Psalm 1
Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
In the Book of Psalms, or, strictly speaking, in the five Books of Psalms, we have illustrations of most of the varied kinds of documents of which the entire Bible is made up. In their entirety the collection forms the Hebrews' 'Book of Praise,' or, as Professor Cheyne puts it, 'The Praises of Israel.' It is probable, however, that very few, in their private devotions, read all the Psalms with equal frequency or delight. There are some "favourites," such as Psalm 23., 46., 145., etc. The fact is that spiritual instincts are often far in advance of technical definitions, and the heart finds out that which is of permanent value over and above its historic interest, far more quickly than the intellect defines the reason thereof. Ere we pursue the study of the Psalms one by one, it may be helpful to note the main classes into which they may be grouped, as such classification will enable us the better to set in order the relation which each one bears to "the whole counsel of God." In the last of the Homiletics on Deuteronomy by the present writer, there is a threefold result indicated of communion between the Spirit of God and the spirit of man. When such fellowship is in the devotional sphere, it subserves the life of religion; when the Spirit of God impels to the going forth on a mission or the writing of a record, that is inspiration; when the Spirit of God discloses new truth or forecasts the future, that is revelation. These three divisions indicate three main groups under which the Psalms may be classified. For the most part, each one speaks for itself, and with sufficient clearness indicates to which of the three groups it belongs; and according to the group in which it is found will be the value and bearing of the psalm on the believer's experience, faith, and life.

I. MANY OF THE PSALMS ARE THE OUTCOME OF PRIVATE OR PUBLIC DEVOTION. It is in these that we get a priceless glimpse into the heartwork of Old Testament saints, and see how constant was their habit of pouring out their souls to God. Psalm 3., 4., 5., 7., 8., 10., 13., et alii, are illustrations of this. Whether the soul was elated by joy or oppressed with care, whether bowed down with fear or rejoicing over a great deliverance, whether the presence of God was enjoyed or whether his face was hidden, whether the spirit was soaring in rapture or sinking in dismay, - amid all changes, from the overhanging of the blackest thundercloud to the beaming of the brightest sunshine, all is told to God in song, or plea, or moan, or plaint, or wail, as if the ancient believers had such confidence in God that riley could tell him anything! . Many of these private prayers bear marks of limited knowledge and imperfect conception, and are by no means to be taken as models for us. But no saint ever did or could in prayer rise above the level of his own knowledge. Still, they knew that God heard and answered, not according to their thoughts, but according to his loving-kindness; hence they poured out their whole souls to God, whether in gladness or sadness. And so may we; and God will do exceeding abundantly for us above all that we ask or think.

II. ANOTHER GROUP OF PSALMS CONSISTS OF THOSE WHICH ARE THE PRODUCTS OF ANOTHER FORM OF DIVINE INSPIRATION. These are not necessarily addresses to God; they are, for the most part, an inspired and inspiriting rehearsal of the mighty acts of the Lord, and a call to the people of God to join in the song of praise. Psalm 33., 46., 48., 78., 81., 89., and many others, are illustrations of this. At the back of them all there is a revelation of God known, accepted, and enjoyed. And according to this great and glorious redemption are the people exhorted to join in songs of praise. There is, moreover, this distinction, for the most part, between the first group and the second - the first group reflects the passing moods of man; the second reflects the revealed character and ways of God. The first group is mostly for private use, as the moods of the soul may respond thereto; the. second group is also for sanctuary song, and indicates the permanent theme of the believer's faith and hope, even "the salvation of God." With regard to the first group we may say, "As in water face answereth to face, so the heart of man to man." As to the second, the motto might be, "The Lord hath made known his salvation: therefore with our songs we will praise him." Under this head may also be set those calmly and sweetly meditative psalms, such as Psalm 23., 32., in which God's revelation of his works and ways gives its own hue to the musings of the saint. These are now the delight of believers, in public and in private worship, as the expression of an experience which is renewed in regenerate hearts age after age. None of them could possibly be accounted for by the psychology of the natural man; they accord only with the pneumatology of the spiritual man.


