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Is There A Blessing In the Psalms For Me? Understanding Biblical Wisdom Literature

Today I want to talk about the idea of blessing in the Psalms….for you. Intrigued? Good! But first, we must understand biblical wisdom literature. It serves as the key to our participation in the blessing.

That is probably a good lead-in question to think about when approaching biblical wisdom literature. If you are following a Bible reading plan then you’re probably well acquainted with the Psalms by now. But just how acquainted are you?

Blessing 101

For today’s post, I want to do something a bit different; instead of writing a post from scratch, I thought it would be helpful to adapt a paper I wrote in one of my Old Testament Theology courses. This paper surveys Psalm 1 and how we enjoy a blessing in our reading of the psalm.

Why go to the trouble of sharing an academic paper with you? Because answering the question “is there a blessing for me” has everything to do with the theme of wisdom literature generally and the book of Psalms in particular. Psalm 1 gives us a great opportunity to engage with these concepts, hopefully informing us of the way to read the rest of biblical wisdom literature.

As we have been talking about reading strategies in theory, I decided to take a break from the theory and share an example of reading strategy put into practice. This is similar to a post I shared about narrative passages. This time, instead of narrative passages, the idea is about how to approach reading biblical wisdom literature.

And I can think of no greater impacting book in the biblical wisdom literature genre (Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon) to readers than the book of Psalms. We quote it, we sing it, we have devotionals with it- but how exactly does it apply to us today? Is there a blessing in the Bible for me?

Psalm 1- A Blessing For Then and Now

The concept of blessing in the Psalms preoccupies the minds of many Christians. Many wonder if such blessings are restricted to the past or extended to the present. In consideration of blessing and its outworking, Christians should observe Psalm 1 to view the biblical concept of blessing and understand that the promise of blessing is extended to Christians today.

The Context of the Blessing

Blessing was a term of great significance for covenant life between Yahweh (i.e. the Hebrew covenantal name of God, written in English Bibles as ‘The LORD’) and Israel: “In every place where I cause my name to be remembered I will come to you and bless you” (English Standard Version, Exodus 20.24). As such, there is a didactic framework of blessing revealed initially to Israel in God’s covenant that must be considered. This connection is drawn by the Psalmist in the opening two verses:

“Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked […] but his delight is in the law of the LORD […]” (Psalm. 1.1-2).

This connection of blessing and submission to the covenantal law of Yahweh demonstrates that the blessing is tied to covenant faithfulness. However, such an observation does not represent a limitation to the Psalm’s modern relevancy. It only requires a thematic observation of the Psalm’s blessing described.

The Relevancy of the Blessing Today

A contention exists between scholars involving the cause-and-effect dynamic of biblical wisdom literature and whether such a dynamic should be seen as a strict case of retribution. If the retribution concept is true, then the qualification of covenantal faithfulness restricts the blessing to the Psalm’s original audience in strict covenantal terms. Everett F. Harrison argues instead for a thematic interpretation in “The Wycliffe Bible Commentary”

The psalm presents in sharp contrast two extremes- the truly righteous way of life and the basically wicked way. The contrast introduces in a didactic manner the two categories of men to be described throughout the Psalter. The psalmist continues the antithesis by showing the present and future destinies of each group (496).

Character Concept

In “Old Testament Wisdom Literature: A Theological Introduction”, the authors warn that a mechanical view of retribution is the result of failing to recognize the long-term character concept (Bartholomew and O’Dowd 272), such as the character theme argued by Harrison. If the character-concept approach is true, then the concept and reality of blessing can in turn be applied to believers today, since it is not restricted to a case of retribution. The Apostle Peter upholds such a hermeneutic to the Gentile Christians in Asia Minor:

Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing. For “Whoever desires to love life and see good days, let him keep his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking deceit; let him turn away from evil and do good; let him seek peace and pursue it, for the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and his ears are open to their prayer, But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil”. (1 Peter. 3.9-12)

In this example, Peter cites Psalm 34 (quite similar to the construct of Psalm 1) and applies its promise of blessing to the Church as an incentive for living righteously. This shows that blessings in the Psalms are not as a rule limited to a strict retribution of Old Testament covenant faithfulness. The nature of the extended blessing will now be observed.

The Nature of the Blessing

After observing the context and theme of blessing in Psalm 1, application can rightly be given to the nature of the blessing for all Christians today. Psalm 1’s blessing is not limited to a particular class or ethnicity but promised for him who’s delight is in the LORD and His ways. Further, it is not defined strictly as material blessing, but is defined generally as “the LORD knows the way of the righteous” (Ps. 1.6).

Harrison states that this means “God regards or concerns himself with the way of the righteous” (496). The Psalmist demonstrates God’s regard by observing the life of the righteous man, “In all that he does, he prospers” (Ps. 1.4). This observation shows that the blessing is also not restricted to a particular variety or form.

