HomeArticlesStandeth in the way of Sinners: Commentary on Psalm 1:1

Standeth in the way of Sinners: Commentary on Psalm 1:1


The Hebrew word translated “standeth” עָמָ֑ד is a Qal perfect from the root meaning “to stand,”1)Gesenius’ Hebrew and Chaldean Lexicon of the Old Testament Scriptures, Wm. B. Eerdmans Pub. Co. (Grand Rapids, MI: 1957), p. 637 used over five hundred times with significant flexibility based on context. The Peshitta translates it as “abide by the council of sinners.”2)The Holy Bible From Ancient Eastern Manuscripts Containing the Old and the New Testament Translated from the Peshitta, the Authorized Bible of the Church of the East, by George M. Lamza, A. J. Holman Company (Philadelphia: 1933, 1957), p. 589 In later Hebrew text the implication could insinuate “to insist upon”3)Marcus Jastrow, A Dictionary of the Targumim, The Talmud Babli and Yerushalmi, and the Midrashic Literature, Judaica Press, Inc. (New York, NY: 1971, 1996), p. 1086 which is expressed as to “take ones stand”, or being firm in ones resolve with “a standing attitude.”4)Francis Brown, S.R. Driver, C.A. Briggs, Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament, (Claredon Press: Oxford, 1980), p. 763 Ray Stedman expresses this attitude, stating, “the wicked stand for the things of the world; the righteous take a stand for God.”5)Ray C. Stedman, Psalms: Folk songs of Faith, Discovery House Publishers (Grand Rapids, MI: 2006), p. 22

The literal rendering will state, “And in the way of sinners—do not stand.” The wicked choose to stand with this way of sinners while the blessed man will choose to separate from their ways. When “stand” is conjoined to the term “before” לִפְנֵ֖י it expresses the meaning of serving.

Servants of Yahweh “stand before him” as an expression of dedication, allegiance, and servitude. This terminology is used of priests (e.g. Ezk 44:15), and particularly of genuine believers during the period of Israel’s decline and apostasy (Elijah, I Kgs 17:1; 18:15; Elisha, II Kgs 3:14; and Gehazi, [with reluctance], II Kgs 5:16).

   As Joseph stood before Pharaoh (Gen 41:46), David before Saul (I Sam 16:21), Abishag and Bathsheba before David (I Kgs 1:2, 28), and Nebuzardan before Nebuchadnezzar (Jer 52:12); so the believer stands before Yahweh of a position of obedience, respect, and readiness to serve.6)Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (R. Laird Harris, Gleason L. Archer, Jr., Bruce K. Waltke) Moody Press (Chicago, IL 1980), Vol. 2, p. 674

In this passage, the Psalmist is likely expressing a standing position of service to the sinners. Methuselah “began to stand at the altar in front of the face of the LORD… having thoroughly taught all the earth and all his own people” (2 Enoch 70:1),7)The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha (Ed. James H. Charlesworth) Doubleday (New York, NY: 1983), Vol. 1, p. 200 implying he served as the priest and teacher.  Standing is also an expression of reverence. Edersheim mentioned the first century practice in synagogues: “Those who are to read the Law will stand, while he who is to preach or deliver an address will sit.”8)Alfred Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, Macdonald Publishing Co. (Mclean, VA: 1883, 1886), Vol. 1, p. 436 Reverence for the Word of God with the expressed intention to follow what it taught caused them to stand while reading it.

Standing could be expressed as in contrast to movement being made—standing still. Wisdom is said to “standeth in the top of high places, by the way in the places of the paths.” (Proverb 8:2) Wisdom is seeking to teach the simple and fools understanding (Proverbs 8:1-5). Thus standing in the way is to be placed in a position where many people travel past to hear what is being spoken. Those who may like to learn will stop traveling to listen. To stand still is to wait with intent listening (Job 32:16). God called the Israelites to return to the former laws of the fathers and stand firm in them (Jeremiah 6:15-22), but they refused. Jeremiah 6:16 expresses this in a chiastic structure:

a) Thus saith the Lord,

                b) Stand ye in the ways,

c) and see,

d) and ask for the old paths,

                     d’) where is the good way,

               c’)  and walk therein,

         b’)  and ye shall find rest for your souls.

a) But they said, We will not walk therein.

