Scripture Reading: Psalm 1

Thrust Statement: Every Christian should delight in God’s Law.

            Do you delight in God’s sacred writings? Do you meditate upon God’s law day and night? Do you ever read the Old Testament? Do you ever study the Psalms? How often do you glance over the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Old Testament) or look at the prophets or even scan the poetic books? Is the Bible that Jesus cited an antiquated book?  How did Jesus and the apostles look upon the writings of Moses and the Prophets? Before one embarks upon an examination of Psalm 1, a brief overview of Paul’s and Jesus’ reaction toward the “Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms” should shed light upon how important these writings are in the daily lives of God’s people. These sixty-six books should set the tone for a much more meaningful study of this great chapter, or book, in the Psalms.

PAUL’S ATTITUDE TOWARD THE OLD TESTAMENT WRITINGS

Instructions to Timothy

            What was Paul’s attitude toward the Old Testament? Just a perusal of Paul’s instructions to Timothy concerning his early training should convince anyone of the importance of the Old Testament in the life of Paul. He calls forth the testimony of two women in Timothy’s life who influenced and taught him the Old Testament from childhood: Timothy’s grandmother (Lois) and mother (Eunice) (see 2 Timothy 1:5).  What is really significant about this mentioning of his relatives is highlighted toward the end of this short epistle in Paul’s charge to Timothy (3:10-17). Paul cogently expresses his attitude toward the relevancy of the thirty-nine books to Timothy in his final exhortation to this coworker:

But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work (2 Timothy 3:14-17).[1]

            The context indicates that Paul is calling attention to what Christians today call the Old Testament. Again, this is significant since this letter was written to Timothy during Paul’s final imprisonment (66-67 CE) under Emperor Nero (reign: 54-68 CE). Paul now languished in a cold dungeon (4:13) and in chains (1:16; 2:9). Paul was very much concerned about the persecution perpetrated upon the church and wanted to encourage Timothy to guard the gospel (1:14), to persevere in what his grandmother and mother had taught him from the Old Testament (3:14), and to continue to preach the gospel (4:2).

            Since Paul was an inspired man, one must take his advice seriously. For Paul the Scriptures are a powerful means of reformation (change for the better). Paul sets forth a number of benefits derived from the study of the Old Testament writings. For instance, he says that the Scriptures are  “able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” [3:15]. But Paul does not stop with that benefit; he enumerates four additional reasons for studying the Old Testament. This catalog of benefits may come as a surprise to many Christians; but one should weigh carefully the following details: “useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness” (3:16).

Again, in this same vein, one cannot help but reflect upon the words of Luke in his characterization of the Bereans: “Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true” (Acts 17:11). This statement by Luke concerning the conduct of the Bereans corroborates what Paul instructed Timothy to abide in (2 Timothy 3:14).

Comments About the Law to the Romans

            Not only did Paul inform Timothy about the relevancy of the Old Testament, but he also speaks of the abiding validity of the Law to the Romans. Paul writes Romans probably in the early spring of 57 CE. This letter was written about twenty-four years after the resurrection of Christ. Thus, his comments in this epistle are quite revealing for the believer in seeking to understand the meaning of the Old Testament for the church.  Following his discussion of righteousness by faith (Romans 3:21-26), he then responds to a question about the Law: “Do we, then, nullify the law by this faith? Not at all! Rather, we uphold the law” (3:31). Even though one is “justified by faith apart from observing the law” (3:28), this fact, in and of itself, does not do away with the Law of God. This is why Paul tells Timothy to

Continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus (2 Timothy 3:14-15).

This tutoring to Timothy reinforces a statement of Paul to the Christians at Rome: “The law is holy, and the commandment is holy, righteous and good” (Romans 7:12).  For this reason, Paul could also say: “For in my inner being I delight in God’s law” (7:22). No Christian is “under” law, but all Christians are still “subject” to the law of God. All believers should appreciate the Old Testament writings. How do you feel about God’s instructions in His Holy word? Do you find happiness in the “law of the LORD”?

