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Penitential Psalms: The Amazing Psalm 6–Windup to the Pitch


The Psalter tells a story. Its setting is earth, with occasional glimpses of heaven. When readers first look at Psalms, they may see religious poems with few repetitive themes bound together in no particular arrangement. Many may appear vague–tiny slices of time unattached to any backdrop of explanatory detail. Tone can change abruptly, often with no apparent transition. What to make of all this? Is there a key to unlock a secret code? The key is Christ, and the code is revealed through the eyes of faith. What at first may appear as a jumble of emotionally disparate poetic lines becomes a portrait of a man whose simple story is presented with a few bold strokes.

The dramatic setting of Psalms is a war of righteousness versus wickedness. The forward backdrop depicts earth, where most of the action occurs. God, who never appears in person, occasionally speaks from time to time. His invisible presence rules the entire drama. His curtain is the rear backdrop, heaven, which is nearly always hidden by the front curtain, earth. Just offstage from the front curtain stands the chorus, constantly ready to appear suddenly and perform at a brief moment’s notice, before disappearing again. The voice of an unnamed narrator sometimes interprets the action, interacts with the characters, or speaks to the audience. Named characters are few, but there are large, generic crowds, sometimes the righteous and sometimes the wicked enemies. A single tragically heroic character dominates the play, appearing in approximately half of the onstage speeches. Although he dies, he comes to life again, triumphant.

Scene One of the Psalter opens ordinarily enough, but a closer look reveals its surreal nature. Special lighting blends the front and rear backdrops, earth and heaven, such that the audience can see both heaven and earth simultaneously. As the audience listens to the orchestra play an overture of righteousness versus wickedness, a person dressed simply as, “The Man,” appears. He seems to be walking on earth, and yet, he also walks in heaven.  This man is blessed by God and prospers, because he is righteous. He continuously remains onstage in God’s presence. The audience also sees large numbers of wicked characters crossing the stage from various directions. Their paths all disappear offstage into destruction.   But what of Almighty God the Governor/Judge himself? Is he good? Is he kind? Is he loving? Each audience member must watch the play as it unfolds and decide the answers to those questions herself.

Scene 2, Psalm 2 presents the conflict between heaven and earth in greater detail. God in the heavens has an Anointed One, his Christ. They speak with one voice. As two mountains blend together in the distance, the Anointed One and God the Lord become difficult to distinguish with certainty (vv 4, 11, and 12). But it is the Anointed One who speaks, quoting what God had said to him at a prior time. He is the Lord God’s Son, who has been given all authority over earth. All earthly rulers are given a solemn warning to submit to the Lord. Psalm 2 speaks with the authority of Heaven.

But in Psalm 3, where is the Anointed King (1:6)? He seems to have disappeared. Psalm 3 is set squarely on earth, and the voice we hear is definitely a human voice, a voice of one besieged by enemies on all sides. The person who speaks remains unnamed (1). He is one who appears to have no strength in himself, but wholly relies upon the Lord his God for deliverance. He speaks for the Lord’s people, those who receive the blessings bequeathed in Psalm 1.

Psalm 4 contains strong echoes of Psalm 1. But it has the ring of school boys on a play-yard. Is this the powerful King speaking? Verse 3 indicates that indeed the speaker of Psalm 4 is the holy one of Psalm 2. In vs 6 we see the contempt of those who reject God’s way (cf 2 Peter 3:4). Verse 7, as in Psalm 1:1-2,  provides the contrast of God given joy versus the purely carnal pleasures of earth. The assurance of Psalm 4:8 reflects the blessings to the righteous of Psalm 1:2-3 and 6a. Yet the King of Psalm 2 appears to be a man in Psalm 4.

Psalm 5 is the first extended prayer of the Psalter, and a good prayer model it is. Perhaps the reader has seen written instructions or attended group meetings where “Praying the Scripture” is taught. Psalm 5 is an example of that very concept. From start to finish, line by line, Psalm 5 prays Psalm 1. (I’ll let the reader work that out for herself.)

