The Two Ways: Psalm 1 Revisited – Br. David Vryhof

Br. David Vryhof

Psalm 1

I suspect that few of us have given much thought to the order of the psalms, but it seems obvious that Psalm 1 is placed at the beginning for a reason.  It sets the tone for the psalter and introduces a worldview that will be repeated again and again in the psalms that follow: namely, that the righteous prosper and the wicked do not.  The distinction is made with very little nuance in Psalm 1:  The righteous are depicted as strong and stable, like trees whose roots go deep into the soil.  “Everything they do shall prosper,” claims the psalmist.  On the other hand, the wicked are ungrounded and are tossed about like chaff before the wind.

Several of the psalms that follow in the psalter will object to this claim.  They will wonder openly why the wicked often prosper and why the righteous sometimes fail, when this psalm seems to promise otherwise.  More than one psalmist voices the lament, “Why?  Why do the wicked prosper?”

It’s a fair question and a reasonable objection.  But modern-day readers may also object to this psalm because we dislike sorting people into such polarized categories.  Many of us know people who, though they may not be ‘religious,’ are nevertheless very fine people.  Many of us also know people who, though they identify as religious, are not as righteous as they pretend to be.  Someone once said, “I would rather make a business deal with a good unbeliever than with a bad Christian.” Read More