In the little expositions that I’ll do in the weeks to come, I won’t include the text of the Psalm. It would be best to read the following comments with a Bible opened to the passage being highlighted. Psalm 1 is foundational to all the psalms because, in many respects, it is the key to reading and properly applying the rest.
The Way of the Righteous – 1-3
The righteous is doubly blessed! “Blessed is the term regularly used in the Old Testament to describe a person who is in a good situation and deserves to be congratulated. The Hebrew word does not mean precisely that God blesses, or rewards, such a person; rather it means that such a person is happy, or fortunate, deserving congratulations.” (UBS Old Testament Handbook Series). It’s used here in the plural: “Oh the blessednesses! Oh the happinesses!” – possibly for added emphasis, as in “doubly blessed” or “twice as happy.”
But ultimate happiness in God’s world has conditions attached. If we want God’s blessing, we must meet the conditions. On the negative side of the ledger, here is one who:
- Walks not in the counsel of the wicked
- Nor stands in the way of sinners
- Nor sits in the seat of scoffers
Notice the progression or movement:
- Walks – stands – sits
- Counsel – way – seat
- Wicked – sinners – scoffers
On the positive side, this person finds delight or takes joy in the Law of the LORD (v. 2). He “meditates” on it – a content-rich concept in Hebrew with a range of meaning that does not necessarily connote silence: to moan, growl, utter, speak, or muse. Robert Alter argues that the Hebrew verb “means to make a low muttering sound, which is what one does with a text in a culture where there is no silent reading.” (The Book of Psalms: A Translation with Commentary. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2007, p. 3). Constant muttering could certainly lead to meditation. In a print media or digital media culture, silent reading is abundant, but ancient cultures fostered the practice of reading and even meditating out loud. It may be that the words of the mouth and the meditation of the heart are much more closely related in ancient Israel than in the modern civilization (cf. Ps. 19:14). This suggests that the recitation of scripture on the outside can evoke a transformative process on the inside. The same connection between heart-meditation and mouth-verbalization is found in Joshua 1:8 – “This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night…” In Job 27:4, Ps. 35:28, and several passages, the word indicates verbal utterance. Oftentimes, the “mouth” is what “speaks” or “meditates” (Ps. 37:20; Prov. 8:7), as well as the “throat” (Ps. 115:7) and the “heart” (Isa. 33:18).
The focus is on the “law of the LORD.” “Torah” (“law”) means teaching, instruction, or guidance, but the Jews referred to the first five books of the Old Testament, the most foundational part, as “Torah.” Generally speaking, God’s “Law” is God’s written record in scripture, including the whole Bible. Our interest in it should be all-consuming: “day and night.” Warren Wiersbe says, “We must be directed by the Word” and “We must be delighted by the Word.” Compare the sentiment in Psalm 119:97 – “Oh how I love your law; it is my meditation all the day.” As already suggested in a previous installment, we should strive to get into the Psalms (read and meditate), let the Psalms get into us (conceptualize and memorize), and then get the Psalms out of us (articulate, sing, and pray).
In the battle for the mind, what kind of “counsel” will govern our actions? There are many counselors vying for our attention, and wicked counselors are everywhere. God’s Word, on the other hand, should be the foundation of our lives. Ultimately, it is more important than food (Job 23:12), wealth (Ps. 19:7-11), and sleep (Ps. 119:147-148).
A person who builds his life on God’s Word will be “like a tree.” He will be planted – i.e. not going anywhere, with firm roots. He will be watered – “its leaf does not wither.” He will be fruitful – God blesses him so that he might be a blessing to others. And he will be prosperous (cf. Deut. 29:9 – “Therefore keep the words of this covenant and do them, that you may prosper in all that you do”).
The Way of the Wicked – 4-5
In contrast with the righteous, “the wicked are not so.” There is a clear line of demarcation. All these great things the Psalmist says about the righteous do not apply to the wicked. Positively, again with the use of a simile: “he will be like chaff that the wind drives away” (vs. “like a tree…”). After harvesting grain, the next step is the threshing floor. “After the cut grain stalks were tramped and crushed on the threshing floor, they were pitched into the air by use of a winnowing shovel. The grain fell to the ground and the chaff (or, straw) was blown away.” (UBS Old Testament Handbook Series).
The future of the wicked is transitory. “The wicked will not stand in the judgment” – i.e. before God (I Jn. 4:17-19; Rev. 6:12-17). “Nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous” – i.e. before God’s people. Notice the metaphor of “standing,” as well as the company one keeps (cf. v. 1). Godly people will not stand with evil influences (cf. 1 Cor. 15:33; Eph. 5:11). A day will come when evil people would give anything to “stand” with the “congregation of the righteous,” but the entrance into that fellowship will be denied them.
The Parting of the Ways – 6
“The LORD knows the way of the righteous.” “Knows” implies an intimate awareness. “Way” here is distinguished from the “way of sinners” (v. 1).
“But the way of the wicked will perish.” The reason why the destinies of the righteous and wicked are different is because they choose two different ways, roads, or pathways. Which road will you travel? (Mt. 7:13-14). Our eternal destiny will be determined by the sum total of the choices we make in life, combined with the consequent blessing or curse of God as a result of those choices.