Psalm 1 is one of those passages that folks like to preach at the beginning of a new calendar year or ponder at the outset of a significant new season in life. Indeed, this psalm is particularly dear to my family. For both of my sons, this was the song I sang to them while holding them within the first hour of their life. I want them to grow up to love and serve the Lord, to meditate on God’s Law like the man of Psalm 1.
But Psalm 1 is a psalm appropriate for any season of life. Why? Because you, Christian, live in a world where sin seems normal, and holiness seems weird. What your grandparents may have considered warped and demented, this world celebrates. You, according to the world, ought to be mocked (and maybe worse) for daring to question the prevailing wisdom.
I often remind the boys and girls of our congregation that they live in a world where many people do not love God nor His Son, the Lord Jesus. I remind them that it is a strange and challenging world we live in—a world where wickedness abounds, unrighteousness is celebrated, and there are seemingly no consequences for evils perpetuated against the innocent—and that their moms and dads are trying to train them to love God and live for Christ in the midst of this reality. Shall evil triumph forever? Is there any comfort for God’s troubled, believing people?
We need Psalm 1.
The Great Preface of the Psalter
It is important to realize that the 150 Psalms are arranged deliberately. Psalms 1, 2, and 3 are put right at the beginning of the psalter on purpose, because they tell us, in miniature, what all 150 psalms are about.
Psalm 1 teaches the psalms are about delighting in God’s Law, delighting in God’s ways, delighting in God’s Word, living the blessed life, and how to live as God’s child.
Then Psalm 2 is about God’s anointed One (Messiah). The nations may rage, and wickedness may abound, but it is all in vain because God’s Messiah and his glorious royal reign are coming.
Finally, Psalm 3 displays the Lord’s servant as persecuted and enduring much misery. Through it all, his hope is stayed on the Lord his God, whom he trusts will ultimately sustain and deliver him.
That is the basic gist of the psalter: God’s people endure much strife in this world, but they look in hope to the coming of God’s Messiah, and, consequently, despite all the vain taunting of the world, they press on in the blessed life of God’s people which comes as they delight in God’s Law.
We need this psalm because in it we see life as it really is. When we turn on the news or scroll through our social media, the world certainly looks one way. In Psalm 1, however, the Holy Spirit takes us by the hand, widens our myopic gaze, and helps us to see things as God sees them.
It is not unlike those times when one is trying to get a child to see something remarkable right under their nose. Sometimes when hiking with my boys, we might see a beautiful, enormous red-tailed hawk soaring by. “Look, boys!” I say and they frantically gaze all around, everywhere except where I am pointing. Eventually, I take them by the chin and cock their faces so they are rightly looking toward it: “Wow, Dad. Amazing!”
That is what God does for us in Psalm 1.
There are countless things to see in Psalm 1, but for our purposes in this multi-part Saturday Psalm series, let us begin by considering what it means to be blessed.
The Blessed Man (verses 1–2)
Verse 1, “Blessed is the man . . .” Blessed. The Hebrew word there (אַ֥שְֽׁרֵי) means a happiness rooted in moral and mental and physical and spiritual well-being. As one of my college professors was keen to point out: surely in the oral culture of the Hebrews, the memorable “eysh” alliteration of the first three words of the Psalm (אַֽשְֽׁרֵ֥י הָאִ֗ישׁ אֲשֶׁ֚ר) would have served the people mnemonically well in calling to mind the rest of the words of Psalm 1 as they prepared to rehearse it, sing it, and even memorize it.
Upon further inspection, it seems that the blessed man is someone who, on the one hand, does not do something, and, on the other hand, does do something.
The blessed person does not “walk in the counsel of the wicked, nor stand in the path of sinners, nor sit in the seat of scoffers” (verse 1).
Utilizing our reverent imaginations for a moment, we can flip the habits of his life around and see what happens when someone does not employ the wisdom of verse 1. What happens when sin is allowed to go unchecked? It sets up shop and we see the regressive, cancerous effects that sin has long-term.
Notice how our theoretical man starts out at the beginning, maybe naively. A little flirtation with sin cannot hurt, surely? He is walking in the counsel of the wicked. The wicked, in this imagery, are a group. This average man is perhaps not among the wicked, but he walks alongside them. He is intrigued by what they are saying.
