Sunday, October 9, 2011

Psalm 1

Psalm 1
A psalm of contrasts

"Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stands in the path of sinners, nor sits in the seat of the scornful;” (verse 1)

      To be“blessed” is to be appointed to happiness. This psalm essentially begins, “Happy is he who...” This and the following verses then proceed to contrast those who take two very different paths, one leading to “blessedness” and the other to judgment. 
      The psalmist first declares that true happiness cannot be found by heeding the wisdom of this world, the “counsel of the ungodly.” The word “counsel” refers to the wisdom or advice that may be offered to those who are seeking direction for the course of their life; books, magazines, television, internet, psychologists, and talk shows are just a few of these 'ungodly counselors'.  But contrary to common assumption, “ungodliness” is not related necessarily to a person's sinful actions or lifestyle. I have known quite a few very good, kind, and generous ungodly people in my life. Rather, ungodliness is a state of the mind.  The ungodly are those who live as though there is no God. They make their decisions and choose their life path as though God did not exist, care about mankind, or require an account at the final Judgment. David writes about the ungodly in Psalm 94, describing them in great detail. In verse four he says this, “The wicked in his proud countenance does not seek God; God is is none of his thoughts.” These are those who say in their hearts to God, “You will not require an account,” and “God has forgotten; He hides His face; He will never see.” (Psalm 94:11,13)

Ungodliness is living as though there is no God.

      To “stand in the path” implies a fixed position on a determined course of action. A “sinner” is one who practices sin intentionally (see I John 3, 5). If practice makes perfect, these are those who have made sinning their most cherished pursuit. They love their sin and will not be deterred from it. Godless thinking leads to godless living, and this is evidenced by the sin that permeates every culture, people group, and nation on earth. Romans 1:28-31 says, “And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a debased mind, to do those things which are not fitting, being filled with all unrighteousness, sexual immorality, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, evil-mindedness; they are whisperers, backbiters, haters of God, violent, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, undiscerning, untrustworthy, unloving, unforgiving, unmerciful...” Ungodliness is a godless mindset that results in a godless lifestyle.
       The “seat of the scornful” refers to the settled position of a mocker, someone who not only lives godlessly and blatantly practices sin, but also despises all those who are godly and practice righteousness. This is the secular man. Dr. Parenteau, in describing the life and beliefs of one of the nineteenth century's foremost atheists, Frederick Nietzsche, writes that this infamous man, who coined the phrase, “God is dead,” also believed, (interestingly enough), that “in the absence of God, men and women would have to discipline themselves to “determined joy” and find purpose in their lives. It is curious to note that nearly all nihilist and existentialist philosophers agree that purpose and joy receive a deadly blow by the notion of life without God. And they then attempt to create purpose and joy outside of God or they commit suicide.” (“Frederick Nietzsche,” October 8, 2011, http://intersectionvictoria.com/

Unhappy is he who sits in the seat of the scornful!

      “The fool has said in his heart, 'There is no God,'” (Psalm 14:1) but ungodly men are not all atheists, either. There are quite a few religious ungodly as well. Many even in the church, although professing Christ, live self-centered lives, practically carrying out their life choices as though God had no say in them. These are those Christians who claim the saving grace of Jesus, but would prefer to do without His lordship over their lives. Jesus is both our Saviour and Lord if we have truly trusted in Him for salvation, but we will not practically experience the “blessedness” of this reality in our daily life until we surrender to His Lordship. There is a sign on a lawn on Craigflower Road that says, “Elect Jesus Lord”, which although well intentioned, is not quite right. He is not elected; He already is Lord, and furthermore, He is your Lord if you are a Christian. Its a package deal, whether you were aware of it or not! Jesus' lordship is not a matter of salvation, but surrender. If Jesus is your Lord and Saviour, allow Him to be the Lord of your life in practice, leading and guiding you in all you do. Blessed, or “Happy are the people who are in such a state; happy are the people whose God is the Lord.” (Psalm 144:15)

"But his delight is in the law of the LORD, and in His law he meditates day and night.” (verse 2)

