A Wisdom Psalm

Bird in Tree

Modified from a design
by Emily Hope 1


There is no definite evidence of the authorship of this Psalm. Strong similarities with the Proverbs may indicate Solomon, Agur, or Lemuel. Some attributed it to Esdras, penned when he collected the psalms into one book. Other sources say it is a Psalm of David.

The Church Fathers attribute it to David, and suggest that he speaks prophetically of Joseph of Arimathea, or of Jesus Christ. The Jews refer to Josias as the author. The Jerome Biblical Commentary states the psalm was written following the Jewish exile in Babylon which may support Esdras as the author.


This psalmist describes the “two ways,” the two fundamental options of moral life. He views life as activity, choosing between good and evil. Each group will experience the consequences of their actions: life and prosperity for the obedient, ostracism and unrootedness for the wicked.

Psalm 1

The Two Paths

1 Happy indeed is the man
who follows not the counsel of the wicked,
nor lingers in the way of sinners
nor sits in the company of scorners,

2 but whose delight is the law of the Lord
and who ponders his law day and night.

3 He is like a tree that is planted
beside the flowing waters,
that yields its fruit in due season
and whose leaves shall never fade;
and all that he does shall prosper.

4 Not so are the wicked, not so!
For they like winnowed chaff
shall be driven away by the wind.

5 When the wicked are judged
they shall not stand,
nor find room among those who are just;

6 for the Lord guards the way of the just
but the way of the wicked leads to doom. 1

Athanasian Grail Psalter 1

"He is like a tree
that is planted beside the flowing waters"

Colored Trees

Colored Trees

Image modified from a painting by Joyce Vitek 2

Analysis and Commentary

Verses 1-3 describe the nature of the 'just' man, who is wholly occupied and delighted in keeping God’s commandments. It distinguishes the saint from those who refrain from sin only because of fear - though servile fear may give way and lead to reverence. The psalm contrasts the disposition of the religious faithful from the mind and thoughts of those who have no religion.

The psalm, as do most scriptural passges, operates on multiple levels. It refers to the temporal and the eternal, to the fallen human condition and the perfection of the divine.

St. Augustine says the wording, "who has not gone away in the counsel of the ungodly" refers to Christ. It contrasts Christ, 'the just man', with the man of earth, who consented through his wife to the deception of the serpent". Christ has not "stood in the company of sinners" , nor has he "sat in the seat of pestilence” for the "enticements of the world held Him not" .

There can be no fruit without roots. The tree planted beside the flowing waters, is an emblem of fruitfulness and long life. The tree represents the very Wisdom of God. It represents the promise of a redeemer in the Garden of Eden. It represents the Cross. Those who delight in the Lord's commands, those whose hearts are firmly rooted in the message of the Cross, are watered by the river of living waters. These waters are blessings of the Holy Spirit, that proceed from the throne of God, who is the source of all grace. The 'wise and just man' makes good use of favours he has received. He is continually supplied with renewed wisdom and grace.

The godly are symbolized by a tree — strong, permanent, beautiful, useful, fruitful, but the ungodly are compared to chaff. They have no roots. they are neither beautiful nor fruitful. John the Baptist used a similar picture when he described God as a harvester, visiting the threshing floor with His fan in hand, separating the grain from the chaff. They ungodly have no roots. They are useless - blown by every capricious wind. They yield to the slightest temptation.

The wicked are like goats: separated from the just. They are already judged. They bear the consequences of their choices. They will not rise not in the judgment. The fire shall try every man’s work. They can make no defense. They will not gather “in counsel of the just".

The Lord knows the way of the righteous. He says to sinners, “I never knew you. There is only one road which leads to heaven. It demands a life with roots that draw upon the hidden resources of God. What a blessed life, one that gives satisfaction here and hereafter.” 2-6