Psalms: Introduction – Psalm 1

Read the Passage: Psalm 1

Authorship and Date – While the ultimate author of the Book of Psalms is the Lord, humanly speaking, there are at least seven different named authors. David’s name is appended to 73 of the psalms, with the New Testament attributing two additional psalms to him (cf. Acts 4:25; Heb. 4:7). One of David’s chief musicians by the name of Asaph wrote 12 psalms (i.e., 50, 73–83), the sons of Korah wrote 11 psalms (i.e., 42, 44–49, 84–85, 87–88), Solomon wrote two psalms (i.e., 72, 127), Moses wrote one psalm (i.e., 90), Heman wrote one psalm (i.e., 88), and Ethan wrote one psalm (i.e., 89). The remaining 47 psalms are anonymous, although it is likely that David penned many of the anonymous psalms. The psalms were written over a millennium of time, spanning from at least the fifteenth century BC (cf. Ps. 90) to the sixth century BC (cf. Ps. 126; 137). Note that the Book of Psalms is the longest book in the Bible, containing both the longest (cf. Ps. 119) and the shortest (cf. Ps. 117) chapters in Scripture, and it is the most quoted Old Testament book in the New Testament.

Purpose and Theme – The term “psalm” comes from the Greek word for “song” or “hymn,” and the Hebrew word for “praises.” In short, the Book of Psalms is the hymnal of ancient Israel. The central purpose of the Book of Psalms is to give praise to God and to encourage believers. This purpose is unfolded through a number of different types of psalms, including: laments, hymns, thanksgiving psalms, royal psalms, imprecatory psalms, penitential psalms, messianic psalms, and liturgical psalms. While the backdrop of the psalms is the history of Israel, the actual content of the psalms is wide-ranging—from heavenly praises to earthly wars—and reflects the real-life experiences of God’s people. Note, as well, the prevalence of psalms in the Old Testament outside of the Book of Psalms. Examples include: Moses’ pslam during the exodus (cf. Exod. 15:1–21), the victory psalm of Deborah and Barak (cf. Judg. 5:1–31), David’s psalms that he played before Saul (cf. 1 Sam. 16:23), and the psalms of the Jewish people upon their return from exile (cf. Ezra 3:10–11).

Structure and Outline – The Book of Psalms is one of the easiest books in the Bible to outline, as its structure is noted within the text itself. Indeed, this book shows clear evidence of intentional arrangement. In short, the 150 psalms are arranged into five sections, each of which ends with a doxology. Note that the five books of psalms within the Psalter are likely meant to mirror the five books of the Pentateuch.

  • Book One (Ps. 1–41)
  • Book Two (Ps. 42–72)
  • Book Three (Ps. 73–89)
  • Book Four (Ps. 90–106)
  • Book Five (Ps. 107–150)

The Way of the Righteous (1:1–3)

Psalm 1 is an example of a wisdom psalm. Wisdom psalms record observations about and give exhortations concerning how to live. Understandably, then, wisdom psalms tend to be very practical in nature. As this psalm begins, the author describes the way of the righteous. Note that the term “blessed” (Ps. 1:1) refers to one who has deep joy and contentment (cf. Matt. 5:3–11). In this psalm the psalmist describes all modes of human posture—walking, standing, and sitting—as he exhorts his readers to avoid the ungodly, sinners, and the scornful. In Ps. 1:2 the psalmist switches from a negative description of what the righteous do not do, to a positive account of what the righteous are like. In Ps. 1:3 the psalmist gives an illustration of the righteous man whom he has been describing in Ps. 1:1–2. The picture of a flourishing tree would have been understood as a blessing to inhabitants of the oftentimes arid biblical lands.

The Way of the Unrighteous (1:4–5)

In Ps. 1:4–5, by way of contrast to the picture presented in Ps. 1:1–3, the psalmist describes the way of the unrighteous. Following the agricultural illustration that he had introduced in Ps. 1:3, in Ps. 1:4 the psalmist equates the wicked with chaff—that is, the part of wheat grain that is thoughtlessly tossed aside and burned or abandoned at harvest time. Chaff is frequently used in the Old Testament to picture that which is without value and worthless (cf. Job 21:18; Psa. 35:5; 83:13; Isa. 17:13; 29:5; Jer. 13:24; Hos. 13:3). Note John the Baptist’s later description of Jesus’ judgment in the end times, “The chaff He will burn with unquenchable fire” (Luke 3:17). Indeed, as the writer of Hebrews noted, “And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment” (Heb. 9:27). Other biblical illustrations of judgment include sheep and goats (cf. Matt. 25:31–46) and wheat and tares (cf. Matt. 13:24–30; cf. 2 Cor. 5:10).

The Way of the Lord (1:6)

After describing the way of the righteous, as well as the way of the unrighteous, in Ps. 1:6 the psalmist details the way of the Lord, writing, “For the Lord knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the ungodly shall perish” (Ps. 1:6). The term “knows” used in this verse refers to intimate knowledge and involvement, not just to intellectual facts or awareness (cf. Matt. 7:21–23). In regard to the way of the righteous, recall Jesus’ claim at John 14:6, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” The Good News Bible translates Ps. 1:6 this way, “The righteous are guided and protected by the Lord, but the evil are on the way to their doom.” In line with this vein of thought, consider Paul’s comments to Timothy, “The Lord knows those who are his . . . let everyone who names the name of the Lord depart from iniquity” (2 Tim. 2:19).

Application Questions:

  1. What do you know about the book of Psalms? With which psalms are you most familiar? Which psalms have been most helpful to you?
  2. How important is music to your spiritual maturity? How does music aid believers in worship? Does the music you listen to reflect your Christian faith?
  3. What is the significance of the psalmist’s declaration that the righteous will bring “forth its fruit in its season” (Ps. 1:3)? What does it mean to prosper?
  4. Is God’s judgment of the wicked fair? What about those who have never heard the gospel? How can a loving God send anyone to hell?
  5. Why do we become like those whom we’re around (cf. Prov.13:20; 1 Cor. 15:33)? What practical steps can we take to ensure our spiritual growth?