Verses 1 through 10 are prayed in first person singular; verse 11 switches to a group focus in third person plural; and finally, verse 12  closes with a first person plural, which is not uncommon in Psalms. This final verse could be spoken by the chorus stepping briefly onstage. Who are the characters suggested by these dramatic voices? If we were watching a performance, we would see costumes or face masks of some kind to indicate speaker identities. However, not having those, we the audience look for other clues. Although I usually choose to ignore the superscriptions, the superscription in the Septuagint for Psalm 5 is suggestively fascinating. It reads in English, “For the end, a Psalm of David, concerning her that inherits” (LXE, Brenton). Many of the psalms attributed to David have the Greek phrase, “εἰς τὸ τέλος,” for the end. However, the phrase, “concerning her that inherits,” (ὑπὲρ τῆς κληρονομούσης) occurs only here. Why is this interesting?

In Christian theology, who is “her that inherits?” Why, the church of course, which includes those saints who lived in Old Testament times. The Greek word for church does happen to have a feminine ending. For those who may be interested, Footnote 2 below gives a quotation from Thayer’s Greek Lexicon (See Thayer in Bibliography). The verb “inherit,” Thayer writes, was used extensively in the Old Testament to refer to the peaceful kingdom during Messiah’s reign and extended from that, “to partake of eternal salvation in the Messiah’s kingdom: Matt. 5:5 (4) (from Ps. 36:11 (Ps. 37:11))” (2).

Because the first person singular dominates, Psalm 5 can be read as the prayer of a single individual, and it can be read as the prayer of the church. Based upon the sequential development of the plot-line from Psalm 1 through Psalm 8 (3), the first person singular individual can be named as Christ, God’s appointed King of Psalm 2. He is the church’s head, its representative on earth and in heaven. Christ in his incarnation prays much of the Psalter, especially those psalms ascribed to David (4). He is the beleaguered man surrounded by enemies who pleads with the Lord for his own salvation and the salvation of the church, his body.

It’s important that we see Christ as the speaker representing the church in Psalm 5, so that when we come to Psalm 6, we will be able to understand the intercessory aspect of its penitential nature.



1 This retelling of Psalms ignores the superscripts, which are not part of Scripture, but rather editorial additions.

2 “… in Biblical Greek everywhere with the accusative of the thing; so very frequent in the O. T. in the phrase klhronomoun gh/n [to inherit the earth] and th,n gh/n [the land], of the occupation of the land of Canaan by the Israelites, as Lev. 20:24; Deut. 4:22,26; 6:1, etc. But as the Israelites after taking possession of the land were harassed almost perpetually by their hostile neighbors, and even driven out of the country for a considerable period, it came to pass that the phrase was transferred to denote the tranquil and stable possession of the holy land crowned with all divine blessings, an experience which pious Israelites were to expect under the Messiah: Ps. 24:13 (Ps. 25:13); Ps. 36:9,11,22,29,34 (Ps. 37:9,11,22,29, 34) Alexandrian LXX; Isa. 60:21; Tobit 4:12; evk deute,raj klhronomh,sousi th,n gh/n, Isa. 61:7; hence, it became a formula denoting to partake of eternal salvation in the Messiah’s kingdom: Matt. 5:5 (4) (from Ps. 36:11 (Ps. 37:11)), where see Bleek. zwh,n aivw,nion, Matt. 19:29; Mark 10:17; Luke 10:25; 18:18; th,n basilei,an, Matt. 25:34; basilei,an Qeou/, 1 Cor. 6:9f; 15:50; Gal. 5:21; swthri,an, Heb. 1:14; ta,j evpaggeli,aj, Heb. 6:12; avfqarsi,an, 1 Cor. 15:50; tau/ta (Rec. pa,nta), Rev. 21:7; o;noma, Heb. 1:4; th,n euvlogi,an, Heb. 12:17; 1 Pet. 3:9. (Compare: kata&klhronome,w.)*” (Thayer, Joseph. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament (Abridged and Revised Thayer Lexicon). Ontario, Canada: Online Bible Foundation, 1997. BibleWorks, v.9.)

