Psalm 1 - The Water of Life
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. 5 Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous; 6 for the Lord knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish.
Before we start, let’s pray.
Dear Lord, your word should be lodged in our hearts. Your Psalms are a cry from the human heart, and so they are something we can deeply identify with. Help us to hide today’s word, Psalm 1, in our hearts, so that our lives may be transformed.
In Jesus’ name, Amen.
We’re starting a new sermon series today, running through to Easter. We’ll be looking at a Psalm each week or so.
Psalms are, of course, poetry.
In fact, the book of Psalms easily qualifies as the most popular book of poetry in history. Not only is it included in every copy of the complete Bible (which is, by far, the most popular book in history), but it is included in many shorter versions, like the Gideon’s New Testament. The language of Psalms is a part of our culture, with phrases like “the shadow of death,” and metaphors of water, sheep, and nature.
But poetry has meaning, and the Psalms can be divided into a variety of genres, which you can see here. Psalm 1 is a Wisdom Psalm—it speaks of God’s wisdom and gives us insight into how to share in it. In fact, Psalm 1 is even more than that, it is one of three Psalms that are “torah” Psalms. Songs that reflect on God’s instructions, his word, which is what the Hebrew word torah means. The other two Torah Psalms are Psalm 19 and Psalm 119, you’re probably familiar with them.
But Psalm 1 is special in another way: along with Psalm 2, which was originally joined with Psalm 1, these potent poems form an introduction and overview of the entire book of Psalms. Psalm 1 introduces the vitality of our relationship with God, and how our response to God’s word places us either in his family or outside it. This theme runs through, not only the Psalms, but the entire Bible.
Now, I could go on and on about the extraordinary skill and deep theology of this Psalm, but the subtitle of this sermon series is “Songs from the Heart,” so it’s important to think about how the Psalm impacts us, what impressions it makes on us, how it moves us.
So, what moves you about Psalm 1? What images jump out? What messages resonate? What themes encourage or frighten you?
[Wait for feedback.]
For me, the image that always comes to mind when I think of this Psalm, is that central image of a tree planted by a watercourse.
Now, for Gold Coasters, I imagine this image is not terribly strong, after all, look at this aerial view of my home suburb, Burleigh Cove. Notice those forested areas on the left and the top right. Those are what this area was originally like. Lots of green trees. Why? Because there’s water everywhere! The Gold Coast is a wet place.
But now look at this aerial view. Notice how there is no forest here. Instead, trees are clustered in certain places.
One place the trees are clustered are around houses, like this one, which just happens to be the house I lived in from age 8 to 17, and where my parents still live. The reason houses have trees around them is because the people who live there plant and water the trees.
But another place trees grow is along these branching paths. What do you think these paths are? That’s right! They’re creeks. Most of the time these creeks look dry, with nothing but sand in their beds.
But underneath that sand is water, all year round. And the trees growing along the creek are always green. The contrast I saw, growing up, between the plants along the creek and those elsewhere, was huge. As a teenager I would walk through the creek on the way to bring the cows home every day, and I imagined it as an alien world, it was so different.
And that difference is key to the contrast between the righteous person and the wicked person. So let’s dig into how the Psalm talks about that.
Psalm 1 has three sections: how to achieve happiness, an image of what that looks like, and the end result of that behaviour.
So, how do you achieve happiness? According to the Psalmist it involves two things: avoiding sin, and obsessing over the “torah.”
Walk not in the counsel of the wicked
Walk not in the counsel of the wicked
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.
Most commentaries will warn you that the three parallel lines warning against associating with evil, are not intended as a progression. The reason they warn against that is because there clearly is a progression, from walking in the counsel of the wicked, through standing in the way of sinners, to sitting in the seat of scoffers. There is a progression from casually joining evil on a jaunt to sitting down and dwelling with evil. But the important point is simple, and the threefold repitition is intended to emphasise it: don’t join bad people in their wickedness! Your parents probably told you this when you were a kid, it’s hardly the rocket science of life advice.
You might wonder, then, about Jesus, who ate with sinners, prostitutes, and tax-collectors. The difference, of course, is that Jesus didn’t walk in the counsel of the wicked, I’m sure he was counselling the wicked to be righteous. Nor did he stand in the way of sinners (as in, root himself in the same path as sinners). I’m sure he stood beside them without joining them in their path. And nor did he sit in the seat of scoffers. Jesus always honoured his father, and scoffers earned quick rebuke around him.
You see, this first section is not warning us against hanging out with sinners, it’s warning us against joining them in their sin! There’s a big difference! One of the major problems Jesus had with the Pharisees is that they rejected sinners rather than their sin!
What should we do instead?
