Jean’s Gospel: Psalm 1, Part 1
Psalm 1 is a psalm of comfort. It portrays the way (and blessedness) of the godly, which is marked by faith in Christ, and whose delight is in His Word. It also portrays the way (and destruction) of the ungodly, which is marked by unbelief, and whose delight is in human counsels, which are like chaff and bring ruin.
“1 Blessed is the man
who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,
nor stands in the way of sinners,
nor sits in the seat of scoffers;
2 but his delight is in the law of the Lord,
and on his law he meditates day and night.”
Psalm 1 opens the Psalter by introducing two foundational questions or themes of the entire Psalter: “What is true blessedness?” and “How does God’s Torah (translated “law”) mediate blessedness?” Looking at these two questions will be the focus of this two-part series.
“Blessed is the man”
The Psalter opens with a description of the man who lives in a state of blessedness. The Hebrew word, which the ESV translates “blessed” (HCSB: “happy;” NLT: “the joys;” YLT: “happiness”), is a plural noun. It denotes the state of the man, who enjoys an intimate relationship with God (v. 6a), serves his neighbors (v. 3), and prospers in all that he does (v. 3).
Blessedness, however, cannot be measured by the senses, and therefore the translation “happy” is not helpful at all. To be blessed by God may appear outwardly as unhappiness, as it went with Christ: “He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief” (Isa 53:3). Similarly, to prosper (Ps 1:3) may appear outwardly as poverty, as it went with the prophets, Christ and His apostles. Therefore, “blessedness” is a state which is apprehended by the faith of the blessed man in the midst of contrary appearances.
“who walks not in the counsel of the wicked”
Blessed is the man who “walks” (goes about life) not in the “counsel” (according to the judgments, rules, precepts) of the “wicked” (the ungodly, the unbelievers).
“nor stands in the way of sinners”
Blessed is the man who does not “stand” (is not hardened, firm, fixed, unmovable like a column or pillar) in the “way” (the outward actions and habitual conduct) of “sinners.”
“nor sits in the seat of scoffers”
Blessed is the man who does not sit in the “seat” (act as teacher or instructor) of “scoffers” (mocking the Word of God, teaching false doctrine, spreading pestilence). “heir talk will spread like gangrene.” (2 Tim 2:17)
The ungodly are among those who try to enter through the wide gate and easy way that leads to destruction (Matt 7:13). The way is easy and those who enter by it are many because without faith in Christ, the way of the ungodly often appears to be loving, just, good, wise, etc.; whereas, the ungodly mark and condemn the godly as unloving, unjust, evil and foolish. Therefore, Paul wrote of them: “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him” (1 Cor 2:14). Whereas, the narrow gate is hard and those who find it are few (Matt 7:14) because “faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” (Heb 11:1) Thus the godly “walk by faith, not by sight.” (2 Cor 5:7)
“but his delight is in the law of the Lord”
Blessed is the man…whose “delight” (D-R: “will;” NET: “pleasure”) is in the “law” (Heb: Torah) of the Lord. To delight, that is, to derive pleasure in and have one’s own will accord with the law of God – His eternal, immutable will, is to enjoy the state of blessedness.
The Hebrew word Torah is much broader than simply “law.” It means “instruction” or “teaching.” Torah would include both God’s laws and His promises in the Hebrew Bible. As Christians, we read Torah to include the entire Word of God with an emphasis on Jesus Christ.
Jesus is God’s eternal, divine, incarnate Word. Jesus fulfilled the law and the prophets (Matt 5:17) for us. Jesus is the end (or telos) of the law for righteousness for everyone who believes (Rom 10:4). Thus for Christians, our delight is in the entire Word of God unveiled by the Spirit to faith in Jesus Christ!
“and on his law he meditates day and night.”
To “meditate” is to muse, reflect, think or speak about something. Augustine of Hippo’s translation has “chatter,” calling to mind the birds which are continually employed in chirping and singing. Blessed is the man who employs himself freely, spontaneously and continually in thoughts and speech about Christ and His Word.
Before we close this section on Psalm 1, I want to urge you not read these verses as a ladder to holiness, outward prosperity or God’s favor. Not even the apostle Paul fits the description in this psalm of the blessed man: “For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members.” (Rom 7:22-23)
Only Christ wholly fulfills this psalm! Psalm 1 is ultimately a portrait of Jesus Christ, who alone is the blessed Man (v. 1). He alone delights in the law of the Lord, and on His law He meditates day and night (v. 2); He alone is the One who prospers in all that He does (v. 3); and He alone is the Way of the righteous (v. 6).
Jesus came down from heaven and entered into our flesh to fulfill this psalm for us and our salvation. He endured the scoffers and the bared the reproach of the ungodly unto death, even death on a cross, as a ransom for many. On the third day Jesus rose from the dead, publicly declaring that the blessed Man prospers in all that He does. We enjoy God’s favor and the gifts in the Gospel through faith alone in Jesus!
Therefore, as His disciples, Jesus encourages us to gladly hear, read, learn and meditate on His Word so that we might receive God’s grace upon grace and enjoy the many benefits promised in this psalm.
The “delight” (“pleasure” or “will”) in the Word, of which this psalm commends, springs forth from faith in God through Jesus Christ. Whereas, that “delight” which is extorted by guilt or fear of punishment, is servile and forced; and that which is drawn forth by a desire after a reward, is mercenary and feigned.
Therefore, the “delight,” of which this psalm speaks, is a free, spontaneous, and joyous pleasure in the Word of God. Blessed are we when, with faith in Jesus, we eagerly hear, read, meditate on, and live our lives according to, His holy Word. Amen.
Thank you for reading. Next week we will pick up Psalm 1 at verse 3, where the Psalmist compares the blessed man to a fruitful tree planted beside rivers of water. Amen.