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1 Blessed is the man
          who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,
          nor stands in the way of sinners,
          nor sits in the seat of scoffers;

2 but his delight is in the law of the LORD,
and on his law he meditates day and night.

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.

4 The wicked are not so,
but are like chaff that the wind drives away.

5Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous;

6for the LORD knows the way of the righteous,
but the way of the wicked will perish.

Last time we did an introduction to the book of psalms. We considered what it is, and how the book was formed, and who wrote it, and when. We also looked at the structure of Hebrew poetry. Without being too technical, the thing to look for in Hebrew poetry (and songwriting) is parallelism. The poets group thoughts in parallel to one another. Sometimes they are parallels that reiterate an idea. At other times, the parallels are set in contrast to one another. As best as I could, I tried to format psalm one (above) to show the parallels, and how they are grouped.

Psalm 1 is a “wisdom” psalm. It is a poem, or song that was made to help us vividly picture something wise that we should remember, and, especially, that we should put into action.

With that in mind, let’s dig in to the psalm.

It starts with this overall thought: Blessed is the one who does not find himself, or herself, in the company of those who reject God. Notice the poetic triple-parallel about these godless ones: walk, stand, sit. In other words, we are talking about all of life.

Notice also, if you use a good translation, the blessed one is, in fact, one person, where as the godless ones involve three groups of people. The implication is that to be blessed, to shape your life around God’s Word (which is here called “the law”), means that you might feel alone against the crowd. It’s easy to find people walking in the counsel of the wicked, or making their stand with sinners, or sitting and mocking those who are different from them. The one who meditates on God’s Word looks strange and alone in comparison. This reminds me a bit of what Jesus said:

13 “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. 14 For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few. (Matthew 7:13-14, ESV)

Walking in the counsel of the wicked implies behavior. Those who shape their behavior based upon the advice of godless ones around them are not blessed. They are listening to people who refuse to listen to God, and acting accordingly. Standing implies declaring allegiance. Some people choose to stand with a sinful lifestyle, to persist in ignoring God’s revelation (the Bible) and to commit themselves to a way other than God’s way. Sitting gives us a picture of someone settled into a position. These are so settled that now not only do they behave according to the advice of those without God, not only do they take a stand with wickedness, but they openly mock, insult and deride those who do follow God.

In a way this seems to paint a picture of a process for someone who has turned away from God. It starts by listening to those who do not listen to God, taking their advice, behaving accordingly. It continues as a person commits more and more to godless ways, and identifies him/her self with those who reject God’s word. It ends up with the person openly insulting and mocking those who do follow God.

Let’s consider the opposite picture, the one who is blessed. The primary thing that sets this person apart is that he/she delights in the law of the Lord, and meditates on it constantly.

It is worth taking time to think about the word “law.” It is used quite frequently in the psalms, and it usually has the same meaning in most cases. But it is not exactly the meaning we typically think of for the word “law” in this day and age. When we hear “law” we usually think of rules and regulations. The law (we think) is something we must obey, or we will get in trouble with the authorities.

However, the Hebrew word is “torah,” and one primary meaning of that is “instruction.” Most particularly, the law/torah is the special, divine revelation given to the people of Israel by God himself through Moses. In other words, for the ancient Israelis, “the law” meant “the Bible.” So, for Christians today, if you read the word “law” in the psalms, it is usually appropriate to think “God’s Word,” or “the Bible.”

It is certainly true of psalm 1 that we should think of “the law” as “God’s Word.” So the thing that makes someone blessed and sets her apart from others, is God’s Word. The blessed person shapes her life around what God has revealed to human beings. She thinks about it throughout the day. She builds her life upon it. She is like a tree by a constant water source.

Here in Tennessee, a generic tree is not a particularly impressive picture. I can see literally hundreds of trees from the windows of my house, maybe thousands. But when we read this psalm, we should remember that to those in ancient Israel, a large tree was something unusual and impressive, and no tree would reach any kind of large size without a regular supply of water. Much of the climate of Israel was (and still is) quite dry. Some of it is outright desert, and other areas could maybe be called semi-arid. There is only one major river in the whole country, the Jordan, though there were (and are) various smaller streams. Some of the streams only flow when it rains. Even as far back as the time of Abraham, large trees were so rare in some areas that they were used as landmarks.

When they came to the land of Canaan, 6 Abram passed through the land to the place at Shechem, to the oak of Moreh. (Genesis 12:5-6, ESV)

A large tree would be an inviting sight, offering shade, shelter and sustenance to travelers.

So, the one who builds his life on God’s Word is like a great tree, alone in a dry, hot land. He can only thrive there because he is constantly tapped in to refreshing and life-giving water: the Word of God. Like a big tree in that part of the world, the one who builds on God’s Word is different from others, and obviously so, and because he is rooted in God’s word, he can become a source of comfort to those around him.

Such a person, planted and rooted in God’s word yields fruit in season. That means that God uses this person’s life to accomplish his purposes. She becomes a blessing to others. It is wise to pay attention to the little phrase: “in season,” also. In other words, there is a time for fruit to show up on the tree, and there is a time when fruit is being created through all sorts of internal processes, but cannot yet be seen. I think a lot of Christians put pressure on themselves if they do not see constantly some concrete way in which God is using them. But there are seasons when God works on us internally, and fruit is not yet visible externally. Fruits have seasons, and so does the Christian life.

