I know of no Psalm that is more summary of what the Psalms, the Bible, or life is all about than Psalm 1. It is appropriate that this Psalm and the Psalter, the hymnbook of the Hebrew people, stands more or less at the center of the whole Bible. Psalm 1, as an introduction to the Psalms and a Psalm of instructional wisdom, says it all so beautifully. Because I first came to know and memorize this Psalm in the King James Version of the Bible, l present it here in that form:
Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful. But his delight is in the law of the Lord; and in his law doth he meditate day and night. And he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth his fruit in his season; his leaf also shall not wither; and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper.The ungodly are not so: but are like the chaff which the wind driveth away.Therefore the ungodly shall not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous. For the Lord knoweth the way of the righteous: but the way of the ungodly shall perish.
The key thoughts in the Psalm concern the fact of two kinds of lives, the heart focus of each, and the result of each in terms of God’s blessing or judgment.
Clearly, an outstanding feature of the Psalm, and the entire Bible, is that there are really two kinds of lives to live. Jesus’ simple expression of this, as found in Matthew 7:13 and 14, is the narrow gate that leads to life, and the wide gate and broad way that leads to destruction. God’s revelation through the pages of the Bible, starting with Cain and Abel, and continuing on with people like the Pharaoh of Egypt and Moses, the Philistines and the people of Israel, Goliath and David, and so forth, is this kind of division. And though it is not our place to make any final judgment about anyone, this distinction also continues down to the present time. We all know intuitively about the difference between good and evil. And sometimes we are aware of competing directions in our own lives.
The second feature of the Psalm has to do with the heart of the matter for all of us: what is the focus of our attention, of our hearts? Ultimately, the difference has to do with what, or who, we worship. What is the root of our affections? Where do we like to spend our time and money? In one case it might be a kind of heart that is basically disinterested in God and godly matters. Hopefully, our hearts will incline more toward that which is holy and good.
Since the dominant theme of the Psalm has to do with the life of blessing, the negative element is put in terms of what the blessed person seeks to avoid. First and foremost, the life of blessing means recognizing and staying away from those who are inclined to wickedness, who focus on trespassing God’s law, and who delight in scorning all that is good and godly. From very early on in life, all humans are conscious of the existence of good and evil. Furthermore, for reasons of original sin, we all appear to have a rather natural disposition away from God and His Law. Though we like to pride ourselves in it being otherwise, the truth is that, “There is none righteous, not even one; no one seeks God. All have turned away; .. there is no one who does good, not eve one” (Romans 3:10-12). And if we don’t pay attention to this reality, we progressively (or regressively) move in that direction toward a deepening sense of practical atheism.
True blessedness in life entails recognizing and avoiding this tendency, and pointing our lives in another direction — the direction of mediation on God’s law to the point of delighting ourselves in it continuously. Somehow, in order to experience what God intended for us from the beginning, we must consciously choose to bring all of our beings — hearts, souls, and minds — to concentrate on knowing and obeying God’s Law. This is what faith is all about. That is why the Bible declares that “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Proverbs 9:10).
“The Law of the Lord” is the most fundamental element of knowing God. Thankfully, God has shown us what His Law is all about in what was given to Israel by the hand of Moses, and then delineated throughout the rest of the Bible. Though summarized in the Decalogue (the Ten Commandments), its corollaries are seen everywhere in the Bible being summed up by Jesus, “to love the Lord our God with all of our hearts, souls and minds, and our neighbours as ourselves” (Matthew 22:27 – 40). Furthermore — and this is a crucial point — the Law has been completely fulfilled in Jesus Christ (Matthew 5:17). Therefore, true meditation in God’s Law can’t help but lead a person to recognize the deity of Jesus and the completeness of His death and resurrection for the forgiveness of sin. Meditation in God’s Law results ultimately in the apprehension and application, by faith, of the Gospel.
This kind of focus, that begins with the Gospel, and continues with daily devotion toward Christ and His Word, results in a life, described here as a tree planted by rivers of water that results in the most beautiful kind of seasonal fruit. The image can’t help but be attractive to all of us. We live to enjoy God’s park of beauty in the natural world, and everyone, speaking generally, desires to create such a park in their own lives. We want our lives to be valuable, productive, and fruitful in the best ways imaginable. God’s promise is that it can be so through the right kind of focus. This is the essence of true faith.
Those who choose the way of worship and meditation on God’s Law as described, looking back, can catch glimpses of the truth so clearly and beautifully noted here. There are many illustrations in life of the difference in these two kinds of lives — those who choose the way of scorning godly matters, and those who indulge their souls in God’s love and truth. But the ultimate outcome will be decided by the judge of all. There is a Day coming, clearly described and foretold in many ways and places throughout Scripture, in which God will finally judge or reward each person according to their “meditations.” Psalm 1 ends with allusions to this final reality (i.e. John 5:28, 29; 2 Thessalonians 1:7-10; Revelation 22:12).
Ultimately, then, Psalm 1 (as in all of the Bible) presents us with the choice of two options concerning the kind of lives we desire and pursue. By God’s mercy and grace, may we choose the way of life as described here!