[Sermon] Psalm 1: The Way of the LORD’s Instruction vs. The Way of Self-Destruction

What follows is the live recording and full text (edited for web viewing) of my trial sermon from my Ministerial Licensing Ceremony on January 28, 2018 at Alpha Baptist Church in Willingboro, NJ.

Most of the illustrations are products of my experiences in life, but the theological content of the message is a product of  research on Psalm 1. Unfortunately, I usually did not footnote the sermon text unless I was using a direct quote.

That being said, I am incredibly grateful for the insight I gleaned from my Old Testament professor, Dr. Stephen Kim of Palmer Theological Seminary, and the list of other sources found in the bibliography. I am truly happy to share.

[Update 6.8.18: See the PowerPoint slides for a Bible Study on this same text here]

Outline

For skimming, navigating, and/or reference purposes, here is a hyperlinked outline:

  1. Introduction
    1. Little Dan
    2. Do You Determine Your Purpose Or Do You Discover Your Purpose?
    3. Outline
  2. Context
    1. Bible “Verses”
    2. Music Moves Us
    3. Psalms: The Ancient Jewish Hymnal
    4. Why Is Psalm 1 Psalm 1? The Books of Psalms
    5. Why Is Psalm 1 Psalm 1? The Psalter’s Purpose Statement
  3. The Way of the LORD / The Righteous (Ps 1:1-3)
    1. Psalm 1:1
      1. Parallelism
      2. Progressive Comfortability
      3. Who Are The “Wicked”?
      4. The Most Beloved American Ideal: Freedom (Autonomy)
      5. The Search For True, Lasting Happiness
      6. “Life Illusions”
      7. Our “My Way” Culture
      8. True Bliss
      9. Ashy vs. Moisturized
      10. The Unpopular Way
    2. Psalm 1:2
      1. The “Law” of the LORD
      2. The Importance of Following Instructions
      3. The Importance of Meditating on The Instruction of the LORD
    3. Psalm 1:3
      1. Like A Tree Planted By The Water (v. 3)
      2. True Prosperity
      3. False Prosperity Gospel
  4. The Way of the Wicked (i.e. The Way of Self) (Ps. 1:4-5)
    1. What is Chaff?
    2. Standing in the Final Judgment
  5. Two Ways, Two Destinations (Ps 1:6)
  6. What Does Psalm 1 Mean For Us Today?
    1. Septuagint (LXX) Quotations in the New Testament
    2. New Testament “Blessings” (Beatitudes)
    3. The Unpopular Way in the New Testament
    4. The Stable Way in the New Testament
  7. Conclusion: Doesn’t It Make Sense?
    1. The LORD’s Instruction Manual
    2. The Electric Slide of Life
    3. Inclusio Conclusio
  8. Bibliography

Introduction

First of all, I want to give honor to God in whose ways I am imperfectly trying to walk. I would like to thank the Pastor and all the leaders of Alpha for this opportunity to speak before you all today. And, I would like to thank my fiancé, my family, friends, classmates and all of you who thought it not robbery to listen to me talk about God’s Word just a little bit.

Little Dan

I’ve been a member of this church since I was little. My parents, grandma, my uncles and aunties: they’ve all known me since I was in diapers.

I have cousins in this church who were my partners in crime growing up at Grandma’s house. We were the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Mike was Michelangelo – he liked to party or have fun. Tom was Leonardo. He was always the strait-laced one who would say things like “hey guys, don’t do that, we’re going to get into trouble.” Brandon was Rafael because he was kind of rebellious. And I was always Donatello – the nerdy one.

I am still pretty nerdy and corny. So, if that becomes more obvious to you as this sermon progresses, I apologize in advance.

Also, there are members in this congregation that have taught me in Sunday School and Bible Study and Vacation Bible School. And some even have daughters who used to babysit me. Whenever Deacon Mooring sees me he says something along the lines of “Hey Little Dan, how’s it going?” or “Good to see you, Little Dan.” My point is, I’ve been Little Dan for a long time.

But now, on January 28, 2018 at my Ministerial Licensing Service at Alpha Baptist Church in Willingboro, NJ, I would like to state for the record, that now: I am still, Little Dan.

