Ps.1 & 150: Entering the Text
Andrew R. Davis is associate professor of Hebrew Bible at the Boston College School of Theology and Ministry. He holds a PhD from the Johns Hopkins University and an MTS from the Weston Jesuit School of Theology.
Today’s selections invite us to reflect on the beginning (Psalm 1) and the end (Psalm 150) of the Psalter. It is well-known that the Psalter is not so much a book as an anthology containing mini-collections of Psalms, such as the Songs of Ascent (120-134), the Korahite Psalms (42-49, 84-88), the Asaphite Psalms (73-83), the Elohistic Psalter (42-83), the Hallel Psalms (113-118), and the division of the overall book into five discrete collections (1-41, 42-72, 73-89, 90-106, 107-150). Despite the book’s diverse composition, it also has integrity as a book, that is, as a collection of 150 Psalms. This integrity can be observed in the way Psalms 1 and 150 function within the collection as a whole.
The overall focus of Psalm 1 is the opposite fates of the righteous and the wicked, who are compared to a fruitful tree and windblown chaff. There is one line, however, which suggests the psalm was composed as an introduction to a larger collection. The description in verse 2 of a happy person who delights in reciting torah day and night may be a user’s guide for the collection. Understanding torah here as the instruction available from the psalms that follow, we get in verse 2 advice on how to engage that teaching. It is unclear if Psalm 1 is meant to introduce the entire book or just the first collection (Psalms 1-41), but in either case, the psalm’s focus on instruction through delightful recitation is a perfect mindset for reading and singing your way through the book.
Likewise, Psalm 150 is a perfect conclusion to the book. Each of the five collections within the Psalter ends with a doxology, but in the last collection the doxology takes up the final five psalms (146-150). Each of them begins and ends with hallĕlû yāh (“Praise YHWH”), and they reach their climax in Psalm 150, whose six verses consist entirely of the verb to “praise” (hallĕlû). This concentration of “praise” marks Psalm 150 as the grand finale of the overall book, which in Jewish tradition is called Tehillim (“praises”). Also noteworthy is the psalm’s attention to musical instruments (verses 3-5); it suggests that the poet has in mind praise through songs, such as the 149 preceding psalms.
In this way, Psalms 1 and 150 both provide guidance on how to read the psalms found between them. Not only do these psalms offer instruction for righteous living but also praise to God through joyful performance of them.
Questions for Reflection:
- Which words or images in Psalms 1 and 150 are most striking to you?
- Psalms 1 and 150 invite us to read/sing the Psalms for moral instruction and for praise of God. Does one of those speak more or less to your encounter with the Psalms (or any part of the Bible?)
- What roles do study and prayer play in your life?
Text and Translation Psalm 1
אַ֥שְֽׁרֵי־הָאִ֗ישׁ אֲשֶׁ֤ר ׀ לֹ֥א הָלַךְ֮ בַּעֲצַ֪ת רְשָׁ֫עִ֥ים וּבְדֶ֣רֶךְ חַ֭טָּאִים לֹ֥א עָמָ֑ד וּבְמוֹשַׁ֥ב לֵ֝צִ֗ים לֹ֣א יָשָֽׁב׃
כִּ֤י אִ֥ם בְּתוֹרַ֥ת יְהוָ֗ה חֶ֫פְצ֥וֹ וּֽבְתוֹרָת֥וֹ יֶהְגֶּ֗ה יוֹמָ֥ם וָלָֽיְלָה׃
וְֽהָיָ֗ה כְּעֵץ֮ שָׁת֪וּל עַֽל־פַּלְגֵ֫י מָ֥יִם אֲשֶׁ֤ר פִּרְי֨וֹ ׀ יִתֵּ֬ן בְּעִתּ֗וֹ וְעָלֵ֥הוּ לֹֽא־יִבּ֑וֹל וְכֹ֖ל אֲשֶׁר־יַעֲשֶׂ֣ה יַצְלִֽיחַ׃
לֹא־כֵ֥ן הָרְשָׁעִ֑ים כִּ֥י אִם־כַּ֝מֹּ֗ץ אֲֽשֶׁר־תִּדְּפֶ֥נּוּ רֽוּחַ׃
עַל־כֵּ֤ן ׀ לֹא־יָקֻ֣מוּ רְ֭שָׁעִים בַּמִּשְׁפָּ֑ט וְ֝חַטָּאִ֗ים בַּעֲדַ֥ת צַדִּיקִֽים׃
כִּֽי־יוֹדֵ֣עַ יְ֭הוָה דֶּ֣רֶךְ צַדִּיקִ֑ים וְדֶ֖רֶךְ רְשָׁעִ֣ים תֹּאבֵֽד׃
Psalm 1 New Jewish Publication Society Translation (NJPS)
1 Happy is the man who has not followed the counsel of the wicked, or taken the path of sinners, or joined the company of the insolent;
2 rather, the teaching of the LORD is his delight, and he studies that teaching day and night.
