Summary: The psalmist uses the contrasting illustrations of a tree and chaff to share the Secret of True Happiness, telling us what it is, where it’s to be found and why we need it.
THE SECRET OF TRUE HAPPINESS
If the mythical man or woman in the street was asked what he or she longed for most, I expect the answer, in many cases, would be “happiness”. Jesus had something to say about this in His great Sermon on the Mount when He said: “happy”: "Blessed are ... the poor in spirit ... the meek ... the merciful ... the pure in heart" (Matt 5:3-12). Theirs is the secret of true happiness.
The Bible has only one message. It’s repeated over and over again. Like the old preacher said: "First I tell them what I’m going to tell them, then I tell them, them I tell them what I’ve told them." Repetition is a great teaching aid. The message is told in a variety of ways - in the history of nations, the personal stories of men and women, in poetry and parable. It uses pictures, illustrations - anything to bring the truth home to us. But when it’s all summed up, there’s really only one theme, it’s:
WHAT IS TRUE HAPPINESS
It’s the relationship of humanity to God and what God has done about us and for our salvation. It teaches a definite philosophy, a view of life we can either accept or reject. The whole story of civilisation is a quest for happiness and fulfilment. There are many prescriptions on offer for this Utopia but they’re doomed to failure if they leave out the most important factor and that’s God in our life. There are so many that have taken this route in life and it ends in tragedy and cynicism. Shakespeare got it right when one of his characters asked ’What is life? It is nothing but "A tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying - nothing!"’ Biographies of great personalities at the end of their lives often reveal sadness and disillusionment as they face an unknown future if they have no assurance of peace with God. How sad!
In a few well-chosen words the First Psalm sketches out two sharply contrasting pictures. The first is of a happy and blessed man. The second is of a man whose life ends in dismal failure. It presents a fundamental choice in the search for happiness. It puts it like this: "You are confronted by two alternatives - and only two. There’s the way of God and the way of Satan." Here in this psalm there’s a good man, a godly man, a righteous man. And then there’s the ungodly, the wicked. There’s a right way and a wrong way, the positive and the negative.
The strange thing in life is that if you seek happiness as an end in itself you will never find it; it will always escape you. It’s like a child catching a soap bubble – he thinks he’s got it, then it bursts and it’s gone and there’s nothing left. It’s also like a traveller in a desert seeing a mirage of an oasis – he travels towards it only to find it disappears! True happiness, says the Bible, depends upon two things only. The first is our relationship with God, and the second depends on what we really are, not what happens to us. That’s the secret. You’ve heard it said, "Two men looked out through prison bars; The one saw mud, the other stars." So first let’s think about:
WHERE TRUE HAPPINESS IS NOT FOUND
That’s how the Psalmist tackles the question. Strangely enough he starts with a negative. He points out the pathway that we shouldn’t take. "Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked." The Bible is a realistic book. It starts with the world as it is. It means facing the fact that we are sinners before God and we’ll get no further unless we accept that diagnosis. The forbidden path is "the counsel of the ungodly": this is the whole outlook of the world. It’s self-righteous sufficiency without God. It’s relying on our own way of getting credit with God without the need for repentance.
The psalm goes on to say that the person who is after real happiness will not "stand in the way of sinners". Those who chose the way of this world, the things that the Scriptures condemn, will never find lasting happiness. Oh yes, they may enjoy its false pleasures for a fleeting moment but they will turn to ashes. The Christian isn’t exempt from temptation and must constantly be on guard against the subtle snares of the evil one - it’s so easy to slip up and let our Lord down in thought, word or deed.
And then there are those who "sit in the seat of mockers." They are people who laugh at religion, who joke over the sacred, who scoff at morality and decency. People enjoy it and are entertained by it instead of becoming ashamed and convicted. The world finds this very clever and witty but it’s a symptom of those who have rejected the law of God as the guiding principle of life.