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Bible Commentaries

Expositor's Dictionary of Texts

Psalms 1

Verses 1-6

The Tree and the Chaff

Psalms 1:1

There is a law to obey which is life; there is a King, to serve Whom is blessedness, and rebellion against Whom is destruction.

I. Note first the picture of a fair and fruitful life. If you have not learned to shelter your positive goodness behind a barrier of negative abstinence, there will be little vitality and little fruit in the weakling plants that are trying to blossom in the undefended open, swept by every wind. But then note further how in this abstinence there is a certain progress. It is quite clear, I think, that there is an advance in the prominence of association with evil, expressed by the three attitudes, walking, standing, sitting.

II. Then we come to the next step here. Abstinence is useless unless it be for something. There is no virtue in not doing so-and-so unless there be a positive doing something a great deal better. And now to the second part of this picture how it fares with lovers of God's law. Such a life will be rooted and steadfast, for the word here translated 'planted' is not that ordinarily employed to express that idea, but conveys mainly the notion of fixity and steadfastness. If you want your life to have a basis then you must consciously and intelligently feel and pierce down through all superficial fleeting things, until you grasp the centre and wrap yourselves round that. Such a life shall be vigorous and fruitful. Such a life shall 'prosper'. Now turn to the other dark picture of the rootless, fruitless life. The light and the shadow, the blackness and the glory, are put right against one another and each is heightened by the juxtaposition.

III. There comes next the disappearance of such a life in the winnowing wind as a consequence of its essential nullity. Nothing lasts but obedience to the will of God. That which God knows lasts. That which He does not know perishes. There are two roads before us. The one steep, rough, narrow, hard, but always climbing steadily upwards, and sure to reach its goal; the other broad, easy, flowery, descending, and therefore easier than the first. One is the path of obedience for the love of Christ. In that path there is no death, and those who tread it shall come to Zion with songs and everlasting joy upon their heads. The other is the path of self-will and self-pleasing, which fails to reach its unworthy goal and brings the man at last to the edge of a black precipice over the verge of which the impetus of his descent will carry his reluctant feet. 'The path of the just is as the shining light, which shineth more and more unto the perfect day. The way of the wicked is as darkness; they know not at what they stumble.'

Alexander Maclaren, The Freeman, 6 March, 1891, p. 147.

Psalms 1:1

Tennyson was very grand on contemptuousness. It was, he said, a sure sign of intellectual littleness. Simply to despise nearly always meant not to understand. Pride and contempt were specially characteristic of barbarians.

Wilfrid Ward in The New Review (July, 1886).

Contempt is murder committed by the intellect, as hatred is murder committed by the heart Charity, having life in itself, is the opposite and destroyer of contempt as well as of hatred.

George MacDonald, David Elginbrod (pt. ii. chap. IX.).

References. I. 1. A. Mursell, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxvi. p. 269. C. Bosanquet, Tender Grass for the Lambs, p. 61. The International Critical Commentary, p. 3. E. C. Wickham, Wellington College Sermons, p. 203. C. C. Bartholomew, Sermons Chiefly Practical, p. 245. I. 1, 2. A. Maclaren, Sermons Preached in Manchester (3rd Series), p. 225. John Thomas, Myrtle Street Pulpit, vol. iii. p. 127. W. G. Pearce, Some Aspects of the Blessed Life, Philippians 1:17 . E. C. Wickham, Wellington College Sermons, p. 209. I. 1-3. M. R. Vincent, Gates Into the Psalm Country, p. 3. I. 1-4. John Thomas, Myrtle Street Pulpit, vol. iii. p. 127. I. 1-6. C. Perren, Revival Sermons, p. 316.

