Praying the Psalms: Psalm 1

The Psalms are not just songs, but prayers. By studying the Psalms we can learn how to better pray and engage in communion with God. Each Thursday I’ll be posting a commentary and prayer guide for the Psalms to help us learn and practice prayer.

“He is not under the law as a curse and condemnation, but he is in it, and he delights to be in it as his rule of life; he delights, moreover, to meditate in it, to read itty day, and think upon it by night. He takes a text and chariest with him all day long; and in the night -watches, when sleep forsakes his eyelids, he museth upon the Word of God”. – Charles Spurgeon

Psalm one’s placement in the Psalter is of incredible importance. It is the opening to the whole psalms and stresses the importance of worship guided by the Word of God (The Law/Torah). It truly opens up the book instructing us that wisdom from God’s word is foundational in all of our worship. The Scriptures are a reservoir of divine revelation that supply a heart arid from spiritual dryness to saturated spirit-filled-worship. The placement of the Psalm not only shows us the primacy of Scripture in the man or woman of God, but also the centrality of the Scripture in all Christian worship. From song to prayers to sermon, the Scriptures are the fountain of God that provides a language and guide for true worship.

Commentary

This Psalm is structured in two primary sections. The first is in v. 1–4 that describe the wise and wicked man, with the chief characteristic is that the wise man “delights in the law of the Lord” while the wicked does not. The second section is in v. 5–6 which shows the consequences of each man. The wicked will not stand in the judgement, while the Lord chooses the man whose delight is the Scriptures.

v. 1 - As Christian people, when we read this song the first word “blessed” immediately stirs up thoughts of the Teacher’s great Sermon on the Mount. Here Christ sits on that mountain side saying “Blessed are the poor in Spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Mt 5:3). What does it mean to be blessed? To be blessed is to find true happiness, happiness that is found in God. Blessedness is happiness that finds its source in God himself. It is a lasting, and enduring happiness. It is a joy that surpasses all understanding in any and all circumstances. Blessedness does not eliminate difficulty, but it is a security of victory. To be blessed is to be the recipient of God’s favor. This blessed man in Psalm 1 has received the favor of God himself. Just as a young toddler smiles with glee as his Father celebrates his first few steps, true human happiness is found in the approval and favor of a God who loves us. This blessed man has the favor and approval of God himself. Yet, why does this blessed man have such favor?

The verse continues in telling us negatively, what this blessed man does not do. He does not walk, stand, or sit with those who are hostile to God and his ways. The parallelism in this verse has a cascading and intensifying direction. The blessed man is the one who doesn’t even walk in the counsel of the wicked let alone sit and participate in the seat of scoffers. Sin tends to have a insinuating and progressive nature to it. As people give a foothold in exposing their life to evil, often one is found tumbling down the rabbit hole. The movement from walking, to standing, to sitting describes one moving from merely passing by in the counsel of the wicked to sitting and permanently resting in that seat of scoffers. The blessed man has none of this foolishness. He doesn’t even get close the counsel of the wicked. He avoids it. He walks around it, and he certainly doesn’t sit down and take a seat.

v. 2 - So if this blessed man does not affiliate himself in any way with the wicked, what distinguishes him? What is it that sets him apart and makes him blessed. Here is the distinguishing factor in verse 2, “his delight is in the law of the Lord”. The blessed man is one who loves the Word of God. The word “delight” is a crucial word. This man does not merely affirm the word of God as true, nor does he simply know a great deal about it. The blessed man is one who “delights” in the law of the Lord. He treasures divine revelation because he treasures the author of it, God himself. There are many Christians who are practically biblically illiterate. Their Bible is but a stranger to them. That’s shameful enough as it is as the wise man at least knows his Bible at minimum. Yet, we are told that the Blessed man is more than a person who knows his Bible. There are many Christians who know their Bible. Perhaps they go to Bible Study on occasion and can perform quite well in Bible drills, yet their is no delight in the Scriptures. For them it is dry, distant, and boring. They would much rather be watching the news or playing cards or on Facebook. Yet, the wise man not merely sees the importance of God’s word, he delights in it. It is a source of joy for him. He thirsts for it, longing always for more of it.