DELIGHT IN THE INSTRUCTIONS OF GOD:

PAUL AND THE PSALMIST

            The above comments about the authority of the Law help to prepare one for a more meaningful approach to the Psalms. Psalm 1 sets forth contrasting ideas—God-centered life versus self-centered life. For the believer, ultimate reality is a life that is God-centered. Is your life God-centered? Or is your life self-absorbed?[2] Or are you thinking only about the present moment of time. What about eternity? The Psalmist speaks of reality that is God-centered, not man-centered. The Psalmist calls attention to two ways: the way of the righteous and the way of the wicked. One way exhibits dependence upon God, but the other way exhibits independence from God.  As you reflect upon this Psalm, ask yourself the following question: Am I walking in the counsel of God or am I walking in the counsel of wicked men? Where is your enjoyment? Read and listen attentively to the words of the Psalmist:

Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers. But his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither. Whatever he does prospers.  Not so the wicked! They are like chaff that the wind blows away. Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous.  For the LORD watches over the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish (Psalms 1).

PSALM 1 AND THE SERMON ON THE MOUNT

Upon reading Psalm 1, one cannot help but recall the words of Jesus in His Sermon on the Mount: “Blessed (makavrioi, makarioi) are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:3). This word blessed or happy is equivalent to the Hebrew word blessed (yrev]a', a~vr?). Jesus employs the main outline of Psalm 1 in His Sermon on the Mount. Jesus’ teachings develop the character, the influence, the conduct, and the destiny of the one who listens to the Word of God. On the other hand, Jesus graphically depicts, as did the Psalmist, the utter destruction of the man who ignores God.  Just as the Psalmist contemplates two ways, so also Jesus speaks of two ways: (1) the narrow gate and road; and (2) the wide gate and road (Matthew 7:13-14).

            Psalm 1 begins with a beatitude—“Blessed is the man”—not with a prayer or a hymn. But rather, it starts with a statement about human life.  Immediately the Psalmist calls upon individuals to consider the teaching about life and the consequences of not submitting one’s life to God.  As this psalm is analyzed, hopefully each person, who is listening or reading this explanation of Psalm 1, will consider his/her own destiny—happiness or destruction. Which destination are you following? Are you like the righteous? Or, are you like the wicked? Which?

One way to determine where you are is to consider your reaction to the instructions of God. If you do not joy in God’s instruction, then you are not happy, that is to say, you do not have the peace of God in you that is beyond the peace that the world gives. This psalm sets forth what it really means to be “happy” or “blessed,” that is, the peace with God that is beyond description, even in the face of catastrophe. Immediately, the writer lets one know what the happy man will not do (1:1). He commences with negatives: “Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners    or sit in the seat of mockers” (1:1).

SHARP CONTRAST DRAWN BETWEEN

THE RIGHTEOUS AND THE WICKED

Verse 1 sharpens the contrast between the wicked and the righteous: “For the LORD watches over the way of the righteous” (1:6).  As one observes “the way of the righteous,” one cannot help but reflect upon “the way of sinners” (1:1). This psalm offers two fundamentally different life styles. The compiler of the Book of Psalms lays out the final outcome from the beginning to end. The person who enjoys God’s instructions is the one who is “happy” (1:1), but the individual who does not take pleasure in God’s Word will “perish” (1:6). The word happy (yrev]a', a~vr?)  begins this psalm and the last word perish concludes this Psalm. The word happy begins with the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet (a, a) and the word perish (db@aT) t)ab@d) begins with the last letter of the Hebrew alphabet (t, t).  This psalm is an all-embracing arrangement of what it means to be happy or blessed. 

Walk: The Counsel of the Ungodly

The vocabulary of this Psalm sets forth the distinction between the wicked and the righteous. One perceives three distinctive words that characterize the ungodly: (1) wicked, (2) sinners, and (3) scoffers (1:1). The believer refuses to expose himself to the counsel of the wicked. He or she will not adopt the guidance of the ungodly; in other words, the one who takes pleasure in God’s Law will reject the ideas and attitudes of men and women who have no place for God in their lives. Have you adopted the ways of the world?