I just know a little more than I did just a little while ago. So, I come before you humbly, as someone you have seen grow up and someone who, whether you realize it or not, has been helped by you all many times along the way. This is my first sermon; it will probably not be too brilliant. But I pray that something that is said may be beneficial.

May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in Your sight, O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer (Ps 19:14, NASB).

Do You Determine Your Purpose Or Do You Discover Your Purpose?

A few weeks ago, on Facebook, I asked what I believe to be an extremely important question: Do you determine your purpose or do you discern your purpose? Do you determine your purpose, or do you detect your purpose? Do you determine your purpose, or do you discover your purpose?

The way we all answer this question can undergird every major decision we make in life. What the question is getting at is: do we try to find our own way in life, live how we want to live? Or do we find out how we should live life, and live how we ought to live?

I believe the theology of Psalm 1 addresses this question. According to the Psalmist, ultimately, there are two ways to live life. We can live in a way contrary to God’s character or in a way conforming to God’s character. Contrary to God’s character or conforming to God’s character.

These two ways have two destinations. One way ends in self-destruction, while the other is sustained by God’s instruction. Ultimately, there are two ways to live life.

Now before I go any further, I have a confession to make: I am someone who, in the past, has often lived contrary to God’s character. And LORD knows, from time to time, I still struggle to walk the right way. So, I am not going to act all brand new and holier than thou on you. I’ma try to keep it real.

All I want to do today is to try to clarify what Psalm 1 is saying. And like the Psalmist, I want to try to paint a picture of two paths, and leave all of us with our own decision to make.

Outline

LORD willing, I will try to touch on the literary structure and context of Psalms, then spend most of the time talking about the way of life that conforms to God’s character (v. 1-3), before turning briefly to the way of life that is contrary to God’s character (v. 4-5), and then talk about the two destinations of the two ways (v.6). Finally, we’ll try to wrap things up by talking about how this ancient Jewish text applies to us 21st century Christians. For we find similar themes regarding the theology of the two ways in several New Testament verses.

Context

Bible “Verses”

Verses. We often think of the Bible as a compilation of verses. But it was 1557. 1557 is the year when chapter and verse divisions were first added to English translations of the New Testament. In 1560, these divisions were then added to the entire Bible.[1]

Verse divisions are great for reference purposes, but they can be problematic if we start plucking sentences or parts of sentences out of their original context. Except for maybe parts of Proverbs, the Bible is not a collection of one-liners. The context is always important. Context clarifies meaning.

Music Moves Us

So about the context of Psalms: What is it about certain songs, that move us like nothing else? Songs can be powerful. Certain songs can come on, and the next thing you know: we jamming.

I was a DJ for about ten years. I did all kinds of parties and events for all kinds of occasions. I got really good at guessing which kinds of songs would please which kinds of crowds. So, I knew that, if I was playing at a function with black folk, and I put on some Frankie Beverly, I could expect someone to break out the electric slide. It was usually me.

What is it about songs that moves us? Certain songs take us back. Sometimes when the Youth Mass Choir sing certain songs, they take me back to my days in the choir. “Someone Asked A Question” <sings Kirk Franklin song>

What is it about songs that moves us? I recently had to do research on a Christian educator who is also a psychologist, and he recalled how his dad, who was a heavy drinker and had not been the best father, was brought to his knees at a Sunday school picnic, as a young child sang a song. He later converted and became a Pastor.

When I think about what I believe to be my calling, if there is any single point I could look to and say: yeah that was it, that’s when I really felt a calling on my life. It was in the middle of a song sung by the Echoes of Joy. I was sitting right in that pew. And, I was crying like a baby.

The song took me back. You see, my Mom has been singing in the Echoes for virtually my entire life. She was singing when I was still in the womb. And the song they sung that Sunday took me back to the days of my infancy: “Lord, I’m Available to You.” Songs are powerful. What is it about songs that moves us?

Psalms: The Ancient Jewish Hymnal

The Psalms were the moving songs sung by the ancient Israelites. Some Psalms are songs of praise (Ps 100 Make a joyful noise unto the LORD, serve the LORD with gladness, come before His presence with singing).

Some Psalms are songs of lament – cries of anguish and petition to God (Ps 13 How long, LORD? Will you forget me forever?). These are actually the most common.

Other Psalms are songs of thanksgiving (Ps 107:1 O Give thanks, unto the LORD for He is good…).