Similarly, the Apostle Paul defines God’s blessing to the Corinthian church as “having all sufficiency in all things at all times” (2 Cor. 9.8), mirroring the blessing language of the Psalm, “In all that he does, he prospers” (Ps. 1.4).

Peter and Paul on Biblical Wisdom Literature

Both Peter and Paul teach that the Christian concept of blessing is, generally speaking, God’s provision of what His people need for further enjoyment of Him and further work in His service. This generality does not limit the wonder of God’s blessing, but rather increases the wonder, since the blessings are kept from restrictive limitations. As the reader or teacher approaches Psalm 1, it is important to take away that God’s sovereign gifts extend uniquely to each life of the righteous person.

James on Biblical Wisdom Literature

In the words of James, such gifts and blessings are “good and perfect” (James 1.17), coming from the hand of a good and perfect Father to all His people, uniquely and individually. Christians can and should make much of God’s extended blessing in Psalm 1, sharing such joyful truth in Sunday school, small groups, or even preaching a sermon. The blessing of Psalm 1 can rightly be taught as extending to God’s Church today and ought to be celebrated, for it is a promise given to those whose delight is The LORD, both then and now.

Applying Reading Tips for Psalm 1

This psalm draws a remarkable distinction between two people groups: the righteous and the wicked. But the personification of each of these is related to nature by way of sharp contrast. On the one hand, it is interesting to note that the difference between the wicked and the righteous is the difference between the pleasure and the displeasure of God.

God’s pleasure is seen in His delight of the righteous one. God’s displeasure is seen in His determination that the wicked will not stand during the judgment. How delusional we must be to suggest that the concept of judgment is due only to the misrepresentation of the New Testament or the exaggeration of the Old Testament. We can hardly make it through the first psalm before we are met with the reality that judgment is tangible and true.

What is more, the sobriety of the reader experienced in this psalm when we see that there is no tertium quid, no third way. There is the way of the righteous and the way of the wicked. It is the judgment that pronounces the dividing line, the sharp sword that establishes the two camps.

Personal Blessing

The beauty of the Psalm takes shape as the descriptions of the two camps are explored. The first word of the psalm rises to the top of our focus as we are informed that God pronounces a blessing. This is not a general blessing, but one that comes from the only other person within the psalm- the LORD.

In noting the identification of God as The LORD, it is a covenantal association that expands what type of blessing being described here. As we examine the Old Testament and what it means to be blessed in covenantal way, the supreme banner of blessing is that of God as inheritance and reward. The covenantal God says, “I am your shield, your exceedingly great reward” (Gen. 15.1)


God- The Reward and Rewarder

This reward of God being protector and substantial inheritance is indeed a gift transcendent to all else. And this is in view of the man who does not set up his tent and dwell characteristically with the ways of the wicked.

As this touches on the negative rejection of the one whom God pronounces a blessing upon, there is also the positive: that the righteous one experiences the joy now in light of the joy to come, delighting and meditating in the law of the LORD.

Meditation- The Key to a Fruitful Life

For an expansion of this concept, one may simply read psalm 119 which traces the heartbeat of the one who delights and meditates upon the law of God. But for the poetic wonder of the life lived this way, we may follow the psalm at hand to see just how significant this delight and meditation is:

In several words, the man of God is rooted, fruitful, enduring, and prosperous. The man is near to life and near to the steady source of life in being near the stream of water. The man evidences his true sustenance by yielding fruit in season. Due to his healthy way of life and steady source of refreshment, he does not wither up and die in the time of severity.

True and Lasting Riches

And finally, the text moves to another analogy as that of prosperity. Why does the psalm seek to mention prosperity? Have we not thus far had a deep-rooted tree in view? It is not meant to steer us to a new analogy altogether but seeks to be a capstone of the tree’s qualities and demonstrates an antithesis for the demise of the wicked which is mentioned in the following phrase: they are like chaff that the wind drives away.

While the tree is the substantial tree who flourishes and blossoms, even providing shade to the other plants and wildlife, the wicked are mere tumble weeds that will perish to nothing at the mere sneeze of the wind. The righteous are established by Christ, productive by Christ, preserved by Christ, and sanctified by Christ. These are the qualities in view of a planted tree, producing fruit, enduring the danger of withering and maintaining a course of prosperity.

Works Cited

  • The Bible. English Standard Version, Crossway, 2008.

  • Pfeiffer, Charles F. and Everett F. Harrison. The Wycliffe Bible Commentary. 1962. The Moody Bible Institute of Chicago, 1968.

  • Bartholomew, Craig G. and Ryan P. O’Dowd. Old Testament Wisdom Literature: A Theological Introduction. IVP Academic, 2011.

#Hermeneutics #OldTestament #Psalms

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