The Promise of Psalms 1-2
Paul told Timothy that in the last days, perilous times would come on the face of the earth. Surely this describes our time, with a global pandemic and political upheaval in so many countries. Paul added that people’s hearts would grow cold, causing them to fall away from faith. Every study shows that in the Western world, Christians are forsaking faith and the church is shrinking.
What does this mean for followers of Jesus? The psalmist answers boldly. “In all that he does, he prospers” (Psalm 1:3, ESV). How is this possible? Are Christians oblivious to everything happening around them? Is it proper for us to ignore the world as it crumbles?
Not at all. There is so much more packed into the six brief verses of psalm 1 that the writer wants us to know. In fact, historians say the first two psalms serve as an introduction to the entire Psalter, the collection of 150 psalms that has served as the devotional and hymnal to God’s people for millennia.
Psalm 1 speaks of the individual believer, and psalm 2 pulls back for a global view. Psalm 2 begins, “Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord and against his Anointed, saying, ‘Let us burst their bonds apart and cast away their cords from us’” (Psalm 2:1-3).
Entire cultures are raging, “I don’t need the Bible. I know what’s right, what’s wrong and what’s best for me. Forget this centuries-old bondage.” The psalmist saw this attitude and asked, “Why do the nations rage?” The writer of psalm 1 views it in a more personal way, asking, “With all of this chaos happening, how am I supposed to survive, much less thrive?”
Not only is it possible to prosper in a world of upheaval; we’re told specific ways to make it happen.
Amid turmoil and tribulation, we are identified as blessed.
The psalmist opens the Psalter by declaring, “Blessed is the man…” (Psalm 1:1). In other words, even in a troubled culture and perilous times, God’s people lead a blessed life. How is this so?
The psalmist explains in specific detail. “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; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night” (Psalm 1:1-2).
First, the psalmist points to three things we’re to avoid. He’s saying, in short, “To be blessed, there are certain things you can’t expose yourself to, participate in or partake of.”
I want to point out that this psalm isn’t a list of do’s, don’ts or legalistic observances. Rather, it is God’s wisdom on how to live and thrive no matter what circumstances may surround us.
Today, the word “blessed” has a significantly lower meaning than the biblical definition. When we hear it now, it suggests problem-free days and materialistic ease. The Hebrew meaning has a different dimension. The basic sense of the Hebrew word is “happy” or “fortunate” in the sense of complete human flourishing; the psalm indicates that human flourishing ultimately depends on divine nearness. In short, being blessed is walking with a sense of the divine in your life.
How do we walk in such blessedness? The psalmist advises, “Don’t walk in the counsel of the wicked. Don’t stand in the place that sinners do. Don’t sit in the seat of scoffers.”
These sound like clear-cut “don’ts,” yet they go much deeper than outward behavior. Sometimes we really do have to put on spiritual blinders to stay focused on Jesus and maintain purity of mind and heart. That is a spiritual discipline.
Note how the psalmist describes a slow progression of a soul’s decline. It starts with walking by something presumably evil, then stopping and standing to observe it and finally sitting down to partake in it.
Plain and simple, the psalmist is telling us there is a spiritual requirement to being blessed. It takes resolve and diligence that translate into action. Make no mistake; this isn’t about exerting sheer willpower. It’s about participating in God’s grace, which works through obedience to liberate our hearts and minds from every hindrance to a blessed life.
In addition to avoiding evil, it’s necessary for us to walk in the way of life.
The psalmist next says, “His delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night” (Psalm 1:2). To the blessed man or woman, learning God’s ways isn’t some dreaded labor. According to the psalmist, it involves delight. It suggests standing in the flow of God’s river of life to soak up its blessing.
The psalmist makes interesting use of another word here when he asks, “Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain?” (Psalm 2:1, my emphasis). The word for “plot” shares the same root as the word “meditate” in Psalm 1:2. Both suggest a passionate, intense, digging type of endeavor. To meditate day and night on God’s Word isn’t to flutter over it lightly but is to chew on it, mull it over and digest it. It causes us to ask earnestly, “Lord, what’s the truth you’re trying to show me here?”
This kind of diligence suggests delight. “But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night” (Psalm 1:2).
God arranges and orchestrates our blessedness by placing us near his living stream. “He is like a tree planted by streams of water” (Psalm 1:3). If you allow yourself to be planted by this river, you’re going to grow. As the stream brings life, it produces delight.
Is this chaotic world causing you to struggle rather than delight? If so, note this about a well-planted tree: “that yields its fruit in its season” (Psalm 1:3). In other words, God brings about the fruit he wants from us, in his time. We may live in the most tumultuous time in history, yet we can fully expect God to bring forth great fruit from our lives.
“In all that he does, he prospers” (Psalm 1:3, my emphasis). Is your job status shaky? Are your finances threatened? Is your marriage under stress? I can tell you with all assurance that if you are following Jesus with your whole heart, you are living a blessed life. You are consecrated to Jesus, righteous and holy because you are planted by a powerful stream. At this very moment, Christ is nurturing fruit in you that will come to pass in season.
Is there a contradiction when scripture says that evildoers prosper and are blessed while the righteous suffer?
The prophet Malachi declared, “And now we call the arrogant blessed. Evildoers not only prosper but they put God to the test and they escape” (Malachi 3:15). The psalmist describes “one who prospers in his way…the man who carries out evil devices” (Psalm 44:7). A few verses later, the psalmist contrasts this with the lives of the righteous. “Yet for your sake we are killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered” (Psalm 44:22).
Here we see a definite contrast in the realities of the wicked and the righteous. In view of this, can God’s Word really be trusted that we actually prosper in all things?
Paul answers by directly quoting the psalmist. He wrote the following to the church in Rome.
“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, ‘For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.’ No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:35-39).
In this powerful passage, Paul defines what it means for the righteous to prosper. It doesn’t mean our health will always flourish or our lives will be problem-free. No, in all things, we are more than conquerors because no matter what evil circumstance confronts us, we’ll never be moved away from
our place by the powerful stream that is Christ.
Here is the real contrast between our sufferings and the prosperity of the wicked.
“In all that he does, he prospers. The wicked are not so, but are like chaff that the wind drives away” (Psalm 1:3-4).
In my travels with World Challenge, I have met the poor of the world, and they are blessed in ways described by both Paul and the psalmist. By contrast, I see a corruption that has entered the wealthy church of the global West. For many, the blessed life has become tied to worldly gain.
Friend, the ways of the wicked won’t stand, including those who corrupt Christ’s body with talk of possessions as God’s blessing. The psalmist says God will address this. “Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous” (Psalm 1:5).
A righteous judgment is coming. On that day, Jesus will separate the sheep from the goats in his house. “For the Lord knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish” (Psalm 1:6). Meanwhile, all the nations raging against God will be blown away like chaff in the wind. He advises them, “Now therefore, O kings, be wise; be warned, O rulers of the earth. Serve the Lord with fear, and rejoice with trembling. Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and you perish in the way, for his wrath is quickly kindled. Blessed are all who take refuge in him” (Psalm 2:10-12).
Imagine the day when the ultimate fruit of righteousness is on display in God’s presence. We’ll see all the ways Jesus caused us to prosper. “Fret not yourself because of evildoers; be not envious of wrongdoers! For they will soon fade like the grass and wither like the green herb. Trust in the Lord, and do good; dwell in the land and befriend faithfulness. Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart” (Psalm 37:1-4).
Friend, we are not broken or defeated. We’re suffering and enduring, yet we’re prospering. We are rooted and grounded by the great river of life that is Christ. That is a blessed life, carrying us through every trial. Amen.