How do we know the wise man thinks this way? Well, look at how he reads it! He meditates on it day and night we are told. He soaks on it, letting it fill his mind. He ponders and examines truths from a variety of different angles longing for God to give him a deeper and more personal understanding. The blessed man is not content with a cursory reading of the Bible. He is not interested in simply pushing through it legalistic obligation. Rather, the wise man stores it up in his heart kneading it like yeast into his heart.

v. 3 - What does the life of this blessed man look like? How does a delight in God’s word change our lives? Look at how the Psalmist describes the life this man. He is like a tree. He is a sturdy oak, firmly planted. He is by the streams of God’s word. He is refreshed as he continually soaks up the rich nourishing waters of Scripture. The tree is not merely surviving, but thriving. The tree is producing fruit. The soaking up of the Scriptures is producing good spiritual works in his life. The man is being transformed by God’s word, and its leading to a life of spiritual fruitfulness both in character, holiness, thinking, and action. And the trees leaf does not wither. Because the tree is rooted next to God’s word, their is a constant supply of water to sustains even in a dry season. The tree does not die and the tree does not fade away when difficulty comes or the scorching heat of trails and tribulations come upon him. He perseveres and continues in faithfulness. In all that this wise man does he prospers. He is sturdy, constant, reliable, continual, immutable, and fruitful.

v. 4 - The wicked are the complete opposite from the wise man. Rather than sturdy deep roots, the wicked are like chaff. They have no roots, but are like tumble weeds tossed about by the changing direction of the wind. The culture and philosophy of men are always changing and always shifting directions. The wicked man disconnected from the nourishing waters of God word with no roots is a victim of his times. Whatever the wisdom of the day may be he believes.  The philosophy of man is like fashion always shifting in and out of style. Like a fish on a lure the wicked man goes unknowingly to his own peril being dragged to and fro to his eventual demise.  He is a victim of the temporal and a slave to the fashionable. As we look at the state of modern Christianity could there be a better illustration? There are many Christians who are being jerked around like a tumbleweed in the wind. Whatever empty philosophy is currently in pop culture they adopt blindly. Disconnected from the revealed word of God, and as a result are tossed around like a row boat in a hurricane. They are deceived by men because they do not know the word of God. The thoughts of the wicked are always evolving, always shifting, and always revising. What the human soul need more than any thing is the stability and consistency of having our minds shaped by the revelation of God himself. Yet, the wicked are unstable, inconsistent, fruitless, and lost.

v. 5 - The psalmist has so far described the differences between the blessed and the wicked. The contrast is night and day. The two are complete opposites and foils of one another. They are contrasts not only in their characteristics, but also in their future judgements. The wicked will not be able to stand in the judgement, nor will they be able to be in congregation of the righteous. There is a reversal taking place here. In v. 1 it was the righteous who was not standing in the way of sinners or sitting in the congregation of scoffers. When the judgement comes it will be the wicked who will be forced away. They are outcasted, alienated, and excluded from the holy.

For the Christian in this life, we will often find ourselves alienated by a hostile culture. We will be excluded, persecuted, and shunned by the wise of the day. Yet, a reversal is coming. When Christ comes again there will be a reversal. When the record is straight and the truth of God revealed to all, there will be a separating between the wheat and the chaff, the sheep and the goats, and the saints and the sinners.

v. 6 - For the Lord knows the way of the righteous. He accepts them. The “knowing” described here is not like a high school student knowing the name of the 50 states, but of a husband who knows his wife. There is an intimacy, an acceptance, and a relationship. One thing we must be careful of as we interpret this Psalm is the mistake to begin thinking that the righteousness achieved by the blessed man is self-earned. Can a man make himself blessed in and of himself? Can he make himself righteous so that the Lord knows him? Can a man make himself delight in God’s word? Salvation is God’s gift. What sets this blessed man apart from the wicked, according to this Psalm, is his delight in God’s word. But how does a man receive such delight? Is it not by the grace of God as the Spirit opens up his hungry heart to the spiritual realities all around him? Here we hearken back to our Saviors word on that Sermon on the Mount. What makes us blessed? Its by the grace of God we recognize our spiritual poverty and it is by the grace of God that we recognize our spiritual hunger. Those who are thirsty for righteousness and those who recognize their desperate condition that receive the righteousness of God will be blessed. For as Jesus said, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness sake, for they shall be satisfied” (Mt 5:7). The only reason that any of us do not perish with the rest of the wicked is because we’ve been saved by grace through the atoning work of the son of God. As he satisfies he wrath of the Father for our sin, he opens our hearts to be satisfied by his divine grace and creates hearts in us that long and delight in the refreshing streams of Scripture.

Prayer Guide

  • Pray that God would give you a delight for God’s Word
  • Confess your sin of neglecting diligent study of the Scriptures.
  • Thank God for giving us such a spiritually nourishing gift as the Scriptures Praise God for his infallible word.
  • Thank God for giving you grace to see the Word of God as true, and ask that he would use the Scriptures to grow you, sanctify you, mature you, and preserve you.