Study the Word: Psalm 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;
but his delight is in the law of the LORD,
and on his law he meditates day and night.

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.
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 knows the way of the righteous,
but the way of the wicked will perish.


Central to good study is the ability to ask good questions. I have found it to be curious that in my time doing children’s ministry I discovered kids full of questions. Some silly to be sure, but some were dead on. One precocious 3rd grade once asked me why God “says ‘we’ all the time in Genesis 1?” Nailed it. Another asked me, “where is the soul in my body?” A bit more philosophical, but I had just finished a paper for my master’s degree on the philosophy of mind and soul, so I told him I would explain it after class. In youth ministry and what I suppose should be called adult ministry the questions are either safe or non-existent in most cases. This is a great tragedy and it tells us that there is something wrong with how we are teaching and training our youth. They are afraid to ask obvious questions and make simple observations. Yet I have found that the two most important tools in my Bible study toolbox are a simple trust that the Bible is the Word of God and that it says what it means clearly. Believing these two things allows me to ask basic questions of the text and mine them for wisdom, insight, and the very voice of God easily.

Here are a few basic questions we can ask this text:

  1. What does it mean to be blessed?
  2. What is the importance of walk, stand, sit?
  3. What is the importance of the counsel, the way, the seat?
  4. What is the importance of the wicked, sinners, and scoffers?
  5. What does it mean to prosper?
  6. What does it mean to know?

I came up with these six questions by simply looking at the text and noticing what stood out to me. And it should be said that they stood out for very simple reasons:

  1. The construction of the first sentence emphasizes the word ‘blessed’. It could have just as easily been written, “a man is blessed” or ‘the man who is blessed” or “to be a blessed man”, but all of these place the emphasis on man. As a general rule of thumb, when english Bible translators write like Yoda, I tend to think it was important that they do so.
  2. Walk, stand, sit and counsel, way, seat and wicked, sinners, scoffers all are examples of parallelism. This is one of the oldest tricks in the author’s handbook for drawing attention to something. So questions 2-4 arise from my noticing the repetitive structure of the sentences. But the repetition is not what’s important other than to set it apart. What is important is where the comments deviate from each other.
  3. Prosper stands out for a few reasons. First, and this comes with studying, I know that many biblical characters are very godly men and they do not, as our culture would think of it, prosper. Second, I want to prosper so I want to know what the Bible means by prosper. Third, it comes at the end of a description. Authors will often either place significant words at the beginning or end of sentences so as to not lose them in the middle, buried under a prepositional phrase or something.
  4. Having just read number three, you may wonder why ‘know’ stands out. It is neither at the beginning or the end. Know stands out to me because it is an odd idea. Yahweh knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish. Originally I am drawn to this statement by the parallelism (knows the way is repeated), but then my mind notices the discrepancies, wicked and righteous, know and perish. Why is know juxtaposed to perish? That is the question lying behind, what does ‘know’ mean here?

Having asked my questions, I am ready to look for the answers. Here I have another little tip: work out. I don’t mean lift weights, though that is good too. I literally mean work from the site of your question outward. When I ask a question, like ‘what does it mean to be blessed?’ I start in the sentence the question came from “Blessed is the man who…”, then move to the paragraph (or in our case the stanza since it is a psalm), then to the pericope (fancy word for segment, think story or chapter), then in the sub-section, then in the book, then in the text collection (i.e. Pentateuch, histories, prophets, gospels, epistles, etc.), then in the division (Old or New Testament), and then in the Bible as a whole. This whole process is often not necessary unless I am doing a really deep study.

Blessed?

Without leaving Psalm 1, we can take note of a few things about blessedness. It appears that the blessed man is like a tree planted near a stream, thus in constant state of refreshment and able to maintain health (leaf does not whither) and maturity (bearing fruit). The blessed man prospers and the blessed man is known by God. Blessing seems to flow from his delight in the law of God (Scripture and revelation), which is displayed in his meditation on the law throughout the day. Expanding out from Psalm 1, I, after study, can confirm that meditation on and delight in the law of God is a sign of deep desire to know and submit one’s life to God in worship and gratitude. Let’s skip to prosper since that has come up in our investigation.

Prosperous?

We are not told in this passage what is meant by prosperous, but we do know that it relates to the tree analogy. But we can make a take a look at a few other biblical texts and we would find out that to prosper is to succeed or flourish, to find peace or good things. In that sense we can understand that the Bible isn’t saying that a blessed man is materially prosperous (wealthy), but that he is blessed with that which God finds important. We might hear a foreshadow of Christ saying to his disciples:

19 “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, 20 but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. Matthew 6:19-21

So returning to the blessed man we draw out that the blessed man has obtained the treasure in heaven through his delight in the Yahweh and his law.

The Wicked, Sinners, and Scoffers

Who are these people? This takes some time in scripture, at least enough to be familiar with these terms or a good commentary on the Psalms. In my studies I have come to correlate these terms the following way:

  • The Wicked: People with perverse minds. Primarily they are deceptive and often driven by lusts or greed.
  • Sinners: Man in his present natural state (post-Fall, pre-Christ).
  • Scoffers: I one time looked this up in a 1980’s theological dictionary and it said “See Atheists and Evolution”. I think unbelievers would be closer to the Hebrew.

If this is who they are, what about their actions.

The Counsel, the Way, and the Seat

This is the one place where we get a bit of a hint in the passage about these types. Even so, it is just a hint. What I wrote above required study and reference material to come to. But consider these nouns. The counsel of the wicked, another word for counsel (in the English) is advice or wisdom. Considering that I tend to think of the wicked as the perverse of mind, it would seem to fit that we should avoid their supposed wisdom and advice. The way is a common term that denotes the manner of one’s life (this is true of ‘the walk’ as well, i.e. walk as one in the light). Thus David exhorts the man who has been graciously removed from his sinful state to walk in a manner of life that is not representative of who he was, but who he is now. Finally, the seat. This would seem to indicate extended and intimate association with unbelievers is a bad idea. Think about the common wisdom here, Christians ought to evangelize and befriend unbelievers, consider the books I wrote about last week, but our closest and most intimate friends ought to share our faith and values.

Combining this with the questions about walk, stand, and sit; I think it is a helpful observation to point out that these are increasingly permanent dispositions. We can pass by or walk with as if merely accompanying someone while in a similar direction. We can pause and stand in each other’s presence, and we can sit with them.

Know

Why does God know the way of the righteous, while the wicked perish? to be known by God is not simply to be on his radar or in his awareness, but God’s knowledge is deep and intimate. In fact, many who don’t read the Bible all that often will be familiar with the verse “Adam knew his wife and they became one flesh.” When Psalm 1 states that God knows the way of the righteous it is another way to say that he loves them and their manner of life. As such, God will sustain what he loves, protecting it, while the judgement will wash away that which he doesn’t.

I am not sure if that was helpful, but I hope it was.

Thanks for reading,

t.d.h.

 

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