Foundational Pillars of the Psalter: Psalms 1 and 2: Part I

Introduction: the two-part series: Foundational Pillars of the Psalter: Psalms 1 and 2 sets forth two major themes in the Psalter: the law and the king These two psalms are vital for a proper understanding of the entire Psalter..The Psalter consists of five books of varying length covering some 500 years of Israel’s history and God’s redemptive plan. At least two features standout: its substance and structure. By substance I mean its major teachings – doctrinal truths. By structure I mean its organization – how it is put together. The two are linked. Substance provides the content of the Psalter and structure accentuates the substance.
Of primary importance in the structure of the Psalter are Psalms 1 and 2. These two psalms are foundational and their position in the Psalter is intentional. Together they set forth two major themes of the entire Psalter: the centrality of the Torah – the Law and Word – and the centrality of the Messiah, the King..

The first theme, the centrality of the Torah – the law and teaching – rests on the doctrine of two ways, two contrasts set forth in all of Scripture. I am referring to the contrast between the wise and foolish, righteous and wicked, light and darkness, and life and death. Consider briefly Psalm 1:1-3: there is a downward trajectory in the ungodly man’s patterned ways of life: he walks, stands, and sits under the sway of self-pleasing and wise in their own eyes (Proverbs 3:5-8). Psalm 1: 4-5 depict the way of the righteous who loves the law of God because he loves the Lord.

The send theme – the centrality of the Messiah – God’s Person – is pictured in Psalm 2. The Lord has established both the lesser and greater David and Messiah on Zion, His holy hill (Psalm 2:7). It is God’s world and He is in charge! He sets up kings/Kings and kingdoms/Kingdoms (Proverbs 21:1; Psalm 2:6; 24:8-10).

These two themes fit nicely into the overarching program of the Psalter and help establish Psalms 1 and 2 as foundational pillars of the Psalter. Those themes provide backdrop for the unfolding of God’s covenantal, redemptive faithfulness to provide a king and kingdom for His people through David’s line. David points to the greater David, Jesus Christ. A major emphasis of Matthew’s gospel is on Jesus Christ as the son of David, from the seed and ancestry (Matthew 1:1; 9:27; 12:23; 20:30; 21:9, 15; 22:41-45). Said another way, the Psalter unfolds the central aspect of the promise of the Davidic covenant which is given in 2 Samuel 7:11-14. Yahweh promised to provide a dynasty (a line – seed –king) and a dwelling place. In David the king and kingdom had come. David was a man after God’s own heart (1 Samuel 13:14; Acts 7:46; 13:22); he pointed to the greater David. God’s people looked to the king and were to be looking for the greater David – the Messiah Jesus Christ.

These major themes permeate the whole Psalter. Psalm 1 focuses on the centrality of the Torah (the law) and its critical character of instruction and teaching. The standard and source of the teaching was the law/Torah – God’s word. Moreover, law-keeping was not considered simply duty but as a privilege and a blessing. One refrain in Psalm 1 is blessed is the man who… The Psalter is distinctly Torah. It is law and it has a teaching function. Scripture that the Lawgiver and the law are (Exodus 20:18-21; Romans 7:12; 1 Timothy 1:8-11). Instruction and its application were keys to Israel’s survival and prosperity given their position as Yahweh’s favored people (Deuteronomy 28; Leviticus 26). God promised blessings for obedience and curses for disobedience. These facts should not be misunderstood. Some have taken them to mean that the Old Testament and Old Covenant negated grace and emphasized law. Nothing could be more false! The statement charge has been made about the book of James. The message is clear in the Old and New Testament: law-keeping is evidence of salvation and not its cause (James 2:14-26).

In books IV and V of the Psalter (Psalms 90-106, 107-150), Israel was in exile (Book IV) and they returned in Book V. Few people and fewer priests returned. There was no temple. They had no king so they thought. Israel was out of exile but the situation looked bleak. What would they do? The people and priests were forced to rely solely on the Torah for teaching and instruction. The people “forced” back to the word of truth. They could not run and hide from God and His word. God kept his promise to bring them back to the Promised Land. He gave them the Psalter as a tool to get victory in their situation. God does not leave his people although they often run from Him.

