Psalms 1 & 2

On their own both Psalms 1 & 2 are well-known and frequently read. The focus in Psalm 1 is on living in the way of righteousness and experiencing God’s blessing in contrast to living in the way of the wicked and experiencing God’s judgment. Psalm 2 focuses on God’s sovereign rule over the earth and its rebellious kings/nations, who will one day be defeated by Yahweh’s Anointed King.

What is frequently missed is the connection between the two. First, Psalm 1 opens by stating, “How blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked …” while Psalm 2 concludes “How blessed are all who take refuge in Him [i.e. God’s Anointed].” Second, the prominent theme of “way” in Psalm 1 reappears at the end of Psalm 2, where the rebellious kings are warned to pay homage to the Son or otherwise “you perish in the way.” Third, the word translated “mediate” (הגה) in Psalm 1:2 to refer to what the blessed man does with Yahweh’s Law is the same word used in Psalm 2:1 to refer to the peoples “devising” a vain thing. Fourth, neither psalm is ascribed to an author and stand at the beginning of the entire psalter.

Now that I have done some of the exegetical spade work, I am opening the floor to you. What conclusions can and should we draw from these connections between Psalms 1-2? I, of course, have my own thoughts, but want to hear from you first before I share my own thoughts.

9 thoughts on “Psalms 1 & 2”

  1. I’ve always taken the “righteous” individual in Ps 1 to be a further description of the Adamic ruler in Ps 2. Let me explain: Ps1:2-3 is filled with allusions to Gen 1, a commentary on the righteous individual dwelling in the midst of God’s presence, and Ps 2 is some sort of royal installation psalm. Ps 2 should be interpreted with Ps 8, a clear reference to some sort of prototypical Adamic figure! What do you think?

  2. Ben,

    Your suggestion intrigues me, but I need some more evidence.

    1) Give me a couple of examples of the allusions to Gen 1 in Psalm 1:2-3

    2) Why should Ps 2 be interpreted with Ps 8?

    As I said, I’m not necessarily disagreeing; I just want a bit more evidence.

  3. The idea of “day” and “night” (Ps 1:2) refers to Gen 1:16. Trees bringing forth fecundity (Ps 1:3) and streams of water (Ps 1:3) allude to Gen 1:10 and 12 (“gathering of the waters”; “trees yielding fruit”).

    Secondly, I read Ps 2 along with ch. 8, for a simple and canonical reason (cf. Heb 1-2): kings have an Adamic function. They are to rule and bring all things under subjection.

  4. There is also a verbal connection between the verb for “perish” in 1:6 and 2:12.

    I think that the image of the tree/fruit/streams is an eschatological image that we see repeated in the Tanak. (i.e. Jer 17:8, Ezek 17:8).

    Similarly, there is a strong connection (“Torah”) back to the Torah and to Joshua 1.

    Putting these together, I see Psalm 1 describing the one promised by the Torah… the one that Moses was looking for, but Joshua was not him. He is an eschatological figure in Psalm 1 who reigns in Psalm 2. He is “blessed” and those who “trust in him” are “blessed” as well.


  5. 1. Another connection is the “counsel of the wicked” mentioned in 1:1, which is explained in 2:2,3 as “against the Lord and his annointed” to break free of their authority and rule.

    2. I think there are two NT passages that shed light on the connection and possible conclusion.

    Ps. 2:8 says that the nations are the heritage of the Son. In Matt. 28:19-20, Jesus commands his disiples to make disciples of all nations and teach them to observe his word.

    Later, in Acts 4:23-31, Peter and John are released from prison. During the prayer of praise following this release, those praying quote Ps 2:1-2, identifying Herod with “kings”, Pilate with “rulers”, the Gentiles, and Israel with “peoples. They then ask for boldness to speak the word. And v. 31 confirms that they did indeed speak the word with boldness.

