September 24, 2017
The Sanctuary | Hazelwood, Missouri
By Daniel L. Segraves
The placement of Psalm 1 makes it an obvious introduction to the entire Psalter. It pronounces a blessing on “the man who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stands in the path of sinners, nor sits in the seat of the scornful” (Psalm 1:1), implying that walking in the counsel to be found in the Book of Psalms is the source of blessing.
Psalm 1 is known as a Torah, or law, psalm, because it describes the blessed man as one who delights “in the law of the Lord” and who meditates “in His law . . . day and night” (Psalm 1:2). The word torah means “instruction,” and it is used (as is its New Testament equivalent, nomos) with a variety of meanings. Here, it is apparently not a reference to the Law of Moses, but to the psalms themselves. In other words, Psalm 1:2 does not mean that the reader would be better off meditating on the law of Moses than in the psalms! The psalms offer wise instruction and godly counsel.
Psalm 1, a Torah psalm, is connected conceptually with Psalm 2, a royal, messianic psalm. This is a pattern in the Psalter. Psalm 19, another Torah psalm (see Psalm 19:7-8), is connected with Psalms 20-21, royal, messianic psalms (see Psalm 20:6). Psalm 119, a Torah psalm (see Psalm 119:1 [the word “law” appears in Psalm 119 twenty-five times]), is connected to the section of psalms known as Songs of Ascents (Psalms 120-134), with their royal, messianic focus (see Psalm 132:10-18). For the Torah psalms to be attached to royal, messianic psalms in this way follows an ancient method of interpretation by attachment. In other words, to attach the messianic psalm to the Torah psalm serves to provide interpretation for the Torah psalm. The concept of law must be interpreted in connection with the concept of the Messiah.
Psalm 1 begins by pronouncing a blessing upon the person who delights in the law (torah, “instruction,” a reference here to Scripture) of the Lord (Psalm 1:2); Psalm 2 ends by pronouncing a blessing on all who put their trust in the Son, the Messiah (Psalm 2:12b). The idea presented here is that meditation upon the Scripture leads to trust in the Messiah. The word translated “trust” (chasah) is used in the Old Testament with the same essential meaning as the New Testament words “faith” and “believe.” The meaning of chasah is “to take refuge.” This helps us understand the New Testament pistis (“faith”) and pisteuo (“I believe”), which are used essentially as synonyms for the Old Testament “trust.” Both New Testament words have to do with trust.
Contrary to a view that arose during the twentieth century, biblical faith is not about some kind of mental perspective, manipulation, or gymnastics by which one cajoles God into fulfilling one’s desires. Faith is not, in the strictest sense, a way of thinking. It is trust in God in the sense of taking refuge in Him in time of trouble and believing Him to be who He claims to be and to do what He promises to do.
The “counsel of the ungodly . . . the path of sinners . . . the seat of the scornful” (Psalm 1:1) is a series of terms further described in Psalm 2:1 as plotting “a vain thing.” The “counsel of the ungodly” is seen in Psalm 2:2 as “the rulers take counsel together, against the LORD and against His Anointed [the Messiah].” It is ungodly counsel that leads kings and rulers to say, “Let us break Their bonds in pieces and cast away Their cords from us” (Psalm 2:3).
Psalm 1 declares of the ungodly that they are “like the chaff which the wind drives away. Therefore the ungodly shall not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous. . . . the way of the ungodly shall perish” (Psalm 1:4-6). According to Psalm 2, this happens because “He who sits in the heavens shall laugh; the LORD shall hold them in derision. Then He shall speak to them in His wrath, and distress them in His deep displeasure” (Psalm 2:4-5). The Messiah will “break them [the nations that follow ungodly counsel] with a rod of iron . . . [and] dash them to pieces like a potter’s vessel” (Psalm 2:9). The Son will be angry with those who do not kiss Him—as an act of respect and homage—and they will “perish in the way, when His wrath is kindled but a little” (Psalm 2:12).
The person who rejects the ungodly counsel that encourages people to cast off loyalty to the Lord and His Messiah and who instead delights and meditates in the Scripture will, in contrast to the fate of those who rebel, “be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that brings forth its fruit in its season, whose leaf also shall not wither” (Psalm 1:3). The wise man is like a healthy, fruitful, enduring tree. The man who follows ungodly counsel is like chaff. The wind will drive him away; he will perish. (See Psalm 1:6; 2:12.)
The response of the Lord to those who follow ungodly counsel is to laugh and to hold them in derision (Psalm 2:4). In wrath, He will speak to them and distress them. The distressing proclamation the Lord makes to those who seek to rebel is this: “Yet I have set My King on My holy hill of Zion” (Psalm 2:6). In their desire to cast off the authority of the Lord and His Messiah, the people are plotting “a vain thing” (Psalm 2:1). It is vain because God has set His king, the Messiah, on Zion. The plotting of the ungodly will do nothing to change that. He will not neglect the covenant He made with David. (See II Samuel 7:8-17; Psalm 89:34-37.)
The Messiah says, “I will declare the decree: The LORD has said to Me, ‘You are My Son, today I have begotten You. Ask of Me, and I will give You the nations for Your inheritance, and the ends of the earth for Your possession. You shall break them with a rod of iron; You shall dash them to pieces like a potter’s vessel’ ” (Psalm 2:7-9).
The idea of the Messiah as the “begotten Son” is an important theme in the New Testament. In some cases, the New Testament quotes Psalm 2:7 directly (Acts 13:33; Hebrews 1:5; 5:5), but there are allusions to Psalm 2:7 as well (John 1:14, 18; 3:16, 18; I John 4:9). If the words of Psalm 2 were ever used in conjunction with the ascension of one of David’s descendants to the throne, that merely human king would have, in that context, been considered “the anointed” and the “begotten son.” But the purpose for the placement of this psalm in the Psalter was not to preserve ascension formulas, but to point to the ultimate anointed One, the Son of God.
The only wise response for the rulers of the earth was to “be instructed . . . serve the LORD with fear, and rejoice with trembling” and to “kiss the Son” (Psalm 2:10-12). They should abandon their vain attempt to rebel and should rather put their trust in the Messiah. If they would abandon their ungodly counsel and meditate in Scripture, this was what they would do.
Psalms 1-2 introduce the contrast between the “righteous” (tsaddiq) and the “ungodly” (rasha) that continues throughout the Psalter.
The early church saw Psalm 2 as being fulfilled in the actions of Herod, Pontius Pilate, and the unbelieving Gentiles and Jews. (See Acts 4:24-28.)
 The content of this lesson is from Daniel L. Segraves, The Messiah in the Psalms: Discovering Christ in Unexpected Places (Hazelwood, MO: WAP Academic, 2007), 25-28.