They were expected to stand still and learn the responsibilities of the covenant and walk in it by obedience.

To “stand” could also imply the sense of to observe or learn. As mentioned above, to “stand before” is meant to serve and any expression of serving necessitates a learning process. In Ezekiel 48, the prophet pronounces judgment on Moab which is depicted as fleeing to get away from their spoiler (Ezekiel 48:9). This inability to stand still because they are overpowered by attackers is their judgement. The inhabitants of Aroer are said to “stand by the way, and espy; ask him that fleeth, and her that escapeth” (Ezekiel 48:19). They are desiring to learn what has been done to cause Moabites to flee with such fear. The probable progression of Psalm 1 with “walking,” “standing,” and “sitting,” likely expresses a training process under those who are teaching. “Walking” begins an association, “standing” is to learn from the scorner, while “sitting” we will see was the position of the teacher. This depicts the wicked person who will not be blessed becomes in time the scoffer who teaches others to scoff.

To “stand still” is paralleled to “hearken” (Job 37:14), which implies to listen and learn. In Nehemiah’s day the people stood to be taught (Nehemiah 8:5, 7; 9:2). Moses sat to judge while the people stood all day to be judged (Exodus 18:13) and a manslayer was to stand before the congregation to be judged (Joshua 20:9). Absalom stood by the gate desiring to be made a judge (2 Samuel 15:2). The aspect of judging was to teach judgements (Ezra 7:25). People stood to receive God’s commandments (Leviticus 9:5-6), and to learn His word to teach it to their children (Deuteronomy 4:10). Multitudes stood to hear Jesus Christ teaching (Matthew 13:2). The common position for the teacher was to sit while the disciple stood and learned their lessons (see comments on “sitteth”). The Hellenistic culture would reverse this standard with the teacher standing, which was the model Paul followed when ministering to the Gentiles (Acts 13:16; 17:22; 27:21).

The Lord desires us to learn from Him the way we should live. “Good and upright is the Lord: therefore will he teach sinners in the way. The meek will he guide in judgment: and the meek will he teach his way” (Psalm 25:8-9). His law is presented synonymous with wisdom which keep our steps from slipping (Psalm 37:30-31). While God seeks to teach the sinner His Law, “wickedness overthroweth the sinner” (Proverbs 13:6). Staying separated from such wickedness is an important lesson. James teaches, “let him know, that he which converteth the sinner from the error of his way shall save a soul from death, and shall hide a multitude of sins” (James 5:20).

the way

The Hebrew begins the phrase with וּבְדֶ֣רֶךְ “and in the way,” though grammatically the definite article is lacking but is supplied because the noun is singular construct. The word דֶּרֶךְ is extremely common with 626 occurrences. The basic meaning is “way, road, distance, journey, manner”9)Francis Brown, S.R. Driver, C.A. Briggs, Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament, (Claredon Press: Oxford, 1980, p. 202 or as Gesenius indicated, “mode, course, in which one goes, or which one follows.”10)Gesenius’ Hebrew and Chaldee Lexicon of the Old Testament Scriptures, Wm. B. Eerdmans Pub. Co. (Grand Rapids, MI: 1957), p. 208 By not standing in the way of sinners, the blessed man is not following their manner of scorning. The fool’s way is right in his own eyes (Proverbs 12:15) only because he does not meditate on the law of the Lord. When דֶּרֶךְ is prefixed with the preposition בְּ (“in”) it frequently designates the concept of following or imitating the course of someone’s life (1 Kings 16:26; 22:43; 2 Kings 22:2; 2 Chronicles 17:3; 21:12; 22:3; Isaiah 8:11). Hebert Wolf noted what is very relevant to our context in Psalm 1, that “even after the giving of the law, Israel quickly deviated from the way of the Lord (Duet 9:16) though they were assured that their ways would not be successful (Duet 28:29).”11)Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (R. Laird Harris, Gleason L. Archer, Jr., Bruce K. Waltke) Moody Press (Chicago, IL 1980), Vol. 1, p. 197 Meditating on the law makes the man as a fruitful and prosperous tree, but to stand in the way of sinners leads in the end to perish (Psalm 1:6). Fathers were to remind their sons of the way to walk. “My son, be mindful of the Lord our God all thy days, and let not thy will be set to sin, or to transgress his commandments: do uprightly all thy life long, and follow not the ways of unrighteousness.”12)Tobit 4:5; The Apocrypha (Ed. Manuel Komroff), Barnes & Noble Books (New York, NY: 1992), p. 79