3 Yes, the Psalter has a plot line, see opening statement and so forth, above.

4 I’ve added a new source in the Bibliography, Cameron, Michael. Christ Meets Me Everywhere: Augustine’s Early Figurative Exegesis. New York: Oxford University Press, 2012. Cameron writes, “The apostles are portrayed preaching and teaching the Psalms as prophecies of the messianic age in general and of Messiah in particular (Acts 2:25-28; 4:25-26; 13:33-37; Rom. 15:8-11; Heb. 1:5-12). But Christians also read the Psalter as the Book of Christ in another way: not only as an ‘objective’ account of fulfilled prophecy but also as a spiritual revelation of his human soul, in fact as a virtual transcript of his inner life while accomplishing the work of redemption. Paul particularly taught Christians to read the Psalms as echoes of the voice of Christ. [Cameron cites Richard Hays: Echoes of Scripture in the Letters of Paul, and The Conversion of the Imagination: Paul as Interpreter of Israel’s Scripture, 101-118).] Second-century writers like Ignatius of Antioch, Justin Martyr, and Irenaeus continued this Christological reading; so did Tertullian, Cyprian, Clement of Alexandria, and Origen in the third century. In the fourth century, the Christ of the Psalms was important to Athanasius, Basil of Caesarea, Gregory of Poitiers, Jerome, and Ambrose of Milan in the west.” (Cameron, 168)


Psalm 1: If You Eat All That Candy, You’ll Get Worms in Your Stomach


My dad used to send me out trick-or-treating for Halloween, and then whenever he saw me eating some of my stash, he’d tell me I was going to get worms in my stomach. Go figure…

Wisdom cries aloud in the street, in the markets she raises her voice; 21 at the head of the noisy streets she cries out; at the entrance of the city gates she speaks: (Proverbs 1:20-21 ESV) 

Every culture teaches its own wisdom either for good or for evil, either freely or for pay. Parents come first to mind within the culture of homes. The American culture generally abounds with offers of wisdom for pay: secrets of obtaining wealth, secrets of losing weight, secrets of building confidence, and so forth. Then there are cultures of evil, which often require initiation rites to test the novice’s loyalty, to exact a payment, or to acquire incriminating evidence to hold over the initiate’s head as a threat if the person decides later to leave. Think fraternities or Oliver Twist or gangs Movies provide many examples of cultures of crime that exact payment of one sort or another from initiates. God’s culture is different than all these.

Within the Psalter and the Bible as a whole, God claims to be the creator, owner, and ruler of everything. The Psalter offers a culture of wisdom, God’s wisdom, for those desiring to join his team, as it were, or to place themselves under his protection. Psalm 1 teaches wisdom in much the same way as Proverbs 1:20-21, quoted above. There we learn that God’s wisdom exacts no initiation fee from the novice, it is offered to everyone, it is not secretive or hidden, it seeks to give to all, and it presents itself in places where it is likely to be found. In other words, in the body of psalms, God shares his wisdom freely with all. Psalm 1 states in the clearest language possible the simple wisdom of God, the beginning and end of all things human, and how to survive the final judgment.

Think of a mountain high in heaven and picture a spring of clear, cold, fresh, pure water bubbling up from God as its source. The water from the spring forms a stream which flows down the mountain giving water to everything it meets. This is the position of Psalm 1 at the head of the Psalter. It lays the foundation of the psalms and tells the final outcome. Everyone seeking God’s wisdom, the wisdom that leads to a prosperous and fruitful life, should begin here.

These are the principles of Psalm 1:

  1. God exists and is all-powerful.
  2. God is good and his path  leads to blessing.
  3. God is just and does not reward those who go against him.

Psalm 1 breathes out Proverbs 1:7–


Proverbs 1:7 The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction. (ESV)


Psalm 1 is an invitation to enter into the presence of God, to drink deeply from his waters of instruction, and to travel the flow of his river to its final destination of happiness forever. God gives to all who come to him.




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Psalm 1: Headwater to the Psalter

San Andreas Fault. Photo by John Wiley.

There is a plain located on a fault line on the southwestern side of North America, where the Pacific Plate meets the North American Plate. These two plates slide past each other, the Pacific to the north, and the North American to the south. “For years the plates will be locked with no movement at all as they push against one another. Suddenly the built-up strain breaks the rock along the fault, and the plates slip a few feet all at once. The breaking rock sends out waves in all directions, and it is the waves that we feel as earthquakes.” (Lynch, see Bibliography)

A hill rises along the highway at the northwestern end of this plain which lies along the fault line. Visitors can walk up its short but steep incline to a view point and see the entire plain stretched out before them. It’s an exciting and breathtaking view, as various geological features can be noted. Such a view point is Psalm 1 at the head of the Psalter. Psalm 1 in six short verses sketches out the fault line between the blessedly happy righteous person, whom the Lord guards and protects for all eternity, and the wicked, whom the wind blows away like chaff and who ultimately perishes.

