May 24, 2020

The book of Psalms is a great delight for every child of God. It is filled with words of encouragement and hope. The psalms touch the heart. They strengthen and encourage us as we go through the events of our daily lives. We are comforted by the songs included in this beloved book. For those who can say “The LORD is my Shepherd, the psalms are an expression of the emotions of our hearts. They reaffirm to us that as God’s children, “We are so blessed.”

The book of Psalms derives its name from the Greek title for this book. The Greek word for “psalm” basically means “a poem or song to be sung to a stringed instrument.” The Hebrew title for this book is “Tehillim” meaning “the Praises” or “Songs of Praise.” The book of Psalms formed the hymnbook for the Jewish people and was used for their expressions of worship of Yahweh. This book is a collection of 150 songs that were put in this present arrangement by Ezra during the post exilic period of Israel’s history. He divided the book of Psalms into 5 sections to correspond to the Pentateuch or the 5 books of Moses that serve as the Torah or Law for the nation of Israel. The earliest psalm was penned by Moses and the final ones were composed during the return of the Jews to the land of promise till around 440 BC. While the psalms were composed during a historical period of over 1000 years, the bulk of them were written during the United Kingdom period, particularly during the reigns of David and Solomon. Obviously, each psalm is a unit unto itself. Yet many of them are grouped together to serve a particular purpose or function. For example, Psalms 120 to 134 are all known as the Songs of Ascents and would be used by the men as they came up to Jerusalem for the 3 designated feasts at which the Lord required their appearance. In the same way, Ezra provided other structure and groupings of various psalms. Appropriately Psalms 1 and 2 serve as an introduction to the whole book of Psalms and Psalm 150 is a fitting Doxology to its conclusion. In Psalms 1 and 2, Ezra provided the theological themes that are woven throughout the book of Psalms. 

Psalm 1 is traditionally thought to have been written by Ezra during the post exilic period of Israel’s history. He returned to Jerusalem during the seventh year of the reign of the Persian King Artaxeres or in the year 458 BC. (Ezra 7) King Artaxeres ruled the Medio Persian Empire from 465 BC to 424 BC. Artaxerxes is also the king who later gave the commission to Nehemiah on March 4, 444 BC to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the city and its walls. It appears Ezra composed this psalm after his return to Jerusalem as a Praise Psalm for the benefit of the remnant of Jews who returned to the Promised Land. As a praise psalm it expresses the rich blessing or favor of Yahweh upon those who trust Him and seek to please Him. In addition to being a Praise Psalm, Psalm 1 is also classified as a wisdom psalm designed to give insight so that one may skillfully live his or her life.  

As one reads Psalm 1, he can readily see the contrast in the psalm between the righteous and the wicked. These two individuals approach life differently and therefore, have different outcomes to their lives. Throughout the Book of Psalms, the contrast between the righteous and the wicked will be manifest. While the Book of Psalms is a book of worship, it is also one of the Old Testament books that addresses a very fundamental and important issue for every one of us. In this book the question of one’s relationship with God and the expression of devotion to Him is the primary topic. The most important issue for any human being is that of having a relationship with the Creator God who is the Supreme Ruler over all the universe. As depicted in Psalm 1, the righteous are those who are acceptable to Him while the wicked are not. The righteous are those who have a God centered worldview and depend upon the Lord in their daily lives. They are the individuals who live by faith and therefore have acceptance with God. In contrast, the wicked are individuals who even though they may be religious, do not have a genuine relationship with the Lord and therefore are not acceptable to Him. From the biblical perspective, all human beings fall into one category or the other regardless of one’s religion, morality or ethics. In the eyes of God, one is either classified as righteous or as wicked. Psalm 1 describes that distinction between these to categories of people.

While from a musical standpoint, the song seems to consist of 2 stanzas. Psalm 1:1-3 is the first stanza of the song and Psalm 1:4-6 is the second stanza. But from a didactic or teaching standpoint, Psalm 1 has 3 distinct parts. In Psalm 1:1-2 there is the Counsel for Men. Next in Psalm 1:3-4 there is the Character of Men. Finally in Psalm 1:5-6 there is the Consequences For Men. Psalm 1 begins by identifying the two basic sources of information that provide an individual with the criteria to evaluate reality and life. 

“How blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked,

Nor stand in the path of sinners,

Nor sit in the seat of scoffers!

But his delight is in the Law of the LORD,

And in His Law, he meditates day and night.”

