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Psalms Series One


Psalm 1

Have you ever had a commercial that stuck in your mind?  I have.  Triumph (the sports car company) put this one out.  It starts wordlessly, at an intersection large enough for three cars.  In the left lane, radio blaring, hip hopping in his seat to the music, sits a young man - the kind you don't want to bring home to meet mother.  Up pulls another Triumph, driven by "Miss California Cool" - sunglasses flipped up in her blond hair, not a strand of which is out of place (in a convertible).  He looks at her with that "Hey Baby" look.  She gives him the "Drop Dead, Creep" look.  He guns the engine.  She ignores him.  He guns it again.  She ignores him.  He guns it again - and she flips down the sunglasses.  Drag strip racing is about to begin when a third car pulls up.

            It's the law. Square jaw, trooper hat in exactly the right place, mirror sunglasses - the image is perfect.  The young man turns down his radio, and we hear her radio - playing classical music.  The light changes.  Three cars leave the scene - sedately.  The wind blows a litter of paper through the intersection, and for the first time we hear voice - the slogan, "Triumph.  Looks as good going slow as it does going fast."

OK, it's not "Gone With The Wind."  But it is a good example of putting the message into images - it's poetry.  In this study, we will be seeing poetry and prayer as they are displayed in the Psalms.  The prime use of the Psalms is not study but devotion, and devotion deals with the heart. 

Psalms give us the words and images we need to express ourselves to God.  Think about the commercial.  Why did it stick in my mind?  Because I've met those images!  I've met Mr. Wonderful, the man who thinks that his sports car makes him too wonderful to be believed.  The arrogance of the man is very familiar.  I've met (and been ignored by) Miss California Cool.  And who hasn't seen the cop?  So it is with the Psalms.  We see in them the things we wish we had the words and pictures to say.  How often does your prayer life include "I don't know how to say this," or worse - saying it in words that don't fit prayer in the closet but do fit prayer in public?

More than that, Psalms mirror our own minds.  So often we feel that when we pray we must somehow be "perfect"  - that no unchristian thought could possibly cross our minds, or God would utterly reject us.  The Psalms cure us of that notion.  To cite the one outstanding example:

{8} O Daughter of Babylon, doomed to destruction, happy is he who repays you  for what you have done to us‑‑ {9} he who seizes your infants and dashes them  against the rocks.    ‑‑ Psalms 137:8‑9 (NIV)

Repentance, suffering, anger - the human heart is laid bare in the Psalms.  "This is how I feel, God!  I know it's not right - but it is how I feel."  And as they lay bare our sinful thoughts, they lay bare the steps of repentance, the path of suffering.

Finally, there is also the unifying effect the Psalms have on the human mind.  Singing is the closest we come to it in worship.  For in praying through the Psalms, as in passionate singing (these after all are hymns) the body and mind are working together.  We are, for a moment, entirely in Christ - and the pain is soothed away.  With these in mind, let us examine today's Psalm:

{1:1} 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. {4} 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.    ‑‑ Psalms 1 (NIV)

Delight in the Law

How do you view reading the Bible?

            "I read the Bible every time you call on me in class to do it.  It's a good thing King James put tabs on the Bible - or I'd be totally lost."

            "Reading the Bible is like reading the encyclopedia - you have to do it sometimes.  Does Guinness have a record for being bored?"

            "I have it down to a system.  I know it's my duty to do it, so I do it regularly... I have this little schedule, you see."

            "I never get enough time to do the things I enjoy, and this is one of them.  It's like listening to an old favorite song, or reading an old favorite book."

Yet here is the Psalmist - his "delight" is in the Law of the Lord.  How can this be a delight?  Several answers can be suggested;  here are some:

First, it could be the natural delight of the student of a favorite subject (I majored in girl watching, myself).  Sometimes we love a subject because it's simply a favorite.  If you devote enough time to it, you will become fond of it.  This has its danger, of course:  since the "subject" is sacred, pride lurks in it.  You can get so good at it that no one else is good enough for you.

A second, and more profound, point is the comparison to the alternatives.  Think what the writer had as "Option B."  Consider the worship of Molech, which required infant sacrifice - throwing your newborn into the fire.  This brought economic benefit (sound familiar, abortionists?)  Today we have nihilism - the idea that life is meaningless, the random accident of chance, with no possibility of worth.  Which will you have:  unyielding despair or glorious hope?

There is another answer in the Hebrew.  It is written that God's Law is Truth - emeth is the word.  It means not just factually correct, but that which "holds water" or "hangs together."  This delight is related to the glee which comes from finally putting the last piece in the crossword, or remembering that one word which cracks the crossword puzzle.  In this case, the puzzle is life itself - and God's Law is the missing word or the missing piece.

Finally, there is the company of a favorite old friend.  Have you ever known someone who is just a delight to be with?  (I married her.)  It's a pleasure to spend the time - and the time is never tracked?  Who more than the lover of my soul, and where else but in the pages of His word?

Pictures of the Righteous and Wicked

Another great theme of this Psalm is the comparison of the wicked and the righteous.  We see the righteous as a tree; the wicked as chaff.  There is a problem with this.  The wicked aren't always in such trouble (or we'd quickly run out of wicked).  A contrasting point of view can be found in many Psalms - why do the wicked prosper?  The answer is found in the use of imagery.  This is an image not of how the world is, but how it ought to be - and how it will be when the Lord comes again.  Art, in this case poetry, is providing us a picture of the perfect.

We understand this instinctively.  When your at the hospital, and the patient tells you that he has but a few painful weeks to live - you reach for Psalm 23 and tell him that "the Lord is our Shepherd."  And then you pray that the Lord will shepherd this one back into health and life.  You are not stating the facts;  you are stating the future.  "Out in the corridors we pray for life."  And in the hospital rooms we reach for the Psalms.

We see pictures of the righteous and wicked here.  The tree stands for the righteous.  It is stable - and draws its strength from its roots.  You can picture the tree;  you can also picture the righteous one.  The kind of person who will "be there" for you.  His opinions don't usually change; he doesn't change his friends like he does his shirt.  Two characteristics stand out:

            Meditation - this is a man who reads and delights in the Law of the Lord.  He thinks about it.  He doesn't just listen to the lesson but goes and grabs it for himself.

            Fruit, in and out of season - he is generous no matter the economy;  a friend in any weather.

The wicked are the opposite.  Blowing this way and that, changing opinions and beliefs with the wind (read Harvard Business Review for this week's direction).

This is a literary device, comparison and contrast.  There is another one in here, the progression of the wicked.  We see it as "walk, stand and sit."  You can almost see the snaring of the innocent in this.  He begins by walking along the way with the wicked - not really involved, just going the same way.  They stop; to be sociable, he stops too.  Finally they sit down to make their evil plans.  There is the innocent, wrong place and wrong time, and he sits down too.

Finally, there is one other thought.  The metaphor of the righteous as a tree by the water happens one other place in the Bible, in Jeremiah.  In the midst of doom, gloom, curses and woes, as if it were completely out of place, Jeremiah says this:

{7} "But blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD, whose confidence is in  him. {8} He will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots  by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green.  It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit."  ‑‑ Jeremiah 17:7‑8 (NIV)

It's a picture of words.  Two verses stick up, out of all that worry and woe, as this bright green spot.  Picture, if you will, the weary traveler in the desert, seeking water for his thirst.  He looks all around and see a tall tree.  Where the tree is, there must be a stream - for in no other way could such a tree grow.

We are such trees.  The world is full of thirsty travelers.  We are the trees planted by the stream of living water.  By seeing us, they may come, drink, and never thirst again.


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