Psalms · Psalms Book 1

The rest of the story

So the other day we started reading Psalm 1. It starts out by describing a person who is blessed. What that person doesn’t do and what that person does. They don’t “walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers.” Proverbs 4:14-15 says it like this: “Do not set foot on the path of the wicked or walk in the way of evil men. Avoid it, do not travel on it; turn from it and go on your way.” And then a few verses later we read this: “The path of the righteous is like the first gleam of dawn, shining ever brighter till the full light of day. But the way of the wicked is like deep darkness; they do not know what makes them stumble.” (verses 18-19).

Instead the person who is blessed delights on the law of the Lord, he meditates on it day and night. The word for meditate in Hebrew literally means to murmur or to mutter. This person delights in God’s Word so much that it is on their lips all the time. Do you know anyone like that? A person who knows the word of God so intimately that it just comes out of their mouth almost without them being consciously aware of it? Do you wonder how that happened? It’s because they delighted in God’s Word. They memorized it. They studied it. They spent time reading it. God’s word became their source of sustenance and life, and they took time to to spend time in it. We learn to delight in God’s word by being in God’s word regularly and with intention. I’m already starting to enjoy the Psalms more and I’m only in the first one.

In my last post I talked about the image that the psalmist uses to describe this person: a tree planted by streams of water. We stopped at the last part of verse 3: “Whatever he does prospers.” This is a wisdom psalm and there is a big thing we should know about wisdom literature. There are a lot of statements in wisdom literature that many understand as promises, like this one. They make them if-then promise statements. If I do this (delight in God’s law), then God will do this (make whatever I do prosper). And prosper in this understanding generally has something to do with wealth (i.e. the prosperity gospel). This is a cause and effect, and it leads to a wrong idea about God which is that I can make God do what I want. If – then statements are how we program computers. God is not a computer. He doesn’t take our input and send out the output we requested. God is above all. He is sovereign. His thoughts are greater than our thoughts. And we need to be careful that we don’t read Scripture in a way that makes God a robot. Instead, this statement, “Whatever he does prospers,” can be understood to be a spiritual blessing on this person. This is how one commentary explains it:

“…the psalm does not encourage a success-oriented faith. The godly do not seek success for its own sake, but they do receive a measure of blessing on their lives. The prosperity of the righteous—guaranteed or limited to the godly—is a gift of God, a by-product of wise living; consider Joseph (Ge 39:2–3, 23), Joshua (1:8), Solomon (2 Ch 1:11–12), and Hezekiah (2 Ch 32:30). But success is not an unmistakable token of God’s presence, for the wicked may also prosper (Ps 37:7); rather, the righteous live with the hope of God’s blessing.”

VanGemeren, W. A. (2008). Psalms. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Psalms (Revised Edition) (Vol. 5, p. 82). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

The righteous delight in the law of the Lord. That is where their focus is. The blessing is an outcome of that. If our focus is on the blessing, we need to adjust our eyes.

Not so the wicked!
They are like chaff
that the wind blows away.

Psalm 1:4

The contrast to the blessed person who is like a rooted, fruitful tree with leaves that don’t wither is the wicked who are like chaff blown away by the wind. That image is not a prosperous image. Chaff is worthless. It is like awful dust. It is lightweight and so blows about freely in the wind. It doesn’t land long. It can’t grow. It makes people sneeze. Like chaff, the wicked are not fruitful. They are not rooted. They do not prosper and they are not blessed because they are living opposite of God’s way.

Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous.

Psalm 1:5

(Another synonymous parallel here.) The psalmist then points to a truth that we see throughout Scripture. There will be a day of judgment. And on that day, the wicked will not stand where the righteous assemble. That’s a sobering thought. The choice we make has a consequence and if we make the wrong choice, the consequence is judgment. We don’t like to talk about it, but it’s true. And here at the beginning of the Psalms, we are reminded of it. And for those of you following the parallelism of the Psalms, this thought goes right along with the wording in verse 1 where the blessed man (the righteous one) does not stand in the way of sinners.

The righteous do not stand in the way of sinners/
Sinners (wicked) will not stand in the assembly of the righteous

But there is good news!

For the Lord watches over the way of the righteous,
but the way of the wicked will perish.

Psalm 1:6

The good news is that the Lord “watches over the way of the righteous.” Other translations say that the Lord knows the way. That’s what the Hebrew word literally means. It’s the word יָדַע yâdaʿ. You may have heard it before. Yâdaʿ means to know as in to know your spouse. That’s a pretty intimate level of knowing. And God knows our way like that. He knows it and He cares for us while we are on it. He favors us with His blessing as we follow it. He knows where the road ends. And because it is the righteous way, it ends in blessing.

BUT THE WAY OF THE WICKED WILL PERISH.

Psalm 1:6b

If the promise isn’t enough remember the warning. This is an antithetical parallel, which is when the 2nd phrase means the opposite of the 1st one. This is a wisdom Psalm where there is a choice to make. And in Psalm 1 it is clear.

Do you want to prosper like a planted tree? Or be blown away like worthless chaff?

Do you want to stand at the judgment? Or perish?

Do you want the Lord to watch over your way? Do you want to be among the blessed, righteous ones?

Then delight in the law of the Lord! Meditate on it day and night! Make it an integral part of your life, the foundation of your life.

I said at the beginning of my last post that Psalm 1 summarizes all of Scripture. How? Well we have a choice. The way of the righteous or the way of the wicked. The way of wicked is worthless. They will be judged and they will perish. But the way of the righteous is blessed. It comes from delighting in God’s Word. Meditating on it and following Him. On that way, God knows the way, and He knows us. And he is the way of salvation. And that is the challenge of all of Scripture. That choice is offered in multiple places, almost on every page. Genesis 2–3. Genesis 9. Genesis 11. Exodus. Numbers. Deuteronomy. The end of Joshua. The entire history of the Israelites is a God calling His people to follow Him, to delight in Him, to choose Him. But the Israelites kept choosing other things and other gods. It resulted in exile. God brought them back. And in Ezra and Nehemiah the people recommit. But they wander off. And finally God sends his Son. John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” John goes on to say that God didn’t send Jesus to condemn but to save the world. The epistles continue to offer the choice until finally in Revelation, at a future point in time, God finalizes our choices. I don’t know about you, but I want to be on the blessed side. On the side where God knows my way and he watches over it. So I am going to continue to delight in the Word written, and the Word made flesh.

May you be blessed by God’s Word today.

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