Who is the blessed or happy man or woman? Is it not the person who avoids places where the atmosphere is not helpful to wholesome thinking and high ethical standards? Surely, the counsel of the wicked is out of bounds for the righteous. The Holy Spirit through Solomon says, “The heart of the righteous weighs its answers, but the mouth of the wicked gushes evil” (Proverbs 15:28). Again, Solomon issues the stern warning: “There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death” (16:25).

Stand: The Way of Sinners

The second negative is that the righteous individual will not “stand in the way of sinners.”  In other words, this person refuses to stop and associate with the rebellious offenders. To reinforce the words of the Psalmist, one should call to mind the words of Paul: “Do not be misled: ‘Bad company corrupts good character.’ Come back to your senses as you ought, and stop sinning; for there are some who are ignorant of God—I say this to your shame” (1 Corinthians 15:33-34). God’s people often times have to change their friends. Why? Remember the Holy Spirit says, “Bad company corrupts good character.” 

When one cuts the optic nerve of the soul, one becomes weak and it is difficult to make moral decisions. If one should take a poll of the individuals in the various congregations, one would find that there are untold stories of children who have lost their faith through “bad company.” For one to “stand in the way of sinners,” that is, adopt the rebellious life style of the wicked.  When the believer does not shutter at unethical behavior of the ungodly, then the believer indicates he/she has lost some of his/her sensitivity to sin. This exhortation does not mean that one can have no contact with the unrighteous. If so, how can one reach sinners for Jesus? Perhaps, one of the most famous of all Jesus’ sayings is found in Matthew:

As Jesus went on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax collector’s booth. “Follow me,” he told him, and Matthew got up and followed him. While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and “sinners” came and ate with him and his disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and ‘sinners’?” On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.  But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners”  (Matthew 9:9-13).

 Sit: The Seat of the Mockers

The third progression in this description of what the righteous person is not is associated with sitting. The righteous person will not “sit in the seat of the mockers.” In other words, he/she refuses to sit down with those who turn their noses up at God and make fun of the things of God.  The three verbs—walk, stand, and sit—highlight the importance of how one positions himself/herself in his/her daily walk. The negatives set forth by the Psalmist describe the motion or wavering among the unrestrained. These three verbs with the negative, prepare one for the positive presentation of the happy or blessed person whose fruitfulness is made possible by a rootedness in a good setting (1:3). 

THE RIGHTEOUS DELIGHT IN THE TORAH

Many tragedies can be avoided by the wise decision to get pleasure from the Law of God. Righteous persons decline the ways and attitudes of the wicked that do not accept the behavior that God’s Word demands. The Psalmist stated in denial terms what the righteous would not do. Now he sets forth the affirmative behavior of the righteous. He says,  “But his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night” (Psalm 1:2). How can a man be strong enough to reject the way of the wicked? The Psalmist discloses the secret. He says that it is one’s thrill in the Law of the Lord. In other words, his heart and interests and affections are upon heavenly things, not earthly things. This is the same teaching that Paul issues to the Christians at Colossae: “Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God.  Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things” (Colossians 3:1-2).

BIBLICAL EXAMPLES OF DELIGHT IN THE TORAH

Paul

As the upright man views the way of the wicked, he says, “that is not my life.” For every believer, his or her life is filled with ecstasy is in the torah (hr`oT, tor>) of the Lord. It is food for his hungry soul. It is as Jesus says to Satan: “It is written: ‘Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God’” (Matthew 4:4). It is also in this same respect that Paul could tell the Christians at Rome: “For in my inner being I delight in God’s law” (Romans 7:22). Paul recognizes that his body is the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19-20), and, since this is so, then his enjoyment is to learn and think of God’s will for his life. If you are a Christian, you, too, are a temple of God. Is your satisfaction in reading and hearing and thinking the Word of God? How frequently do you read the Word? How often do you think about spiritual things?