Psalm 1 describes real life in condensed form. As we live our lives, we see the righteous and the wicked side by side. Often they seem locked with no apparent movement as they push against one another. The righteous do not seem to be blessed, confer Psalms 22, 31, and 88 among many others, and the wicked apparently prosper, confer Psalms 37 and 73. Suddenly–for us, not for God–the built up strain causes breakage, as in an earthquake, slippage occurs, and the final outcomes for the righteous and the wicked are revealed. The righteous of earth continuously move toward God’s blessings, while the wicked move in the opposite direction. Psalm 1 describes the fault line between these two.



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8. Psalm 2: A Royal Psalm, Psalmic Prophecy, and Speech


Outline of Series

ESV Psalm 2:1 Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain?

2 The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the LORD and against his Anointed, saying,

3 “Let us burst their bonds apart and cast away their cords from us.”

4 He who sits in the heavens laughs; the Lord holds them in derision.

5 Then he will speak to them in his wrath, and terrify them in his fury, saying,

6 “As for me, I have set my King on Zion, my holy hill.”

7 I will tell of the decree: The LORD said to me, “You are my Son; today I have begotten you.

8 Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage, and the ends of the earth your possession.

9 You shall break them with a rod of iron and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.”

10 Now therefore, O kings, be wise; be warned, O rulers of the earth.

11 Serve the LORD with fear, and rejoice with trembling.

12 Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and you perish in the way, for his wrath is quickly kindled. Blessed are all who take refuge in him.


I. Content

A. Psalm 1 gives a portrait of Christ the righteous Man; Psalm 2 presents Christ as divine–God’s “begotten” Son (Reardon, 4).

7 I will tell of the decree: The LORD said to me, “You are my Son; today I have begotten you.

Translations which say “today I have become your Father” (NIV, NET, NLT) are emphasizing the Old Testament context in which kings became ceremonially adopted into sonship by God.

Translations which say “today I have begotten you”(ESV, NAU, RSV, NKJ) follow a literal approach that points to the Anointed Messiah’s actual begetting by God the Father. The Hebrew language itself favors “begotten.”

The choice of one over the other indicates the editorial bias of the translators:

1. “Today I have become your Father,” favors emphasis on the original setting and audience in which New Testament statements of the verse are quotations, or “applications.”

2. “Today I have begotten you,” is preferable when the original OT statement is considered as prophetic, pointing directly at a later fulfillment in Christ the Messiah.

Christ’s Baptism: ESV Matthew 3:16 And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; 17 and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”

Transfiguration: ESV Matthew 17:5 He was still speaking when, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.”

3. Question: Does it seem more likely that very God himself would be quoting the Old Testament, or that the Old Testament prophetically would be quoting God?

Remember that according to testimony in the New Testament, including that of Jesus himself (Mark 12:36), a) David was a prophet, and b) all Scripture is “breathed out” by God (2Timothy 2:16).

ESV Hebrews 1:5 For to which of the angels did God ever say, “You are my Son, today I have begotten you” [Psalm 2:7]?Or again, “I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son”?

ESV Hebrews 5:5 So also Christ did not exalt himself to be made a high priest, but was appointed by him who said to him, “You are my Son, today I have begotten you”; [The author of Hebrews states that God in Psalm 2 spoke directly to Christ his Son. This implies that the author perceives Psalm 2 in its original intent and context as referring to Christ. This means that the author of Hebrews views Psalm 2 as prophecy.]

B. Psalm 1 shows what obedience to God’s law looks like at an individual level and demonstrates that the one who seeks God by following the roadmap of his law will be rewarded.

Psalm 2 shows that God’s Anointed (God’s Christ) is King and has received final victory for the righteous and final defeat for the rebellious (vss 4-10).

C. Psalm 2 demonstrates the opposition of rebellious nations to God and to his Son (vss 1-3, 10-11).

1. Psalm 2: Opposition by the nations (nations, kings of the earth, peoples, rulers)

2. Psalm 3: Opposition from the king’s own people (psalm title, vss 1-2)

3. Psalms 4-7: Opposition from unspecified wicked men

D. God’s response to the rebellious nations.

1. God laughs at them in scorn as though they are so many small, ridiculous things (vs 4).

2. God then speaks in wrath (great, active anger) and terrifies in fury (vs 5).

3. God thinks nothing of the power of the nations, because he has installed his own King, his own begotten Son, on Zion, his holy hill (vs 6).

