This is part of the Bible Poetry project. You can click here to see the synopsis of the project.
The first psalm holds a special place in my heart for a number of reasons, but one of them is that it exemplifies biblical poetry, while delivering a powerful and meaningful message to the reader.
As is common in most Hebraic poetry, the principle poetic element is parallelism, or repetition. In this case, that repetition is borne out in the comparison between the wicked and righteous. The righteous man always draws closer to God, while the wicked man forever pulls away from the Lord. This juxtaposition is repeated four times.
I also like the theological strength of this psalm. As the first entry in the Ketuvim (the wisdom writings of the Hebrew bible) this psalm repeats a key theme that is re-introduced in Joshua 1:7 “Do not turn aside from [the Law] to the left or the right, so that you may succeed wherever you go.” This is also present throughout Exodus, Deuteronomy, Leviticus and Numbers. The importance of Mosaic law, as a means by which the chosen people of God may learn to live in better harmony with Him cannot be understated.
For some reason I cannot explain, this particular psalm always makes me think of the youths who taunted Elisha (2 Kings 2:23-25) when it references the wicked. Part of that is my own Christian perspective which states that the wicked are not inherently wicked, just foolish and lacking revelation of Christ. So I always think of the wicked as mean children on a playground (which probably speaks to some deep-seated trauma of my own youth that I refuse to deal with) which is the image I draw from in my first work.
I also recognize that many of the psalms were literal songs, and so I title the pieces accordingly. This one I imagine more of a spoken word piece with music playing the background. Something folksy perhaps, reminiscent of a 1960s protest song.
“Come gather round people, wherever you roam/ and admit that the water around you has grown…”