Psalm Lesson: Psalm 1


Here are the few notes I made on Psalm 1 for this week’s lesson. They are somewhat hurried, but I think you will find some usefulness in them. There are a few quotes from various authors and commentaries. You can also download the MSWord version at Psalm 1. Be blessed. [PS–There are a couple of random notes in the midst. They cover Revelation 1:7-8 and have little to do with the Psalm. I wrote them for a friend of mine, but you can borrow them too.] As with most of my notes, these ones are very loosely connected and mostly random. I’m sort of thinking as I go.

Psalm Lesson
Psalm 1, May 24, 2009

1 Blessed is the man
who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked
or stand in the way of sinners
or sit in the seat of mockers.
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,
which yields its fruit in season
and whose leaf does not wither.
Whatever he does prospers.
4 Not so the wicked!
They are like chaff
that the wind blows away.
5 Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous.
6 For the LORD watches over the way of the righteous,
but the way of the wicked will perish.

This Psalm is a beatitude and it stands at the front of our most ancient song book/book of prayers. The Psalmist puts before us two paths. On one path walks the blessed person; on the other walks the wicked. And if the blessed one never steps foot onto the path of the wicked, we can be sure and certain that the wicked person never steps foot on the path of the righteous person. The Lord watches over the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked? It appears not so much since their way will be destroyed.

The history of interpretation of this Psalm is to tear apart the metaphors and fill them with all sorts of meaning, but maybe it would do just as well to simply see the metaphors for what they are: Two paths. There is no in-between, there is no third path, there is no alternate root. There is the way of righteousness and the way of wickedness. Maybe these paths are blurred at times because of those who tread them, but the paths themselves do not alter or change.

Notes from Acts 1:

Acts 1:7-8 is like a circle, right? A concentric circle of evangelism where the influence and power of God’s kingdom expands: Jerusalem, Judea/Samaria, Ends of the Earth. It’s a beautiful thing that I noticed in other places too.

One such other place is in Revelation 4-5 where everything spoken of is spoken of in relation to the throne. Who is on the throne, in the center, but Jesus. “Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing in the center of the throne, encircled by the four living creatures…”

Another such place is Revelation 1:12-13 where Jesus is spoken of as ‘among the lampstands. But what it really says is that Jesus was in the ‘middle’ (meso) of the lamps.

Then also in Mark 3:31-34. “A crowd was sitting around him…Then he looked at those seated in a circle around him…”

What is that expanding circle spoken of in Acts 1 but the people who are gathering in this circle spoken of by Mark and John with Jesus at the center? What is Kingdom? What are witnesses but those invited into the circle, not an inner circle where we have secrets and exclude people, but an expanding circle around Jesus where everyone has equal access to him and everyone and anyone is invited to join the circle around him, to orient their lives around Him? It’s like the circle gets bigger because people are joining and not necessarily because people are fanning out.

And how should this kingdom and witness be done? Always with reference to the Lamb who is in the center. So all of our work and effort and witness is centered on Jesus and built around Him.

Well, that’s all very preliminary, but it came out in last week’s bible school lesson. It’s free and food for thought in case you find yourself needing an idea.

A good starting reference is found in Joshua 1:1-9:

1 After the death of Moses the servant of the LORD, the LORD said to Joshua son of Nun, Moses’ aide: 2 “Moses my servant is dead. Now then, you and all these people, get ready to cross the Jordan River into the land I am about to give to them—to the Israelites. 3 I will give you every place where you set your foot, as I promised Moses. 4 Your territory will extend from the desert to Lebanon, and from the great river, the Euphrates—all the Hittite country—to the Great Sea [a] on the west. 5 No one will be able to stand up against you all the days of your life. As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you.

6 “Be strong and courageous, because you will lead these people to inherit the land I swore to their forefathers to give them. 7 Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go. 8 Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful. 9 Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.”

There has always been this massive importance placed upon the reading and keeping of the Scriptures. Why? Why the importance? Consider:

1 These are the commands, decrees and laws the LORD your God directed me to teach you to observe in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to possess, 2 so that you, your children and their children after them may fear the LORD your God as long as you live by keeping all his decrees and commands that I give you, and so that you may enjoy long life. 3 Hear, O Israel, and be careful to obey so that it may go well with you and that you may increase greatly in a land flowing with milk and honey, just as the LORD, the God of your fathers, promised you.

4 Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. 5 Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. 6 These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. 7 Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. 8 Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. 9 Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.