4. The Son receives and proclaims the decree of the Lord God and recounts the powers of judgment and retribution placed in his hand (7-9).

5. Warning and opportunity for repentance are extended to all rebellious rulers and all people generally (10-12).

E. Psalm 2 opens the possibility of the Lord’s salvation and blessing to all nations (vs 12).

The overarching theme of Psalm 2 is that all human history lies solidly within God’s dominance and control and that final, victorious rule has been given to his Son.

Because this Psalm was never fulfilled in Israel’s history, it came to be considered as eschatological in post-exilic times, having to do with the future and end times. Even today, final fulfillment of its statements awaits the Second Coming of Christ. 

Through the themes of divine royalty, opposition from the wicked, and the King’s victory, Psalm 2 stands as an introduction to Books 1 through 3 of Psalms (Psalms 2-89) (Bullock, 59). As a single unit, Psalms 1 and 2 stands as an introduction to the entire Psalter (more on this below).


II. Psalms 1 and 2 as a Unit

A. Why is it important to see Psalms 1 and 2 as a unit?

1. Psalms 1 and 2 taken together flesh out and expand the portrait of Christ as incarnated deity. We see him fulfill God’s nature and will both in the humiliated flesh of his humanity (Psalm 1) and in the power of his sovereign deity as God’s Son (Psalm 2).

2. Neither Psalm 1 nor 2 has a superscription, or title. Most agree that these psalms were written at different times in Israel’s long history and placed side by side at the head of the Psalter by an editor. Seeing them as a unit, as a whole piece of literature, supports the continuity of Scripture and demonstrates that God himself is their ultimate author.

3. Continuity and divine authorship in turn support Jesus’ and his early followers’ claims to his being the long-awaited Messiah.

4. Continuity and divine authorship support the New Testament writers’ practice of interpreting various Old Testament psalms as direct prophecies of Christ.

5. Continuity and divine authorship support justification for today’s readers to make application of the psalms as prophecies of Christ in ways not previously cited by New Testament authors. That is, by means of the same Holy Spirit present in the writers of the New Testament, we as modern readers can make scriptural connections between Old and New Testaments similar to those the NT authors made. If as John 21:25 states, Jesus performed many actions and miracles that could not be recorded in that gospel, then it seems plausible that there are many scriptural connections to be made between the Testaments, and especially between Psalms and the New Testament’s life of Christ, that could not be recorded in the letters and gospels of the New Testament, simply because of space considerations.

B. Internal Evidence that Psalms 1 and 2 Form a Unit (Waltke and Houston, The Psalms as Christian Worship, 160-161)

1. Neither Psalm 1 nor 2 has a superscription, while Psalms 3 through 41 all superscribe David as author, except for Psalm 33, which is anonymous.

2. Psalm 1 opens with, “Blessed is the man who…” and Psalm 2 closes with, “Blessed are all who…” In literature, this structure is called an inclusio.

3. Parallel Words and Phrases

a. The righteous meditates on God’s Word (1:2), while the wicked take counsel together against the Lord and against his Anointed…(2:1).

b. The last verses of both psalms speak of the wicked perishing in the way (1:6; 2:12).

c. In Psalm 1, the wicked scoff, or mock, the Lord and his way (1:1), while in Psalm 2, the Lord mocks (laughs at and holds in derision), the rebellious wicked (2:4).

4. Uniform Message: Both psalms proclaim the message that the righteous will prevail.

a. Psalm 1–the righteous prevail by faithfully following God’s way, his law.

    Psalm 2–the righteous prevail through the King.

b. Psalm 1–the righteous trust God to uphold his law.

     Psalm 2–the righteous trust God to uphold his King.