1. There are those directly and exclusively Messianic, such as Psalm 2., 45., 47., 72., 110. Of all these, the second psalm is, perhaps, throughout, as much as any of the psalms, clearly and distinctly applicable to the Coming One, and to him only. For the purpose of seeing and showing this, it may well be carefully studied. Every verse, every phrase, every word, tells; in fact, even the glorious fifty-third chapter of Isaiah is scarcely more clearly Messianic than the second psalm. Even Professor Cheyne is compelled to admit its Messianic reference, and he tells us that Ibn Ezra does so likewise. And that some of the psalms apply to the Lord Jesus Christ, our Lord himself assures us (Luke 24:44). And in an age like this, when destructive criticism is so popular, it is needful for the believing student to be the more accurate, clear, and firm.

2. Some psalms point to the era rather than to the Person of the Messiah. Such are the fiftieth and the eighty-seventh psalms. They are prophetic expositions of truths which pertain to the Messianic times, and receive their full elucidation from the developed expositions of the apostles and prophets of the New Testament; they cover the ground of the Messianic age.

3. Other psalms refer immediately to the writer himself, and have come to be regarded as Messianic because some of the words therein were quoted the Lord Jesus Christ and adopted as his own. Such a one is the twenty-second psalm, in which the writer bemoans his own sufferings and (according to the LXX.)his own transgressions. But it is not possible to apply every verse of this psalm to the Lord Jesus. He, however, being in all things made like unto his brethren, was "in all points tempted like as we are;" hence the very groans of his brethren fitted his own lips. He came to have fellowship with us in our sufferings that we might have fellowship with him in his! Thus there is established a marvellously close sympathy between Jesus and his saints, since his temptations, sorrows, and groans resembled theirs, To this discriminating and believing study of the first fifty psalms, the writer ventures to invite the Christian student and expositor. We must avoid the extreme of those who, with Home, would reheard most, if not all, the psalms as Messianic; and also the extreme of those who would regard none as such. Because our Lord said that all things must be fulfilled that were written in the Psalms concerning him, we may not infer that words which were written concerning him filled up all the Psalms; nor, with the unbeliever, may we regard the claim of prophecy as invalid through any repugnance to the supernatural. Intelligent discernment and loving faith are twin sisters; may they both be our attendants during our survey of these priceless productions of Hebrew pens! And may the Spirit of God be himself our Light and our Guide! - C.

The word "blessed" means" happy." The phrase used might, indeed, be rendered, "Hail to the man," etc.! The psalm itself may be called "a psalm of congratulations," for the psalmist regards the man whom he here describes as one who has great reason for gladness, and who therefore may be fittingly congratulated. Ages ago the heathen said, "Call no man happy till he is dead." But we have before us the picture of one who is certainly happy even now; who has a joy, of which neither crosses nor losses can deprive him; who will be happy as long as he lives; and who has still more happiness in store for him when death is past. It may be asked whether it is the highest kind of virtue to aim at being happy, or whether it is the noblest inducement to it to assure us that to be virtuous is to be happy? Perhaps not. But such a question could scarcely be asked unless the point of the psalm is altogether missed; for the psalmist is not speaking of the good man as happy because he is aiming at happiness, but as being so because he follows the Law of God, and finds joy therein, without seeking for joy for its own sake. And, anyway, if it be so that God has annexed joy to a life of loyalty to him, it cannot make such loyalty less desirable if it is crowned with gladness of heart. But, as we hope to point out shortly, the personal happiness is but a very small part of the "blessedness" which the good man possesses. Let us consider -

I. THE LIFE HERE DESCRIBED. Several marks are furnished to us here of "the Messed man."

1. Negative. He is wisely careful not to have evil companionship. He knows that "he that walketh with wise men shall be wise, but a companion of fools shall be destroyed." Hence he shuns

(1) the ungodly - those who have no fear of God before their eyes, and are perpetually restless in their self-will;

(2) the sinners - those who indulge in open sin;

(3) the scornful - these who ridicule religion and. laugh at such as fear the Lord. His separation from such is complete. He will neither

(1) follow their counsel; nor

(2) sit in their seat; nor even

(3) stand in their way.

Note: If ever a man is to become wise, he must not mix promiscuously with others. We know well, in penning these words, that we are liable to the remark from some readers, "How commonplace!" We admit it. But it is just by non-attention to commonplace truth that millions are undone. We cannot reiterate too frequently, "Enter not into the path of the wicked, and go not in the way of evil men."

