We have a flowering crab tree in our back yard. We have been working on it every year, pruning it and keeping it trimmed. Last year there were so many crab apples that we scooped them up and hauled them away by the wheelbarrow load. This Spring the blossoms were especially beautiful and full. But in the last couple of weeks the tree has been hit by some kind of blight and the leaves are withering and falling off the tree already. There are no insects on the leaves, they just appear to be drying up and dying on their own. There may not be any crab apples this year. In fact, we are concerned that the tree may not live. Our tree is the opposite of the picture of the tree in Psalm 1. The tree which represents the one who faithfully follows God is robust and full of fruit. Think of Harry Foster living under an overpass, dirty and drunk. Now picture him preaching the Word of God and ministering to other needy people. That is the picture of a tree full of life and producing fruit. Under his tree people find shelter and he is able to give them nourishment.
The third thing we notice about this psalm is: The psalm describes the way of the sinner. He writes: “Not so the wicked! They are like chaff that the wind blows away” (Psalm 1:4). The righteous are like a tree, but the wicked are like chaff. Chaff is what surrounds the kernel of wheat. In order for the kernel to be useful the chaff has to be rubbed off and taken away. The farmers of ancient Israel pushed their winnowing forks into a pile of wheat and threw it up into the air so that the chaff would be blown away in the wind. We saw this in Haiti as the women would place the grain in a pile, spread it out and then walk barefoot across it in a shuffle in order to rub the chaff from the wheat. Chaff is not good for food or anything else. It has no nutrients or substance so that it is only good for being blown away by the wind. Contrast a tree to chaff and you get some idea of how this psalm sees the value of a righteous person in contrast to the value of someone living in rebellion to God.
If Harry Foster had not been taken in by Bob Lively he would have likely died under that overpass without much notice or anyone caring — one more faceless homeless person. His life would have been blown away like chaff. But instead he has become like a tree which is producing much fruit. The chaff is just the covering of the fruit on the grain stalk and is otherwise worthless, but the tree produces real fruit which nourishes and nurtures others.
In the end, evil has no lasting effect on the world. God rubs it off and blows it away. He has used it to grow the fruit of righteousness. The chaff is what is seen, but the victory of righteousness is hidden within. The evil which looks so powerful and formidable today will tomorrow be blown away like chaff. God will throw righteousness and evil into the wind and only righteousness will be left. The chaff will be seen no more.
I spoke to you the other week about the book, Lest Innocent Blood Be Shed, a book about the people of Le Chambon, a village in France during the Nazi reign of terror. My favorite passage in the book is when the pastor and several people are arrested and, ironically, taken to a concentration camp called Saint-Paul d’Eyjeaux — Saint Paul of the Jews. The police chief had not yet learned what their crime was, so he said to them, “What have you done? Confess! The black market? Swindling, maybe?” They answered, “We don’t know the charge. Maybe they’ve arrested us because we have been trying to save Jews from being deported.” The captain exploded, “What? Jews? ...Now that doesn’t surprise me. You’re part of their conspiracy, eh? We all know that they’re the ones who have brought France down into the abyss. Well, you’re going to pay for this.” The author then states, “This was a moment [Pastor] Trocmé would never forget. In fact, his overnight stay in the police station... changed his view of mankind. ...These people were capable of repeating hate-ridden clichés without any concern for evidence or for the pain of others. Before he entered that police station..., he thought the world was a scene where two forces were struggling for power: God and the Devil. From then on, he knew that there was a third force seeking hegemony over this world: stupidity. God, the Devil, and halfwits of mind and heart were all struggling with each other to take over the reins.”