Psalm 1 is a less common type of Psalm called a wisdom Psalm because of its similarity to themes found in the Wisdom books – Proverbs, Job, and Ecclesiastes. Wisdom Psalms aim to inspire people to try to live a life of godly wisdom.

Now all of these various kinds of Psalms were written and compiled over the centuries, and eventually, essentially became like the ancient Jewish hymnbook.

Why Is Psalm 1 Psalm 1? The Books of Psalms

An interesting question is, why is Psalm 1, Psalm 1? That is, why is it placed right at the beginning of this ancient Jewish hymnbook?

As many English translations make clear, this hymnbook is actually split into five books.

Book 1 is Psalm 1-41, Book 2 is Psalm 42-72, Book 3 is Psalm 73-89, Book 4 is Psalm 90-106, and Book 5 is Psalm 107-150.

At the end of Psalm 41 [Ps 41:13] it reads, “13 Praise be to the LORD, the God of Israel, from everlasting to everlasting. Amen and Amen.” At the end of Psalm 72 [Ps 72:19], it says “Praise be to his glorious name forever; may the whole earth be filled with his glory. Amen and Amen.” You’ll see similar lines at the end of Psalm 89 [Ps 89:52] and Psalm 106 [Ps 106:48].

And, of course, Psalm 150 ends in resounding praise, “Let everything that hath breath, praise the LORD, Praise the LORD [Ps 150:6].”

Each book of the Book of Psalms, including the entire Book itself, ends in praise. But it starts with Psalm 1.

Why Is Psalm 1 Psalm 1? The Psalter’s Purpose Statement

Psalm 1, unlike most Psalms, does not have a superscript. It does not say: “A song of David, or a song of Asaph.” This is probably because Psalm 1, along with Psalm 2, is meant to be an introduction to the whole Book of Psalms.

It’s like a preamble or a purpose statement about the rest of the collection. Many hymnals, even today, have a purpose statement right in the beginning. This lets us know how we should understand what follows. This Psalm is a lens through which we are to see the entire Book of Psalms.

In the English alphabet, we have 26 letters. As you may recall, in the Hebrew alphabet, there are 22 letters. The first letter of the Hebrew alphabet is aleph, and, in Psalm 1, it is the first letter of the first word. The last letter of the Hebrew alphabet is tav, which is the last letter of the last word.

When it comes to how we ought to live life, Psalm 1 is literally giving us the A-Z. For, ultimately, there are two ways to live. A way contrary to God’s character, and a way conforming to God’s character.

The Way of the LORD / The Righteous (v. 1-3)

The First Way described in the First Psalm (v. 1-3) is the way of the righteous.

Parallelism

Back in the day, I used to think I was going to be a rapper. My fiance Kristin used to think I was cool until she found out that I was really just nerdy and corny. But I used to rap a little bit. <performs a verse of Christian rap>.

I was really into how rappers structured their lines or their “bars.” And I tried to structure my lines with complex rhyme schemes.

You see, in English poetry, lines are often structured by rhyme scheme.

Roses are red (A),

violets are blue (B),

sugar is sweet (C),

and so are you (B). (ABCB rhyme scheme.)

In Hebrew, rhyming would be too easy because many words have similar endings. Instead of rhyming, one of the main features that structured Hebrew poetry was parallelism. Parallelism basically involves elements from one line corresponding with elements from another line.

Psalm 19 begins:

1 The heavens declare the glory of God;

the skies proclaim the work of his hands. [Psalm 19:1, NIV]

Do you hear how Heavens, skies; Declare, proclaim, glory of God, work of His hands correspond?

Psalm 150 [Ps 150:1] says :

1 Praise the LORD.

Praise God in his sanctuary;

praise him in his mighty heavens.[Psalm 150:1, NIV]

Now if the meaning of “sanctuary” of the LORD was unclear, the second line clarifies it by putting “mighty heavens” in parallel.

In biblical poetry, parallelism is often used to drive home a certain point. This parallelism or correspondence is indicated in our English translations by indentation. The first line will be right up against the margin, and the line or lines that are in parallel, will be indented about five spaces. When take notice of parallelism, we will start to see it everywhere in Hebrew poetry.

And this includes verse 1.

