Walking in the Way- The Psalms
Do you have any favourite Psalms, or any Psalm that you know better than the others? Why?
The Psalms are one of the better known portions of scripture. There seems to be a Psalm for practically every situation in which we find ourselves. They express emotions, praise, distress, gratitude. They tell us how to live and how not to live. Most of the time, we take them as read – we don’t often study the Psalms in our churches. So what is the book of Psalms, and what is a Psalm?
Psalms are not confined to what we call the book of Psalms. There are others scattered through out our Bible. See Exodus 15:1-8, 1 Samuel 2:1-10, Isaiah 38:10-20 for some examples.
What we will be focusing on is the books of Psalms. This is a collection of poems written and collected over a long period of time. The early Christian church called the book t’hillim (hymns) or t’hillot (prayers). Our title for the book comes from one of the earliest translations of the Hebrew Scriptures in Greek, called the Septugaint. In this translation, the book is called psalmoi, derived from the Hebrew title of a few of the sections, mizmor, which means a hymn sung to the accompaniment of stringed instruments.
Some psalms are an amalgamation of 2 pieces of writing (e.g. Ps 19, Ps 27); other psalms have been split up to make two of our Psalms (e.g. Ps 9+10, Ps 42+43). The Septuagint separates and compiles slightly differently, so the psalm numbers do not necessarily correlate with ours. Some translations include a Psalm 151, which was found in other documents. The Psalms are split into 5 different sections, each of which ends with a song of praise (doxology). The sections are Ps 1-41, Ps 42-72, Ps 73-89, Ps 90-106, and Ps 107-150.
The Psalms, like the other wisdom literature of the Old Testament (Job, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes), are written in a poetic form. Hebrew poetry doesn’t rely on rhyme and meter, but on other characteristics like parallelism and figures of speech, vivid images, similes, and metaphors to communicate thoughts and feelings. It repeats and rearranges thoughts rather than sounds, although it will sometimes play with sounds for greater impact. There are several types of parallel arrangement of thoughts.
(1) Synonymous—the same thought of the first line is basically repeated in different words in the second line (2:4; 3:1; 7:17).
(2) Antithetical—the thought of the first line is emphasized by a contrasting thought in the second line (1:6; 34:10). They are often identified with “but.”
(3) Synthetic—the second line explains or further develops the idea of the first line (1:3; 95:3).
(4) Climactic—The second line repeats with the exception of the last terms (29:1).
(5) Emblematic—One line conveys the main point, the second line illuminates it by an image (42:1; 23:1).
There are five different types of Psalm – wisdom or didatic (teaching); hymns, laments; thanksgiving; and blessing/curse. Often they overlap – so you might get a wisdom psalm with bits of a hymns, or a lament which ends with thanksgiving, for example.
Psalm 1 is a wisdom or didactic Psalm. Wisdom psalms are are concerned with educating people so that they can live their everyday lives usefully (and sometimes also in worship of God). Psalms classified as wisdom psalms are 1, 37, 49, 73, 112, 127, 128, 133. Psalm 1 has been seen as an introduction to the collection of Psalms, pointing to an attitude of heart and mind which should be sought if one is to truly appreciate the rest of the collection. Psalm 1 emphasises the blessing of God which comes when life is lived in a particular way – and what that looks like. It contrasts this with living a different type of life, and the consequences of that.
1 Happy are those who do not follow the advice of the wicked, or take the path that sinners tread, or sit in the seat of scoffers
Happy is the man
Happy is frequently translated blessed. There are two words for blessed in Hebrew: baruch and asher. The word used here is ‘asher’. Asher is for the future, and is conditional of certain ways of behaviour. It has the idea of future happiness, contentment. The root means to be straight or to be right, to go straight ahead. The Hebrew has a play on these words which drive this home. The word translated as “those who” or “the man who” is the Hebrew relative pronoun, ‘ha ish’. In Hebrew this sounds like ‘asher ha ish’.
The word used for man is ‘ ha ish’, which means the man who. However, this isn’t about men, but about a person. In this context, the Hebrew word refers to a generic person, not a gendered individual. It is singular, so this is about your behaviour, not the behaviour of a community.
What does it mean for you to be ‘blessed’? What does this look like?
The verse is telling us what to avoid if we are to be blessed, and it does it with a progressive scale of action verbs. The verbs used are walk / stand / sit. Walk, which seems somewhat casual or relaxed. Then we have stand, which is more deliberate and fixed. Last, we have sit, which suggests that the person has settled into a particular way of life.
