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Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament, by Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsh, [1857-78], at

Psalms Chapter 1

The Radically Distinct Lot of the Pious and the Ungodly

The collection of the Psalms and that of the prophecies of Isaiah resemble one another in the fact, that the one begins with a discourse that bears no superscription, and the other with a Psalm of the same character; and these form the prologues to the two collections. From Act 13:33, where the words: Thou art My Son... are quoted as being found ἐν τῷ πρώτῳ ψαλμῷ, we see that in early times Psa 1:1-6 was regarded as the prologue to the collection. The reading ἐν τῷ ψαλμῷ τῷ δευτέρῳ, rejected by Griesbach, is an old correction. But this way of numbering the Psalms is based upon tradition. A scholium from Origen and Eusebius says of Psa 1:1-6 and Psa 2:1-12 : ἐν τῷ Ἑβραΐκῷ συνημμένοι, and just so Apollinaris:

Ἐπιγραφῆς ὁ ψαλμὸς εὑρέθη δίχα

Ἡνωμένος δὲ τοῖς παῤ Ἑβραίοις στίχοις.

For it is an old Jewish way of looking at it, as Albertus Magnus observes: Psalmus primus incipit a beatitudine et terminatur a beatitudine, i.e., it begins with אשׁרי Psa 1:1 and ends with אשׁרי Psa 2:12, so that consequently Psa 1:1-6 and Psa 2:1-12, as is said in B. Berachoth 9b (cf. Jer. Taanith ii. 2), form one Psalm (חדא פרשׁה). As regards the subject-matter this is certainly not so. It is true Psa 1:1-6 and Psa 2:1-12 coincide in some respects (in the former יהגה, in the latter יהגו; in the former תאבד...ודרך, in the latter ותאכדו דוך; in the former אשׁרי at the beginning, in the latter, at the end), but these coincidences of phraseology are not sufficient to justify the conclusion of unity of authorship (Hitz.), much less that the two Psalms are so intimately connected as to form one whole. These two anonymous hymns are only so far related, as that the one is adapted to form the proaemium of the Psalter from its ethical, the other from its prophetic character. The question, however, arises whether this was in the mind of the collector. Perhaps Psa 2:1-12 is only attached to Psa 1:1-6 on account of those coincidences; Psa 1:1-6 being the proper prologue of the Psalter in its pentateuchal arrangement after the pattern of the Tפra. For the Psalter is the Yea and Amen in the form of hymns to the word of God given in the Tפra. Therefore it begins with a Psalm which contrasts the lot of him who loves the Tפra with the lot of the ungodly, - an echo of that exhortation, Jos 1:8, in which, after the death of Moses, Jahve charges his successor Joshua to do all that is written in the book of the Tפra. As the New Testament sermon on the Mount, as a sermon on the spiritualized Law, begins with maka'rioi, so the Old Testament Psalter, directed entirely to the application of the Law to the inner life, begins with אשׁרי. The First book of the Psalms begins with two אשׁרי Psa 1:1; Psa 2:12, and closes with two אשׁרי Psa 40:5; Psa 41:2. A number of Psalms begin with אשׁרי, Psa 32:1-11; Psa 41:1-13; Psa 112:1-10; Ps 119; Psa 128:1-6; but we must not therefore suppose the existence of a special kind of ashr-psalms; for, e.g., Psa 32:1-11 is a משׂיל, Psa 112:1-10 a Hallelujah, Psa 128:1-6 a שׁיר המעלות.

As regards the time of the composition of the Psalm, we do not wish to lay any stress on the fact that Ch2 22:5 sounds like an allusion to it. But 1st, it is earlier than the time of Jeremiah; for Jeremiah was acquainted with it. The words of curse and blessing, Jer 17:5-8, are like an expository and embellished paraphrase of it. It is customary with Jeremiah to reproduce the prophecies of his predecessors, and more especially the words of the Psalms, in the flow of his discourse and to transform their style to his own. In the present instance the following circumstance also favours the priority of the Psalm: Jeremiah refers the curse corresponding to the blessing to Jehoiakim and thus applies the Psalm to the history of his own times. It is 2ndly, not earlier than the time of Solomon. For לצים occurring only here in the whole Psalter, a word which came into use, for the unbelievers, in the time of the Chokma (vid., the definition of the word, Pro 21:24), points us to the time of Solomon and onwards. But since it contains no indications of contemporary history whatever, we give up the attempt to define more minutely the date of its composition, and say with St. Columba (against the reference of the Psalm to Joash the proteg of Jehoiada, which some incline to): Non audiendi sunt hi, qui ad excludendam Psalmorum veram expositionem falsas similitudines ab historia petitas conantur inducere.