Psalm 1:1-2

Every one of us has an authority base upon which we validate what we learn and perceive as true or correct. We either put our confidence in reasoning of men or in the revelation of God. The counsel of the wicked is another term to designate the worldview of man apart from the information given by divine revelation. It is the naturalistic approach to life and explanation for all that exists in the universe. In contrast, the righteous man is the one who recognizes the Word of God as the final authority. It is the understanding of life and the explanation for all that exists in the universe as disclosed by God to man. The individuals in both categories are rational thinking beings. But they evaluate and make intellectual conclusions from two diverse presuppositional formats. The conclusions drawn by those who follow the counsel of the wicked, or the approach to life without the use of divine revelation, are always being modified or revised. The thinking of man apart from God’s Word is repeatedly revised as new things are discovered. There are no absolute truths found in the counsel of the wicked. Every discipline of study goes through updates and revisions only to be replaced with new conclusions in the years to come.  

God’s Word is not like that. It is absolute truth. As Jesus stated in His prayer to the Father for His sheep: “Sanctify them in the truth; Your Word is truth.” (John 17:17) The Word of God is Truth. It is the Absolute that does not change or need to be revised. The Word of God not only enables us to know God but also to better know ourselves. It resonates with what one perceives to be so in the outer world around us as well as the inner world within us. It enables us to understand how man can display such creative genius as one created in the image of God while at the same time knowing that man is capable of expressing unimaginable cruelty as one who is under the bondage of sin. The Bible is still in the “First Edition.” It has not needed revisions or corrections. It told us the earth was a sphere while scientific man still thought it was flat. It is verifiably accurate in every area it addresses in the visible world as well as providing us with the essential information of the invisible world around us. It provides us with the only firm foundation upon which to build our lives. It is absolute unchangeable truth.

The individual who delights in the Law of the LORD (The personal God who has made Himself known as Yahweh, the Great I AM) is the one whose life is blessed. He is the one who has been enriched by the LORD in ways that are beyond one’s comprehension. He is the one who has the loving care of the personal God providing for him and protecting him each and every day in the way David described in Psalm 23. 

Next, Psalm 1 indicates that the authority base for one’s thinking has a direct impact upon his person. It is as Solomon stated in Proverbs 23:7: “For as he thinks within himself, so he is.” In the same way, this psalm indicates that the counsel one follows in life has a direct impact upon his character. Those who follow the counsel of the Word have stability and benefit in life while those who ignore the counsel of the Lord are unstable and easily influenced or pushed along by forces outside themselves.

“And he will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water,

Which yields its fruit in its season,

And its leaf does not wither;

And in whatever he does, he prospers.

The wicked are not so,

But they are like chaff which the wind drives away.”

Psalm 1:3-4

First the character of the righteous is described. He is an individual that has strength and stability in life. He is like a mighty oak tree that can withstand the forces that blow against him as he goes through life. This tree has roots that go down deep into the underground streams of water so it is nourished regardless of the external circumstances. In the same way, the righteous are sustained by an unseen source that enables them to bear fruit that pleases the Lord. In Romans 7:4, Paul describes the purpose for those who have a relationship with the Lord through the New Covenant that “we might bear fruit for God.” The Lord Jesus said it like this: “You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you, that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain.” (John 15:16)

Not only will the righteous bring forth character qualities that delight the heart of God, they will also be upheld during the various trials of life. Their “leaf does not wither.” They are able to face the problems and trials of life in the way that honors God and is for their best good. In other words, they enjoy true success in every endeavor of life regardless of what those of this world may think of them. They are the ones who will one day hear from the Lord Himself: “Well done, good and faithful servant! Enter into the joy of your Lord.”

But the character of those who reject the counsel of the Word and rely upon the counsel of the natural man is far different. The psalm emphatically states: “The wicked are not so.” In contrast to all that has been stated about the righteous man, one finds that the wicked are typically devoid of those traits. In addition, the psalmist paints a far different picture of the wicked. “They are like chaff which the wind drives away.” The wicked are individuals who lack real strength and stability in life. They are carried about by the winds of popular thought. They do quite well when there are no trials or difficulties to face. We all do! But when adversity and unexpected calamity comes, they fall apart. Sadly, they lack the inner fortitude that only the Lord can provide for any one of us. The fear of man and the fear of death grips them and controls them. They have no inner resource to strengthen or uphold them when all around them gives way. Jesus said that these individuals are the “foolish man who built his house upon the sand (no firm foundation for life). And the rain descended and the floods came and the winds blew, and burst against that house; and it fell, and great was its fall.” (Matthew 7:24-25) Everyone of us will be hit with the unexpected storms in life. How we handle them, depends upon what foundation we have built our life upon. The life that is built upon the sand of human reason is one which is doomed to fail because it lacks the firm foundation to uphold it in the difficulties of life.

