Psalm 1:2-3 – “Like a Tree”

[NB:  I am teaching through some of the wisdom Psalms this summer at Rush Creek, so I thought I would use some of this material here.]

In Psalm 1:2-3 the one who is actively avoiding fools delights themselves with the Law of the Lord. The Word of the Lord is the delight for the blessed person. The noun is used in the wisdom literature for things which bring you joy.  This is a remarkable description, since the most un-joyful time in a typical worship service is the Scripture reading, and perhaps the sermon itself.

Palms at Lake TuendaeMeditating on the word of the Lord is to think deeply or dwell on his word. The verb has the sense of muttering in a low voice, and is sometimes associated with reciting a text to oneself. The implication is the Word of the Lord is memorized and turned over in the mind slowly and carefully.

The content of this joyous meditation is the Law of the Lord. Most Christians cannot imagine a joyous meditation on verses from Leviticus, but the word is broad enough to refer to the whole revelation of God at that point in salvation history. It is therefore easy enough to apply this delight to the whole canon of Scripture.

This blessed person is like a tree, planted by streams of water. This metaphor is very clear and would be quite striking to people who lived in the arid world of the Middle East. Hosea 9:13 and Ezekiel 17:8-10 both use the metaphor of a palm or a vine planted near water as a metaphor for God’s care for his people Ephraim. Jeremiah 17:7-8 is a very close parallel to this Psalm:

Jeremiah 17:7–8 (ESV) “Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose trust is the Lord. 8 He is like a tree planted by water, that sends out its roots by the stream, and does not fear when heat comes, for its leaves remain green, and is not anxious in the year of drought, for it does not cease to bear fruit.”

But there are also a number of parallels in the ANE as well. Terrien mentions a text describing king Shugli of the First Dynasty of Ur as “the Gracious Lord, a palm-tree planted near the canal …a cedar rooter near gushing waters, who gives pleasant shade” (Terrien, Psalms, 74). The parallels with the Sayings of Amenope are remarkable for both the blessed and cursed. The difference is the definition of the “blessed.” In Amenope, he is the silent man (in contrast to the heated man), in Psalm 1 the righteous are those who delight in the Word of the Lord and meditate on it daily.

Sayings of Amenope, Chapter 4: As for the heated man of a temple, He is like a tree growing in the open.  In the completion of a moment (comes) its loss of foliage, and its end is reached in the shipyards; (or) it is floated far from its place, and the flame is its burial shroud.  (But) the truly silent man holds himself apart. He is like a tree growing in a garden. It flourishes and doubles its yield; it (stands) before its lord. Its fruit is sweet; its shade is pleasant; And its end is reached in the garden.… (James Pritchard, ed., The Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament, 3rd ed. with Supplement (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1969), 422.

The “streams of water” are irrigated channels which provide water from a spring. In Psalm 46:4-5 a flow of water comes from the habitation of the Lord. Even today in the Middle East there is a need to channel water from a river or spring to a place where plants are growing.

The tree by plentiful streams of water is successful. In order to give fruit in season, a tree needs a good supply of water. Date palms, for example, need careful irrigation if they are going to grow and eventually bear fruit. Since it is always benefiting from the water, the tree does not wither. Again, this is a clear metaphor since everyone has had a plant they forgot to water and it shriveled up and died. Without constant, appropriate water supply, a plant will wither and die.

The blessed person is therefore in a place where they can prosper in the way God has designed them to be. This is not a “health and wealth,” it is simply an observation that the wise person delights in the word of the Lord and avoids situations which are dangerous.

The Psalter therefore begins by pronouncing a blessing on those who drink deeply from the Word of God and meditate on it constantly, inviting them into the book for worship.


4 thoughts on “Psalm 1:2-3 – “Like a Tree”

  1. After studying the words of Jesus in the Gospels, I believe that every single time Jesus used the term “The Law” He was referring specifically to the Law of Moses (that is The Torah, the first 5 books of our “Bible.”)

    Jesus made other references using the word “law”, as in “your law” and “their law” which had a different meaning. But to Jesus “THE Law” was always The Torah, which He came to fulfill, not abolish yet, since not everything is accomplished .

    If I missed something, someone please let me know.

    • Other than being off the topic of this post, that is not wrong – what else could Jesus have meant by Law? As an observant Jew, the Torah as the basic Scripture, but as Matt 5:17-18 says, he did not come to abolish the Law and the Prophets, so two of the three canonical divisions are explicitly mentioned. I doubt the fact he does not mention prophets in v. 18 means the jots and tittles will pass from the Prophets. Luke 24:44 has all three canonical divisions (Psalms is the first book of the Writings and necessary for the point Jesus is making),

      Essentially, “the whole canon” of the Hebrew Bible is the Bible of Jesus, Paul, and the early church. In the context of the Psalm (and the subject of my post), I would extend meditation on the word of God to the NT as well, although the Psalmist only had in mind the word of God he was introducing in the book of Psalms.

  2. The topic is Psalm 1:2-3, right?
    That passage begins: “But his delight is in THE LAW of the LORD…..”

    I respect you, and your role as moderator of this blog – but to say my comment is “off topic” appears to me as… ridiculous, perhaps? No offense intended.

    Yes, you are right, Jesus put the “Scriptures” on order of priority, first The Law, then The Prophets, then The Writings. And yes, the Book of Psalms is the first book, arguably the most important book, of The Writings. But it isn’t the entire book. Yes, we agree, Luke’s quote of Jesus indicates that Jesus was well aware of the 3 distinct parts of the Scriptures, and also the priority of Psalms over the rest of the “Writings.”

    I have maintained that neither the words nor our modern concepts of “canon” nor “Bible” appear in the text of the Scriptures- you have indicated otherwise, but I still don’t understand where you are getting that from. If your answer is “The Bible”, can you tell me where specifically? I don’t see it – at least not yet.

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