The Right Path
What path are you on?
The Psalms are a wonderful place to spend your time. If you haven’t spent time reading and meditating in the Psalms, I would encourage you to do so. The Psalms have an amazing ability to resonate within us—they seem to reach deep into our souls and speak quietly but powerfully to us. The book of Psalms guides us into a deeper worship of God. They contain wonderful imagery and powerful figures of speech. The various themes throughout the Psalms have a way of connecting to real-life situations; they reflect on our life situations in refreshingly honest ways.
The place to start reading the Psalms is of course with Psalm 1, which reads
1 Blessed is the man
Who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly,
Nor stands in the path of sinners,
Nor sits in the seat of the scornful;
2 But his delight is in the law of the Lord,
And in His law he meditates day and night.
3 He shall be like a tree
Planted by the rivers of water,
That brings forth its fruit in its season,
Whose leaf also shall not wither;
And whatever he does shall prosper.
4 The ungodly are not so,
But are like the chaff which the wind drives away.
5 Therefore the ungodly shall 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 ungodly shall perish.
Psalm 1 (NKJV)
This is a great Psalm to memorize. It is short. It packs a great message. It points us straight to the importance of the Word of God in our lives. It presents us with the challenge to live in righteousness.
Key Thoughts from Psalm 1
An important literary structure used throughout the Psalms is parallelism. That is, the text of the poetry of the Psalms is structured around poetic lines of verse rather than around sentences and paragraphs. Punctuation is not so important in poetry; rather, each line presents more of the thought than the sentence does. So, lines are generally grouped in units of two or three to express one thought—usually one thought will be expressed by two lines of text. Most of the verses in Psalms are structured this way. Thus, to understand a Psalm, the reader must examine the parallelisms used.
Psalm 1 sets up a comparison—a contrast—between the two destinies of man: righteousness man verses wickedness man (v. 6). The righteous man is call “blessed” (v.1) and is described in v. 1-3. The wicked man is described in v. 4-5.
A developmental parallelism is used to describe the blessed man of v. 1. The development is progressive through a triad of characteristics. The intensity (emotional tie) grows through each. The blessed man does not casually walk with the wicked; he does not stand with the wicked; and he does not collude with (sit among) the wicked.
The description of the righteous man continues in v.2 by developing the idea that rather than “hang-out” with the wicked (v. 1), he seriously takes up the Law of God. The developmental parallelism used in v. 2 shows first the righteous man’s love for Law of God and then his continual meditation upon that Law.
The illustrative clause of v. 3 describes how the well-being of the righteous emerges as he travels through life. The final clause of v. 3 and the first clause of v. 4 form a contrastive parallelism between the destiny of the righteous man (he prospers) and the wicked (he doesn’t).
The temporariness of the wicked is presented by way of developmental parallelism in the second part of v. 4 (i.e. chaff is light and powdery so it blows away in even the slightest wind). Synonymous parallelism is used in v.5 to demonstrate that the wicked will be separated from the righteous at the judgment.
The Original Audience and Psalm 1
The writer is presenting the concept that man has a moral choice to make. He can choose to either live a righteous, i.e. God-fearing, life or he can live an amoral and wicked life. The one choosing to live a moral, God-centered life will be blessed. He will be characterized by one who does not in any way associate with or take counsel from the wicked. He will have the requirements of life and generally prosper. The wicked, those who mock God and live an amoral life style, will be of no lasting value. They will be condemned by God at the judgment and they will not be among the righteous who assemble before God for all eternity. Thus, the Lord will take care of the righteous forever, but the wicked will perish.
Comparison of the Original Audience and Christians Today
The original audience of this Psalm was under a different covenant (the Law) than the Christian of today and as such they were called upon to know the Law and to meditate on its precepts. In the Old Testament, God’s plan was contained within the Law. In the Old Testament, the idea of prosperity was closely linked to physical wealth. Yet, the moral message of this passage is timeless. People today also have the choice to either follow God’s plan for living a moral life or to live in sin and wickedness. Salvation has always been by faith, thus the Old Testament believer gained great joy and happiness by keeping and meditating on the Law. The Christian of today gets great joy and happiness from the hope that is found in Christ (Rom 5:1-5).
Since the message of the Bible is timeless, we must consider the principles in Psalm 1 that are applied equally between the original recipients of the Psalm and Christians applying this Psalm today. At least two Biblical principles can be extracted from this Psalm:
- Righteous living leads to prosperity while an amoral life-style leads to destruction.
- Righteousness comes by believing in the Lord and living according to His plan.
Considerations from the New Testament
The Old Testament generally presents material wealth as a blessing from God and a reward for righteous living. It is a blessing that happens now in this world. In the New Testament, however, the “wealth blessing” becomes a “future blessing”—not necessarily money; rather, one that is enjoyed in the world to come. Thus, we are commanded by Jesus to “…lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven…” (Matthew 6:20).
Thus, the New Testament reaffirms the principle that we should trust God and live according to His plan (Rom 3-6). Yet, we also see in the New Testament that there are different levels of prosperity among people within the Church (1 Cor 16:2). In the New Testament, the idea of “spiritual prosperity” is introduced (e.g. 3 John 2) rather than just physical wealth. In the new economy of the Church, we can have great prosperity but little in the way of worldly holdings. So we cannot take the notion from the Old Testament that faithfulness to God will result in material wealth and apply this directly to New Testament believers as some type of “health and wealth” theology.
The New Testament also reaffirms the concept of avoiding contact with the wicked or sinful (1 Cor 5:13; 6:9-10; 2 John 11). God will judge those who have not trusted in His Son to bring us back into fellowship with Him—those who are “outside.” They are considered “evil” and we should not fellowship with them.
Applying Psalm 1 to the Christian
We really do have two distinct choices in life: to live in light of the revelation God has given us or to participate in the life of the world. A life in the world is a life without God and is highlighted by sin and separation from God. To live a life in the righteousness of God is to “have life, and…have it more abundantly” (John 10:10). In the New Testament, the righteousness of God can be attained only through acquiring saving faith in Christ. This is accomplished by:
- Knowing and understanding the work of Christ
- Accepting His work as sufficient to bring us to God
- Trusting in the hope of eternal salvation brought about by the work of Christ.
Life is meaningless apart from a relationship with Jesus Christ. The world around us (movies, TV, literature) offers us the illusion that meaning can be found in education, work, wealth, or pleasure (see Ecclesiastes). A close, rational scrutiny of the situation reveals that such a search is meaningless, a grasping for the wind. Only a relationship with our Creator gives us meaning.
Also, a Christian today who attends church and professes Jesus but who regularly indulges in personal sin (e.g. sexual promiscuity) is not too different from the ancient Hebrew who regularly offered sacrifices to the Lord but also participated in Baal worship. Both actions hurt God and damage their relationships with God. True repentance and a change of heart are called for in both situations. To live a life of righteousness before God is necessary for maintaining our fellowship with God.
We as believers would do well to focus our lives on living according to the righteousness of God. At that point, the believer will have a spiritually prosperous life through striving to glorify God. We can then live in the comfort that “the Lord watches over the way of the righteous (Ps 1:6).”
Which life are you choosing to live?
Are you participating in the life of this world?
Or are you choosing to live in the righteousness of God?