Delight in God’s word
Delight in God’s word
Instead we should delight in God’s “torah.” As I mentioned, torah means instructions or directions. It includes the law, but is not limited to that. In the context of Psalm 1, it is referring to the whole of the Old Testament that existed at the time, and even what was yet to come. For us as Christians, perhaps the word that best captures the meaning is the “word” of God.
We delight in God’s word when we understand what it means for us. The next two sections of the Psalm unpack this, but it’s important to remember that we should not be grudgingly reading our Bibles. It should be a delight to pick them up, and to see the wonderful wisdom that leads to a world so much better than the one we live in today!
In fact, so obsessed with God’s word should we be that we will mutter and murmer about it, 24/7. That word, “meditate” actually means to murmer aloud as you ponder and think upon something. God’s word should so fill our minds and hearts that it spills out onto our lips.
“What would Jesus do here?”
“What does the Bible say about this?”
“How can I represent Christ here?”
There is no shame in constantly muttering such questions—rather there is happiness.
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.
Moving to the second section of the Psalm, we’re shown a potent image of what this constrast between the righteous and the wicked looks like.
The righteous is connected to the living water of the Word of God, and so, like a tree planted by streams of water, they are fruitful and prosperous. A person filled with God’s word is never anxious, so the psychological frailties of our culture don’t trouble them. Jesus said,
31 “So don’t worry about these things, saying, ‘What will we eat? What will we drink? What will we wear?’ 32 These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs. 33 Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.
In contrast, the wicked, consumed with concern for themselves, rather than for God and others, are lightweights. They are like chaff, the rubbish that is blown away from the threshing floor, leaving behind the good grain. Selfish, self-centred people don’t last. They can’t. Without God’s wisdom they have nothing to offer anyone but empty platitudes and error.
Beware of the cult of the expert. Certainly, in our society, secular projects such as the hard sciences of physics, chemistry, and biology have yielded many fruitful truths. But mixed in with this are many falsehoods, grounded on arrogant, human superstition. And many other fields of human endeavour are rife with falsehood. Our consumer society idolises material wealth and in the process destroys both the natural environment and the souls of the people who buy into it.
When we go shopping, whether it be online or in the mall, it’s worth muttering “How does the Bible teach me to spend my money,” so we don’t end up blown away like a tumbleweed when our finances take a turn for the worse. Jobkeeper may be keeping the economy propped up, but it has to end, and what then?
Which brings us to the last section of the Psalm, which addresses that end.
5 Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous; 6 for the Lord knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish.
In the end, in the judgement, the wicked won’t be able to stand. They have no backbone, no integrity. They have been inflated by material goods and empty compliments, and when those run out there is nothing of substance left. They don’t even have relationships to lean on, they were too busy serving themselves. And so they don’t belong in the assembly, the congregation, of God’s people.
By the way, that word should “assembly” remind you of the New Testament word for church, ecclesia, which also means assembly. The wicked have no place in God’s church because they never really connected to God or to other people.
Lessons for us
Lessons for us
So how should this Psalm affect how we live?
Think about how Jesus ranked God’s commandments:
37 Jesus replied, “ ‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’
Far too often our relationships are relationships of convenience, not of love. How can you tell? Simple: if you abandon a relationship because it’s too painful for you, its not built on love. Paul wrote,
1 If I could speak all the languages of earth and of angels, but didn’t love others, I would only be a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I had the gift of prophecy, and if I understood all of God’s secret plans and possessed all knowledge, and if I had such faith that I could move mountains, but didn’t love others, I would be nothing. 3 If I gave everything I have to the poor and even sacrificed my body, I could boast about it; but if I didn’t love others, I would have gained nothing. 4 Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud 5 or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. 6 It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. 7 Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance. 8 Prophecy and speaking in unknown languages and special knowledge will become useless. But love will last forever!
The only way we can live out that sort of love--the sort of love that leads to life, that God requires of us--is to be deeply connected into the living water of God’s word. We need to be obsessing about who God is, how he relates to us, and how he wants us to relate to one another. We can’t do that if we spend most of our time obsessing about work, or our next meal, or our favourite TV show or book, or our studies, or even how to grow our church.
We need to delight ourselves in the word of God, in Jesus Christ, the only man who lived a sinless life, the man who gives us everlasting water, the man who will look at us on the day of judgement, and tell us,
23 His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’
So, for now, we live in faithful love, sacrificing ourselves for the benefit of others, and looking forward to standing tall in the midst of God’s people.
Lord, you clearly teach us that there are only two paths to choose: the path of rebellion, of selfishness, of loneliness, and the path of obedience, of perserverence, of life. Help us to always choose the path of life, help us to be making that choice 24/7, whatever we’re doing, wherever we are.
In Jesus’ name, Amen.