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Psalm 1:3 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
3 He is like a tree
planted by streams of water
that yields its fruit in its season,
and its leaf does not wither.
In all that he does, he prospers.
And he shall be like a tree. A description of the happiness or prosperity of the man who thus avoids the way of sinners, and who delights in the law of God now follows. This is presented in the form of a very beautiful image—a tree planted where its roots would have abundant water.
Planted by the rivers of water. It is not a tree that springs up spontaneously but one that is set out in a favorable place, and that is cultivated with care. The word “rivers” does not here quite express the sense of the original. The Hebrew word (פֶּלֶג peleg, from פָּלַג palag, to cleave, to split, to divide), properly means divisions; and then, channels, canals, trenches, branching-cuts, brooks. The allusion is to the Oriental method of irrigating their lands by making artificial rivulets to convey the water from a larger stream or from a lake. In this way, the water was distributed in all directions. The whole land of Egypt was anciently sluiced in this manner, and it was in this way that its extraordinary fertility was secured. An illustration of the passage may be derived from the account by Maundrell of the method of watering the gardens and orchards in the vicinity of Damascus. “The gardens are thick set with fruit trees of all kinds, kept fresh and verdant by the waters of the Barady.… This river, as soon as it issues out of the cleft of the mountain before mentioned, into the plain, is immediately divided into three streams, of which the middlemost and largest runs directly to Damascus, and is distributed to all the cisterns and fountains of the city. The other two, which I take to be the work of art, are drawn round, the one to the right, and the other to the left, on the borders of the gardens, into which they are let out, as they pass, by little rivulets, and so dispersed over all the vast wood, insomuch that there is not a garden but has a fine, quick stream running through it.” Trav., p. 122. A striking allusion to trees cultivated in this manner occurs in Ezek. 31:3, 4: “Behold, the Assyrian was a cedar in Lebanon, with fair branches, and with a shadowing shroud, and of a high stature, and his top was among the thick boughs. The waters made him great; the deep set him up on high, with his rivers running round about his plants, and sent out his little rivers unto all the trees of the field.” So Eccles. 2:4: “I made me pools of water, to water therewith the wood that brings forth trees.” No particular kind of tree is referred to in the passage before us, but there are abundant illustrations of the passage in the rows of willow, oranges, &c., that stand on the banks of these artificial streams in the East. The image is that of a tree abundantly watered and that was flourishing.
That brings forth his fruit in his season. Whose fruit does not fall by the want of nutriment. The idea is that of a tree that, at the proper season of the year, is loaded with fruit. Comp. Ps. 92:14. The image is one of great beauty. The fruit is not untimely. It does not ripen and fall too soon or fall before it is mature, and the crop is abundant.
His leaf also shall not wither. By drought and heat. Comp. Notes on Job 8:16; 15:32. It is green and flourishing—a striking image of a happy and a prosperous man.
And whatsoever he does shall prosper. This is a literal statement of what had just been put in a figurative or poetic form. It contains a general truth or contains an affirmation as to the natural and proper effect of religion or of a life of piety and is similar to that which occurs in 1 Tim. 4:8: “Godliness is profitable unto all things, having promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come.” This idea of the effect of a life of piety is one that is common in the Scriptures and is sustained by the regular course of events. If a man desires permanent prosperity and happiness, it is to be found only in the ways of virtue and religion. The word “whatsoever” here is to be taken in a general sense, and the proper laws of interpretation do not require that we should explain it as universally true. It is conceivable that a righteous man—a man profoundly and sincerely fearing God—may sometimes form plans that will not be wise; it is conceivable that he may lose his wealth or that he may be involved in the calamities that come upon a people in times of commercial distress, in seasons of war, of famine, and pestilence; it is conceivable that he may be made to suffer loss by the fraud and dishonesty of other men; but still as a general and as a most important truth, a life of piety will be followed by prosperity, and will constantly impart happiness. It is this great and important truth that is the main design of the Book of Psalms to illustrate.
By Albert Barnes and Edward D. Andrews