[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.
Meditating 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.