Mary, the Sister of Martha

A classic example of what Jesus is talking about is found in the story of Jesus’ visit to the home of Mary and Martha. On this occasion Luke says that Mary “sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said” (Luke 10:39).  Do you relish the words of God? Do you devote time to reflect upon Holy Scripture? How often do you read the Bible?

The Bereans’s Interest in the Old Testament

Another example of studying the Word of God is found among the Bereans. Once more, Luke reveals the nature of study that is exemplary: “Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true” (Acts 17:11). Do you take the time to examine the Scriptures on a daily basis? Have you examined the message of salvation concerning Jesus as God’s way of salvation? Do you examine the Scriptures daily to determine the kind of behavior that pleases God? Can you say as the Psalmist says in Psalm 119:105: “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path”?

THE GODLY VERSUS THE UNGODLY

The ungodly man’s interest and affections are not on spiritual things. On the other hand, the godly man delights in God’s Torah or instructions. The Psalmist commends the conduct that is reflective and meditative on the Law of the Lord. When one is concerned with and delights in the instructions of God, this person will mull over the Holy Scriptures day and night. Again, can you say as the Psalmist says: “Oh, how I love your law! I meditate on it all day long.” This Word torah is much more comprehensive than just the Law of Moses in the Pentateuch. It is in the written torah that one gains wisdom for living a life that is pleasing to God. The Psalmist invites and expects the “happy man” to receive and read the torah as Scripture. It is through the torah that the Lord is able to reach, touch, and shape the soul (see Psalm 19 and Psalm 119). David drives home various reasons for reflecting upon the law of God:

7 The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul. The statutes of the LORD are trustworthy, making wise the simple. 8 The precepts of the LORD are right, giving joy to the heart. The commands of the LORD are radiant, giving light to the eyes. 9 The fear of the LORD is pure, enduring forever. The ordinances of the LORD are sure and altogether righteous. 10 They are more precious than gold, than much pure gold; they are sweeter than honey, than honey from the comb. 11 By them is your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward (Psalm 19:7-11).

AVOID THE SINNERS’ INFLUENCE AND EFFECTS

As explained above, this Psalm does not call those whose “delight is in the law of the Lord” to withdraw from society (see also 1 Corinthians 5:9-11). Rather, the call is to avoid the sinner’s influences and effects on his/her personal walk with God. What differentiates the wicked from the righteous is this: one’s response to the reality of God and one’s acceptance of God’s written Revelation. Psalm 1 teaches that life is a journey. This Psalm employs two similes to capture graphically the situation of the wicked versus the righteous. To do this, he uses the imagery of the tree (Ju@ u@J) and the chaff (Jm)  m)J) to highlight two contrasting similes.[3]  These two nouns end in the same letter (J  J), which appears to highlight the contrast between the two similes.

He is like a tree  (Ju@ u@J)  planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither. Whatever he does prospers.   Not so the wicked! They are like chaff  (Jm)  m)J) that the wind blows away (Psalm 1:3-4).  

 

THE TREE AND ITS IMPLICATIONS IN THE

LIFE OF THE BELIEVER

The water allows the tree to stand drought and to bear fruit. The Word of God allows the believer to stand drought and to bear fruit—even in the face of adversity. On the other hand, the wicked have no roots, no stability, and no place to stand. The ungodly are grounded and guided within themselves—no connection with the source of life. Each person has his/her own distinctive destiny. The believer can ride out the storms of life. Even in the face of sorrow, distress, misfortune, trials, and tribulations, God’s children simply dig deeper into the rich supply of peace that only God can give.

Happiness or Peace Beyond Material Prosperity or Comfort

Jesus warned His disciples about the troubles that lay ahead: “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). Earlier, in this same conversation with the disciples, our Lord spoke of peace: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid” (14:27). Even though one may experience trouble; nevertheless, every believer still experiences the inner peace that no one can take away. Paul expresses it this way:

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?  As it is written: “For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers,  neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:35-39).

