The claims of Psalm 1 are counterfactual. It is not the case that the wicked are like chaff the wind drives away. It is not the case that the righteous are like verdant and fruitful trees, successful in everything they do. But it should be.
Ethical discourse speaks of truths as self-evident even if they are not. For example, we assert that all men are created equal, endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. In point of fact, people are created in unequal circumstances. Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are alienable rights. A person’s rights can be taken away, and often are. But they shouldn’t be.
Truth greater than fact is inscribed in Psalm 1. The psalm only makes sense in the heat of conflict. Imagine its words on the lips of those condemned to die because they refuse to renounce their faith. Then you will understand: the words of the psalm are fighting words.
O the blessings of is the way a blessing or macarism 1 begins in Hebrew. Psalm 1 is an extended macarism. Blessings in this context cannot be dissociated from happiness. The happiness of the one who has not gone the usual way but delights in another way is the subject of this Psalm. The happiness that attends the one who prefers God’s wisdom to that of the unscrupulous is contained in the individual’s relationship with God. God notes the path he undertakes. The path of the unscrupulous, on the other hand, is deprived of God’s concern. It will peter out. It leads to the abyss.
Psalm 1 is a recipe for happiness and a guide to survival. It is a fitting introduction to the Psalms, because the Psalms are all about the movement from despair to hope, and happiness and hope go together.
Walk in advice, truth etc. is an idiom that occurs with a certain frequency in ancient Hebrew, and Greek influenced by it. Someone may walk, metaphorically, in light or darkness (Isa 2:5; John 8:12; 1 John 2:11), in truth (1 Kgs 2:4; 3 John 1:4), or in peace and righteousness.
רשע wicked and צדיק righteous are adjectives that serve to designate classes of people. Moral categories are in view. The unprincipled and unscrupulous are termed רשעים; the principled and scrupulous are termed צדיקים. The terms reference a black-and-white distinction, like our forensic terms ‘guilty’ and ‘innocent.’ In some contexts, r and s are best translated with precisely those terms: צדיק עם־רשע ‘the innocent along with the guilty’ (Gen 18:25). רשעים are those who violate the moral order established by God, whose actions are wanton, heinous, and despicable. צדיקים are those who are innocent of such wrongdoing, faithful to God-given mores. A צדיק is more than a blameless person. A צדיק is a benevolent person, active in good deeds. Job describes the positive qualities of a צדיק or תם וישר when he protests his innocence (Job 29-31).
The translation equivalents wicked and righteous allow for concordant translation of a number of cognate terms, wickedness, the right, and righteousness included. The terms apply equally well to God and men. However, wicked and righteous have “Bible” stamped all over them. Outside of religious discourse, righteous in particular is not a productive word. The contrast in the text is between the wanton and the innocent; the devotees of evil, and the one intent on good; those who engage in reprehensible acts, and the one who prefers the wisdom of God. The assembly of the righteous is a term for the community of the faithful, those who are pledged to the truth of God. One’s membership in the assembly of the righteous entails (1) participation in worship; (2) the shaming of the wicked; and (3) the edification of the upright. All three responsibilities are exercised throughout the Psalms. Psalm 1 aims to edify the righteous, shame the wicked, and prepare those who would for the worship of praise.
Stood in the way is a metaphor for sticking to a particular pattern of behavior. In ancient times, one sat in a seat (cathedra, as in ex cathedra) to judge or teach. Scoffers: those who laugh at the moral order attributed to God, convinced that he does not enforce it. They mock those who conform themselves thereto. Delight, with an emotional overtone, not merely preference or preoccupation. Delight echoes blessings at the head of the composition. Recite from: repeat out loud, specifically, portions thereof.
Instruction is a better translation of torah than law. After all, torah in the Bible is the term used for a mother’s instruction of her child (Prov 1:8). To be sure, law with reference to God’s instruction has the advantage of equivalence with Greek nomos in the sense of a body of norms, used of יהוה’s law / the law of Moses in the Old Greek Pentateuch and thereafter. NJPSV and Alter have teaching in Ps 1:2. NJPSV has instruction in Josh 1:8; Buber-Rosenzweig chose to translate torah with the inimitable “Weisung” = direction.
The advice of the wicked is contrasted with direction or counsel whose source is God. The counsel of יהוה is in textualized form. Compare Deut 17:18-19 and Josh 1:8:
וְהָיָה כְשִׁבְתּוֹ עַל כִּסֵּא מַמְלַכְתּוֹ
וְכָתַב לוֹ אֶת־מִשְׁנֵה הַתּוֹרָה הַזֹּאת עַל־סֵפֶר
מִלִּפְנֵי הַכֹּהֲנִים הַלְוִיִּם׃
וְקָרָא בוֹ כָּל־יְמֵי חַיָּיו
It shall be, when he sits on the throne of his kingdom,
that he shall write himself a copy of this instruction on a book
under the supervision of the levitical priests.
He shall have it with him,
and he shall read aloud from it all the days of his life.
לֹא־יָמוּשׁ סֵפֶר הַתּוֹרָה הַזֶּה מִפִּיךָ
וְהָגִיתָ בּוֹ יוֹמָם וָלַיְלָה
לַעֲשׂוֹת כְּכָל־הַכָּתוּב בּוֹ
כִּי־אָז תַּצְלִיחַ אֶת־דְּרָכֶךָ
Let not this book of instruction depart from your mouth,
but recite from it day and night,
so that you will take care
to act according to all that is written in it,
for thus you will make your way thrive
and thus you will succeed.
Some interpreters think Ps 1:2 refers specifically to “heart-recitation” = meditation, rather than “mouth recitation,” but Josh 1:8, “from your mouth,” and Deut 17:18-19, whereקרא means specifically to “read aloud,” suggest otherwise. There are also no grounds for holding that the verb הגה references quietly spoken or murmured speech. A lion’s roar reverberates over its prey (Isa 31:4); the mournful cry of a people reverberates like the song of doves (Isa 59:11); the mouth of a principled person reverberates with wisdom, and his tongue speaks justice (Ps 37:30): in all these cases, the verb הגה is employed, with reference to a repetitive element. The verb הגה references reiterative sound without regard to volume.
The torah of יהוה, like that of a mother (Prov 1:8), is full of warning. On a par with the two passages quoted, it is natural to think of the instruction of יהוה as that found in the book of Deuteronomy, that which one generation was to impress on the next, the imperative (המצוה) to be recited “when lying down” and “when getting up” – day and night in Ps 1:2 - at home and away (Deut 6:7). However, given Ps 1’s placement at the head of the Psalter, it is also natural to think of the Psalter as the instruction of יהוה in which one is to delight, a fit object of memorization and recitation, matins and eves.
1 Macarisms in the Psalms: 1:1; 2:12; 32:1.2; 33:12; 34:9; 40:5; 41:2; 65:5; 84:5.6.13; 89:16; 94:12; 106:3; 112:1; 119:1.2; 127:5; 128:1; 137:8.9; 144:15.15; 146:5