(Note: Vid., Zeuss, Grammatica Celtica (1853) ii. 1065. The Commentary of Columba on the Psalms, with Irish explanations, and coming from the monastery of Bobbio, is among the treasures of the Ambrosiana.)

Psalms 1:1

psa 1:1

The exclamatory אשׁרי, as also Psa 32:2; Psa 40:5; Pro 8:34, has Gaja (Metheg) by the Aleph, and in some Codd. even a second by שׁ, because it is intended to be read asherê as an exception, on account of the significance of the word (Baer, in Comm. ii. 495). It is the construct of the pluralet. אשׁרים (from אשׁר, cogn.ישׁר, כּשׁר, to be straight, right, well-ordered), and always in the form אשׁרי, even before the light suffixes (Olsh. 135, c), as an exclamation: O the blessedness of so and so. The man who is characterised as blessed is first described according to the things he does not do, then (which is the chief thought of the whole Ps.) according to what he actually does: he is not a companion of the unrighteous, but he abides by the revealed word of God. רשׁעים are the godless, whose moral condition is lax, devoid of stay, and as it were gone beyond the reasonable bounds of true unity (wanting in stability of character), so that they are like a tossed and stormy sea, Isa 57:20.;

(Note: Nevertheless we have not to compare רעשׁ, רגשׁ, for רשׁע, but the Arabic in the two roots Arab. rs' and rsg shows for רשׁע the primary notion to be slack, loose, in opposition to Arab. tsdq, צדק to be hard, firm, tight; as Arab. rumhun tsadqun, i.e., according to the Kamus Arab. rmh ṣlb mtı̂n mstwin, a hard, firm and straight spear. We too transfer the idea of being lax and loose to the province of ethics: the difference is only one of degree. The same two primary notions are also opposed to one another in speaking of the intellect: Arab. hakuma, wise, prop. thick, firm, stout, solid, and Arab. sachufa, foolish, simple, prop. thin, loose, without stay, like a bad piece of weaving, vid., Fleischer's translation of Samachschari's Golden Necklace pp. 26 and 27 Anm. 76. Thus רשׁע means the loose man and indeed as a moral-religyous notion loose from God, godless comp. Bibl. Psychol. p. 189. transl.].)

חטּאים (from the sing. חטּא, instead of which חטא is usually found) sinners, ἁμαρτωλοί, who pass their lives in sin, especially coarse and manifest sin; לצים (from לוּץ, as מת from מוּת) scoffers, who make that which is divine, holy, and true a subject of frivolous jesting. The three appellations form a climax: impii corde, peccatores opere, illusores ore, in accordance with which עצה (from יעץ figere, statuere), resolution, bias of the will, and thus way of thinking, is used in reference to the first, as in Job 21:16; Job 22:18; in reference to the second, דּרך mode of conduct, action, life; in reference to the third, מושׁב which like the Arabic mglis signifies both seat (Job 29:7) and assembling (Psa 107:32), be it official or social (cf. Psa 26:4., Jer 15:17). On הלך בּ, in an ethical sense, cf. Mic 6:16; Jer 7:24. Therefore: Blessed is he who does not walk in the state of mind which the ungodly cherish, much less that he should associate with the vicious life of sinners, or even delight in the company of those who scoff at religion. The description now continues with כּי אם (imo si, Ges. 155, 2, 9): but (if) his delight is, = (substantival instead of the verbal clause:) he delights (חפץ cf. Arab. chfd f. i. with the primary notion of firmly adhering, vid., on Job 40:17) in תורת ה, the teaching of Jahve, which is become Israel's νόμος, rule of life; in this he meditates profoundly by day and night (two acc. with the old accusative terminations am and ah). The perff. in Psa 1:1 describe what he all along has never done, the fut. יהגּה, what he is always striving to do; הגה of a deep (cf. Arab. hjj, depressum esse), dull sound, as if vibrating between within and without, here signifies the quiet soliloquy (cf. Arab. hjs, mussitando secum loqui) of one who is searching and thinking.

With והיה,

(Note: By the Sheb stands Metheg (Gaja), as it does wherever a word, with Sheb in the first syllable, has Olewejored, Rebia magnum, or Dech without a conjunctive preceding, in case at least one vowel and no Metheg-except perhaps that standing before Sheb compos. - lies between the Sheb and the tone, e.g., ננתּקה (with Dech) Psa 2:3, ואענהוּ Psa 91:15 and the like. The intonation of the accent is said in these instances to begin, by anticipation, with the fugitive ĕ.)