2. Positive. In avoiding evil, he does not throw himself upon a blank. But it is remarkable that, as the antitheses of "ungodly," sinners," "scornful," we do not get "godly" "pure; "reverent." The fact is, the man whom this psalm describes will not be supremely anxious to have any companions. If he cannot have the right ones, he will do without them. And yet he will not be lonely. For the Law of Jehovah, the revealed covenant of God, wilt be before his eyes and in his heart. And herein he will have a safe guide for the pathway he should follow. In thus following God's Law, he will have:

(1) Ample material for thought. "In his Law doth he meditate day and night" (ver. 2). "The Hebrew word torah has a much wider range of meaning than "law," by which it is always rendered in the Authorized Version. It denotes

(a) teaching, instruction, whether human (Proverbs 1:8) or Divine;

(b) a precept or law; a body of laws, and in particular the Mosaic Law, and so, finally, the Pentateuch. It should be taken to include all Divine revelation as the guide of life." We do not understand the psalmist as meaning that such a man will always be thinking of one topic. But that

(a) by day he will use the Law of God as a direction-post to point the way;

(b) by night he will use it as a pillow on which to rest his head. For in the Law there are revealed to him mercy, forgiveness, sacrifice, intercession, grace, strength. He will enthrone the Word of God in the place of honour, above all other books in the world. Some may raise a difficulty hers, saying, "Yes; in the psalmist's time that might have been so. Then the sacred books of the Hebrews comprised their national history and their religious literature. There was not so much to call off men's thoughts from the Bible as there is now." That is so. But, nevertheless, the following facts remain: That in the Bible is the only authoritative revelation of the mind and will of God; that our Scriptures are to us a far richer treasure than the Scriptures of the psalmist's time; that therein we have the only guide through life to immortality. Other books may inform the mind. The Bible still retains its supremacy as the book to regulate the life. Hence in the Bible the believer has:

(2) Rich nutriment for character. Hence he is described as "a tree planted by the rivers of water" (see also Jeremiah 17:8). Psalmist and prophet agree. The Scriptures reveal God. In God the believer puts his trust. So that the study of the book makes him like a fruitful tree, because it leads up to God. Thus there will be

(a) unfailing supplies;

(b) fruit in season;

(c) a fadeless leaf;

(d) entire success. "Whatsoever he doeth shall prosper."

II. SUCH A LIFE HAS ITS OWN OUTLOOK AND DESTINY. As the man is now, so is his uplook and outlook here and hereafter.

1. There is now Divine approval. "The Lord knoweth the way of the righteous."

2. His work and way will be influential for good long after he has ceased to live below. (Ver. 6.)

3. He will be approved at the judgment-day. (Ver. 5.) He will be found "in the congregation of the righteous." And all this is sot forth even more strikingly by the hints here given of the destiny of those with whom he would not be associated. As the Vulgate most touchingly has it, "Non sic impii, non sic." As he would not mingle with them here, he shall not be thrown with them hereafter. They will be as "chaff which the wind driveth away." Their quality, as chaff. Their destiny, as chaff. Terrible! How blessed to have a different destiny separately assigned, as the result of a course separately chosen!

III. THE BLESSEDNESS OF SUCH A LIFE IS HERE DECLARED AND DEFINED. If we put the question, "By whom is this blessedness pronounced?" the answer is:

1. They are intrinsically blessed, ipso facto, in being what they are. The), are right, good, glad, strong, full of living hope.

2. In the judgment of all good men they are blessed, and even men who are not godly know that a life spent in accordance with the will of God is the truly right one.

3. The Lord Jesus Christ declares them to be so now. (Matthew 5:1-11.)

4. At the last judgment the King will confirm the blessing. Note: The purposes to be served by such a psalm as this are manifold. They are independent of its author, age, or land.

1. To parents this psalm is a treasure of infinite value, as giving them in outline

(1) what they may well desire their children to be; and

(2) the place of honour the Bible should occupy in their children's hearts.

2. To teachers. It discloses to them the life to be urged on their scholars, and tells them whence alone the nutriment for such a life can be drawn.