 The one who builds his life on God’s word does not wither. The Israelis lived in a climate that sometimes included harsh, desert-like conditions. So too, the person of faith might have to live at times through very difficult things. The idea is not that such a person will have no difficulties, but rather, that the difficulties will not destroy him.

Finally, the one who builds on God’s Word prospers. This is another word that I think has changed over time in our culture. Mostly, we think prospering means getting rich, or, at the very least, that things are going well for us. But that is only one possible shade of meaning from the Hebrew word. It means to move forward purposefully, to prevail against hinderances. Honestly, I think a much better one-word translation into English would be “thrives.” The one who builds on God’s word thrives, whether things are going well, or not. For those who build on God’s word the momentum of their lives is moving in the right direction, through difficulty and through good times. God’s direction prevails in their lives. I think we need to be realistic about this, also. It doesn’t mean we always feel good, or feel like God’s will is prevailing in us at each moment. But looking back, we find that today, we are further along, closer to God’s will than we were a year ago, and five years ago. On any given individual day or moment we might go backwards or forward, but over time, the prevailing direction is toward God.

In verse four, we again contrast this to the wicked. Instead of like a giant, immovable tree, slowly growing, bearing fruit in season, thriving  spiritually, the wicked are like chaff that the wind drives away. Let me explain “chaff.” In the days that this was written, the Israelis, like all people at the time, were farmers. In Israel, they grew a lot of grain, like wheat and barley and oats. When the grain had been harvested, farmers would beat the heads of the plants (where the grain kernels are attached) to loosen it up, and knock the kernels of grain loose from the rest of the plant. Now they had a kind of dusty mess in which there were grain kernels, but also the inedible pieces, which were called “chaff.”  Then they would go to a windy hilltop, and throw it all up into the hard-blowing air. The kernels of grain were heavier than the chaff (the inedible parts of the plants), and they would fall back onto a cloth laid out for that purpose. But the chaff was as light as dried leaves and dust, and would be whipped away by the wind.

The picture is that the wicked amount to nothing. For all of their standing against God, for all of their mocking, they come to empty dust in the end, whipped off into the wind. There is meant to be a huge contrast between a mighty oak, rooted deep into the soil by an everlasting stream, and dust that blows away in the wind and is gone. There is almost no comparison. The wicked are no-account, meaningless, just dust that blows away to reveal the good grain that is kept.

The psalmist adds:

5Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,

nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous;

The point here is that the wicked will not be able to endure God’s judgment. When God calls people to account, the wicked will come to nothing, their schemes will crumble to dust. They will not be found anywhere, and only the righteous will be left.

And then, the final parallel thoughts:

6for the LORD knows the way of the righteous,

but the way of the wicked will perish.

Although the ESV which I’ve just quoted, is most true to the literal Hebrew, other translations capture the sense of it a bit better. When it says the Lord “knows,” that word contains a wealth of meaning. In this context, it means that the Lord watches over the righteous, guiding, guarding and protecting them. It is a very comforting thought, a picture of God actively caring for, and looking out for, the righteous ones.

Now, for many years verses like this about “the righteous” in the Old Testament bothered me. I know myself, and I know there is a lot of unrighteousness within me, even still today. I used to wonder if I really would be in the congregation of the righteous, or if maybe I would be blown away with the wicked. But this is an example of where it is helpful to ask “Where is Jesus?” in this psalm. It is true, I am unrighteous within myself. But through Jesus Christ, God has declared me righteous. This is not because of anything I have done, but solely because of what Jesus has done.

21 But now God’s way of putting people right with himself has been revealed. It has nothing to do with law, even though the Law of Moses and the prophets gave their witness to it. 22 God puts people right through their faith in Jesus Christ. God does this to all who believe in Christ, because there is no difference at all: 23 everyone has sinned and is far away from God’s saving presence. 24 But by the free gift of God’s grace all are put right with him through Christ Jesus, who sets them free. 25-26 God offered him, so that by his blood he should become the means by which people’s sins are forgiven through their faith in him. (Romans 3:21-26, GNT)
21 Christ was without sin, but for our sake God made him share our sin in order that in union with him we might share the righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5:21, GNT)

Through Jesus, and through him alone, I am called “righteous” by God. Through the Holy Spirit, as I trust him, God imparts the righteousness of Jesus to me. He brings me into spiritual union with Jesus. I don’t deserve it, but God offers me that righteousness even so. So, when I read any psalm, and I read “the righteous” I think first of all of Jesus, who is ultimately the only truly righteous human being to have lived, but I can also include myself in “the righteous” because of Jesus. I can’t claim my own righteousness, but I can, through faith, claim the righteousness of Jesus. And so because of Jesus, all the promises given to “the righteous” are also given to me. And they are given to anyone and everyone who puts all of their trust and hope in Jesus. Through Jesus, these wonderful promises are ours.

Through Jesus, we can be like a mighty tree in a dry land, secure in faith, watched over by our loving Lord.

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