Summary: What does it mean to be "bless-ED?" How one becomes truly happy.
4th Sunday in Lent
Psalm 1 would fit well in the book of Proverbs, with its didactic tone and its contrast of the righteous and the wicked. It may have been written by Solomon, perhaps as an introduction to his father David’s collected songs and prayers. It is not a prayer, as most of the Psalms are. It has no heading, unlike all but a few of the psalms, (2 & 33), telling us who wrote it to whom and why. It is quoted in Jeremiah 17:8, by the way.
A brief overview of Psalm one: v.1: What the godly man is not, v.2: What the godly man does, v.3: What becomes of the godly man, v.4a: What the ungodly are not, v.4b-5: What becomes of the ungodly, and v.6: The Lord’s view.
Verse 1 of Psalm 1 gives us the biblical definition of the truly happy man. By the way, “blessed” is a verb, as in “The bishop blessed me,” and “blessed” is an adjective, as in “Blessed is the man.” The Hebrew word for “blessed” basically means happy, and is related to the word meaning to go straight, to guide or direct. It is almost the same word as the name of Jacob’s son Asher.
It is also used in Pr. 9:6, “Forsake the foolish, and live, and walk straight ahead in the way of understanding.” It has the same root as the word “walk” in Psalm 1:1. It is a play on words or a pun, with which the Bible is loaded. It means, “blessed is the man,” but it sounds like, “Walking straight is the man who doesn’t walk in the way of the ungodly,” implying that the ungodly walk in a crooked path.
Psalm 1 actually uses the plural of blessed/happy, which is the superlative form, “happiest is the man,” or “That man is happiest who does not walk in the advice of the ungodly.” You may recall from Pilgrim’s Progress that the path Christian was told to stay on was straight, and he was not to diverge from it. When he did, there were always consequences. Hebrews 12:13 helps here, “Make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be dislocated, but rather be healed. Each of us in on a journey; what path we take is of great moment. God made His path for His people, but the way of the wicked is hard.
Happiness is first expressed negatively. The happiest man doesn’t do certain things. This shouldn’t surprise us, since most of the Ten Commandments are negatives too. The happiest man “doesn’t walk in the counsel [advice or plans] of the ungodly,” meaning he’s not going with them, he’s not on their path, he has another destination.
Nor does the happiest man “stand in the way of sinners,” sinners literally being those who have missed the mark, gone astray like an errant arrow. It’s one thing to meet someone on a journey, but once you stop to stay with him you have ceased from your own journey. Soon you will be not only standing with him and his friends, but sitting with them, becoming comfortable among them, and adopting their mores.
Jesus went among sinners, but He always let them know that there was a difference between their priorities and His. Some loved Him for this, and some hated Him.
The happiest man is then defined positively in verse 2; “His delight is in the law of the Lord, and in His law does he meditate day and night.” To the happiest man the law is not a restriction on his rights, but a joy. It is instruction in God’s word that brings wisdom, and therefore blessings. Pondering the law, meditating on all its implications in every circumstance, engenders a unique and unconquerable happiness, joy, with its own secret source of nourishment and strength.
Not to trivialize God’s law, but it is nothing if not His advice. The law is God’s advice to man, over against the sinner’s counsel or advice. The “law” referred to here is more than the Ten Commandments, and is not confined merely to the writings of Moses. I refer you to John 10:33,34: “The Jews answered Him, saying, ‘For a good work we do not stone You, but for blasphemy, and because You, being a Man, make Yourself God.’ Jesus answered them, ‘Is it not written in your law, ‘I said, “You are gods”’?”
Jesus was quoting Psalm 82:6, not Moses, and the Pharisees didn’t correct Him. The Psalms are in some sense God’s law for us too. After all, what has God said that we may ignore? The whole counsel of God is what we should think of when we hear the term, “law of God.”
The happiest man will be like a tree planted by a river, verse 3. Even if there is no rain, no visible comfort or supply, there is a constant source of refreshment through this tree’s taproot. This tree will bring forth fruit and greenery, whereas those trees dependent upon rain – visible circumstances – will produce nothing and wither when visible conditions take a turn for the worse, like in a drought.