3. To children. It shows them that true happiness, in the highest sense, is attained only through true goodness; that true goodness can only be attained by feeding on the truth of Cod; and that to such a God-like character there is ensured everlasting life, an ever-during home. "Light is sown for the righteous." - C.

God is Love. He must, therefore, seek the happiness of his creatures. Man is the highest of his earthly creatures, and his happiness must be of the highest kind, not only fit for him to receive, but worthy of to bestow. Such is the happiness here depicted. It does not come anyhow, but in accordance with law. It does not depend upon what a man has, but upon what he is. It is inward, not outward. It is of the spirit, not of the flesh. Happiness is blessedness - the blessedness of the true in character.

I. MARK THE FOUNDATION. Sin is self-will. This implies separation from God; and this separation must be final, unless God himself prevent. But the godly man has been brought back into a right relation to God. God's will is his will. To know and to love and to obey God is his delight. His life is centred in God. Thus he is able to receive the blessing in its fulness, which God is ready freely to bestow. His character is founded upon the rock of the eternal, and not upon the shifting sands of time.

II. Mark next THE HARMONIOUS DEVELOPMENT. This is shown under the figure of a tree, fair and flourishing.

1. The situation is choice. It stands, not in the desert, but in a fit place. "Planted." The hand of God is seen in the godly man's life. This is his security. Where God has put him, God can keep him.

2. The environment is favorable. From the heavens above sad the earth beneath nourishment is provided. The supply is rich and sure. Though worldly supplies may cease, and the waters of earth fail (Isaiah 19:5), the river of God will still run free (1 Kings 18:5; Isaiah 55:1-3).

3. The progress is appropriate. There is the power of assimilating (Mark 4:27, 28). Life develops according to its own order. What the plant does unconsciously, subject to the law of its being, the godly man does freely and consciously, under the benign rule of Christ.

III. Lastly, mark THE CONSUMMATION. God's work always tends to completeness. Every advance is an approach. Every fulfilment is a prophecy of the perfect end. In the life of the godly there is the truest pleasure, the noblest usefulness, the heavenliest beauty. And the charm of all is permanence. There is not only moral freshness, as where there is real soundness of health, but there is enduringness. This is brought out vividly by contrast. "The ungodly are not so." With them there is no reality. Separated from the true life, everything is unstable and uncertain. There may be a kind of prosperity, but it is false and delusive. The pleasures of sin are but for a season; but the love of God is for ever. In the day of trial the just shall stand, accepted and blessed; but the wicked shall be winnowed out of the society of the true Israel, and swept away, as the worthless chaff, by the swift and resistless judgment of God. - W.F.

This psalm supplies us with -

I. TEST OF CHARACTER. A man is known by the company he keeps. What doest thou, O my soul? With whom dost thou "walk" and "sit' (Psalm 119:63)?

II. RULE OF LIFE. What should we do? Surely the right thing is to ask counsel of God, and to submit ourselves to his holy and blessed rule. Let us do this, and we shall not only have life (Psalm 40:8), but food (John 4:44); and not only food, but society (Matthew 12:50); and not only society, but education (Psalm 143:10); and not only education, but joy unspeakable and full of glory (Psalm 119:65; 1 Peter 1:8). "He that doeth the will of God abideth for ever" (1 John 2:16, 17).

III. FORESHADOWING OF DESTINY. Acts fix habits, habits settle character, and character determines destiny. "The wind" may represent the various trials which meet us, and which so far show what we are and whither we are going. By conscience, by public opinion, by experience of the results of conduct, we am premonished of the coming end and the perfect judgment of God. Thus, not in an arbitrary way, but by our own deeds and life, our destiny for weal or woe is being settled. Eternity is the harvest of time. Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap." - W.F.

We learn here the true ides of -

I. GREATNESS. It is not mere intellectual power, but moral worth. Greatness is goodness - the being like God.

II. HAPPINESS. It is living together with God, doing his will, in the light and joy of his love.

III. PROSPERITY. It is of the soul - the true health of the soul (3 John 1:2). Its measure is personal activity. Deeds carry social influence. The weak and the unfortunate are too often despised, but let a man be true, let him stand up for the right, let him honestly serve God in his day and generation, and he will not only have peace within, but he wilt be "blessed in his deed." His influence will work for good, and will live and move others to noble ends when he himself is gone.

