This psalm serves as an introduction to the Psalter, as is suggested by its lack of a superscription or introduction mentioning
David unlike most psalms in Book I. It depicts a straightforward system of personal retribution that stands behind many psalms
(see also Ezek. ch 18
), and it contains a reference to “torah” (v. 2
), translated as “teaching,” but perhaps understood as Torah (“Teaching”), the five books of Moses. By placing a reference
to Torah at the beginning of this canonical section, the centrality of the first part of the canon, the Torah, is reinforced
(see similarly Josh. 1.7–8
). The mention of Torah here may also be connected to the fact that the Psalter is divided into five books (see introduction
to Psalms), and thus study of the Psalter may also be intended. Many scholars consider Ps. 1
to be a wisdom psalm, based on the contrast between the righteous and the wicked as seen in Proverbs, Job, and Ecclesiastes
(see the discussion of “wisdom literature” in “Kethuvim,” pp. 1276–77
). Ps. 1
, however, does not share extensive terminology with these books, and scholars are beginning to question the usefulness of
the designation “wisdom psalms.”
Standard biblical imagery (e.g., Jer. 17.9
for a tree image and Josh. 1.8
for reciting “torah” day and night) is used to develop the picture of the ideal righteous individual. This individual is
first described through what he does not do (v. 1
), then through what he does (v. 2
), and then via a simile. Followed…taken…joined…does not fully capture the imagery of location and movement in the Heb “walk, stand, sit.”
Day and night is figurative for “always,” though the Dead Sea Scroll community took it literally, suggest‐ ing that “[I]n the place in
which the Ten assemble there should not be missing a man to interpret the law day and night, always relieving each other”
(1QS 6.6–7, as translated in Florentino García Martínez and Eibert J.C. Tigchelaar, The Dead Sea Scrolls Study Edition [Leiden: Brill, 1997], vol. 1, p.
). This psalm is unusual in its stress on Torah study rather than observance based on Torah study (see Josh. 1.7–8
); it thus approaches the rabbinic ideal of “torah lishmah,” Torah study for its own sake, as an end in itself.
And whatever it produces thrives is ambiguous, referring either to the tree or the righteous individual.
The depiction of the wicked is much shorter, and in the plural, whereas the righteous person was spoken of in the singular.
In contrast to the deeply rooted tree, the wicked are insubstantial chaff, the light outside husk of grain that flies away during winnowing.
Judgment refers to a court case. Medieval Jewish interpretation traditionally understands this judgment as the afterworld (e.g., Ibn
Ezra and Radak), but interest in the afterworld is largely a postbiblical development (see Dan. 12.2 n.
The final v. sums up the fate of both the righteous of vv. 1–3
and the wicked of vv. 4–5
. Most biblical verses may be divided into two halves of relatively equal size (see “Biblical Poetry,” pp. 2097–2104). Here, the second half is substantially shorter than the first, mimicking the structure of vv. 4–5
in contrast to vv. 1–3
, again emphasizing the insubstantial nature of the wicked.
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