The Employment and Place of Psalms in the New Testament

for Comfort, Instruction, Hope, and Strength

As one reflects upon these words of Paul, one cannot help but notice that Paul cites Psalms 44:22: “Yet for your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” Is it any wonder that he instructed the Christians at Ephesus and Colossae to sing Psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs (Ephesians 5:19;  Colossians 3:16). Is it not significant that he did not warn them against using instruments in the singing of their Psalms? Paul did not exclude Psalm 150 in his encouragement to sing psalms. This Psalm illustrates that God is a lover of music.  Every Christian can rely upon this Psalm and all psalms for spiritual strength, but this is not so for the man who does not trust in God. The one who does not trust in God builds his house upon the sand, but the one who puts his trust in God builds his house upon a rock (See Matthew 7:24-27—The Wise and Foolish Builders).

God’s Sovereignty Versus Antonymous Behavior

Psalm 1 calls attention to antonymous behavior, that is, actions not under the umbrella of God’s Law. The effect of the wicked is to produce a society of isolated selves. Solomon again captures concisely the way of the wicked: “A wicked man listens to evil lips; a liar pays attention to a malicious tongue” (Proverbs 17:4).  The person who fails to make connection with God as the source of life cannot be happy; that is, he/she cannot enjoy the happiness or peace that is beyond this terrestrial world.  Once more Solomon says, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death” (16:25). One should read again the words of the Psalmist as he summarizes the ultimate end of those who desire self-directed, self-controlled, and self-governing behavior: “the way of the wicked will perish” (Psalm 1:1).

 The choice presented in Psalm 1 is always up to date. One may decide to be self-directed, or one may select to be open to the teachings of God. Where do you stand? Are you self-directed or God directed? Are you willing to give up self-sovereignty and to live under the sovereignty of God?  Are you burdened with the cares of the world? Are you sinking under the hand of despair? Can your problems separate you from God? Have you taken your difficulties to God in prayer? What is the answer? Have you humbled yourselves under the mighty hand of God? Listen to Peter as he admonishes Christians “scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia” (1 Peter 1:1) of the coming calamities (destruction of Jerusalem in 70 CE): “Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time.  Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you” (1 Peter 5:6-7).  Can you say as Job, “Shall we accept good from God, and not trouble?”  (Job 2:10). For the Psalter as a whole, persecution is not incompatible with the happiness or peace that God gives that the world cannot give.

CONCLUSION

From a positive viewpoint, Psalm 1 is a psalm that is God-centered for the righteous; on the other hand, Psalm 1, from a negative viewpoint, zeros in on the self-centered of the wicked. This Psalm, as well as the rest of the Psalter, portrays happiness as existing in one’s delight in the teachings of God; true happiness is not enjoying one’s self in self-centeredness, which is a way of destruction. True happiness is delight in God’s Law. It is in this same vein that Jesus speaks to Satan: “It is written: ‘Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’ The goal of life is found not in self-fulfillment of one’s fleshly desires, but rather in praising God. For the righteous, prosperity consists not of material gains, but rather of spiritual gains. The believer knows that he/she lives for God and is secured by God, even in the face of persecutions or trials.

The individual who delights is God’s Law is happy, but the individual who does not delight in God’s Law will perish. Is it any wonder that Paul writes: “For in my inner being I delight in God’s law.” Even though one cannot be justified through God’s Law, nevertheless, one’s delight is still in God’s Law. One does not void the Law through faith, but rather one upholds God’s Law through faith. Listen once more to Paul as he explains Law and faith: “Do we, then, nullify the law by this faith? Not at all! Rather, we uphold the law.”



[1] All Scripture citations are from The New International Version, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House) 1984, unless stated otherwise.

 

[2] I am deeply indebted to J. Clinton McCann, Jr., Psalms, The New Interpreters Bible, Vol., 4 (Abingdon: Nashville, 1996), 683-687, for many helpful insights in making this sermon relevant to the lives of God’s people for today.

[3] Simile: A figure of speech that uses like, as, or as if  to compare two essentially different objects, actions, or attributes that share some aspect of similarity. Once more, a simile is a figure of speech comparing two unlike things that is often introduced by like or as (as in cheeks like roses).