1 Blessed is the one

who does not walk in step with the wicked

or stand in the way that sinners take

or sit in the company of mockers,[Psalm 1:1, NIV]

     Walk, stand, sit. In step (in counsel), in the way, in the company. Of the wicked, sinners, and mockers.

Progressive Comfortability

What point is the Psalmist trying to drive home here? It seems to me that we have a picture of increasing comfortability.

At one point in my life, I had to ask myself, why am I so comfortable around that which is not of God? That which is contrary to God’s character. I had to ask myself, why was I so comfortable playing the music I was playing? Though not all of it was bad, but much of it was vulgar, sexually explicit, materialistic, individualistic, violent, prideful, boastful, arrogant…?

Why was I not just comfortable playing it, but even entertained by it? Why was I so entertained by movies that are not of God? Why am I so entertained by shows full of greed, sex, adultery, murder? Why was I listening to advice that was not of God?

Brothers and sisters, I believe the Psalm is telling us that we ought not be comfortable with that which is not of God – the wicked.

Who Are The Wicked?

When we think of wicked, sometimes we are tempted to think of someone like the Wicked Witch of the West or someone with red horns and a curved tail and a pitchfork. We think of Hitler or Hussein, terrorists or racists. We think of genocide and sex trafficking and serial killing. Robbers, cheaters, liars.

We think the wicked are the bad people over there that do those bad things that we see on the news. But this word translated wicked is a plural noun that more broadly describes people who are acting in ways contrary to God’s character.

That is, instead of living in God’s way, they are living in their own way. They do not necessarily have to be doing something extremely evil; they are just doing their own thing, their own way.

This is the way of sinners. As you may recall, the Hebrew verb for sin more literally means to “miss a mark or miss a way.”

The Hebrew word for walk metaphorically means to live. How we behave is how we walk. And the Hebrew word for way metaphorically describes the direction of our walk.

I say that to say: sin essentially means we are walking the wrong way.

Now, scoffers or mockers are those that are not only walking the wrong way, but are also mocking those who are walking in the right way.

So, we can see the progression: one goes from walking in the counsel of – or taking advice from the wicked – who walk their own way, to standing in the way contrary to God’s character, to sitting or dwelling or remaining in the company of those who mock the way conforming to God’s character.

The Most Beloved American Ideal: Freedom (Autonomy)

Now the Isley Brothers had a song that said, “It’s your thing, do what you want to do.” I think this captures the essence of what may be the most cherished American virtue – autonomy.

We want to do our own thing. We don’t want anyone to tell us what we can and cannot do. From the days of our youth watching Disney movies we are told that we can be anything we want to be, we can do anything we want to do.

Shakespeare tells us, “to thine own self be true.” Society says, “follow your dreams, follow your heart.” Be whoever you want to be. Do what makes you happy.

The Search For True, Lasting Happiness

Our society often thinks that doing our own thing can afford us true, lasting happiness. Now this words are probably well-intended, they are probably meant to be encouraging, they are probably meant to instill self-esteem. But they can be damaging.

Because when you do not reach your dream, the onus falls all on you. You didn’t reach your dream? Well, I guess you just didn’t work hard enough. You didn’t believe in yourself enough. Or, what may be worse, we reach our dreams, and we find out that they are not that fulfilling after all.

I bet, when Tom Brady was a kid, he dreamed of winning a Super Bowl. He has won five. Do you think he is satisfied? I hope so [This sermon was delivered weeks before the Eagles’ victory over the Patriots in the Super Bowl. This Central Jersey congregation consists of predominantly Eagles fans].

I bet there are people who dreamed of being millionaires. When they became millionaires, do you think they were satisfied?

I bet there are people who dreamed of becoming famous, but when they became famous, do you think they were satisfied? Perhaps, they found out that fame isn’t all its cracked up to be.

Life Illusions

Writers have called these “life illusions.”1

That is, we think that once we reach a certain milestone, then we will be happy. But we often reach those milestones, and find that it is not as fulfilling as we thought it would be, and then quickly seek another one.

When I graduate, then I’ll be happy. When I get a job, then I’ll be happy. When I have a family, then I’ll be happy. When I retire, then I’ll be happy.

Some have likened this to a treadmill.2 In our society, we seem to be constantly searching for lasting happiness. But the more we search for happiness, the more it seems to elude us. We run on this treadmill, but we’re not going anywhere. But at least we can say we are doing our own thing.

