Psalm 1

Psalm 1 is a fascinating beginning to the entire Psalter. There are many angles one might take in studying and teaching this psalm, but I want to focus on the psalm within its biblical-theological context. Throughout the history of the church some commentators have read the psalm Christologically (if I remember correctly including Calvin), seeing the description of the blessed man as pointing forward to fulfillment in Christ.

Is this legitimate? Why or why not? Are there indications in the text of Psalm 1 that such a reading is justified? And does the the fact that Psalm 2 which follows is clearly messianic in nature play any role in reading Psalm 1 christologically?

14 thoughts on “Psalm 1”

  1. I listened to a really great sermon by Dick Lucas on Psalm 1, you can download it here – Lucas doesn’t opt for the Christological account, but I still think he gets to grips with the text pretty well – can you maybe do both? Or is there a ‘right’ one?

  2. Dick has an instruction in his Biblical exposition workshops of “looking for the surpise in the text”. He uses Psalm 1 to illustrate the point. He says that many assume the Psalms are all about Jesus. But isn’t it surprising that the very first Psalm talks about a blessing upon the man who walks in the ways of the Lord.

    Some choose to interpret this man as Jesus. Yet, this is not picked up by any of the NT writers – several Psalms are applied to Jesus, this one is not. Further, there seems to be a difference between the person spoken of in Psalm 1 and Psalm 2. Psalm 1 seems to be about a person who has a choice to live under God’s Law or by the ways of the wicked. A choice that we have.

    I think trusty Derek Kidner makes some good remarks concerning this Psalm in his Tyndale OT commentary:

    “It seems likely that this psalm was specially composed as an introduction to the whole Psalter. Certainly it stands here as a faithful doorkeeper, confronting those who would be in ‘the congregation of the righteous’ (5) with the basic choice that alone gives reality to worship; with the divine truth (2) that must inform it; and with the ultimate judgment (5,6) that looms beyond it.”

    I agree that all texts in the OT point to Jesus (cf. Graeme Goldsworthy). But I am not sure if they all point to him in the same way. Could it be that we allow the text to speak as it was intended for the original audience but then draw it out further Christologically? Jesus no doubt fulfills this blessed man.

  3. I think there is another way beside “Christ as the ultimate blessed man” way of making the move to Christ. Because the idea of delighting in Torah is so key to the psalm, I move to Christ via John 1:14 as the embodiment of God’s self-revelation. Those who delight in Christ the embodied Torah are the blessed described in Psalm 1.

    I’m not saying this is the only or even the best way to read this text in a biblical-theological fashion, but I do think it is legitimate. I’m not sure there is a “right” way to move to Christ/gospel in every text, but I do think there are ways that are more intimately connected to the central thrust of the passage in view.

  4. Agreed, I heard Dick Lucas preach Psalm 1 and 2 at Trinity Episcopal Church in Dallas several years ago, around the time that he began his work on the Psalter.

    Reflecting on it, I think it’s good in a classically Protestant way. I’m not sure if I agree that YHWH should be read as the Father (exclusively) in Psalm 2, but nevertheless it’s a good set of sermons.

    I would argue that if Psalm 1 and 2 were originally together, and it is a Psalm about David, then it is certainly typologically applicable to Jesus Christ and that Psalm 1 can then be applied to the Christian today to walk in the ways of the Lord by turning to Christ and trusting his Word.

    I also think that reading corpora as WHOLES is very important and there is a clear theology to the Psalms that allows us to read Psalm 1 in light of the first section of the Psalter and the Psalter as a whole that makes it clear what the ways of the Lord are, who his son is, and so on. It seems to me that while the Psalms are not prophetic they are certainly proleptic in their focus at times and exceedingly expectant or celebratory of the great acts of YHWH that are indicators of the way he will and does act in the future, esp. to the world in Jesus Christ.

    Praise be to God!


  5. Matt – very interesting! I’ve never heard that before, but after reading that, would have no problems with your view.

    I do agree (as has been said already) that we must first take the text as it was intended, but to do, as the NT writers did, read Christ back into the OT where appropriate. I guess the “where appropriate” becomes tricky.

  6. S. Griedanus at Calvin wrote a helpful book on preaching Christ from the OT. He outlines several (I think 7 or so) ways we can look to make the biblical-theological connection.

    David Peterson’s book on Isaiah 6-12 has an opening chapter comparing the Goldsworthy and Griedanus approaches to making the connection. Peterson tends to think that Goldsworthy’s approach is a bit more consistent.

    It is a tough road foward. Let’s take the example of the two ways proposed (among others) – Jesus as the true follower of God’s Word vs. Jesus as the one we delight in. Is there ways we can discern a more appropriate one? Both have their concepts, in general, taken up in the NT but neither have NT precedent for making such connection with Psalm 1 (which doesn’t mean we can’t do it).