in Psa 1:3, the development of the אשׁרי now begins; it is the praet. consec.: he becomes in consequence of this, he is thereby, like a tree planted beside the water-courses, which yields its fruit at the proper season and its leaf does not fall off. In distinction from נטוּע, according to Jalkut 614, שׁתוּל means firmly planted, so that no winds that may rage around it are able to remove it from its place (אין מזיזין אתו ממקומו). In פּלגי מים, both מים and the plur. serve to give intensity to the figure; פּלג (Arab. fal'g, from פלג to divide, Job 38:25) means the brook meandering and cleaving its course for itself through the soil and stones; the plur. denotes either one brook regarded from its abundance of water, or even several which from different directions supply the tree with nourishing and refreshing moisture. In the relative clause the whole emphasis does not rest on בּעתּו (Calvin: impii, licet praecoces fructus ostentent, nihil tamen producunt nisi abortivum), but פּריו is the first, בּעתּו the second tone-word: the fruit which one expects from it, it yields (equivalent to יעשׂה it produces, elsewhere), and that at its appointed, proper time (= בּעדתּו, for עת is = עדת or עדת, like רדת, לדת, from ועד), without ever disappointing that hope in the course of the recurring seasons. The clause ועלהוּ לא יבּול is the other half of the relative clause: and its foliage does not fall off or wither (נבל like the synon. Arab. dbl, from the root בל).

The green foliage is an emblem of faith, which converts the water of life of the divine word into sap and strength, and the fruit, an emblem of works, which gradually ripen and scatter their blessings around; a tree that has lost its leaves, does not bring its fruit to maturity. It is only with וכל, where the language becomes unemblematic, that the man who loves the Law of God again becomes the direct subject. The accentuation treats this member of the verse as the third member of the relative clause; one may, however, say of a thriving plant צלח, but not הצליח. This Hiph. (from צלח, Arab. tslh, to divide, press forward, press through, vid., Psa 45:5) signifies both causative: to cause anything to go through, or prosper (Gen 34:23), and transitive: to carry through, and intransitive: to succeed, prosper (Jdg 18:5). With the first meaning, Jahve would be the subject; with the third, the project of the righteous; with the middle one, the righteous man himself. This last is the most natural: everything he takes in hand he brings to a successful issue (an expression like Ch2 7:11; Ch2 31:21; Dan 8:24). What a richly flowing brook is to the tree that is planted on its bank, such is the word of God to him who devotes himself to it: it makes him, according to his position and calling, ever fruitful in good and well-timed deeds and keeps him fresh in his inner and outward life, and whatsoever such an one undertakes, he brings to a successful issue, for the might of the word and of the blessing of God is in his actions.

Psalms 1:4

psa 1:4

The ungodly (הרשׁעים, with the demonstrative art.) are the opposite of a tree planted by the water-courses: they are כּמּץ, like chaff (from מוּץ to press out), which the wind drives away, viz., from the loftily situated threshing-floor (Isa 17:13), i.e., without root below, without fruit above, devoid of all the vigour and freshness of life, lying loose upon the threshing-floor and a prey of the slightest breeze-thus utterly worthless and unstable. With על־כּן an inference is drawn from this moral characteristic of the ungodly: just on account of their inner worthlessness and instability they do not stand בּמּשׁפּט. This is the word for the judgment of just recompense to which God brings each individual man and all without exception with all their words (Ecc 12:14), - His righteous government, which takes cognisance of the whole life of each individual and the history of nations and recompenses according to desert. In this judgment the ungodly cannot stand (קוּם to continue to stand, like עמד Psa 130:3 to keep one's self erect), nor sinners בּעדת צדיקים. The congregation (עדה( noi = ‛idah, from ועד, יעד) of the righteous is the congregation of Jahve (עדת ה), which, according to its nature which is ordained and inwrought by God, is a congregation of the righteous, to which consequently the unrighteous belong only outwardly and visibly: ου ̓ γὰρ πάντες οἱ ἐξ Ἰσραήλ οὗτοι Ἰσραήλ, Rom 9:6. God's judgment, when and wheresoever he may hold it, shall trace back this appearance to its nothingness. When the time of the divine decision shall come, which also separates outwardly that which is now inwardly separate, viz., righteous and unrighteous, wheat and chaff, then shall the unrighteous be driven away like chaff before the storm, and their temporary prosperity, which had no divine roots, come to a fearful end. For Jahve knoweth the way of the righteous, יודע as in Psa 37:18; Mat 7:23; Ti2 2:19, and frequently. What is intended is, as the schoolmen say, a nosse con affectu et effectu, a knowledge which is in living, intimate relationship to its subject and at the same time is inclined to it and bound to it by love. The way, i.e., the life's course, of the righteous has God as its goal; God knows this way, which on this very account also unfailingly reaches its goal. On the contrary, the way of the ungodly תּאבד, perishes, because left to itself, - goes down to אבדּון, loses itself, without reaching the goal set before it, in darkest night. The way of the righteous only is דּרך עולם, Psa 139:24, a way that ends in eternal life. Psa 112:1-10 which begins with אשׁרי ends with the same fearful תאבד.

Next: Psalms Chapter 2