    Based on the above, here is one conclusion I draw from the connection of Ps 1 & 2. As the righteous, we are involved in the animosity between the nations and the Lord and his annointed; receiving the persecution (see Acts above), and participating in the victory (see also Rev 2:26-27). One of our key roles is claiming Christ’s heritage by making disciples of the nations. As meditation on His word is vital for our sustenance, growth, and blessing (Ps. 1), so the preaching of his word is vital for the claiming of the heritage of the nations (Ps. 2).

  6. Greetings all,
    I saw this blog link on your Grace website and I thought I would fuel the conversation with a few questions I have been wrestling with.

    Matt, you have established several, convincing lexical links between Ps 1 and 2. Ben, you have extended the conversation to Gen 1-2. But how do these two psalms function within the psalter? Do they form some sort of a theological framework within which to read the document, which appears to be a random smorgasboard of lyric poems, arranged with no apparent concern for topical organization? Is there a reason that these two poems are juxtaposed to one another? Or is it significant that the Torah psalms are frequently, if not always (as some scholars suggest), juxtaposed to the royal psalms? And what about book 5? Is there a reason why it is highly eschatological, perhaps providing the reader with another framework within which to read the document or signaling some sort of Jewish expectation?

    These questions arose in reading several works by Gerald Wilson and Jaimie Grant’s resent SBL monograph on the Psalter. In the case of Grant, he thinks that the Torah Psalms are intentionally juxtaposed to the royal pslams, that the document was probably collected in order to teach the king how to read the Torah (Ps 1), and that it is theologically linked to the law of the king in Deut 17.

    I understand that these questions enter into a theology of the way the book was redacted–nonetheless, I think they merit our consideration. More specifically, these interpretive questions may have implications on the use of the Pslams in the NT. How do the NT writers contexually quote from the psalter? Do the NT writers understand the psalter as a whoel document, or merely draw from the context of a single psalm?

    Anyway..I will stop dumping all of my questions. What do you guys think?

    Chris Ansberry

  7. Chris,

    Thanks for stopping by and adding some fruitful questions and observations.

    I am inclined to think that there is significance to these two interconnected psalms introducing the psalter. What that significance is, however, I am not sure. I would need to look at the other examples of Torah psalms followed by royal psalms to see if a pattern emerges. One’s conclusions here seem to me to be so dependent upon the collection / redaction of the collection.

    As for the NT authors, I cannot think of an example off the top of my head where a psalm is quoted and the context outside of the individual psalm is assumed. An exception might be the allusions to Ps 42-43 in Mark 14:34 // Matt 26:38, but in general it seems they only draw on the larger context of an individual psalm. In his dissertation Moo traces the use of lament psalms in the gospel passion narrative, but none of them are grouped together; instead they are spread throughout the psalter.

    Thanks for stopping by and stirring the conversation.

  8. Thanks to all who stopped by to comment. My thinking has been provoked by the interaction.

    The main payoff that I see in noticing the connections b/w Pss 1-2 is ultimately twofold.

    1) It strongly suggests the Yahweh’s anointed King / Son is the ultimate blessed man of Ps 1 who perfectly delights in Yahweh’s Law.

    2) It strongly suggests that for us to experience the blessing described in Ps 1 we must take refuge in the Son.

    There is more here, to be sure. And I would like to further explore the links back to Gen 1-2 the next time I return to the text to see what further light that might shed on the text. A second line I would like to pursue is whether the NT itself ever connects these two psalms, if even subtly. Ps 2 is obviously cited several times, but I would want to see whether in those contexts echoes of Ps 1 might be found as well.

    Again, thanks for the interaction, and by all means feel free to continue to add thoughts here. I don’t at all intend my words here to necessarily be “last word.” But I also have realized recently that I have done a better job of raising questions for discussion than giving my own thoughts.

  9. I am actually working on a paper for Rata’s class which deals with this very topic.

    I am convinced that the two are interlinked, but not so much that they are one Psalm as some hold.

    One scholar notes that Psalm 2 serves specifically to open books I – III and points out that other royal psalms fit into the “seams” of those books.

    It is possible that as the Psalms were compiled into the Psalter, an editor made a connection between the two, perhaps even wrote the first while having in hand the second (but this is strictly speculation).

    Whether they describe the same person I am not convinced but do see as a possibility.

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