5. Psalms 1 and 2 taken as a whole, as a complete unit at the very front of the collection, encourage readers to view all the petitions, praises, and laments of the entire Psalter as having reference to both:

a. themselves as individuals within God’s kingdom

b. God’s King, his Son, his Anointed

In consequence of point 5 above, the psalms are highly prophetic. In other words, if the reader receives Psalms 1 and 2 together as a unit introducing the entire Psalter, then the reader can feel justified and free to see all the psalms as applying both to the individual, i.e., the reader herself (Psalm 1) and Christ (Psalm 2), since Psalm 2 plainly and boldly spells out that Christ is the referent. Again, if Psalm 2, along with Psalm 1, introduces the entire Psalter, then the entire Psalter is about Christ, viewed both as incarnate human (Psalm 1) and divine Son and King (Psalm 2).–cw


III. Structure

A. Hebrew Poetry

1. Psalm 2 marks itself off into four identifiable blocks of three couplets each: vss 1-3, 4-6, 7-9, and 10-12. The transition signals will be discussed below.

2. Hebrew poetic couplets in which the second line repeats the first with slight variation to expand, illustrate, explain, or reinforce by repetition the meaning of the first:


a. Verse 1

    Why do the nations rage

     and the peoples plot in vain?

b. Verse 3

    “Let us burst their bonds apart

    and cast away their cords from us.”

c. Verse 8

    “I will make the nations your heritage,

    and the ends of the earth your possession.”


B. Speech

1. The writer of this blog discovered 3 separate sections within this poem and 4 distinct speakers, as though the poem were intended to be a choral reading.

a. Narrator–verses 1-6 and 2 speakers whom the narrator quotes: Speaker 1 (the rebellious nations, vs 3) and Speaker 2 (God, vs 6)

b. The Son–verses 7-9. The Son, Speaker 3, immediately breaks in with the narrator’s quote of God’s statement in vs 6 functioning as transition and as his introduction. The Son speaks directly from his own experience (vs 7) and further quotes the speech of God to him (vss 7-9).

c. Narrator of Section 1 or, alternatively, a Chorus (Speaker 4)–verses 10-12. The last section differs from the first in that the narrator of the first section speaks omnisciently, not as a character within the psalm, whereas the narrator, or chorus, of the last section addresses the kings and rulers with direct speech (vss 10-12), with the last sentence delivered not as speech towards the rulers, but as a general statement to all readers and all humankind. It functions as a summary of the whole.

2. Waltke and Houston have discovered a “four-act play” in Psalm 2 (Waltke and Houston, Psalms as Worship, 161). The four acts correspond to the sequence of speakers discoverable in the psalm and follow the blocks that this writer describes in the section just above. Whereas this writer combines verses 1-6 into a single section, Waltke divides that block into two “acts.” His four acts and corresponding speakers follow:

a. Act 1: verses 1-3, the hostile kings

b. Act 2: verses 4-6, I AM

c. Act 3: verses 7-9, the King

d. Act 4: verses 10-12, the psalmist


C. Why Is Direct and Quoted Speech in Psalms Important?

1. In an Old Testament setting in which the Israelites believed in one God (Deuteronomy 6:4), two distinct divine voices indicate a first and second person of the Trinity.

2. Introduction of a distinct Son of God led directly to the eschatological hope of Messiah.

3. The presence of speech blocks with clearly defined transitions and multiple, identified speakers within a single psalm, such as those found in Psalm 2, establish a usage and pattern that can help interpret psalms whose change of speakers and speech blocks are not as clearly and directly marked. Psalm 102 is an example of such a psalm.

4. Speech highlights and emphasizes the prophetic nature of psalms.

5. Because Psalm 2, taken as a unit with Psalm 1, sets a precedence for the rest of the Psalter, and because the Son speaks prophetically in Psalm 2, there is good reason to suppose that many of the first person statements and prayers in the rest of the Psalter are also prophetic prayers and speech of Christ.

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7. Psalms and the Message of the Bible: A Word about Themes


Outline of Series

ESV Psalm 1:1 Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers;

2 but his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night.

3 He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers.

4 The wicked are not so, but are like chaff that the wind drives away.

5 Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous;

6 for the LORD knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish.


I. Two Themes of Psalm 1

Psalm 1 stands at the head of the entire Psalter and introduces the whole. This occurred by design of God through the human editor (Bullock, 58-59).