"Our many thoughts and deeds, our life and love,
Our happiness, and all that we have been: -
Immortally must live, and burn, and move,
When we shall be no more." W.F.

The word "blessed' might Be rendered "blessings." God's people are blessed (Numbers 6:24; Matthew 5:1 10).

I. There is the blessing of PEACE. The fruit of righteousness is peace. The heart is right with God.

II. The Messing of a TRUE PURPOSE. Not gain, nor pleasure, nor merely to save the soul, but to do God's will. This is the supreme thing. This gives strength to the heart and unity to the life.

III. The blessing of the NOBLEST SOCIETY. Into what a goodly fellowship do we enter as we join the company of God's people! The saints are our brethren; holy angels are our ministers; Christ is our abiding Friend.

IV. The blessing of MORAL ADVANCEMENT. Our path is onward. The more good a man does the nobler he becomes. By every act of self-denial and virtue he rises in dignity and strength.

V. The blessing of SPIRITUAL USEFULNESS. Only the good can do good. To augment the happiness of others is the sweetest pleasure.

VI. The blessing OF A BRIGHT FUTURE. Life's interests are secured. The outlook, though at times clouded, ends in light.

VII. The BLESSING OF GOD'S ETERNAL LOVE. (Ver. 6, "knoweth.") "There is nothing in the world worth living for, but doing good and finishing God's work - doing the work Christ did" (Brainerd). - W.F.

This psalm is introductory to all the rest, perhaps written after the finding of the "book of the Law" in Josiah's time, in an age of revival, when men were roused to consider the conflict between good and evil, and who were the truly Messed, and on what their blessedness was grounded. There is a contrast drawn in it between the righteous and the wicked.


1. They have no sympathetic relations with the wicked. (Ver. 1.) They cannot help having some associations with them; but they do not walk with them, nor stand with them, nor sit with them, as they do with congenial friends. This description suggests the progress of the wicked. Walking only with a man we may soon part from him; but if we stand with him we linger in his company, and at last come to sit with him, scorning all goodness.

2. Irresistibly attracted to the Divine Law. (Ver. 2.) He is "in" it with all his affection and with his unceasing thought, rather than the Law is "in" him. Though both are true, i.e., it solicits, commands, and absorbs him, and rules the world of thought, affection, and imagination.

3. They are fruitful according to the time and circumstances of their lives. (Vet. 3.) In youth, mature manhood, and ripe age. Patient in affliction, constant in trial, grateful in prosperity, and zealous when opportunity of work offers itself.

4. Unfading freshness of heart and experience (Ver. 3.) His life is progressive, his faith grows deeper, and his power of achievement increase, and his hope becomes brighter, and his affections purer, and he blossoms with a green freshness for ever.

5. He prospers in hi, undertakings. (Ver. 3.) As a general rule, because he deserves it; for he aims at only right and lawful things, and employs only right and lawful means.


1. Intrinsic wothlessness. (Ver. 4.) Dead, unserviceable, without substance, and easily carried away" - dispersed by the wind. This is only's negative description, as a contrast with the living tree and its fruit. It says nothing of such a man's poisonous influence.

2. Unable to endure the scrutiny of the great Lawgiver. (Ver. 5.) One inquiring glance of God shatters the whole structure of his life. God does not "know" his way. "I never knew you."

3. Their relation to the Church only an outward one. (Ver. 5.) Though they mingle with the congregation, they do not really "stand with them."

4. Their habits of life are destructive. (Ver. 6.) Their "way" is not the way everlasting, but leads to perdition, if it be not forsaken. - S.

Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful, etc.


1. Vigorous life of the soul. "Like a tree planted," etc. The blessedness of the body is vigorous health.

2. Productiveness. Bringeth forth his fruit in his season. It must grow before it becomes fruitful.

3. Perpetuity of life. "His leaf also shall not wither."

4. Success in his undertakings. "Whatsoever he doeth shall prosper." Success in the greatest undertaking, the true blessedness.


1. To shun the company and the counsels of the ungodly. Standing in their way, partaking in their designs.

2. Delight in Divine truth.

3. Persevering study of it. Converting it into juice and blood. - S.

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