Our “My Way” Culture

Do you know the song that is banned from many nursing homes? It’s Frank Sinatra’s “My Way.” He sings about how the end of his life is near but, at least, he lived life his own way. As scholars note, we live in a “My Way” culture.

It pervades everything from entertainment, to car commercials, to college classes, to government policy. The American dream appears to be all about believing in yourself, reaching your dreams, and doing things your own way. This is America! “I want to live my own life, my own way!” And we often think our own way will ultimately lead to lasting happiness, but our way is often not God’s way.

True Bliss

On the contrary, the Psalmist says blessed or happy is the one does not do these things. Truly happy is the one who does not go their own way.

If I can get a little nerdy real quick: there are two Hebrew words translated “bless.” One of them is always used when God is blessing people or people are blessing the name of God (Psalm 103 [Psalm 103:1] Bless the LORD O my soul and all that is within me).

This word may be familiar: it’s the word, barak. Like Barack Obama. Barak is always used when referring to a divine blessing.

The word translated blessed here is another word, [spelled phonetically] ahsh-ray [(אַשְׁרֵי |ʾašrê)]. Ahsh-ray is never used with regards to divine blessing. And, blessed is not necessarily the best translation, other translations read, “Happy is the one” or “How happy is the one who does not walk…”

It’s basically a formula for a “joyous exclamation and an enthusiastic observation.”[2] It’s an emphatic description concerning fortunate circumstances for humans. It’s a description.

I say all that to say: I do not want to mislead you. I don’t want anyone walking out of here thinking that Little Danny said that God is necessarily going to bless you in this way if you do x, y, and z.

Ashy vs. Moisturized

There’s a difference between a word acting like an adjective and a word acting like a participle.

When I was a wrestler, I had a reputation. I was well-known for at least one thing. And anyone who ever saw me compete in a match knew it: I was always, always, ashy.

I had ashy knees all the time, not sure why, don’t know what to tell you. I wouldn’t be surprised if my parents said, “Good job, Little Dan, you pinned him in 30 seconds, but you better stop embarrassing us with your ashy knees.”

Ashy is an adjective that describes the state of my thirsty knees. Now, if I had put lotion on my knees, then they would have been moisturized. Moisturized is a participle, it’s a verb that’s kind of acting like an adjective – it’s describing my previously ashy knees. And it implies that something has been done.

After a sporting event, there is a winning team and a losing team. Winning and losing are both participles; in a way, they are describing what has taken place.

I say all that to say, the word blessed here is not acting in this way; it is not a participle implying that the one who is being described has been blessed. It’s just a descriptive formula exclaiming that they are happy or, the term I prefer blissful.

The Unpopular Way

And the person described in this Psalm is truly happy, truly blissful, even though they are outnumbered.

Scholars point out how there are three groups – the wicked, the sinners, the mockers (all plural nouns) but only one person who does not walk in their own way. This suggests that walking in God’s way will not be popular.

We should expect to be outnumbered. We should expect God’s way to be countercultural. And, in the eyes of the world, we should expect God’s way to look foolish. But we can expect ultimately, to have true happiness.

The “Law” of the LORD

      2 but whose delight is in the law of the LORD,

         and who meditates on his law day and night.

Why? Verse 2 says this person is truly happy because their delight in the law of the LORD and because they meditate on His law day and night. What is the law of the LORD?

The word translated law is torah. Sometimes torah refers to specific Old Testament laws, sometimes it refers to the first five books of the Bible (called the Pentateuch), and other times it may refer to the entire Old Testament.

But, in this case, as in much of the wisdom literature of the Bible, torah means “instruction” or “teaching” or “direction.”

Proverbs 31:26, which describes a virtuous woman, says “She speaks with wisdom and faithful instruction (torah) is on her tongue.” Here torah refers more generally to the instruction or the direction of the LORD.

The Importance of Following Instructions

I got a job at my seminary’s Front Desk not too long ago. And, within my few weeks there, I made a quite an impression.

You see, I brought some leftover Acme [actually it was from ShopRite] chicken for breakfast. It was in a little paper bag and I figured I’d just pop it into the microwave that is in the student pantry for about a minute and then enjoy a tasty meal.

