Explore the Bible Series
November 8, 2009
Background Passage: Psalm 1:1-6
Lesson Passage: Psalm 1:1-6
Psalm One is an anonymous Wisdom Psalm that acts as a fitting introduction to the
Psalter. The time of composition remains
a mystery, but it appears that the author based his meditations on the writings
of the Prophet Jeremiah (See Jeremiah 17:5-8); thus, the Psalm may reflect the
conditions prior to
The LifeWay folks chose well the order of these lessons. The last two weeks have led us through dark and difficult terrain (Psalms 73 and 102), and this Psalm provides some balance to our understanding of God’s ways with his people. However, we must interpret this passage very carefully.
At first reading, Psalm One may appear to provide a kind of “formula” for happy, successful living: that is, if we do good things, God will automatically reward us with happiness and prosperity—good works in, prosperity out. As I see it, God never works by formulas. We do not “corner” the Lord into some obligation to bless us. Blessings come from mercy and love, not transactional constraint. The Christian life, then, cannot be reduced to a formula, and the stories of the saints bear out my point.
Consider, for instance, the circumstances of Job. The epic poem that recounts Job’s story reveals the impeccable character of this man (See Job 1:1); yet, he met with the most catastrophic calamities anyone could imagine: the destruction and plunder of his livelihood, the decline of his health, and the deaths of all ten of his children. Where was his “blessedness” and “prosperity”? In fact, Job’s friends had a formulaic view of God, and their theology led them to indict Job for sins he did not commit. They reasoned that Job must have done something terrible for the Lord to allow such misfortune, but, in the end, their counsel (and their “formulaic” theology) proved inadequate.
Please understand, I do not intend to dismiss the clear claims of Psalm One; in particular, I certainly do not question that God blesses his children. My concern centers on the pastoral implications of misinterpreting this Psalm in such a way that leads poor, afflicted believers to assume that they necessarily suffer because of some moral failure.
I. The Blessedness of the Righteous (vv. 1-3): Psalm One divides evenly in two parts: vv. 1-3 and vv. 4-6. The first section describes the blessedness of the righteous, and the second details ruin of the unrighteous. The Psalm concludes with a brief affirmation of the Lord’s perfect knowledge of the hearts of all people.
A. A negative description of the righteous (v. 1): Ten Psalm begins with a description of attitudes and actions that do not characterize the righteous person. Please note the addendum to this outline on the issue of blessedness (See below).
1. “blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly (some translate “wicked”)” (v. 1a): “Walks” denotes a course or pattern of life, and reflects a continual habit of life. This blessed man refuses to take his counsel from the ungodly and refrains from adopting their life-patterns for his own.
2. “nor stands in the way of sinners” (v. 1b): “Stands” may reflect the ancient Jewish pattern of city elders standing at the gates of villages and cities. They stood as guardians of the town and as advisors to the young and impressionable. One who walks on the counsel of the ungodly will eventually assume the place of a counselor himself, and his advice will prove unworthy. The righteous man, again, recognizes the downward spiral of sin, and he refuses to stand in the way of sinners.
3. “nor sits in the seat of the scoffer (scornful)” (v. 1c): Ancient teachers often sat while they lectured their students. Perhaps, therefore, this verb “sit” denotes the final phase of this whirlpool of sin. The ungodly man may finally assume a position of influence and worldly respect where he becomes a mentor to others. Again, the righteous man finds blessedness in refraining from this eddy of iniquity.
B. A positive description of the righteous (vv. 2-3)
1. “his delight is in the law of the Lord” (v. 2a): “Law” means more than the various rules included in the Mosaic Code; rather, it embodied the covenant the Lord made his ancient people, the Hebrews. To delight in the law of the Lord, therefore, means to rejoice in the righteousness and blessings of a covenant relationship with the Lord, and it issues in loving obedience to God precepts. This covenant culminated in the person and work of Christ.
2. “and on his law he meditates day and night” (v. 2b): The Lord’s people are smitten with the grandeur and grace of God’s promises. Day and night their hearts soar with gratitude for things past and anticipation of blessings to come. Their minds are fixed on God’s merciful designs, and they find great blessedness in daily reflection on God’s ways with man, in accordance with his covenant of grace.
3. “he is like a tree planted by streams of water, that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither” (v. 3): Here again, the imagery of Jeremiah 17:5-8 proves helpful in gleaning the psalmist’s intent. Godly people endure, like tress planted by a stream. The drought may will come, and the roots of the tree must dig deep to find nourishment and moister; yet, the arid conditions actually test and strengthen the tree. When other plants wither and die, the stream-side tree not only survives, but it remains hardy and fruitful.
II. A Description of the Ungodly (vv. 4-6)
A. “they are not so” (v. 4a): God does not see them as he sees the righteous; their character and plight are in different categories; their future on a different trajectory.
B. “but are like chaff which the wind drives away” (v. 4b): The ancients did not have sophisticated agricultural equipment that automated the food production process; rather, they used primitive (but effective) means to process and prepare food. In particular, they winnowed grain crops to separate the unusable chaff from the nourishing grain. Often, communities would build “threshing floors” to process the grain. The wheat or barley, straight from the field, would be tossed by a fan-shaped winnowing fork, and the wind would gently separate the chaff from the kernel. The farmers would use the chaff as fodder for livestock or for tender for their fires, but, frankly, the chaff had little real value. The husks bore the contours of the grain, but it had no life in it. The psalmist compared ungodly men to weightless, worthless chaff, fit only for destruction.
C. “the wicked will not stand in the judgment, not sinners in the congregation of the righteous” (v. 5): Some commentators hold that this verse refers to human courts, courts where the ungodly will eventually meet with the consequences of their unjust deeds. In my estimation, the psalmist intended a more universal application, a judgment of all mankind. The notion of a final judgment is not completely alien to the Old Testament, and I think that view best explains this text. In the end, the wicked will not stand in the congregation of the righteous.
D. “for the Lord knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish” (v. 6): This verse augments our interpretation of the previous sentence. The judge, in the judgment mentioned in Verse Five, seems to be the Lord, as stated in Verse Six. He alone possesses perfect knowledge of his creatures; therefore, his judgment will be just and thorough.