10 When the LORD your God brings you into the land he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, to give you—a land with large, flourishing cities you did not build, 11 houses filled with all kinds of good things you did not provide, wells you did not dig, and vineyards and olive groves you did not plant—then when you eat and are satisfied, 12 be careful that you do not forget the LORD, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.

Remembering the Scripture helps remind us of what God has done. It keeps us in touch with Him and what He has done—reminds us to be humble. All three of these passages remind the reader to pay attention to the Word of God. And why pay attention to the word of God? The Psalm reminds us why. Two paths. Jesus also talked about two paths. This one path is defined by the Word of God.

MT 7:13 “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. 14 But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.

Consider this from Jeremiah 17:5-8:

JER 17:5 This is what the LORD says:
“Cursed is the one who trusts in man,
who depends on flesh for his strength
and whose heart turns away from the LORD.
JER 17:6 He will be like a bush in the wastelands;
he will not see prosperity when it comes.
He will dwell in the parched places of the desert,
in a salt land where no one lives.
JER 17:7 “But blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD,
whose confidence is in him.
JER 17:8 He will be like a tree planted by the water
that sends out its roots by the stream.
It does not fear when heat comes;
its leaves are always green.
It has no worries in a year of drought
and never fails to bear fruit.”

What is amazing is that across the board, Moses, Joshua, Psalms, and Jeremiah and Jesus all have the same or similar ideas about the righteous person and the Word of God.

Commentary and Notes

College Press NIV Commentary, Psalms 1-72, Edward Tesh & Walter Zorn

“Righteous or wicked, godly or ungodly, wise or foolish—whichever terms are used, the contrast in the psalm is well defined. In the OT Scriptures if one is not godly, he is not wise, for there wisdom and godliness are inseparable. This wisdom directs one in the ways of God and is to be distinguished from mere knowledge, such as an encyclopedic accumulation of facts.” (86)

“And it is a happiness that is very definitely related to conduct. The good life is attractive and brings real, not superficial, happiness.” (87)

(1:2) “The state of blessedness or happiness in life finds it source more in what a person does than in what he refrains from doing. The wise man refuses to walk in the way of evil, not because he is bound by an oversensitive conscience but because he has chosen to walk a better way. When it is a matter of choice between the counsel of the wicked and the way of the Lord, for him it is no contest. He chooses the latter.” (88)

[See Luke 11:28]

“The first word of the Psalm 1 is ‘blessed,’ describing the condition of one who walks in God’s way. The last word is ‘perish’ and refers to the end of those who reject the way of God. These two words, the first and last, encompass all that is in between. Thus the Psalm is ended. The righteous will lay it to heart. Regrettably, the foolish, unless they turn from their folly, will go on in their mocking.” (90-91)

How Long O Lord, DA Carson, 126

“Indeed, in God’s sight, the wicked are insubstantial, inconsequential: ‘They are like a dream when one awakes; when you arise, Lord, you will despise them as fantasies’ (v 20). The thought is akin to the last verse of Psalm 1: ‘For the Lord watches over the way of the righteousness, but the way of the wicked will be destroyed’ (v 6): not merely the wicked, but their way, so inconsequential are they.”

Tyndale Old Testament Commentary, Psalms 1-72, Derek Kidner

“Preferable to Blessed, for which a separate word exists, is ‘Happy’, or ‘The Happiness of….!’. Such was the Queen of Sheba’s exclamation in 1 Kings 10:8, and it is heart twenty-six times in the Psalter. This psalms goes on to show the sober choice that is its basis. The sermon on the mount, using the corresponding word in Greek, will go on to expound still more radically.” (47)

“The Law of the Lord stands opposed to the ‘counsel of the wicked’ (1), to which it is ultimately the only answer. The psalm is content to develop this one theme, implying that whatever really shapes a man’s thinking shapes his life.” (48)

“So the two ways, and there is no third, part for ever.” (49)

The Message of Psalms 1-72, Michael Wilcock, 19-22

“It is striking that the very first word of the entire book of Psalms should be this one. Surely it is far more important (this is the second question) that we should be righteous, or obedient, or loving, than that we should be merely happy? Yes, in the short; but from his original creating of his people right through to his final redeeming of them, Scripture is clear that God’s long-term purpose for them is that they should be blessed. The psalmists celebrate every foretaste of that heavenly promise.” (20)

Answering God, Eugene Peterson, 23-32

“The first word of the first psalm, blessed, sets the tone: happy, fortunate, lucky with holy luck. The second psalm uses the same word at its finish.” (24)

