Most people believe that thinkers can’t be artistic, or that the intellectuals are cold, but the poets, musicians and visual artists are warm. They thought of the logical propositions of a syllogism and the beautiful lines of a poetry as incompatible. With the didactics we use our minds, but with the psalms we use our hearts. Logic is objective, and beauty is subjective. I believe that is not the case. If not all, most of the beautiful poetries and songs ever written are logical. Good poetry makes sense and there lies its beauty. Objectively good and beautiful art conforms with the rules of nature, form, values, hue and harmony. I say this because God is not only the standard of what is good and true, but also what is beautiful and delightful.
Now what does all of these have to do with Psalm 1? My primary aim is to show that thinking rightly about the word of God is not in opposition with feeling rightly about the word of God. In fact we ought not only agree with its propositions but also we are to delight in it, and failure to do so will result in God’s judgement. Or to put it positively, those who take pleasure in the law of the Lord is the blessed man. Secondarily, I want to show that as we study text like this(a psalm, or a poetry), we are to look for the arguments and the flow of thought of the author. Not just feel our way to its interpretation. We may not see it immediately because of imageries, nevertheless psalms are not just strings of pearls that we cherish, but it has solid chains of reasonings that we can stand on.
The psalmist starts off by telling us that there’s a blessed man. The word “blessed” in Hebrew is the same word for “happy”. There’s no distinction between the words joy, blessed, and happy in Scriptures, because their meanings overlap. So we can say that happy is the man, or that joyful is the man. The idea that joy is deep while happiness is merely circumstantial and shallow is just an artificial distinction forced into Scriptures. Virtue or vice is not in the joy or happiness itself, but in its object. So what we really should be asking is this, what is the object of joy or happiness of the blessed man? But before we answer that, let’s take note of what verse 1 tells us about the blessed man.
We are told that the blessed man is the one who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stand in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers. At first glance, the progression of thought goes from idleness like sitting, then you stand, and then you walk with full engagement. But really, it is in the opposite direction. First you walk towards the counsel of the wicked, then you stand and ponder the way of the sinners, then you comfortably sit in the seat of scoffers. The truly unhappy one will spiral down this road, not so the blessed person.
Instead the blessed man delights in the law of the Lord and he meditates on it day and night. Most English translations render verse 2 as a contrast to verse 1, “but his delight is in the Law of the Lord”. That is true, but the psalmist is telling us something more here. Notice that the actions in verse 1 are all external, but the alternative in verse 2 is internal. What’s being said actually is that because he delights in the law and meditates on it day and night, he will not walk in the counsel of the wicked, he will not stand in the way of sinners and he will not sit comfortably in the seat of scoffers. To be sure, the Hebrew conjunction can also be translated as “because”. So verse 2 is the root, and verse 1 is the fruit.
If you’re still not convinced, look at verse 3. The blessed man is likened unto a tree planted by the stream of water. The stream of water is the law of the Lord, and the result is that the tree yields its fruits in its season, and its leaf does not wither and all that he does prospers. The last part of verse 3 describes what that fruit is, namely it is something that he does. This is not material prosperity or work productivity, but a moral one.
Now you might think that the law being referred to here is the “Decalogue”, that’s a very common error exegetes commit as they interpret this word. The word for “law” here means not only the Mosaic law, but all the words or instructions of God. For the old testament saints it was the Hebrew Scriptures, but for us today it is the whole counsel of God both in the old and new. This includes narratives, prophecies, psalms, poetries, wisdom and didactic literatures. If you’ll look at some passages in the New Testament, you’ll learn that the authors, at times quote from the Old Testament and they call it law, all the while quoting from a psalm, or prophecy or just a past event.
So then, even though we are not under the law of Moses, we can still say with the psalmist that we delight in the law of the Lord.
Now the opposite of the blessed man is whatever the blessed man is not. He delights not in the word of God, as a result he will not desire to be planted by the streams of water, but instead he is like chaff that the wind drives away. He will not produce godly fruits, but he will reap God’s judgment. Because they do walk in the counsel of the wicked, they do stand in the way of sinners, and they do sit comfortably in the seat of scoffers.
Now ultimately, the reason one group is blessed and the other is not, has to do with God’s knowing. Verse 6 says “For God knows the way of the righteous.” Knowing here doesn’t just mean cognition, but approval, favor and love. That is, we are to first taste and see his loving kindness(Psalm 34:8) before we can even delight in his words. A simple word search in Psalms will show you that the blessed ones are the people whose transgressions are forgiven and their sins are not counted against them(Psalm 32:1-2).
The book of Psalms begins with this most sobering reality, namely that there are only two kinds of people in the world. The fruitful tree and the wind-driven chaff, the righteous and the wicked, the blessed and those who will be judged. But at root, the divide has to do with the heart, those who delight in the law of the Lord, and those who scoff it. So do we take pleasure in the word of God, and are we meditating on it day and night? Or are we indifferent to it, bored by it, nor satisfied by it? You can be either of the two but not both! Never reduce Christianity to a matter of demands and decisions. It is a matter of what we love, what we take pleasure in. When Jesus came into the world humanity was split according to what they loved. “The light came into the world and men loved darkness rather than light” (John 3:19).
But someone may ask: How can I come to delight and take pleasure in the Word of God? The answer would be twofold:
1) pray for a new taste, new sight or new smell in your heart;
2) Meditate on God’s promises that are grounded on unbreakable chain of truth.
The same psalmist who said “How sweet are thy words to my taste” (119:103), said earlier, “Open my eyes that I may behold wondrous things out of thy law” (119:18). He prayed, because to have holy taste buds on the tongue of the heart is a gift of God. No man naturally hungers for and delights in God’s wisdom. So brethren, delight in the word of the Lord and meditate on it day and night.