Finally, the psalmist states that the future is far different for these two classes of people. Not any one of us can alter or appeal to a higher court to change the verdict that the Lord pronounces. Psalm 1 ends with a declaration of the certain consequences that come to men. 

“Therefore, the wicked will not stand in the judgment,

Nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous.

For the LORD knows the way of the righteous,

But the way of the wicked will perish.”

Psalm 1:5-6

Sadly, in our age of skepticism, individuals mistakenly think: “if I do not accept the fact of the existence of God” or “I don’t believe that I am accountable to God;” that somehow these things are not a reality. One can erroneously think that it doesn’t apply to me. But truth be told, what I believe to be so or not to be so has no bearing on whether or not it is so. God has clearly stated: “as it is appointed for men to die once, and after that comes judgment.” (Hebrews 9:27) Every creature will give an account to the Creator. The outcome for those who ignore the counsel of the Word will be drastically different from those who delight in the Word and have it has the final authority to determine what is right and wrong. As an individual, I am either trusting in the Word of the Creator or in the word of the creature. Those who have recognized that there is nothing in myself to commend me to God, are the ones who are trusting in the Lord and what He has said in His Word. These individuals have an intimate personal relationship with the Lord Himself. And the LORD has an intimate personal relationship with them. The theological idea behind the term “knows” is not a reference to the omniscience of God. He knows all things. This term “knows” conveys the idea of God having an intimate relationship with those who follow the way of living life described by God in His Word. So the LORD takes delight in the individual who is seeking to please the LORD by the way he lives his life. He is the individual who delights the heart of God through a genuine humble dependence upon God in his every day living. Therefore, the righteous will be vindicated and upheld by the LORD when they stand before Him.  

The outcome for those who reject the LORD and His word is not very pleasant. They will be justly condemned as well as exposed for their desire to do things “my way” instead of God’s way. As the Apostle Paul stated: “but to those who are selfishly ambitious and do not obey the Truth, but obey unrighteousness, wrath and indignation.” (Romans 2:8) Those who are living for themselves and the things of this world will end up with nothing when they are judged by the Lord. Even Jesus warned about this same truth when He said: “For what will a man be profited, if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul? For the Son of Man is going to come in the glory of His Father with His angels; and will then recompense every man according to his deeds.” (Matthew 16:26-27) We are creatures and as such, dependent beings. We are creatures and therefore, accountable beings. While some may refuse to acknowledge these important facts, these facts are still true. One may foolishly live his life as if all things revolved around him. Individuals may erroneously think that they are autonomous and accountable to no one or nothing. But that way of living and that outlook on life is coming to an end. “The way (life course and focus upon oneself) of the wicked will perish.” What a sad disappointment and embarrassment for these individuals when they stand before the LORD and hear Him say: “I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practices lawlessness.” (Matthew 25:23)    

In conclusion, those who trust in the LORD and His Word are truly the ones who are blessed. They are daily strengthened and enriched by the LORD. They are known as the righteous, not because of their own merit or works to try to appease God and make themselves acceptable to Him. Rather, they are known as the righteous because they have called upon the LORD for His mercy and are depending upon the sufficiency of Jesus Christ and His substitutionary death on the cross to make them acceptable to God. They are the ones who are acceptable to God because they are the objects of God’s mercy and grace. Even a self righteous Pharisee by the name of Saul of Tarsus learned this important truth and lesson. He said: “More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish in order that I may gain Christ, and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith.” (Philippians 3:8-9) What a transformation! Saul of Tarsus became the Apostle Paul; a trophy of grace.

The righteous live differently than those who do not know God. They have an inner desire to know God better and understand His truth. They are individuals who delight in the Word of God and have the Spirit of God progressively transforming and changing them into beings who bring forth the qualities of character (Fruit) that are pleasing to God. They are the ones who have stability and strength; enabling them to face the demands and difficulties of life. They are the ones who look forward to eternity, knowing that it holds splendor and riches that far surpass the things of this world. As Paul stated: “Things which eye has not seen and ear has not heard, and which have not entered the heart of man, all that God has prepared for those who love Him.” (I Corinthians 2:9) No wonder the psalmist states in Psalm 1 that the people of God are so blessed. Truly, they are blessed indeed. Those who trust in the Lord and His Word have a firm foundation for this world as well as for the life yet to come. 

“How firm a foundation, ye saints of the Lord,

Is laid for your faith in His excellent Word!

What more can He say than to you He hath said,

To you who for refuge to Jesus have fled?’

Rippon’s Selection of Hymns 1787

Soli Deo Gloria!