Well, it is not long at all (only a comma’s pause), and sin begins to exert its decelerating effects. The man has slowed down: no longer walking, no forward momentum. Now he is standing in the way of sinners. Just a clause ago, he was merely walking parallel with them, enticed by their suggestions. Now he is “standing in the way of sinners.” He is among them.
Just one more comma later and he has decelerated even further. Now he is not even upright, much less ambulatory. He is seated. He is at home, entirely comfortable in his new situation. He sits in the seat of, not just sinners, but scoffers.
It is far worse than he might have first imagined. Initially, just flirting with the counsel of the wicked, then actively sinning—doing the things which displease God as he was standing in the way of sinners. It has degraded even further: now he scoffs. It is not enough for him to merely do sin, now he mocks the God of righteousness and he scoffs at those who would seek to please Him.
See what a foul and all-consuming disease sin is? It is never content with a détente. It always wants more control.
So, as we have used our reverent imaginations in the reverse, we see the malignant, decaying effects of sin in the heart. The point of Psalm 1:1 is that the blessed man does not do those things.
What does the blessed man do? This contrast comes as we enter verse 2: “But his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on His law he meditates day and night.”
Instead of finding pleasure in the words or the ways of the wicked, he finds pleasure in meditating on the Law. That is always the way of the Christian life: mortification and vivification—to put off sin, and put on Christ and His ways.
The word law is the Hebrew word torah (תּוֹרָה). One of the ways to understand the concept of torah is to understand it as an Old Testament way of encompassing all the Word of God and all the ways of God. The blessed man or woman does not dabble in soul-killing dalliances of sin. It is not the law or ways of this world that bring him delight. It is God’s Law that brings him satisfaction.
Notice, it is not an occasional interest, but rather a constant infatuation: “On his law he mediates day and night.” It is like food to him, all day long.
Know this: the scoffers of Psalm 1 would like to mock the religion right out of this man. Our world would love the same of you, dear reader. No doubt you have read the deconstruction stories online. So many folks are ecstatic, reveling in the fact that people are renouncing Christianity. In this kind of environment, how do you plan to resist the word’s toxic influences?
If we are to stand firm, we need the nourishment and the delight the psalmist talks about here. So then, are the things of God as joy-inducing, rich food to us, which we yearn to glut our souls on? If not, how do we get to that point?
Part of the agenda of these Saturday Psalms is to help prepare your hearts for tomorrow, the Lord’s Day. As you head out the door, you will be engaged in the very thing you need to do to help your heart get to that point of godly soul-yearning. You will be with the Lord’s people, sitting at His table, hearing His Word, worshipping Him, and training your soul to delight in what it needs the most. Lord willing, that will awaken a desire in you to go home and feast more on God throughout the week—crave more of God in communion with him.
Think of it like this, husbands and wives: when you were dating the person who would one day become your spouse, did you think, “I think I have affection for this person. In order to confirm and strengthen those affections, I shall spend the bare minimum time possible with them! Two hours a month for the next six years—that will cultivate love!” No, of course not. You found delight in this person’s company, and the more time you spent with them, the more you found yourself delighting in them.
Likewise with our children when they discover a new interest: they not only want to watch the relevant TV series, but they want to find books about the subject at the library, and then dress up as the requisite characters, buy the applicable toys, and so on. Would that we had a tenth of an all-consuming interest in God’s Word as our kids do for the latest Lego fad!
We want to be like the blessed man of Psalm 1. How will we stand against the fallen, sin-sick world and its corroding effects? Our obsessive desire must be for God’s Word, such that it yields a delight to commune with the Lord.
There is more for us to unearth in this splendid chapter of Scripture, and we will do just that when we return for Part 2 of our ongoing Saturday Psalm Series.
©Sean Morris. All Rights Reserved.
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The elaboration of “day and night” you gave is not clear to me. Is a “constant infatuation” expressible by other than constant, conscious study? If not, where do work and sleep fit in? That would be more the monk’s understanding and schedule, including middle of the night matins and lauds.
In the other elaboration you gave, “Like food to him, all day long,” this skips night. I don’t think you mean for night to be skipped! Lord bless.