on Psalms 1 :3
Like a tree planted - Not like one growing wild, however strong or luxuriant it may appear; but one that has been carefully cultivated, and for the proper growth of which all the advantages of soil and situation have been chosen. If a child be brought up in the discipline and admonition of the Lord, we have both reason and revelation to encourage us to expect a godly and useful life. Where religious education is neglected, alas! what fruits of righteousness can be expected? An uncultivated soul is like an uncultivated field, all overgrown with briers, thorns, and thistles.
By the rivers of water - פלגי מים palgey mayim, the streams or divisions of the waters. Alluding to the custom of irrigation in the eastern countries, where streams are conducted from a canal or river to different parts of the ground, and turned off or on at pleasure; the person having no more to do than by his foot to turn a sod from the side of one stream, to cause it to share its waters with the other parts to which he wishes to direct his course. This is called "watering the land with the foot," Deuteronomy 11:10 (note), where see the note.
His fruit in his season - In such a case expectation is never disappointed. Fruit is expected, fruit is borne; and it comes also in the time in which it should come. A godly education, under the influences of the Divine Spirit, which can never be withheld where they are earnestly sought, is sure to produce the fruits of righteousness; and he who reads, prays, and meditates, will ever see the work which God has given him to do; the power by which he is to perform it; and the times, places and opporttmities for doing those things by which God can obtain most glory, his own soul most good, and his neighbor most edification.
His leaf also shall not wither - His profession of true religion shall always be regular and unsullied; and his faith be ever shown by his works. As the leaves and the fruit are the evidences of the vegetative perfection of the tree; so a zealous religious profession, accompanied with good works, are the evidences of the soundness of faith in the Christian man. Rabbi Solomon Jarchi gives a curious turn to this expression: he considers the leaves as expressing those matters of the law that seem to be of no real use, to be quite unimportant, and that apparently neither add nor diminish. But even these things are parts of the Divine revelation, and all have their use, so even the apparently indifferent actions or sayings of a truly holy man have their use; and from the manner and spirit in which they are done or said, have the tendency to bear the observer to something great and good.
Whatsoever he doeth shall prosper - It is always healthy; it is extending its roots, increasing its woody fibres, circulating its nutritive juices, putting forth fruitbuds, blossoms, leaves, or fruit; and all these operations go on in a healthy tree, in their proper seasons. So the godly man; he is ever taking deeper root growing stronger in the grace he has already received, increasing in heavenly desires, and under the continual influence of the Divine Spirit, forming those purposes from which much fruit to the glory and praise of God shall be produced.
on Psalms 1 :3
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 abundance of 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 פלג peleg, from פלג pâlag, 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 ciy. 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 Ezekiel 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 Ecclesiastes 2:4 : "I made me pools of water, to water therewith the wood that bringeth 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, etc., 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 bringeth forth his fruit in his season - Whose fruit does not fall by the lack of nutriment. The idea is that of a tree which, at the proper season of the year, is loaded with fruit. Compare Psalm 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. Compare Job 8:16, note; Job 15:32, note. It is green and flourishing - a striking image of a happy and a prosperous man.
And whatsoever he doeth 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 Timothy 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 which it is the main design of the Book of Psalms to illustrate.
on Psalms 1 :3
1:3 Whither - His happiness is not short and transitory, but, like those trees which are continually green and flourishing.