A. The “blessed man” of Psalm 1 introduces the theme of Jesus Christ, God’s anointed, his Messiah.

B. The “law” (vs 2) stands as one of the most important factors about God, who gave it, and his people, who receive it.

II. A Word about Law

To the postmodern ear, the concept of “law” for the most part has extremely negative connotations. If someone were to ask, “How can I best relate to God?” and the given reply is, “By seeking to follow his law,” all kinds of negative thoughts, negative cultural memories, and images of cold harshness and stern, pleasureless persons would pursue.

Yet in the Old Testament, especially in Psalms, the law is benign; it’s a blessing; it’s a means of knowing God’s will and obtaining his favor.

ESV Psalm 19:7 The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple; 8 the precepts of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes; 9 the fear of the LORD is clean, enduring forever; the rules of the LORD are true, and righteous altogether. 10 More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb. 11 Moreover, by them is your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward.

NIV Psalm 119:9 How can a young person stay on the path of purity? By living according to your word. 10 I seek you with all my heart; do not let me stray from your commands.

In the gospels of the New Testament, Jesus himself held the law of God in highest regard (remember, he is the blessed man of Psalm 1 who perfectly keeps the law.)

ESV Matthew 5:17 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.

ESV Matthew 5:18 For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished.

Why the Law?

Why law? Why is law so central to all of the Bible?

ESV Genesis 1:1 In the beginning, God created…

ESV Genesis 1:27 So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.

God, as creator, created man in his own image for his own pleasure.

KJG Revelation 4:11 Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honour and power: for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure [by your will] they are and were created.



According to the Bible, God’s desire is to bless humankind.

ESV Genesis 1:28 And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply…”

God blesses people with himself, since as God, he himself is the greatest possible blessing. To know God and to be in a good relationship with him is the greatest possible blessing a human being can ever have. God’s law, according to the scriptures quoted above and many like them, is the means to the greatest possible blessing of having a good relationship with God.



III. Tragedy Strikes

A. The Old Testament is the historical record of how humankind in general and one special, called people in particular, failed to follow God’s law and thereby failed to receive God’s blessing of an ongoing, fruitful relationship with himself.

B. In the Old Testament human will and raw obedience were the only means at people’s disposal for following God’s law. In spite of God’s gracious provision of a sacrificial system to make amends for people’s failures to follow the blueprint he gave them in order to build a blessed relationship with himself, they still failed.

The Old Testament can be summarized as: The Law and Humankind’s Failure to Follow It

IV. A New Way

The New Testament can be summarized as: The Law and Humankind’s Success in Following It

A. God didn’t quit: he gave people a new way to obey his principles and to come into a blessed relationship with himself.

B. He sent the perfect man who did follow his law, the blessed man of Psalm 1.

C. Jesus Christ fully obeyed God’s law and became the human sacrifice that opened the door to mankind’s restored relationship with God.

ESV 2 Corinthians 5:21 For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

D. God provided that simply by believing in Christ–by saying yes to Christ–that Christ’s obedience to the Law would apply to everyone who accepts Christ as the solution to their lives.

E. God also gave his Holy Spirit to live on the inside of those who receive the solution of Christ. The Holy Spirit helps people to follow God’s law the way Christ did, which means pleasing God and being blessed in relationship with him.

ESV John 14:16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever,

ESV John 15:26 “But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me.

NLT Romans 8:1 So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus. 2 And because you belong to him, the power of the life-giving Spirit has freed you from the power of sin that leads to death. 3 The law of Moses was unable to save us because of the weakness of our sinful nature. So God did what the law could not do. He sent his own Son in a body like the bodies we sinners have. And in that body God declared an end to sin’s control over us by giving his Son as a sacrifice for our sins. 4 He did this so that the just requirement of the law would be fully satisfied for us, who no longer follow our sinful nature but instead follow the Spirit. 5 Those who are dominated by the sinful nature think about sinful things, but those who are controlled by the Holy Spirit think about things that please the Spirit. 6 So letting your sinful nature control your mind leads to death. But letting the Spirit control your mind leads to life and peace.

Psalms is where the life of Christ–his obedience to the Law, his prayers of praise and supplication for help, his sacrificial death, his resurrection and final victory–is played out in Hebrew poetic prophecy.





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Psalm 1: Introduction to the Psalter


Outline of Series

ESV Psalm 1:1 Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers;

2 but his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night.

3 He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers.

4 The wicked are not so, but are like chaff that the wind drives away.

5 Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous;

6 for the LORD knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish.

