We have looked at the Psalms as a whole and shown how they are valuable for us as Christians in our devotions and worship. Just as Jesus gave the disciples a model prayer so that they could learn to pray as they ought to, God has also given us the book of Psalms to learn to pray, feel, and worship as we ought.
We have seen how the psalms teach us to pray and how they teach us to mourn. They also impart to us wisdom, and it is these Psalms we want to turn our attention to this morning.
Wisdom in the Bible:
Proverbs 1:1-7 gives us an excellent introduction to the genre of Bible literature known as wisdom literature. The books of Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Job, and the Song of Solomon make up the books of wisdom in the Bible. Wisdom literature is characterized by focusing on righteous and good conduct of the individual. Wisdom literature is where God gives us the “how to” of everyday life in the Old Testament.
“The wisdom books of the Bible emphasize a contrast in ways of living which bring about different consequences. On the one hand, there are wicked men who are cursed of God, and on the other hand, there are righteous men on whom God grants his blessing.”
However, these books are not the only place in which the believer’s everyday life is addressed. There is a whole category of psalms known as the wisdom psalms. We classify a psalm as a wisdom psalm when we see a psalm share the same language, concerns, themes, and topics as the books of wisdom. Here are a few parallels to consider between specific psalms and the books of wisdom.
- Proverbs 8-9 and Psalm 1 both contrast two ways of life. The righteous and the unrighteous, along with each path’s consequences.
- Job and Psalm73 both wrestle with the problem of suffering.
- Song of Solomon and Psalm 45 both expound on the blessings of human love in the marriage covenant.
The Book of Psalms begins with a pair of psalms, Psalm 1 (wisdom) and Psalm 2 (kingship). These two psalms stand as gatekeepers to the whole book. The first presents to us the two paths in life, and the second reminds us Who is in control over all and Who will be victorious in the end.
Psalm 1, naturally, opens the psalter. It does show by showing us the two ways of life for the individual. Tremper Longman comments that Psalm 1 forces “The reader naturally identifies with one or the other, with the subtle message that those who are wicked should go no further into the literary sanctuary of the Psalms.”
- vv.1-2 – The psalm opens with a promise. A promise that the man who abstains from the company of sinners, who rejects their advice and counsel, who rejects their ways will be blessed (good fortune). This blessedness is not only because the man abstains from wickedness but also because they “delight” and “meditate” (think deeply) on the law (Torah) of God.
- v.3 – The blessing of v.1 is expounded upon by the psalmist here. They are compared to a tree that gets all that it needs to survive and thrive.
- vv.4-5 – The psalmist presents the second path in these two verses. The wicked, we are told, are not like the man who abstains from wickedness and delights in the word. We are told they are like chaff (flimsy). And, because of their wickedness, they will be unable to survive God’s judgment and will be cast from the assembly of the God-fearers.
- v.6 – The psalm ends with this additional promise. Those who fear God will be known by Him. But the wicked will perish before Him.
While Psalm 2 is not strictly a “wisdom psalm,” it completes the picture of the first psalm. The first psalm focuses on the individual. Psalm 2 expounds out to nations. And, the second psalm shows us that “At the center of history is no longer the struggle of the great world powers for existence, but God, whose relationship with the earthly powers will determine their destiny.”
- vv.1-3 – The nations of the world appear at the beginning of the psalm as allied against the Lord’s Anointed. The psalmist tells us from the start that this is a “vain thing.” Already we get a hint at Who is really in control.
- vv.4-6 – Here, God responds to the vain plans of the nations. He laughs. He prepares His wrath for the nations. And in defiance of all their vanities appoints His King on His holy mountain.
- vv.7-9 – Here, we read the response of the King appointed to rule from Zion. He praises God for what He has done (showing that the King and the psalmist have long ago begun their walk-in true knowledge cf. Proverbs 1:7).
- vv.10-12 – The Psalm ends a call to the nations, and just as Psalm 1 showed the end of the wicked and the righteous, so Psalm 2 shows us the lot of the nations. Those who will worship Jehovah and honor His Son will be blessed (v.12b). But those who persist in their rebellion (v.12a) will suffer the same end as the unrighteous of Psalm 1.
Act on These Words:
What do we make of these types of psalms? This is maybe the most straightforward category of psalms to apply because the application is normally what the verse says in wisdom literature. “Do not withhold good from those whom it is due when it is in your power to do it” (Proverbs 3:27) is not a hard saying to explain or for me to tell you how to do it.
The hard part is doing it. Psalm 1 emphasizes the need for deeply dwelling on the word. Psalm 119:9 (another wisdom psalm) reminds us that for a person to keep their way pure (Psalm 1) is by “Keeping it according to Your word.” And here is where we can bring in a New Testament teaching. Jesus’ teaching on the two foundations (Matthew 7:24-27) summarizes what we are to do with the wisdom psalms. We are to act on these words.
 Weiser, Psalms, 111. Quoted in John Goldingay, Psalms Volume 1: Psalms 1-41. 104