The first Psalm presents us with a wonderful introduction to the rest of the Psalms. It has no author, no dating, no background description, and yet it deals with one of the the most profound question that can ever be asked: “What does it mean to be truly blessed?”
This question is not so far removed from our current time, although the Psalm was written ages ago. There has been a major thrust from the so-called Prosperity Gospel theology to define true blessedness as the abundance of material possessions. In the name of Christianity, while even using the Bible as a proof text to reach this conclusion, they promote a life of blessedness as one full of money, property, posessions and the like. These are all gathered through living “by faith”, where faith is defined as the means to take hold of and receive from a god who can and will never be out given.
This is not so different from the answer the secular world gives. Secularism cuts to the chase without using religion as a mechanism to sway people. In secularism, the individual is on his / her own in the quest for worldly riches and possessions – because this is what it means to be blessed in secularism.. People and groups are instruments to be used on this path. But it ultimately yields the same result as the Prosperity Gospel.
From a Scriptural standpoint, blessing and curse are always presented as the paths of wisdom and foolishness. Ever since the creation stories in Genesis, blessing and curse was to be the dominating guides to live by. In Genesis 1 and 2 it is presented as “God blessed them …” (Genesis 1:28) and “You will surely die (Genesis 2:17). Life and death, blessing and curse, knowing good from bad was always the two choices. Moses is clear about this in Deuteronomy 28 in that infamous speech of his on blessings and curses when the nation takes possession of the land. And in the Wisdom literature, it is presented as wisdom and folly or godlessness. The wise are blessed, while the foolish are cursed because of their godless choices and behavior.
It is with this backdrop that the first Psalm presents us as the entry into the rest of the Psalms, to search for the life filled with wisdom and wise choices through which true blessedness are received. But it also presents us with the reality of the curses that will follow as a result of being foolish and rejecting wisdom.
What is true blessedness?
Blessedness is defined in this Psalm in both negative and positive terms. The negative represents a warning to NOT associate with those who reject to live wisely. They are described as wicked, sinners and scoffers. Collectively these three represent the totality of those that are later called collectively “the wicked”. In all their choices and in their total lifestyle, they oppose and deny the truth, even mocking it. Their lifestyle is one filled with sin.
The way into their lifestyle is described in progressive terms. First you start walking with them. Sooner or later that “walking” stops as you now stand still and linger longer. The devastating end is when you sit down to share fully in the thoughts, lifestyle and practices of the ungodly. This is where you mock and scorn and laugh at the truth and choose to totally live unshackled from the reigns of the God who created you and who desires you to live a life of abundant blessedness.
This downward spiral is not one that happens overnight. It is a steady, progressive process of choosing foolishness. There is always some sort of compromise with the world that sets your feet on this path of walking, standing and eventually sitting.
The Psalmist is clear. Being truly blessed is to NOT go there. It is to not start the walking. It is to actively reject foolish behavior. It is to actively choose not to take part in activities that ultimately lead to sitting down in the company of scoffers. It is a lifestyle of alertness and consciously being aware of the dangers to unwise decisions. Throughout the Wisdom literature this will be a constant theme. The wise are called to actively and consciously reject what is wicked, sinful and slanderous.
The question though is by what standard do the wise make these choices. Is there some sort of a guideline by which the wise will know what constitutes wickedness, sin and blasphemy? If left to ourselves, we ultimately end up in the same dilemma the godless finds themselves in. They make choices by their own standards. They follow their own guidelines. Their own rules dictate their choices. Their moral code is determined by their own desires. The result is as clear as daylight. How many rules, guidelines, standards there are, so many choices will there be. “Each to his own” as the saying goes. There might be some consensus to what is right and wrong, but the morality of the wicked is very fluid. It is more often determined by the needs of the person in a specific moment.
The Psalm does, thankfully, present us with a solid standard. A positively, abundant blessedness is the result of clinging to this standard. The standard is not to be found inside of man, but is given to him by God Himself. The Word of God is to be the norm for all of life’s choices, and this alone is the proper protection against a life of foolishness and evil.
Why not from within man himself? Because man is by nature a sinner (Psalm 51) and his heart is deceitful above all things (Proverbs 4:23). The world around us bears testimony to this. Whenever man makes decisions based on his own wisdom and desires, it leads to destruction, evil and blasphemy. We cannot be trusted with ourselves in this regard.
The Word of God is our safeguard. It is our guideline. It is a lamp unto our feet and a light for the way forward (Psalm 119). The Protestants knew this. They knew that the Scriptures are the only accurate, inerrant, infallible, and authoritative rule for making wise choices and living godly lives. Therefore one of our treasured doctrines from the Reformation is “Sola Scriptura”, i.e. “Scripture Alone” as the ultimate and final norm. Paul summarises this beautifully in 2 Timothy 3:14-17. This reach of God’s word is the totality of our lives. It touches and commands all areas of our new being.
But we must understand that Scripture, although an objective rule, is not an object that can be handled as if it does not impact our lives. On the contrary, it is such a powerful rule because it not only contains the standard for wise and godly living, but it actually gives life, it changes perspectives and understanding, and it guides through difficult situations. It is active and living, because it is used by its very Author, the Holy Spirit, in the lives of His children. He gives rebirth, wisdom, and hope through this word.
Therefore, it is not a cold book filled with stories and ideas, but a living word that is to be read and followed. The Psalm calls this to meditate on God’s Word. Being made new by the Word of God, the Christian also should realise that its content is daily nourishment from infanthood to being the wise old sage. Every breath of the child of God must be permeated by the living God-breathed word and this should translate into godly living, a constant choice to live by its wisdom. This is being abundantly blessed.