I turned away for a second or two as I grabbed some napkins, and then, out of the corner of my eye, I see sparks. So I opened the door, and then I see flames. So, I panicked a little bit. I shut the door to the microwave, I start looking for water or something I can beat the flames with but… to no avail. And, I’m like, man I’m gonna burn this place to the ground before my first paycheck.

When I opened the door again the flames were gone, but smoke just starts billowing out. And, it’s a small room, and it was getting thick pretty quick. And, I’m praying that the fire alarm doesn’t go off because it’s like 2 degrees outside, and I didn’t want everyone to have to evacuate. It wasn’t my best day.

So, I had to leave the door of the pantry open, so the smoke would dissipate. I couldn’t find a fan to speed up the process, and people are walking by like… (sniff sniff) is something burning? And I’m just trying to play it cool like… no everything’s under control.

As it turns out, there was a little metal strip that helped the bag stay sealed when you folded it. Later on, Kristin would show me the directions that are on every bag that says, “DO NOT HEAT THIS BAG IN A MICROWAVE.She speaks with wisdom and faithful instruction is on her tongue (Prov 31:26).

Moral of the story is, when we don’t follow instructions, especially the instruction of the LORD we can set fire to things in our own lives. And the fire can make the lives of others smoky as well.

The Importance of Meditating on The Instruction of the LORD

This is why it is important to meditate on the instruction of the LORD.

The verb translated meditate, as you may recall, does not refer to an Eastern concept of meditation that involves emptying one’s mind and chanting.

Old Testament meditation entails deep deliberation and contemplation on God’s instruction. This probably included reading, reciting, and reflecting on passages of Scripture over and over again. The goal was to know the instruction of the LORD so well, that one would conform one’s life to the way of the LORD.

I was leaving the store the other day and on the way to my car I saw a young woman struggling with something on the ground. Her young child was fussing in the backseat of her car, and I asked her if she needed any help. She said yes, she was trying to attach the back wheels onto her new stroller. But they were not clicking into place.

We tried to use brute strength and force the wheels into place, but it was not working. I asked her if she had the instruction manual, so she got it out and read it. I Googled the model number and found the instruction manual online. We spent a good ten minutes in deep contemplation concerning this manual.

We read and reread the instructions. Out loud, and to ourselves. We looked at the diagrams and looked at the wheels. We tried pushing the wheels in from every angle. In a way, we were meditating on this instruction manual.

Then she came to the realization that we had to switch the wheels. Apparently, one wheel was only designed for the left side and the other for the right side. We switched wheels and everything clicked right into place. The wheels were on the wrong way.

Similarly, I think, when it comes to meditating on the instruction of the LORD, which for us includes all Scripture (2 Tim 3:16), it may often take quite a bit of meditation for new insight.

And sometimes, I’m not saying all the time, but sometimes, like an epiphany, things will click into place. For though, in our lives, we may have been trying force certain things into place. We may have been doing things the wrong way.

All in all, the Psalmist is saying that the one who does not walk in the way of those going their own way, but who mediates on the instruction of God’s way, is truly happy. Is truly blissful.

Like A Tree Planted By The Water

           3 That person is like a tree planted by streams of water,

         which yields its fruit in season[Psalm 1:3, NIV]

In verse 3, this person is likened to a tree planted by streams of water, or – more literally – a tree that was transplanted right next to a canal or a channel.

So, no matter the weather, no matter what is going on around it, because it is nourished by the water from the stream, it always gives its fruit.

and whose leaf does not wither—

whatever they do prospers [Psalm 1:3, NIV]

True Prosperity

The root of the verb translated prosper means to accomplish an intended purpose.

It’s the same verb used in Isaiah 55:11 when God says, “so is my word that goes out from my mouth:          It will not return to me [void], but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.”

Also, in this case, grammatically, the verb can actually refer back to the truly happy person or to the tree. And how do trees prosper? They bear fruit.

And, I think it’s important to remember that, as scholars point out, trees do not eat fruit. They bear fruit for others. So we can say that the kind of prosperity described in this Psalm is the accomplishment of God’s purpose, a purpose that benefits others.

False Prosperity Gospel

I say all that because I do not want to mislead you by saying if you do x, y, and z, God will bless you with money and health and comfort, etc. That flies in the face of the New Testament and of church history.