I. Observations

  • This psalm lends itself to study by phrases rather than individual words.
  • Phrases indicate two contrasting categories.
  • What are they?

II. Two Contrasting Categories


Psalm 1: the Righteous (Vs 6) – Positive


Psalm 1: the Wicked – Negative

blessed (1-2)

[synonyms:] wicked, sinners, scoffers

     action: walks not

in the counsel of the wicked

     action: stands not

in the way of sinners

     action: sits not

in the seat of scoffers

     action: delights

in the law of the Lord

     action: meditates

on the Lord’s law day and night

the righteous is like (vs 3):

wicked are not like the righteous

     a tree planted by streams of water

wicked are like: chaff

          yields its fruit in season

     the wind drives the chaff away

          leaf does not wither

[results stated negatively:]

will not stand in the judgment

[restatement:] in all that he does he prospers

will not stand in the congregation of the righteous

[conclusion:] (6) for the Lord knows the way of the righteous

[results stated positively:]

the way of the wicked will perish

Paraphrase of final outcome for righteous:

The righteous will prosper.

They will live in the company of the Lord

and in the company of the other righteous.

Life, Inclusion

Paraphrase of final outcome for the wicked:

The wicked will not prosper.

They will die.

They will be excluded from the Lord’s presence

and from the collected gathering of the righteous.

Death, Exclusion

III. Questions and Response

1. Verse 6 says, “for the Lord knows the way of the righteous.” What does it mean for the Lord to “know the way of”? What is involved here?

a. to see, be aware of, be intimately acquainted with: ESV  Psalm 31:7 I will rejoice and be glad in your steadfast love, because you have seen my affliction; you have known the distress of my soul,

b. to know something in its entirety from beginning to end; this includes the element of knowing the future: ESV  Psalm 37:18 The LORD knows the days of the blameless, and their heritage will remain forever;

c. to know in the sense of receiving and treating someone as a friend, to approve: ESV  Nahum 1:7 The LORD is good, a stronghold in the day of trouble; he knows those who take refuge in him.

d. Jesus uses the word in the sense of receiving, owning (as the shepherd a sheep), protecting, guarding, watching over carefully: ESV  John 10:14 I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me,

e. to be able to distinguish from among many others and to acknowledge this friendship publicly: ESV  2 Timothy 2:19 But God’s firm foundation stands, bearing this seal: “The Lord knows those who are his,” and, “Let everyone who names the name of the Lord depart from iniquity.” (quoted from NET Numbers 16:5)

f. “the way of”: “NET Notes: ‘way of the godly’ is not their behavior, but their course of life or destiny;”

g. “The Lord knows the way of the righteous,” could be paraphrased as, “The Lord is intimately acquainted with every detail of the heart and life of the righteous person from start to finish; he approves of this person, lays claim to him or her as his own, and promises to look after her in an all powerful, protective way, even up to and including eternity.”

2. What does “perish” mean in verse 6?

perish: to be ruined, broken, carried off, lost, destroyed, exterminated2. Do the categories seem black and white to you? How do you feel about that?

3. Does God’s word change because we don’t like it? What might be a wise course for us?

4. Do you think there might be a “fudge factor” within the categories? What might be a theological word to describe God’s “fudge factor?”

5. Reread verse 6: for the LORD knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish. Do you think this might be a good thematic summary of the entire Psalter? Why or why not? Do you think this one verse sums up the message of the entire Bible? Defend your position one way or the other.

IV. What other questions do you have? As we read more of Psalms, we will come to a better understanding of what the words “righteous” and “wicked” mean within the context of Psalms. In brief, these terms describe a person’s attitude (what is in a person’s heart, the person’s desires and motivations) toward the Lord God and his Word, rather than a person’s actions. Action follow attitude.

V. Christ in Psalm 1

While it cannot be “proven” academically that Christ is “the man” of Psalm 1, nothing prevents the Holy Spirit from revealing Christ as such in the hearts of believers.

ESV  Psalm 1:1 Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers;

ESV  Psalm 80:17 But let your hand be on the man of your right hand, the son of man whom you have made strong for yourself!

ESV  Psalm 110:1 A Psalm of David. The LORD says to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.”

ESV  John 19:5 So Jesus came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. Pilate said to them, “Behold the man!”

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