God is ever-present in our lives. He is as much alive and active today as He was during the times various songs of praise (preserved for us within the Book of Psalms) were first written. Our prayers, praises, laments, confessions, and complaints reflect who we are just as the words in the Psalms reflect worship of that ancient era. Daniel J. Estes notes: “This compilation of 150 songs reveals how the people of Israel turned to Yahweh in the full range of their life experiences.”1 The Psalms, therefore, leave us an historically accurate glimpse into the worship of ancient Israel. This account is rooted in how God specifically set apart the Jews and their unique relationship with Him as revealed through Him.

The purpose behind this series is to explore various Psalms and reflect on the worshiper’s heart. Well over 100 years ago, a commentator made this astute observation:

[The Psalms] give us an insight into the heart of the Old Testament saints–that they disclose their feelings to us in the most sacred and hallowed moments of their life–that they open for us a deep insight in the more hidden wonders of the true religion. – E.W. Hengstenberg.

It is my belief that he was correct. The entire cornucopia of human emotion can be found from within the Psalms. Therefore, my goal is to not only explore each Psalm on a historical, cultural and theological level, but to truly get back to the heart of the author and apply it to the world of today. As Timothy M. Pierce notes, “Whether they are teaching, lamenting, or praising, the Psalms express a belief in the God who is in partnership and relationship with humanity.”2

Lastly, it is highly important to recognize that each Psalm is not an abstract philosophical entity unrelated to the remainder of the Psalter or Judaism; but the heart of a living breathing person who interacts with Yahweh on a daily basis. The life of an Old Testament follower of God is drastically different then anyone in the present day (whether Christian or Jew). Daily, the Hebrews were required to present sacrifices; and these offerings were no small insignificant trinkets. The opening chapters of Leviticus detail the full reality of the requirements of the Law: offerings were to be the best of the heard; and one was required to personally kill the animal before the priests and the Lord (Leviticus 1:5). The Hebrews were constantly reminded whose they were; i.e. God’s chosen.

It is for this reason that the Psalter opens:

Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night.

He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers. The wicked are not so, but are like chaff that the wind drives away.

Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous; for the Lord knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish.

— Psalm 1

It is highly important to note that while the Psalms are a musically-oriented genre that speaks to the heart, we should not take this understanding to mean that interpretation is relative to the reader/interpreter. An understanding that God’s glory and overarching purpose are behind each and every psalm is at the utmost of importance; it is this notion that makes each highly personal and even rooted in Christology. It is for this reason that Pierce rightly comments: “I presuppose that a Christian can scarcely read the psalms without foundationally and explicitly thinking of the Savior.”3 Therefore, this and every psalm which follows serve as a constant reminder to follow, serve, and worship God; for true worship “must convey clearly and unequivocally every part what God has done in the lives of those who are His.”4

Notice the strong emotion in verse 1 practically leaping off the page. Literally, “Blessed” could be rendered as “Oh, the happiness!” It is this blessed individual to which this psalm clearly aims; for this person delights in God and His righteous ways. “Blessed“ and ”delights” therefore share a common idea and should not be separated. Eaton explains that verse 2 reflects “the teaching of the Lord in person, imparting his word and his will, his guidance and his grace, and, at the deepest level, his very self.”5 Hence, there is a literal happiness found in those who delight in God.

The poetry in verses 3 and 4 present a picturesque view of one who devotes himself to God contrasted against one without this foundation. As the psalmist says, “[They] are like chaff that the wind drives away.” The idea captures that of a lifeless piece of worthless straw lying loose on the threshing-room floor pray to wind of the world around it. In the end, the fruit of a sinner’s life is utter worthlessness.

  1. Estes, Daniel J., Handbook on the Wisdom Books and Psalms (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2005), 141.
  2. Pierce, Timothy M., Enthroned on Our Praise: An Old Testament Theology of Worship. NACSBT (Nashville: B & H Publishing Group, 2008), 224.
  3. Ibid., 222.
  4. Ibid., 243.
  5. Eaton, John, The Psalms: A Historical and Spiritual Commentary with an Introduction and New Translation (New York: T&T Clark International, 2003), 62.
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