‘Happy are those who do not follow the advice of the wicked, or take the path that sinners tread, or sit in the seat of scoffers; but their delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law they meditate day and night. They are like trees planted by streams of water, which yield their fruit in its season, and their leaves do not wither. In all that they do, they prosper. The wicked are not so, but are like chaff that the wind drives away. Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous; for the LORD watches over the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish.”[i]
The subtitle for the first book of Psalms is “The Two Ways”[ii] It is a preamble for the entire psalter and suggests that every choice we make, either leads us away from God or toward Him. The Psalms presents the human struggle to find that “delight is in the law of the LORD” and to resist the inclination is to seek “the things of men”[iii] that Jesus accused Peter of in Matthew 16:23. Psalm 1 establishes the overreaching theme for the entire book of Psalm, that our actions have consequences.
Still I am inclined to dismiss this opening chapter and especially verse 2 as something which might be embroidered on a pillow or hanging on the wall of an elderly church matron’s home. The pragmatist in me argues that while these opening verses are admirable, they are also unrealistic in the daily struggle of life. Who really has time to meditate day and night and how do we avoid being drawn into the things of men? Is that not why Jesus died on the cross and rose from the grave? Taken by itself, Psalms 1 may be appropriate for a children’s Sunday school lesson.
The meatier themes of anger, vengeance, unworthiness, humility, contrition and forgiveness have greater relevance in the modern world than meditation on ancient laws. The blue collar worker in me wants to know more about conflicts and how to resolve them rather than pious contemplation of ideas. Thus I skim over this chapter like the opening credits in a movie and delve into the real heart of the Psalms.
This is a mistake because Psalms 1 reveals the underlying message throughout the entire book. My first error is assuming that meditating requires entering into a Zen-like state of sub-consciousness, separated from the world and its conflicts. In chapter one and especially verse 2, meditating helps us apply God’s word, or law, as we traverse through life. Meditating daily allows us to remain centered on God’s presence in our journey. It carries over into our daily habits and routines. We do not hide in the law, instead the law helps us to “not follow the advice of the wicked, or take the path that sinners tread, or sit in the seat of scoffers.”[iv] Meditating is not about escaping to a safe place but allowing the word of God to guide us through the fray.
Serving as a preamble, Psalms 1 establishes that there is a duality present throughout the Book of Psalms. The writer, and the reader, is continually faced with choosing between good and evil. An example is in Psalms 4: 2-4 which displays the struggle between our desired human action and the willingness to follow God’s plan. 2 How long, you people, shall my honor suffer shame? How long will you love vain words, and seek after lies? Selah 3 But know that the LORD has set apart the faithful for himself; the LORD hears when I call to him. 4 When you are disturbed, do not sin; ponder it on your beds, and be silent.”[v] The writer is struggling with wickedness and its power. He then begins to understand that it is God who protects us from sin. This dual choice permeates itself throughout the Book of Psalms and the Bible.
The opening verses in Psalms 1 clearly delineates that the path of righteousness is preferable to that followed by the wicked, the sinners and the scoffers. ‘Happy are those who do not follow the advice of the wicked, or take the path that sinners tread, or sit in the seat of scoffers;”. In this verse there is no implied struggle because the decision to not follow a wicked path has already been determined. Verse 1 affirms that the rejection of sinful action or advice will lead to contentment because it lifts the burden of temptation and the propensity of human selfishness; the first step in the duel action required to achieve genuine peace by rejecting sin.
Verse 2 establishes the second step. Those who reject evil will find satisfaction by contemplating on God’s words continually. “but their delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law they meditate day and night”. Rejecting wickedness leaves an intuitive void in our lives which needs to be filled spiritually. By immersing ourselves in the laws, “day and night” we can fill this space with greater happiness and satisfaction than through the pursuit of secular gratification. There is a “do or die” inference in this duality declaring that it is not sufficient to simply reject wickedness, but that we need also to seek a holy presence in our lives daily. This dual action of rejection and immersion thread themselves throughout the Psalms.
Being nurtured by God’s law will result in spiritual prosperity and fulfillment. Only then will we grow in wisdom and bear abundant fruit. “They are like trees planted by streams of water, which yield their fruit in its season, and their leaves do not wither. In all that they do, they prosper.
The example of fruit trees thriving on the banks of a river seems to imply that we will prevail against the withering winds and scorching heat. We will also bear bountiful fruit as long as we are rooted in God’s word, represented by the flowing river. Because the righteous choose to meditate continually, meaning they choose to plant themselves by the river of God’s wisdom, they are more productive and bear greater fruit. What is significant in this verse is that we will “yield their fruit in its season,” The good which we bear will be according to God’s plans and not our own. In rejecting sin and immersion into God’s law we reject our own agenda and accept God’s.
Meditating is not done in lieu of or aside from actively engaging in the world. It becomes integrated and proactive in our daily routine, guiding us in both the mundane and critical choices we make in our lives. We also see this process as a foundational doctrine, resolving the issues of anger, hate, vengeance, materialism and avarice that infuse the entire Biblical narrative. These things are human attributes that can only be resolved by God.
Psalms 1 centers us on being engaged in God’s word so we do not succumb to worldly desires. Daily meditation empowers us to do greater works and become more effective in our discipleship. It allows us to stay engaged with God during all the conflicts, travails and blessings that is part of the human journey.
Others who seek their own path apart from God will not experience God’s blessing or be able to produce good works. “The wicked are not so, but are like chaff that the wind drives away. According to the writer the wicked will not be able to either stand before God or be allowed in the company of the faithful. “Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous; for the LORD watches over the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish.”Those who chose not to meditate will be weakened by sin and worldly desires. They cannot be equipped to overcome the travails of life because they do not allow God to be part of their daily life.
Psalms 1 is not simple a quaint and simple lesson meant to have us read scriptures or save us from committing sinful acts. The book of Psalms, like so much of the Bible, is often taken piecemeal with each scripture or verse suitable for framing or embroidering. Psalms needs to be read in its entirety with each chapter becoming a building block for creating a relationship with God. Psalms 1 distinctly shows the blueprint of how that relationship will be built. First we reject our sinful nature then we seek to allow God continually in our lives.
[i] Harper Bibles. NRSV Bible with the Apocrypha (Kindle Location 22317). Harper Collins, Inc.. Kindle Edition.
[ii] Harper Bibles. NRSV Bible with the Apocrypha (Kindle Location 22316). Harper Collins, Inc.. Kindle Edition.
[iii] Tyndale. Life Application Study Bible NKJV (LASB: Full Size) Matthew 16:23 (Kindle Location 65485). Tyndale House Publishers. Kindle Edition.
[iv]Harper Bibles. NRSV Bible with the Apocrypha, Psalms 1:1(Kindle Location 22317). Harper Collins, Inc.. Kindle Edition.
[v] Harper Bibles. NRSV Bible with the Apocrypha Psalm 4:2-4, (Kindle Locations 22379-22385). Harper Collins, Inc.. Kindle Edition
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