      This is the crux of the whole psalm. Beginning in verse one with, “Blessed is the man who...” does NOT, it is then followed in verse two by what he does DO. He delights in God's written Word, the Bible. It is called the “law” here, because at the time this was written, around 1000 BC, the Scriptures were largely and most prominently comprised of Moses' edited works, known as the Pentateuch, Torah, or Law. Today, our Scriptures include much more inspired writings, including this very psalm! Not only does this man, here described, love God's Word, but he immerses himself in it constantly. Day and night, he reads it and thinks on it at every opportunity. It is his delight, his greatest pleasure and happiness.
       Contrast this blessed man with the unhappy godless, sinner, or atheist. Where, by implication, does this happy man walk? In the counsel of the Word of God. And where does he stand? In the path of righteousness. (Psalm 23:3) And too, where does he sit? In the seat of the wise. (Prov. 9:14) All these are found in God's Word. To “meditate” means to literally, “chew the cud”, like a cow who chews and swallows a mouthful of grass, only to later regurgitate and chew it again. Meditation on God's Word happens when we read and take to heart a verse or portion of scripture, and continually think on it through the day, applying it to our lives personally. James 1:22 says, “But be doers of the Word and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.”
       To read God's Word, agree with its value, but to neglect to apply it to in our own lives is to miss the heart and power of the Scriptures. To dwell on God's Word is what is the defining factor in the life of a godly man; he lives in light of God's existence and involvement in his life, and as such, spends much of his time seeking God in His Word. Hebrews 11:6 describes such a man, “[he] must believe that God is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.” The blessed man lives in light of the existence of a loving, powerful God, and delights to seek Him daily in His Word.

"He shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that brings forth it's fruit in it's season, whose leaf also shall not wither; and whatever he does shall prosper.” (verse 3)

       The man who is immersed daily in the Word of God is here likened to a river-side tree. The picture is of a strong tree, full of vitality, because of the constant supply of water to its underground root system. This tree will survive all manner of weather and hardship due to it's ideal location near an ever fresh living water source. The typology is clear; God's Word is like the life giving waters that will give constant strength to the one who dwells in them. The tree is described as a seasonal fruit tree that produces fruit at the proper time. Ecclesiastes 3:1 says, “To everything there is a season, a time for every purpose under heaven.” Many have begun a course of regular Bible study only to give up after while, claiming that they weren't “getting anything out of it.” If that is your story, you simply gave up too soon! The Word of God is like a seed that takes time to germinate, sprout, and take root before you even see it above the surface. Then it may take anywhere from months to years before you will see it's first fruits. (See Matthew 13) A coffee plant, for instance, will not produce it's unique fruit until the little tree is four years old! God in Isaiah 55:11 declared, “So shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth; It shall not return to Me void, but it shall accomplish what I please, and it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it.” 
        God's Word will always bear fruit, but it is fruit that is born in season; do not become discouraged in your faith if your progress seems slow! God is doing the work underground, and in His perfect timing, He will cause your fruit to be seen. Fruit is not laboured for; it grows by the simple reason of it being part of a healthy tree. If you are in the Word of God regularly, you will bear fruit in season. The tree also is an evergreen, by the way! How many fruit trees do you know of that are not deciduous, (“whose leaf shall not wither”)? After contemplating this, I recalled Psalm 92:12, “The righteous shall flourish like a palm tree.” Perhaps this is the fruitful riverside tree the psalmist was envisioning! Whatever the case, the man who delights in the Word of God and meditates in it day and night will be as healthy and prosperous as this riverside fruit tree.

"The ungodly are not so, but are like the chaff which the wind drives away. Therefore the ungodly shall not stand in the Judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous.” (verses 4,5)

        An interesting comparison between the ungodly and godly is made here in these verses. While the righteous are depicted as an evergreen tree, perhaps a palm tree, the wicked are depicted as the waste roughage that once encased the grain. When threshing wheat, barley, or flax, they would seek to separate the nutritious grain berry from the fibrous stalk and head that covered it. Once successfully threshed, the grains would be saved and stored away for cooking and the remaining “chaff” would be blown away by the breeze and it's large stalks carried off in great piles to be burned. The implication is that the ungodly, no matter how tall they grew in this life, would still be cut down and cast away in the end.
        The final Judgment, at which point all the dead will be raised in new bodies to stand before God, is the time frame of which the psalmist speaks. The ungodly, the sinners, and the scorners all will stand before the God they refused to think about, know, or worship, and sadly, they will not be able to stand. Jesus died for the sins of all mankind, and offers a free pardon to anyone who would simply trust in His sacrifice. The tragedy of Psalm 1:4-6 is that, because of Jesus Christ, not even one need perish at the Judgment! Yet, many will, simply because they would rather live as though God did not exist.

"For the LORD knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the ungodly shall perish.” (verse 6)

        God is intimately involved in the lives of all who would but trust in Him, and desires that none should perish, but have eternal life. “The Lord ... is long suffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9) God cares so much that He came to earth as a man to provide a way for all to be saved in the Judgment. He Himself bore our sins and died in our place, justifying the wrath of God. Now, anyone who simply receives His pardon in faith is spared His Judgment. God never punishes twice. "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16)


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