To meditate on God’s Word is first and foremost to acknowledge the true Author. It is to honor God as the one who spoke His words to and through His servants. This is where many falter and slip onto the path of the wicked. To acknowledge and honor God as the true Author, is to acknowledge the Bible’s authority in all of life’s decisions. It always drives you back to God to seek and find His wisdom contained in the pages of His written word. It is an antidote to our own independent and often times stupid desires and opinions. It is do confess God knows best as we bow to His wisdom and guidance.
Secondly, it is to seek the application of His Word in our lives, even if it challenges our convictions to the core. God’s word leads, guides, teaches, rectifies, disciplines and tests our motives. If we want all of these to be true, we need to truly seek the full working of God’s Word. Therefore, we meditate on His Word day and night. Actively. To meditate is not a passive process involving bodily positions that make us look like twisted bananas. It is an active, willful desire that God will do in our lives whatever He desires through His word.
The present result of choosing wisdom or folly
A life blessed in this way, bears fruit. There is no way to yield to the authority of God speaking through Scriptures and not experiencing the effects of that in your life. Similarly, ignoring God’s word also bears its fruit. What follows in the Psalm is a description of the life that is blessed. This is set off against the life that is cursed. It is presented with reference to the immediate results and then extends to eternity.
This is the message of the Wisdom Literature as a whole. Choosing wisdom or folly affects your current way of life as well as your eternal destiny. This is aptly described as a choice between life and death. Choosing life leads to a life lived from the true God-given life and extends to eternal life. On the contrary, choosing folly leads to a life lived from death and extends to eternal death. Death according to the Bible does, however, not mean non-existence. Instead, it describes a life of enmity towards God, resulting in God’s just and righteous anger upon one who chooses to reject wisdom.
To describe the current (the here and now) results, the Psalmists uses two contrasting metaphors, namely a fruit-bearing tree and chaff blown away by the wind. The wise are like a tree planted by streams of water. The imagery is intentional and reflects back on the Garden of Eden after the creation and Sabbath day (Genesis 2:1-3, 8, 15). After the Sabbath Day, Adam worked in this beautiful garden east of Eden, surrounded by the four rivers. It was a time of rest and settling into the rhythm of the created order. It was a time of continuous and open relationship with the Creator. The trees bore fruit in abundance and the wise choice was to eat from the Tree of Life.
When the Psalmist then depicts the righteous as a tree planted by streams of water, he has the primal garden in mind. But, note that the application goes further. The wise will be like the tree, firmly planted, yielding fruit, evergreen, and prospering in all he does. In other words, he does not only receive life, but himself becomes a source of life and blessing to all those who seek to enjoy the same life of wisdom. In this regard, therefore, the righteous becomes one who gives life rather than receive possessions. Note that in all he does, he prospers. This does not mean material possessions will increase uncontrollably. Rather, it holds that his life-giving fruit will increase. He will continually have more of a life of wisdom to give than to receive.
The consummation of this imagery is found in Revelation 22:2:
… also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.
This is the ultimate result of it all. In a very real sense the here and now is a message of the eternal life and healing that is only available through the ultimate Tree of Life, Christ Jesus in whom alone is eternal life, blessing, abundance and healing.
Contrary to this blessedness, the wicked have a different “reward” as a result of their rejection of wisdom and continuing in their sin and rebellion. They are like chaff the wind blows away. The bible connects the frailty of humanity with dust, and flowers withering, being here today and gone tomorrow. The wicked have this as their constant. Their lives are nonsensical, useless, and meaningless, with no lasting effect. Sure, and make no mistake, they often times enjoy much material riches and often times they hold places in authority. But the Psalmist is clear. A life that rejects the wisdom as taught by God’s word, is a life without lasting impact. It is unstable, here today and gone tomorrow. And although the obituary will “testify” to such a person’s “greatness”, the Scripture’s verdict will stand: it is a life like chaff blown away by the wind.
The eternal result of choosing wisdom or folly
Verse 5 continues with the eternal destiny as an eternal continuation of the current. First up is the wicked. There chaff-like lives will result in an unstable, meaningless, foolish eternity. The winds of God’s judgment will blow them away. Even in eternity they will suffer the curse of instability and senselessness. The last sentence deals the final blow to this: “the way of the wicked will perish”. They will be no more. Their sin will lead to their eternal destruction under the eternal judgment of God. They thought their lives was the showcase of wisdom, but God’s judgment will reveal their utter foolishness and rebellious rejection of true wisdom.
Not so with the wise, or as the Psalmist now calls those who choose wisdom, “the righteous”. They will not share the same lot as the wicked. They will not be part of the eternal judgment the wicked will undergo. They will forever be a family, a group of blessed people, living fruitfully in the presence of their Creator and Savior. One gets the impression that the stability described in verse 3 continues as is in eternity.
Paul speaks the same language in Gospel terms in his second letter to the Thessalonians:
This is evidence of the righteous judgment of God, that you may be considered worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are also suffering – since indeed God considers it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you, and to grant relief to you who are afflicted as well as to us, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might, when he comes on that day to be glorified in his saints, and to be marveled at among all who have believed, because our testimony to you was believed. (2 Thessalonians 1:5-10)
Being wise translates to those holding on to the Gospel, even if it means persecution. They are considered worthy to inherit God’s eternal Kingdom. The wicked on the other hand are those “who do not know God” and those “who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus”. As Psalm 1 declares unapologetically, God’s righteous judgment will rest on them and they will “suffer the punishment of eternal destruction”.
The Psalmist presents the journey of humanity as a life lived either with wisdom as presented in the Scriptures or one wasted by being a fool, choosing life or death, blessedness or curse. The starting point is only to be found in the words God spoke through His servants who wrote them down. Sin, wickedness, scoffing has no share in the eternal life God wishes to give. It only leads to death and eternal judgment.