28 November 2011

Psalm 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; but their delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law they meditate day and night." (vv. 1-2)


Psalm 1 sets the scene for the whole book of Psalms. In some translations, it's even treated as a prologue to the book, and some scholars that it was written by Solomon as an introduction.

Here the author sets out some basic principles for good living, linking wisdom and sound choices to a good quality of life. Righteous people are "happy" for two reasons. Firstly, they desire the things of God - they delight in God's Law ("the law of the Lord") and take only sound advice. This keeps them rooted and fruitful in life, like a strong tree planted near to a river. Secondly, the psalmist tells us that the righteous prosper in all that they do.

Conversely, wicked people have nothing to keep them anchored in life and are vulnerable to the winds of life, blown about like chaff (finely chopped straw) (verse 4). They have no hope of standing firm or making wise choices and their path will end in destruction.

The secret of the righteous person's success is their proximity to God and their commitment to following God's path, rather than listening to those who are wicked. Scottish poet Robert Burns paraphrases Psalm 1 in a poem. The first verse summarises the psalm's core message perfectly:

The man, in life wherever plac'd,
hath happiness in store,
who walks not in the wicked's way,
nor learns their guilty lore!

The psalmist is urging all those who seek the right path in life to stick close to God and learn his ways. If they trust others instead, they may learn bad habits from the wicked.

To Ponder

Do you 'meditate on God's law day and night'? What impact does it have on your faith and discipleship?

Who do you go to for advice? Are there people you avoid asking for guidance? Why?

Psalm 1 seems to imply that 'righteous' people have a better and more prosperous life than the 'wicked'? Do you think that's what the author means? How does that make you feel?

Bible notes author

Anna Drew

Anna Drew is Director of Communications for the Diocese of Canterbury. She is a regular contributor to BBC Radio 4's Daily Service and Prayer for the Day and a freelance writer on faith issues.