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Psalms Series Two

Blessed Is the Man

Psalm  1

Lesson audio

“Start at the very beginning, that’s a very good place to start.” (Sound of Music) “Start at the beginning and when you get to the end, stop.” (Alice in Wonderland)

With that good advice we begin a study of the Psalms, one of the most neglected parts of the Scripture. Just why would one want to study the Psalms?

  • First, there is the “Hallmark Card” effect. Have you ever looked for the words to say just what you mean? Psalms do just that.
  • Psalms are the prime source of Godly meditation (NOT the “chant your mantra” stuff.) For those who are greatly contemplative, this is the part of the Bible to contemplate.
  • Those who study prophecy will soon find Psalms a prime source. The seeming randomness of the Psalms is often made clear in the New Testament.
  • It is said that God inhabits the praise of his people. The psalms have been used for thousands of years as the primary form of praising God.
  • There is also this: when God withdraws from you – and he will at times – to what do you appeal? Where do you go?
  • All of us deal with fear, uncertainty and doubt. So did the Psalmists; there words are a comfort in such times.
  • All Christians must have the virtue of hope – and nowhere is hope easier to find than in the Psalms.
  • Each of us struggles with sin; so did the Psalmists. If there is a more elegant expression than Psalm 51, I do not know it.
  • The Psalms also teach you to fear God and his judgment. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.

There is, no doubt, more to be said. But this should get you through the first lesson.

A side note – Hebrew poetry

You will notice that the Psalms are set as if they are poetry. They are, even though they do not rhyme in the sense we normally use “rhyme.” We are accustomed to “rain, Spain, main, plain.” Such rhymes stick in the memory; that is one chief use of rhyme. But the Psalms don’t rhyme that way. One reason, of course, is that they were written in Hebrew, not English.

The main reason that they work as poetry, however, is that they do rhyme – in thought. For example,

The Lord is my shepherd,

I shall not want.

That’s a thought rhyme. You might see it as “since the Lord is my shepherd…” to make the connection clearer.

Thought rhymes can be quite complex. We shall not make a point of working out the rhyme patterns, but you should be aware that this is how it works. This means poetry, and of course poetry cannot be taken as literally as prose.

Blessed is the Man

Psalms 1:1-3 NIV

Blessed is the man

who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked

or stand in the way of sinners

or sit in the seat of mockers. (2) But his delight is in the law of the LORD,

and on his law he meditates day and night. (3) He is like a tree planted by streams of water,

which yields its fruit in season

and whose leaf does not wither.

Whatever he does prospers.

The word “blessed” here has an interesting point: it’s plural. It’s an artistic touch by one who knew how the Lord blesses such a man. It reminds one of a story told by a former pastor. He said that when he asked people who did not tithe, “why not?” they usually had a very precise answer. When he asked those who did tithe why they did, they usually did not. They just look at the ground, shuffle their feet and begin with, “Well, the Lord has blessed us so much…”

Bad to worse

The Psalmist gives us a picture of the progression of sin in the unsuspecting.

  • First, you walk in the counsel of the wicked. Have you ever taken “good advice” that turned out to be anything but? If you’re listening to those who are evil, you become more like them as they “show you the ropes.” Good advice comes from good people.
  • Next, you stand in the way of sinners. Ever been in the wrong place at the wrong time? (Hint to the women: Prince Charming will not be in the bar tonight.) If you inhabit the bars and brothels, guess what you become?
  • Finally – note well – the progression ends with pride. The mocker, the cynic, has everything figured out. He knows the price of everything and the value of nothing. It is a point of pride that I can sneer at you. And pride is Satan’s own sin.
Meditate

The word meditate in the Scripture means, according to Noah Webster, “To dwell on any thing in thought; to contemplate; to study; to turn or revolve any subject in the mind.” One aspect which we must see is that this is not a five minute exercise; rather, it is a continuing habit of mind. The Psalmist correctly says that we should do this day and night.

Please understand that this is not Zen meditation, so popular these days. It is very different. It involves conscious study; it requires bringing your mind into focus on individual truths of the Scripture. It is the character of the Scripture that its truths can be treated this way. It is not simply mindless repetition of a thought – a mantra.

And what are we to meditate on? God’s Law – for us contained in the precepts of Christ. As Thomas à Kempis put it, “The teaching of Jesus far transcends all the teachings of the Saints, and whosoever has His spirit will discover concealed in it heavenly manna.”[1] You will know you are successful when you meditate on his words and hear yourself responding, “That is so true.”

Results

It is always important to distinguish results from causes. If you do these things, the results will be as promised. But the results are not the cause; the meditation causes, and these things result.

  • “A tree planted…” Notice the verb – “planted.” God chooses where he wants you; if you are his true follower, it will be a good place. (I will admit to some difficulty in knowing a good place when I see one.)
  • “Fruit in season…” Think of the fruits of the Spirit. Each of those fruits is a good thing – but each has a proper season. Patience is most cherished in affliction, for example. These things will be there when you need them.
  • “Leaf does not wither…” It’s not just the important stuff, the fruits, that God provides. Even in the trivial matter of a leaf, God sustains the righteous man who contemplates God’s words. God cares for the hairs on your head, and all other small and scarce items too.

Such a man prospers. For some, that’s monetary prosperity; for others, it’s much deeper than that.

Not So The Wicked

Psalms 1:4-6 NIV Not so the wicked!

They are like chaff

that the wind blows away. (5) Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,

nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous. (6) For the LORD watches over the way of the righteous,

but the way of the wicked will perish.

Have you ever seen a dust devil? Students in the western United States will be familiar with these things. There are two things these are noted for: first, they produce confusion. Stuff gets picked up, whirled around and eventually dropped someplace else. Next, you can be sure the dust devil has no destination, no orbit – it’s just going along at random. The comparison is to that stuff the dust devil picks up. Bricks are immune.

But there is more. Like its World War II synonym, chaff also has the function of concealing that which is behind it. So often we make the mistake of assuming that the dust devils of the church really are harmless. We should ask what they conceal as well as what they reveal.

Ultimately, however, like the chaff of the desert, the wicked are gone. In the church in every age we see those who whirl the flighty around, causing chaos as they go. But where are the chaos makers of yesterday? Man is designed to be eternal, not whirling garbage.

Ultimately, God is just. He is righteous. Therefore we know two things about the wicked:

  • The will not be able to stand on the Day of Judgment. The righteous judge will give them what they deserve. (Remember, you’re eternal.)
  • Wherever the righteous wind up in the end, the wicked won’t be there. There are no visitor passes for heaven.
The Lord, He Knows

We have, as a church, forgotten what our ancestors knew well: the Providence of God. God the all-knowing is also the sustainer of the universe. As Paul puts it,

Romans 8:28 NIV And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him,[10] who[11] have been called according to his purpose.

The Lord knows the wicked and the righteous, and he has told you what he will do. God is righteous; that righteousness will be brought home to the wicked. His righteousness applies to all of us; those who accept Christ for salvation, those who reject him for everlasting judgment.


[1] Thomas à Kempis, The Imitation of Christ, tr. Leo Sherley-Price, Penguin, Hammondsworth, Middlesex, England, 1952.

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