Jeremiah defines “way” as synonym with “doings.” “I the Lord search the heart, I try the reins, even to give every man according to his ways, and according to the fruit of his doings.” (Jeremiah 17:10 also see 4:18; 7:3, 5; 18:11; 23:22; 25:5; 26:3, 13; 32:19; 35:15) Jeremiah’s contemporary Ezekiel also expressed this synonym (Ezekiel 14:22, 23; 20:43, 44; 24:14; 36:17, 19, 31); as did Hosea (Hosea 4:9; 12:2), and Zechariah (Zechariah 1:4, 6). The only canonical text antecedent to Psalm 1 to identify this synonym is Judges 2:19. Jeremiah 17:10 draws a closer parallel with Psalm 1 as it implies the affections of a man’s “heart” (Psalm 1:2); with “way” and “fruit” (Psalm 1:3). Jeremiah is clearly offering his commentary on the blessed man of Psalm 1. Prophets were expected to tell the people the way they should go (1 Samuel 9:6, 8). However, the sin nature would always drive the people quickly from the way God commanded (Exodus 32:8).

The “way” to the tree of life was blocked off because man’s sin (Genesis 3:24). God destroy the earth with a flood because the “way” of man was corrupted (Genesis 6:12). Only Noah “walked with God” (Genesis 6:9). Following the way of sin has had a devastating effect on the world throughout history. To “go the way of all the earth” meant to die (1 Kings 2:2) which is the result of sin (Romans 6:23). David’s charge to his son Solomon defined walking in God’s “way” as keeping His law and commandments. David said, “keep the charge of the Lord thy God, to walk in his ways, to keep his statutes, and his commandments, and his judgments, and his testimonies, as it is written in the law of Moses, that thou mayest prosper in all that thou doest, and whithersoever thou turnest thyself: that the Lord may continue his word which he spake concerning me, saying, If thy children take heed to their way, to walk before me in truth with all their heart and with all their soul, there shall not fail thee (said he) a man on the throne of Israel” (1 Kings 2:3-4). Sadly, Solomon departed from his father’s godly council.

Job mentioned how sinners reject God’s ways. “Therefore they say unto God, Depart from us; for we desire not the knowledge of thy ways. What is the Almighty, that we should serve him? and what profit should we have, if we pray unto him? Lo, their good is not in their hand: the counsel of the wicked is far from me” (Job 21:14-16). Isaiah records the words of sinners expressing this same thought with more audacity, claiming to be holier than God Himself (Isaiah 65:5). While sinner question if it would be profitable to walk in God’s way, the Psalmist assures us it will be prosperous (Psalm 1:3; 85:12-13).

way of sinners

The Hebrew word for “sinners” חַ֭טָּאִים is a masculine plural adjective. As a plural adjective it denotes “sinful men,”13)Francis Brown, S.R. Driver, C.A. Briggs, Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament, (Claredon Press: Oxford, 1980), p. 308 as it is translated in Numbers 32:14. It describes the activity of certain people which becomes their characteristic identifier. James Murphy says, “the degesh denotes the intensity of habit.”14)James G. Murphy, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Book of Psalms with a New Translation, James Family Publishing (Minneapolis, MN: 1977 [originally published by Warren Draper, Andover:1876]), p. 56 Albert Barnes states:

Of sinners – חטאים chaṭṭâ’iym This word means literally, those who miss the mark; then, those who err from the path of duty or rectitude. It is often used to denote any kind or degree of sin. It is more specific than the former word rendered “ungodly,” as denoting those who depart from the path of duty; who fail in regard to the great end of life; who violate positive and known obligations.15)Albert Barnes, Albret Barnes’ Notes on the Whole Bible, Psalm 1:1; https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/bnb/psalms-1.html

As a verb the word can describe “miss (a goal or way), go wrong, sin[.]”16)Francis Brown, S.R. Driver, C.A. Briggs, Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament, (Claredon Press: Oxford, 1980), p. 306 These sinful men have missed the right way of life and have sought the path of wickedness to pursue. The direction being taken is based on the counsel of godless men in contrast to the law of the Lord (Psalm 1:2). There is a “right way of the Lord” which some attempt to pervert and turn others away from (Acts 13:8, 10).

The Lord teaches and leads us in the way that is profitable (Isaiah 48:17; Psalm 1:3), keeping His ways causes blessings (Proverbs 8:32; Psalm 1:2-3). Contrast to God’s instruction, violent men entice others to lead them in a way that is no good (Proverbs 16:29; Psalm 1:1), and man’s ways end in death (Proverb 16:25; Psalm 1:6). Proverbs 4:14-15 warns us, “Enter not into the path of the wicked, and go not in the way of evil men. Avoid it, pass not by it, turn from it, and pass away.” Sadly, “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way” (Isaiah 53:6).

The Dead Sea Scrolls records the issue of following the way of sinners. “And every man has done that which seemed right in his eyes and has chosen the stubbornness of his heart. They have not kept apart from the people (MS. B: and their sin) and have willfully rebelled by walking in the way of the wicked of whom God said, Their wine is the venom of serpents, the cruel poison (or head) of asps (Deut. Xxxii, 33).” (CD 8.7-9)17)The Complete Dead Sea Scrolls In English (Trans. Geza Vermes), Penguin Classics (London, England: 1962, 2004, p. 135-136 Michael Fishbane commenting on this passage from the Dead Sea Scrolls noted how rich it is with biblical allusions which carry a particular relevance to Psalm 1. “There is nothing complicated about this rebuke: it is manifestly unified in both theme and concern. No complicated or ironic clash of images is found. Nevertheless, through its composite of textual allusions, a sharper charge is generated. For one thing, the imagery of doing what is ‘right in one’s eyes’ is standard Deuteronomic language for religious anarchy (cf. Deut 12:8; Judg 21:25), just as stubbornness of heart is a recurrent expression which conveys a censure of personal will and divine disregard (Deut 29:18; Jer 9:13). Then, too, the language of withdrawing (נזרו) is used technically of removal from Israelite holiness (Lev 22:2) or towards pagan activity (Hos 9:10), and the choice of the verb פשע to express rebellion and the image יד רמה to convey (highhanded) intention, respectively convey the rebellion at Sinai (Ex 32:25). Finally, the image of going in the way of the wicked recalls the idiom of Ps 1:1, where such sinners are juxtaposed to those who follow the Torah.”18)Michael Fishbane, “Use, Authority  and Interpretation of Mikra at Qumran,” in Mikra: Text, Translation, Reading & Interpretation of the Hebrew Bible in Ancient Judaism & Early Christianity (Ed. Martin Jan Mulder, Harry Sysling), Baker Academic (Grand Rapid, MI: 2004), p. 357




Heath Henning
Heath Henning
Heath heads the Set Free addictions ministry on Friday nights at Mukwonago Baptist Church and is involved in evangelism on the University of Wisconsin Whitewater campus, offering his expertise in apologetics at the weekly Set Free Bible Study every Tuesday evening. He currently lives in East Troy, Wisconsin with his wife and nine children. Read Heath Henning's Testimony

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