3 He is like a tree planted beside streams of water, which yields its fruit in season, whose foliage never fades, and whatever it produces thrives.
4 Not so the wicked; rather, they are like chaff that wind blows away.
5 Therefore the wicked will not survive judgment, nor will sinners, in the assembly of the righteous.
6 For the LORD cherishes the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked is doomed.
Psalm 1 New International Reader's Version (NIRV)
1 Blessed is the person who obeys the law of the Lord.
They don’t follow the advice of evil people.
They don’t make a habit of doing what sinners do.
They don’t join those who make fun of the Lord and his law.
2 Instead, the law of the Lord gives them joy.
They think about his law day and night.
3 That kind of person is like a tree that is planted near a stream of water.
It always bears its fruit at the right time.
Its leaves don’t dry up.
Everything godly people do turns out well.
4 Sinful people are not like that at all.
They are like straw
that the wind blows away.
5 When the Lord judges them, their life will come to an end.
Sinners won’t have any place among those who are godly.
6 The Lord watches over the lives of godly people.
But the lives of sinful people will lead to their death.
Text and Translation Psalm 150
הַ֥לְלוּ יָ֨הּ ׀ הַֽלְלוּ־אֵ֥ל בְּקָדְשׁ֑וֹ הַֽ֝לְל֗וּהוּ בִּרְקִ֥יעַ עֻזּֽוֹ׃
הַֽלְל֥וּהוּ בִגְבוּרֹתָ֑יו הַֽ֝לְל֗וּהוּ כְּרֹ֣ב גֻּדְלֽוֹ׃
הַֽ֭לְלוּהוּ בְּתֵ֣קַע שׁוֹפָ֑ר הַֽ֝לְל֗וּהוּ בְּנֵ֣בֶל וְכִנּֽוֹר׃
הַֽ֭לְלוּהוּ בְתֹ֣ף וּמָח֑וֹל הַֽ֝לְל֗וּהוּ בְּמִנִּ֥ים וְעוּגָֽב׃
הַֽלְל֥וּהוּ בְצִלְצְלֵי־שָׁ֑מַע הַֽ֝לְל֗וּהוּ בְּֽצִלְצְלֵ֥י תְרוּעָֽה׃
כֹּ֣ל הַ֭נְּשָׁמָה תְּהַלֵּ֥ל יָ֗הּ הַֽלְלוּ־יָֽהּ׃
Psalm 150 New Jewish Publication Society Translation (NJPS)
1 Hallelujah. Praise God in His sanctuary; praise Him in the sky, His stronghold.
2 Praise Him for His mighty acts; praise Him for His exceeding greatness.
3 Praise Him with blasts of the horn; praise Him with harp and lyre.
4 Praise Him with timbrel and dance; praise Him with lute and pipe.
5 Praise Him with resounding cymbals; praise Him with loud-clashing cymbals.
6 Let all that breathes praise the LORD. Hallelujah.
Psalm 150 New International Reader's Version (NIRV)
1 Praise the Lord.
Praise God in his holy temple.
Praise him in his mighty heavens.
2 Praise him for his powerful acts.
Praise him because he is greater than anything else.
3 Praise him by blowing trumpets.
Praise him with harps and lyres.
4 Praise him with tambourines and dancing.
Praise him with stringed instruments and flutes.
5 Praise him with clashing cymbals.
Praise him with clanging cymbals.
6 Let everything that has breath praise the Lord.
Praise the Lord.
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The opinions contained in this piece are solely the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of Interfaith Youth Core. Interfaith America encourages a wide range of views and strives to maintain a respectful tone with a goal of greater understanding and cooperation between people of different faiths, worldviews, and traditions.