Psalm 1:1-6 is the introduction to the Book of Psalms. The opening shout, “Happy are those….,” serves as congratulations for the righteous person to separate themselves from all unrighteous (Numbers 23:9). This formula of congratulations is found in many places in Psalms (Psalms 32:1-2; 65:4) as well as some of the wisdom literature (Proverbs 3:13; 28:14).
This preamble to the entire Book of Psalms begins the many ways Israel turns to talk to God. One could say the Psalms are a record of the way the righteous petitioned and praised God. Much of the rest of the Old Testament reminds us of what God did for the people whereas the Psalms are words to God. The beauty of these poems rests in their vivid, frank language. No words are spared for the disappointment and exaltation the people felt. In many cases we can imagine the settings in life out of which these poems emerged.
In the case of Psalm 1:1-6 it seems to be written for the introduction to encourage the righteous to be attentive to God’s “torah” (law). The wicked are mentioned only to contrast with the way the righteous are recommended to go. It is misleading to think that the introduction to this “hymnal” of the Second Temple (516 BCE – 70 CE) is about “two ways.”
Were this opening Psalm to have been about the “two ways" we might have expected the second part, Psalm 1:4, to begin with a “woe.” However, at the head of the psalm is the more secular word “happy.” The more religiously loaded term “blessed” is not used. Blessed and happy are easily differentiated terms in Hebrew.
The "happy" need to have a right relationship with God 24/7 not just when they are in the temple. Happiness is imbedded in a positive relationship with God not just in the religious life. The "happy" meditate (even better, “murmur” aloud 24/7) the “torah” (law). Psalm 1 is really a recommendation that there is only one way. As the first psalm ends it asserts that the way of the wicked will perish. The way of the "happy" is watched over by God.
Notice the extended description of the righteous that are compared to the trees planted by the water. This emphasizes the stable steps the happy, righteous individual takes. The comparison to the wicked is quite brief to deemphasize and show the insubstantial, worthless character of the wicked.
The recommendation is to use the Book of Psalms and hence to have a fruitful, joyful, and abundant life. So these poems become the collection that gather our weeping and laughter “talk” before God. Just as there is abundance in God’s torah (law) so we must respond abundantly to God. By virtue of the discovery of the psalms and Psalm Scroll found among the Dead Sea Scrolls we have every indication that poems of praise and petition continued to be accumulated. Sing a new song unto the LORD!