saying that they are wrong, there are reasons for this, and I am making wide generalisations here. Most Christians are theologically in the jumble that is the middle.

So who is the man who is happy?

Jewish themes talk about the happy man. The word blessed in verse one translates in different ways, one of which is happy and the word man uses a particular singular word in Hebrew. My Jewish source points out that the word law is tora, but it is not only to be meditated on but delighted in, not applied so rigidly that it becomes a burden on people. The Jewish commentary has this as Torah, the written law of God, but the word can also be applied more generally as instruction.

Saint Augustine said that the man, in the singular, points forward to Jesus Christ the Messiah—both Christ and Messiah are words meaning anointed. This was a new idea at the time, the Jewish commentators do not hold this as a Messianic psalm, in contrast with the other psalm that introduces the themes of the psalms, Psalm 2.

What is Psalm 1? It is a wisdom psalm, using language like that of Proverbs and Ecclesiastes. so when it says that the man who is happy because he delights in instruction prospers it is not saying that he always prospers. It also means that the word man is figurative, applying to any human individually. Wisdom literature is an early form of philosophy asking figurative questions. Yes bad things can happen to good people, and that is a main theme in both Job and Ecclesiastes, both in Scripture’s collection of wisdom books.

So how does this affect me? God has been speaking to me since mid-June (I am writing this a third of the way through July) about an issue where I am living short of his standards. I call myself a practising Christian, but I mean practising meaning one who hasn’t got it right yet. God says that my conscience is not a reliable guide. I have tried something and it felt good. I tried again and it still felt good, but it wasn’t right and my conscience became dull. God spoke to me in Church, but the very next day I disobeyed, conscience said OK. Then God spoke while I was doing what I should not. Am I the righteous servant? I am not. I need to turn around, and repent again.

I have kept the details of my problem deliberately vague because you may not be having the same issue, God could be speaking to you about something else. I ask you to read through the passage above and ask the Holy Spirit to speak to you, to show you where you are going wrong and what you are doing right. I got some of both. Then ask the Holy Spirit to show you what to do next, resolve to make that step, and then act on it.

< Introduction | Psalm 1 | Psalm 2 >

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