1. What are  two major  theme themes of the Psalter?
2. What is the emphasis of each theme?
3. How does the New Testament pick up those themes?
4. When you read the Psalms look for those themes and record the results..

Foundational Pillars of the Psalter: Psalms 1 and 2: Part II

Continuing our study: Foundational Pillars of the Psalter: Psalms 1 and  2, lets look at the individual psalms. Psalm 1 focuses on the Torah and two different groups of men with differing paths and differing destinies. Psalm 1:1-2: Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, or stand in the way of sinners, or sit in the seat of mockers. But his delight is in the law of the Lord and on his law he mediates day and night. Embedded in these verses is a picture of mankind: the people; their path or way; and their prospect or destiny. This short psalm draws attention to an antithetical way of life: the wicked and the righteous as they are judged on the basis of their response to God’s revealed Torah; their journey and delight; and the end result of their choices – blessedness or misery. While the passages may be considered as applying to individuals, the psalm focuses primarily on the messiah and ultimately the Messiah – Jesus Christ. He is the one who read, delighted, and mediated on the Torah – God’s word. The kings of Israel and the people including believers today should imitate the greater David.

This Psalm captures the battle of the seeds begun in the Garden after God cursed Satan for his role in Adam’s sin. God’s teaching sets the way and reveals truth with its proper application (Ps. 119:9-11). Jesus was the ultimate blessed-be-the man initially depicted in Psalm 1:1-2. He is the Psalm 1 man par excellence.

Psalm 2 is the second part of the poetic pillar. It focuses on the centrality of the Messiah: His person, dynasty (kingship), and dwelling place. The messiah and the Messiah are Yahweh’s man for all seasons. His mission is to accomplish Yahweh’s goal of bringing a people to Himself. Law without the Messiah is inadequate and undermines the true nature of both law and the Messiah. Law without Messiah is similar to law without grace. Law properly functions only within the context of a Messiah, and Messiah can only be appreciated within the context of law and law-keeping (Exodus 20:18-21; Romans 7:12; 1 Timothy 1:8-11). There was law of some kind in eternity past in order for harmony, unity, and function. The Triune God has always the Lawgiver!

Psalm 2 gives insight into the Trinity from a Father-Son perspective. It presents the Son as Messiah. He is appointed by God to extend the messianic kingdom of peace and righteousness – shalom. Ps. 2:6-7: ..I have installed my king on Zion, my holy hill; I will proclaim the decree of the Lord: He said to me, You are my Son, today I have become your father. A key feature of the Psalms is the reign of God and His Anointed One. In the lesser David, there was an immediate and earthly aspect to the installation of the king in Jerusalem (see 2 Samuel 5-7). But more than that, the Psalm points to the greater David. The New Testament applied this Psalm to Jesus in Hebrews 1:5; 5:5; Acts 13:33. In it, Christ is pictured as King, Son, Servant, and God.

The coupling of Torah and Messiah is also seen in Psalms 18-19 and 118-119. The coupling highlights the teaching of the Psalter: God’s law is to be a delight and obeyed because Yahweh is trustworthy. An overarching, continual refrain is the fact that Jesus came to please His Father (John 4:31-34). The Psalter places law and law-keeping within the context of the messiah and the Messiah and his/His function. As the king/King goes, so goes the nation, God’s people. The Psalter juxtaposes law and law keeping with messiah and Messiah. Law never competes with grace, law, and messiah.

The Psalms, especially Psalms 1-2, highlight the contrary responses by two groups of mankind (God-pleasers and self-pleasers) with antithetical end results. The context of the Torah is juxtaposed to the Messiah. In Christ, there is a merger of the Davidic kingship and Yahweh’s kingship. The merger of two kings and two kingdoms points to the new heaven and new earth. This eternal viewpoint enables the believer then, and now, to be of earthly good. It is from that vantage-point that the Psalms are truly a blessing to God’s people through all ages.


1. Memorize Psalm 1 and answer:
a. Who is the “blessed man”?
b. Of what does his blessedness consist?
c. How does Psalm 1 with its emphasis on Torah help you interpret Psalm 2?
2. Study Psalm 2: what do you learn about God and Christ?
3. How do apply these two Psalms in your own life? Please be specific.