“This is quite different from merely reading God’s word, or thinking about it. This is not so much an intellectual process, figuring out meanings, as it is a physical process, hearing and rehearing these words as we sound them again, letting the sounds sink into our muscles and bones. Meditation is mastication.” (26)

“‘Meditate’ in Psalm 1 and ‘plot’ in Psalm 2 are the same verb. And it is the same action: a murmuring, absorbed, ruminative interest over the word of God, realizing that this is the important word, the word that determines all existence. But while Psalm 1 directs us to approach this word with delight, receiving it as life-giving, Psalm 2 shows people plotting against this word, devising schemes for getting rid of it so that they can free of all God-interference in their lives. These people want to see God’s words not as javelins penetrating their lives with truth, but as chains that restrict their freedom. They put their minds together to rid themselves of this word so that their words can rule.” (28)

Losing our Virtue, David Wells

“For what is unusual is that people now thing that happiness has little or nothing to do with the moral life, that it can be pursued as an end in itself, that it is something which can either be bought or, at least, manufactured.” (99)

God in the Wasteland, David Wells

“Only those who are countercultural by way of being other-worldly have what modern culture most needs to hear—a Word from God that can cut through the deceits of modernity to reach the hearts that lie within. These are the people for whom God has weight, and, because of this, they themselves have weight. In contrast, it is this-worldly Christianity, no merely in the old liberal forms but increasingly in the evangelical church today, that produces weightlessness in God and in its purveyors. It spreads something light and superficial, a mere gloss on modernity, under the illusion that it is actually offering the antidote to modernity. So it is that evangelical faith and practice have unaccountably run aground in the shallow waters of modernity. If we are to survive, we most return to the deep waters of God’s otherness—his holiness and truth—for that is where our safety lies.” (151)

Still, we walk this way with a limp.

If we are to put our roots down anyplace at all, we put down roots into the word of God.

Deeds of darkness, the way of sinners, wicked, and scoffers…we want nothing to do with all that. As the people of God he has empowered us by his Spirit—who leads us into all truth.

RO 13:11 And do this, understanding the present time. The hour has come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. 12 The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light. 13 Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy. 14 Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature.

Also consider this from Ephesians 5:

EPH 5:8 For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light 9 (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) 10 and find out what pleases the Lord. 11 Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. 12 For it is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret. 13 But everything exposed by the light becomes visible, 14 for it is light that makes everything visible. This is why it is said:

“Wake up, O sleeper,
rise from the dead,
and Christ will shine on you.”

EPH 5:15 Be very careful, then, how you live–not as unwise but as wise, 16 making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. 17 Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is. 18 Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit. 19 Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, 20 always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

His delight…is in the Law of the Lord. Well who delights in rules, laws, and such? Who delights in Torah? But Torah is meant to be a blessing and not a burden. Can this Torah be a delight? How can we delight in the Torah?

This Psalm guards the entrance into the Psalm book. It is the first idea we encounter as we get ready to enter into the book. This psalm will guide our understanding and control our interpretation and our singing and praying of the rest of the Psalms in the book.

The good man does something negative: He does not walk in the way of the sinners, etc. He won’t even take a stroll through the wickedness of the unrighteousness. Instead, day and night he is chewing on the Word of God. It is his waking and sleeping thought.

Then he says: Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor the sinners in the assembly of the righteous. I thought about the Revelation:

REV 6:15 Then the kings of the earth, the princes, the generals, the rich, the mighty, and every slave and every free man hid in caves and among the rocks of the mountains. 16 They called to the mountains and the rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb! 17 For the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?”

REV 7:1 After this I saw four angels standing at the four corners of the earth, holding back the four winds of the earth to prevent any wind from blowing on the land or on the sea or on any tree. 2 Then I saw another angel coming up from the east, having the seal of the living God. He called out in a loud voice to the four angels who had been given power to harm the land and the sea: 3 “Do not harm the land or the sea or the trees until we put a seal on the foreheads of the servants of our God.” 4 Then I heard the number of those who were sealed: 144,000 from all the tribes of Israel…. REV 7:9 After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands.

Someone will indeed stand! It will be the righteous. Who can stand? If no one can stand, who can stand? God is able to make them stand and they will stand.

Two ways to choose and neither way can be chosen apart from Christ Jesus. He makes the one way possible and makes the other way horrifying. For what is life apart from Jesus? Where is there hope apart from Him? Who can stand?

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