Psalm 1: A Tree Planted by Streams of Water
January 1, 2022
TODAY'S BIBLE READING:
The hymn book of the church. The panoply of praise. The treasury of David. It has been given various names, but this collection of Psalms, songs, and reflections are built upon two great truths. First, God is real. Second, his covenant is reliable. Therefore, the Psalms call us over and over again to trust in this God.
But while there are woven into the tapestry of the book of the Psalms these two great truths, the power of Psalms is found in its near painful honesty. It is God-centered as a book, to be sure (as the whole Bible is), but nowhere else in the Bible do you find the kind of hair-raising, astonishing description of the range of human emotions that you find in the Psalms. From the bloodthirsty desire of the imprecatory psalms like Psalm 137, to the unveiled confessional psalms like Psalm 51, to the unvarnished joy that is the end of the journey of the Psalms of Ascent like Psalm 134, the range of these emotions leads us to believe that the psalmists knew what we felt, but still trusted in the living God. Hence, they help us also trust.
Sometimes the psalmist will say things that he knows are not what he should feel, but he does feel it, and so in the safety of the covenant relationship with God, he may say it. And his example is given to teach us that we can come to God with our fears, feelings, and failings. Resources to help us study this matchless song book abound: C.S. Lewis’s meditations are excellent as always, though at times you wonder whether he understood the heartbeat of the Psalms as well as he thinks; Peter Craigie’s commentary—as all his commentaries—is brilliant, though he only has work on the first 50 Psalms; Derek Kidner is as always a brilliant guide; Charles Spurgeon’s work is soaring in its genius if touched with Victorian sentimentality (the title of it being that Treasury of David). But given all these resources, the best resource is that said to Augustine so long ago: tolle lege, take and read it yourself. And by God’s Spirit, let light enter the darkness of our hearts this New Year.
Psalm 1 has enough to satisfy us for many a long, lonely night and early cold morning, and is ballast to protect us against the winter temptations that plague the soul. The structure is simple. First there is a description of what truly makes a person happy. Then there is a picture of a tree by a stream of water as an image to hook this teaching deep into our brains via the emotion of our imaginations. Then there is a contrast with the wicked and their miserable end.
The lesson of this majestic opening psalm is simple, as much as it shows the range of the Psalms, for it is touched with the wisdom literature of Proverbs or Ecclesiastes. In sum, it tells us that to be happy (or “blessed,” that is truly happy, that is living the life that God declares to be happy, and is in fact lastingly joyful) is to follow God and his Word. There is no other way to find happiness. No other method to attain satisfaction. No other way to have lasting joy. There is no other set of goals that we should have underpinning every tactic: do not listen to the advice of the wicked, do not carp and complain with those who are bitten by bitterness and cynicism; instead, delight in the law of God. And on this law, meditate day and night. A simple takeaway would be: make sure you read the Bible this year first thing in the morning and last thing at night.
To do so is to be planted by a stream. However dry is the weather and however bad is the drought, such a tree has its roots planted deep into the soil next to that stream so that it can find water. The wicked are like the chaff, the husks of corn separated by winnowing that are worthless and of no value but to be thrown away. They will not be able to stand at the day of judgment and will hold their heads in shame in the congregation of the righteous. And finally, they will perish. This is the life that ridicules God, fails to follow God’s Word, and tries to follow self, not God. It is, in short, chaff.
However, God knows the righteous and their way: he knows them intimately, he loves them, he is in covenant with them. And they are indeed blessed.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Josh Moody (Ph.D., University of Cambridge) is the senior pastor of College Church in Wheaton, IL., president and founder of God Centered Life Ministries, and author of several books including How the Bible Can Change Your Life and John 1-12 For You.
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