Posted by: religionthink | September 10, 2009

Psalm 1: The Wicked Will Not Stand in the Judgment

Happy are those who do not follow the advice of the wicked, or take the path that sinners tread, or sit in the seat of scoffers; but their delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law they meditate day and night. They are like trees planted by streams of water, which yield their fruit in its season, and their leaves do not wither. In all that they do, they prosper. The wicked are not so, but are like chaff that the wind drives away. Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous; for the Lord watches over the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish. (Psalms 1:1-6 NRSV)

The above Psalm opens the book of Psalms. It is not only a text contrasting the assembly of the just with the assembly of the wicked, it represents the background theme of the whole book of Psalms. The Psalms and their themes were wildly used in the Ancient Near East and below we will discuss some of these themes that have the same elements as Psalm 1 (Dahood pp.1-5).

From the Sumero-Akkadian text from the Ashurbanipal library dating to about 668-633 B.C., we find the text “Hymn to the Sun-God”. Here the god Shamash is the universal god and enjoys the praise and worship of all people of the earth. In this particular hymn is about the righteousness and judgment of Shamash. Here the theme of judgment and the destroying of the wicked is prevalent. The wicked one in this text has no defense as he stand before the god in the divine council.

When thy weapon is turned on him he has no saviors.
In his trial his father will not stand by him;
To the word of the Judge even his brothers do not answer;
By a bronze trap he will be caught unawares.
The horn of the perpetrator of abomination thou dost destroy.
(Pritchard pp.387-388).

Next we observe and Egyptian text called “The Instruction of Amen-Em-Ope”t In this text we find similar themes, in particular that of the tree and its fruit and foliage. The wicked is dried up but the righteous is full of leaves and bearing fruit. This text is close to the book of Proverbs 22:17-24 and Jeremiah 17:5-8. The papyrus is dated between the 10th and 6th centuries B.C. The forth chapter of this text reads:

As for the heated man of the temple,
He is like a tree growing in the open.
In the completion of a moment comes its loss of foliage,
And its end is reached in the shipyards;
Or it is floated far from its place.
But truly the silent man holds himself apart.
He is like a tree growing in a garden.
It flourishes and doubles its yield;
It stands before its lord.
Its fruit is sweet; its shade is pleasant;
And it’s end is reached in the garden…
(Pritchard pp.421-422)

In Psalms 1:5 we are told “Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous..” The person who stands in the judgment is the person who is speaking, or has the floor. He either gets to plead his case to the heavenly council as in Job 30:28 or the action can apply to a witness as in Psalms 27:12. In Psalms 82:1 it is God himself that addresses the council. It appears that here the wicked will not be able to speak their cause in the heavenly council or ever be able to have the floor. Not being able to have this option would for some be hell itself (Walton p. 518).

Dahood, Mitchell. The Anchor Bible: Psalms 1-50. Doubleday & Company, Inc. Garden City, New York 1968.

Pritchard, James. Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament. Princeton University Press, Princeton, New York 1950.

Walton, John H, Matthews, Victor H. and Chavalas, Mark W. The IVP Bible Background Commentary: Old Testament. InterVarsity Press. Illinois 2000.

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