A Tree Planted By Rivers of Water

Psalms 1:3

I. The happy man of this Psalm is none other than the man who presents his body a living sacrifice unto God, and is not fashioned according to this world's pattern and device, but is transformed by the renewing of his mind through an earnest pondering of God's thoughts, and who thereby proves by a daily experience what is the good and acceptable and perfect will of God. Wherein, then, does his happiness consist? Blessed is this man, for 'he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water'. What is it that is contrasted with a tree in this Psalm? Chaff; and the contrast that is presented to us in this Psalm is this, as to whether our lives are to be like a tree or like the chaff. Now a tree viewed in contrast to the chaff provides a noble image of a rich, full, fruitful life. The special force of the image lies in this, that a tree perfectly portrays to us the connexion between thinking and working, between the roots of conduct and the fruits of conduct A tree derives its nourishment from hidden roots, and all the fruit that grows amid sunshine grows out of the hidden roots that have struck down into the earth, and have been drinking there of the lower streams. And the answering fact in human life is this that the roots of our life and conduct are inward and downward. Strong characters are not uncaused things. Strong characters are produced by strong thinking, by strong teaching. Good deeds are the outgrowth of great thoughts. It is quite true that men sometimes fail to put their best thoughts into action, and why is it? Is it not because their thoughts are not allowed to take full possession of them and of their feelings and minds? And hence men who sometimes have very good thoughts have very bad lives. The remedy for that is to think more. Yes, even though it be painful to think more, to think.

II. Two words here deserve special notice. The word 'planted' is significant in the text. It is equal to our word 'transplanted'. Now of course, a literal tree never chooses its locality, but all emblems drawn from nature in Scripture fail to represent man's power of will and of choice. The tree cannot transplant itself. But that is not so with man. Where God has given the stream of His Word, where God's Word is known, men may choose to strike their roots into its fatness if they will. Then the word 'streams' or 'rivers' is specially significant. The Psalmist does not use the common word for a natural river here, a river which rises among the hills and flows down into the sea. He employs a term which represents those artificial channels which are so extensively used for the purpose of irrigation in the East. By diligence and by courage we are able to conquer barrenness in nature, so that the very wilderness rejoices and blossoms as the rose. In all such labour there is profit: and how foolish we are if our gardens are thirsting when the river of God is flowing down not far from any one of us, and we may make cuttings, we may open communications of God's will and truth to refresh our hearts and fertilize and nourish our lives.

T. Vincent Tymms, The British Weekly Pulpit, vol. II. p. 141.

Christ in the First Psalm

Psalms 1:3

Every delineation of the righteous is in the end a picture of the Lord Jesus Christ, and of Him alone. God has somewhat against all His saints, against their own righteousness. None of them is righteous completely except in the righteousness of the Redeemer. The application of this principle gives a new life and power and message to the book of the Psalms. We take for an example the first Psalm. It is true in its integrity of one soul at least, and of none but one. Multitudes through grace have come near it. It blessedly recalls them, but for its full meaning we must look at the Name that burns behind the porcelain sheath and see Jesus, and Jesus only.

I. In Christ there was no scorn, no contempt, no insolence, no taunting. He did not despise our world. He did not despise our nature. He did not despise the meanest of His creatures. Nor did He despair of any human soul.

II. His life was nourished on the law. His delight was in the law of the Lord, and on His law did He meditate day and night. It was of Him alone that it could be said that He was utterly obedient.

III. This life, the life of the righteous, was beautiful and fruitful, He lived that life of true peace which is not fugitive but everlasting. His was a life of fruit. Every righteous life must end in fruit. The greenness and the beauty are but a form of promise. The inexorable condition on which life is given is that it should reach forward to fruit-bearing. He bore His fruit in due season God fixed, and He still fixes the season.

W. Robertson Nicoll, The Garden of Nuts, p. 111.

References. I. 3. C. Perren, Revival Sermons, p. 316. International Critical Commentary, p. 3. G. Orme, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lx. p. 334. E. Johnson, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xx. p. 347. G. Matheson, Moments on the Mount, pp. 79, 122. H. P. Liddon, Old Testament Outlines, p. 100. Homiletic Magazine, vol. vii. p. 73. I. 3, 4. H. Macmillan, Two Worlds are Ours, p. 203. A. Blomfield, Sermons in Town and Country, p. 313. I. 4. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. lv. No. 280. John Thomas, Myrtle Street Pulpit, vol. iii. p. 127. I. 4, 5. A. G. Brown, Penny Pulpit, No. 767. I. 4, 6. M. R. Vincent, Gates Into the Palm Country, p. 21.

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Bibliographical Information
Nicoll, William Robertson, M.A., L.L.D. "Commentary on Psalms 1". Expositor's Dictionary of Text. https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/edt/psalms-1.html. 1910.