For many of the those who walked in God’s way the most – Jesus, Paul, James, Stephen, the disciples, our brothers and sisters who were persecuted before us, our brothers and sisters who are still being persecuted around the world today – died for their walk.

The Greek word for witness is marturion – martyr. In the early church, martyrdom – execution for being a Christian witness – was so common, it was called “the second baptism.”3 This gives whole new meaning to the phrase: can I get a witness?

So let us not misunderstand the message of the psalm as some sort of prosperity gospel. Such teaching may be appealing, but it is a false gospel.

As I know as a former DJ, you can be very successful by the world’s standards, by playing what people want to dance to. You can be very popular, by telling people what they want to hear. But popularity, is no indicator of walking in God’s way. For the way of the LORD is unpopular.

But it is not unstable. For the one who walks in the way of the LORD, is like a tree that spreadeth by the water: they shall not be moved. They are grounded by the teaching and the instruction of the LORD.

The Way of the Wicked (Ps 1:4-5)

Not so the wicked!

They are like chaff

that the wind blows away.[Psalm 1:4, NIV]

Whereas the one who meditates on the LORD’s instruction is likened to a fruitful, stable tree, those who go their own way are likened to chaff that the wind scatters.

What Is Chaff?

I don’t know about you, but I’m not too familiar with chaff. I had to look it up. The Bible is full of farming metaphors that often seem a bit foreign to us.

Apparently, threshing is when you remove the seed or the edible part of a crop from the straw or the husk. The chaff is the leftovers. It’s worthless and can be easily blown away.

I liken this to something that I have more a little more experience with. In my younger days, I used to go to Kinder Care right on Salem Road. And we used to play a lot outside.

It had a decent-sized field and there probably were days when I picked little dandelion flowers from the ground. Not the yellow ones, but the white ones with dried seeds that blow away when you go (blow). Some of us would make wishes before we blew the seeds away. “I wish I was taller.”

In any case, as scholars note, “The self-ambitious, the self-serving, and the proudly self-reliant are like chaff that the wind drives away.”[5]

Standing In The (Final) Judgment

Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,

nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous.[Psalm 1:5, NIV] 

As a result, of their instability, their lack of foundation, their lack of roots, those who go their own way will not be able to stand.

The judgment that is in view here may be that of a courtroom in which the wicked are not able to rise and defend themselves.

And, since the image appears throughout the Old Testament, this may also refer ultimately to God’s judgment seat.

The assembly of the righteous also may refer to a judicial body or to a congregation of God’s people.

Long story short, those who walk in the way of the wicked will ultimately be excluded from those who walk in the way of the LORD.

Two Ways, Two Destinations

As we read in verse six:

For the Lord watches over the way of the righteous,

but the way of the wicked leads to destruction [Psalm 1:6, NIV]

It’s important to note that the LORD actively watches over the way of the righteous, that is, the way of the LORD, but the word translated leads to destruction or perish is passive [more accurately/precisely, the wording is more passive as compared to the active watchcare of the LORD.]

[… there is a subtle syntactic change between the first and second cola. In the first colon, the way of the righteous is the object of the verb. In the second, the way of the wicked is the subject. By means of this nuanced alteration, the poem means to say that being the author of one’s own fate is to march down the path of self-destruction. The wicked are their own lords, and thus they “autonomously” move toward their own judgment.]4

It is not something that is done to those who go their own way, it is something the wicked ultimately do to themselves.

On one hand you have the way of the LORD’s instruction, and on the other you have the way of self-destruction. Essentially, the theology of Psalm 1 says that there are ultimately two different ways to live, with, ultimately, two different destinations.

What Does Psalm 1 Mean For Us Today?

How should we understand this passage as followers of the Way, as Christians?

Septuagint (LXX) Quotations in the New Testament

Well, in Jesus’ day, many Jews did not speak Hebrew.

Over the centuries, they had been scattered across the Mediterranean and spoke different languages. In the 4th century B.C., virtually the entire known world was conquered by Alexander the Great.

If you wanted to do business in Alexander’s empire, you had to speak the language of Alexander’s empire. That language was Greek – Koine (or common) Greek.

As a result, the Old Testament was translated from Hebrew to Greek somewhere starting in the third century B.C. This translation is known as the Septuagint. In our English translations, sometimes we see notes with the Septuagint abbreviation: LXX.

