The opening Psalm functions as a kind of preface or introduction to the whole collection. It orients the worshipper to a particular path and the value of pursuing the life the Psalter envisions. Indeed, it offers us a choice.
There is the way of the wicked (sinners, scoffers) and the way of the righteous. There are two ways, two paths, or two directions. One scoffs at life, misses the point of life, and is openly hostile to God. The other yearns to practice the Torah, follow God’s instruction, and incessantly repeats the words of the Torah. Often, however, life is much more ambiguous than that, but our basic orientation is nevertheless pointed in one of two directions.
One way will prosper like a fruit tree by water while the other will disappear like dust in the wind. As a piece of wisdom this does not mean that there are no exceptions. The rest of the Psalter tells us otherwise as laments and imprecations abound. Rather, wisdom inculcates character development, and, generally, good character will bear good fruit while an evil character will suck the life out of us. Wisdom orients us even though in tragic moments it may frustrate us (as in the case of Job). Nevertheless, wisdom guides choices, especially in midst of tragedies.
At the same time, the orientation is valuable because every human being must make a choice. Even indecision is itself a choice. We live and we choose. Wisdom provides a far-sighted horizon for choices that lie in front of us. Instead of plunging into waters of immediate gratification, wisdom invites us to walk a long path towards wholeness. It is, in fact, the long path of praying, singing, and even murmuring the Psalms under our breaths.
We choose this long, hard road because we seek transformation rather than gratification. We seek deep-seated joy rather than fleeting happiness. Even though we know this path has many bumps in the road–and the laments of the Psalms testify to them–we pursue it because we know that Yahweh “knows the way of the righteous.”
We embrace this difficult path because we know that Yahweh is committed to those who pursue it. God is deeply and intimately connected to those who follow the “way of the righteous.”
This introductory Psalm provides essential wisdom for navigating the diverse and wide-ranging emotions that will bubble up as worshippers rehearse, practice, and live out the Psalter. Those who truly hear this wisdom are blessed because Yahweh knows the way they have chosen.