Do not follow the advice of the wicked “Does not walk / in the counsel / of the ungodly”
“Walk” is hâlak which means, “walk, to go along with, follow a course of action,” or “to live, follow a way of life.” It has the idea of “go along with, use, follow.” One does not walk with another except by agreement or command is the idea
“Counsel” is ba’atzat which means, “purpose, plan, resolution of the will,” or “deliberation, viewpoint, way of thinking.” It refers to a mental attitude, a state of mind, or viewpoint that determines the decisions that we make.
“Wicked” is reshaim which has as its root idea, “to be loose, unstable, to be unjust.” This word carries two ideas. First, it means to be loose with reference to morals. It means immoral and without restraint or controls. It also means ungodly, godless, or negative toward God, loose from God. It refers to those who are guided and controlled by their own desires, emotions, impulses of the mind and flesh rather than by God.
Who are the people whose counsel you listen to? Why?
or take the path that sinners tread, “Nor stand / in the path / of sinners”
“Stand” is ‘lo amad’. It means “to stop, to be firm.” From merely walking in their counsel, one becomes more confirmed in the way of the wicked, more involved and influenced. It connotes movement toward the formation of habits or patterns.
“In the path.” “Path” is ‘derek’ and means, “a way, course of action, journey, manner, work.” It refers to one’s conduct, behaviour patterns, habits and responses.
“Sinners” is ‘chatta im’. It was an archery term and meant “to fall short, miss the mark.” In this context it means those who deliberately choose to miss the mark.
Are there things you are doing which you know are leading you in the wrong direction?
Or sit in the seat of scoffers “Nor sit / in the seat / of the scornful”
“Sit” is ymoshav meaning “to sit, dwell, remain, abide.” It emphasizes a thoroughly settled state or condition—settled down, comfortable, content with the world with its patterns entrenched in our lives.
“Seat” is the Hebrew word yashav. It means: (a) a seat, a place of sitting, or (b) an assembly where many are gathered together to sit and make deals or have close associations. The point is, when you sit in someone’s seat, according to the idiom, you act like or become what they are.
“Of scoffers.” “Scoffers” is the Hebrew word leitzim. It means “to mock, deride, ridicule, scoff.” Grammatically, it is a participle of habitual action.
Is there a part of your journey with God in which you have just sat back, where you are comfortable or indolent?
Vs 2 but their delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law they meditate day and night.
The Hebrew word order is, “but rather, in the Law of the Lord (is) his delight.” Law of the Lord – ‘torah YHWH’ – refers to the first 5 books of the Hebrew Scriptures.
Delight is chefetz. It came from an Arabic verb (a sister language) which meant “to be mindful of, attentive to.” Over time it has come to include the idea of “desire, pleasure, inclination, satisfaction.” The emphasis is that the subject or object being looked at causes delight.
Meditate uses the word ‘yehegeh’ from ‘hagah’, to moan, and is used to describe mediation of the heart.
Day and night connects to Joshua 1:8 and the Jewish command to study the Torah at the beginning and end of every day.
In what do you find delight? What makes you happy?
They are like trees planted by streams of water, which yield their fruit in its season, and their leaves do not wither. In all that they do, they prosper.
The Hebrew says they are like replanted trees, not planted trees. They have been moved to a position which allows them to drink and bear fruit. Note also that fruit is not there all the time, but at its own season.
Prosper is ‘tzalach’, which means prosper or succeed. It’s worth refering back to the blessings of verse one and remembering this is for the future, not necessarily the present.
What fruit are you bearing, or have you produced? What season are you in? What does it mean for you to prosper?
The wicked are not so, but are like chaff that the wind drives away.
Being like chaff is a euphemism for being worthless. It also refers to someone easily changing direction depending on the way the wind is blowing. This is in contrast to a tree firmly planted.
Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgement, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous
Stand is ‘loyakamu’, which means to stand firm, or to arise. When faced with God, those who are wicked will not be able to stand up.
The second half of the verse restates this but in a different format – the message is still the same. In Jewish law the chattim- sinners – who are discovered are barred from joining the edah (congreagtion) in public worship.
For the Lord watches over the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish.
The word for watches is ‘yedeoni’, which comes from yada, to know. It’s usually used in intimate relationships. Used in this context, it means that God knows those who walk in his was intimately.
Perish is ‘toveid’, which means doomed, or destroyed.