    Further, both could be seen to fit in with the whole of the Psalms. I have heard Psalm 1 and 2 connect like this: Psalm 1 portrays Jesus as the true servant of God and Psalm 2 portrays Jesus as the true King. Hence, Jesus the servant king – what the entire book of Psalms point toward. It was better nuanced within the original context than that but I am just giving the short version.

    Yet, as mentioned before, the whole of Psalms definitely fit in with Matt’s view above.

    So, that still leaves the question as posed – how do we move towards Christ in a way that is intimately connected with the text?

  7. I think both views have validity, I really enjoy Matt’s view – I’d never come across it before, and if I was going to approach the text – and at the moment this is really little more than slightly informed guessing – I would opt for either one of the two but I would include with it, the essence of Lucas’ sermon – for fear of being guilty of spending so much time on the christological link that I miss some of the obvious teachings, in Psalm 1, that are not dramatically affected by placement within redemptive history.

    I think that if you do both those things then you’ve made a decent attempt at moving towards Christ whilst remaining intimately connected with the text.

    As Marty has pointed out the NT is not really being that co-operative with us on this one – and methinks it requires a much deeper study of NT apostolic exegesis before we can be a bit more certain about our hermeneutical approach.

    The great thing about THIS conversation is that either way its important that we’re committed to Christ-centered reading and teaching of the OT whilst at the same time upholding textual and exegetical integrity – something lacking in the historical record of interpretation (I’ll be posting a paper touching on this discussion with regard to John Chrysostom’s OT hermeneutic in the near future).

    On Greidanus: Its a great book, but I think he falls down in one or two places (which was evident for me in his treatment of Gen 22 which I’ve recently spent quite a lot of time on), and so I still go with Goldsworthy on that one.

  8. Reading through his book yesterday, I found what Goldsworthy says of this Psalm:

    “In the final analysis the righteous, Torah-oriented person who is the object of God’s care and preservation is a foreshadowing of the righteous Man for us, Jesus Christ. We need to make that connection because the Psalms typically speak of the ideal that in our experience is unattainable apart from the experience of being justified in Christ. The cannonical placement of this psalm at the beginning of the collection that makes up the five books of the Psalter may be significant. Some commentators see it as evidence that, whatever the use of the Psalms in the temple, the finished book as we have it was framed as a compendium of instruction.”

  9. Just a question, and this is a little off the topic, but in light of Goldsworthy’s words that, “the Psalms typically speak of the ideal that in our experience is unattainable apart from the experience of being justified in Christ,’ how would you interpret Psalm 88?

  10. I’ve been doing some research on Psalm 1 and found that the Christological idea is not original in Calvin. It at least goes back to Augustine.

    The tree is Christ. The stream is his living water (that is, the Holy Spirit), or the people’s sins. The fruit is the church. The leaf that does not fall off points to his Word never being ineffectual.

    And so on! For more info, see Augustine on the Psalms.

  11. With all due respect, It seems to me that there may be to much emphasis being placed on the possible Christological implications of this Pslam.

    Is it possible that this text has nothing to do with Christ? Of course, we do not negate the words of the New Testament Scriptures that are now included in the broad scope of the Scriptures. But, is it necessary to see the blessed (or happy) man as Christ?

    This text is very clearly contrasting the righteous and the wicked. Those who have been made righteous through faith, find their joy and happiness in the law of God. Why? Because that is our source of knowledge and understanding about our creator.

    This psalm gives us the general marks of the “righteous.” This psalm is to be a reflection of all those who professed faith in God and now in Christ Jesus. As a result, verse 3 explains the benefits of the previous two. The tree is the righteous man, the water is the Scriptures that nourish and build up, planting firmly both now and in the day of judgment.

    The contrast of the wicked should be a clear indicator that there are some who will be firmly planted and some who will not. In the end, the wicked will recieve their just penalty and the righteous will receive theirs.

    Of course Christ met these requirements, but that is not the point of this Psalm. This psalm was meant to teach the Jews (in its original context) and now us, that true happiness can only be found in the only truth and enduring Word of God. His self revelation brings us delight amidst our circumstances and the trials of life. In seeking His face WE are that tree.

    Blessings all!

  12. I am firmly committed to a Christological approach to the Psalter. Psalm 1 is indeed about the Messiah as is Psalm 2. They are united by means of an inclusio through the term translated as “Blessed” in 1:1 and 2:12.

  13. Matt – I just ran into this post while doing some work/preaching on the Psalms. Calvin’s interpretation wasn’t very Christological…however, Luther’s was. Of course – many of the church fathers interpreted this psalm Christologically, and (in my opinion) it is hard to argue with them…In any case – I do find Dick Lucas’ preaching on the psalm very very good!

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