I say that to say, when the New Testament authors quoted the Old Testament, they were usually quoting the Septuagint — the Greek translation.

New Testament “Blessings” (Beatitudes)

The word translated blessed or happy in the Greek translation of Psalm 1 is makarios. Makarios may also be the root of the word macarena. Because, apparently, whenever you do the macarena, you’re happy.

But Jesus uses this  exact same word, this exact same formula, in the Sermon on the Mount.

Happy are the poor in spirit, because theirs is the kingdom of heaven [Mt 5:3]. Again, they are not happy or blissful because they are poor in spirit, they are happy because theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

We can say, “Happy are the Eagles fans, because their team is in the SuperBowl.” They are not happy because they are Eagles fans; they are happy because their team is in the championship. Last season, Eagles fans were not too happy.

The Unpopular Way in the New Testament

But, I believe that those of us who meditate on the instruction of the LORD and walk in God’s way will also, ultimately, have lasting – everlasting happiness.

But we must remember that walking in God’s way, to the world, will look like foolishness [cf. 1 Cor 1:18, 23-25, 3:19]. It will be countercultural. And it will be unpopular.

In Luke 6:26, Jesus says: “Woe to you when everyone speaks well of you, for that is how their ancestors treated the false prophets.” The last Beatitude reads, “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” [Mt 5:11-12]

In John 15:20 Jesus tells his disciples, “If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also.” Walking in God’s way, following Jesus, the way, the truth, and the life, will be unpopular. [cf. Mt 10:22, etc.]

The Stable Way in the New Testament

The wicked who walk in a way contrary to God’s character, will try to tell us to walk in their way or encourage us to walk in your own way. But, ultimately, that is a way of instability. It’s like making a wish and blowing on a dandelion.

As Jesus says in Matthew 7:26, not following His teaching is like building a house on sand. But, He says, “everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock.” It’s stable, like being planted by streams of water.

Conclusion: Doesn’t It Make Sense?

In conclusion, if you want to get the most out of the Microsoft Windows, does it not make sense to follow the instruction of Bill Gates – the creator of Microsoft Windows?

If you want to cook a dish by Rachel Ray, does it not make sense to follow the instruction of Rachel Ray, who created the recipe?

If you want to take care of your Civic, does it not make sense to follow the instructions of Honda – who created the Civic?

If you want to get the most out of your life, if you want truly lasting happiness in life, does it not make sense to follow the instruction of the One who created life?

The LORD’s Instruction Manual

Now what is the first thing you do when you buy something new and you see the instruction manual? If you are anything like me, you toss that bad boy to the side and try to figure things out on your own.

I don’t need no instruction manual. The only time I look at the instructions, is when I have a problem. But, by meditating on the instruction manual of the LORD for our lives, perhaps we can avoid some problems in the first place.

The Electric Slide of Life

Even though I was raised in the church, I wasn’t truly walking in the way of the LORD.

Some days I would do my own thing, other days I would kind of walk in God’s way, some days I would do my own thing, other times I would sort of walk in God’s way. I was doing an electric slide in life.

I may have looked like I was truly happy, but I really wasn’t going anywhere. And, after a while, it got kind of old.

I had to commit my life to the way of the LORD. The way of the One who created life. And the way of the One who sent His Son to stand for us in the judgment. Jesus paid the penalty for our sins that we might be reconciled to God, [Rom 5:6-8, 2 Cor 5:21, etc.], and receive His Holy Spirit — who helps us walk in His way.

Inclusio Conclusio

Brothers and sisters, do we determine our life’s purpose or do we discern our life’s purpose? Are we walking our own way in life or are we walking in the unpopular but ultimately more fulfilling way of the LORD?

In Matthew 7:13-14 Jesus echoes the theology of Psalm 1 in saying, “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. 14 But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.”

There are ultimately two ways to live life: the way contrary to God’s character, and the way conforming to God’s character. With the help of the Holy Spirit, who empowers us to bear the fruit of the Spirit, and by meditating on the instruction of the LORD, let us not be comfortable or walk in the counsel of the wicked, but in the way of the Wonderful Counselor.

May God Bless you all.

Bibliography

Boice, James Montgomery. Psalms 1–41: An Expositional Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2005.

Greidanus, Sidney. Preaching Christ from Psalms: Foundations for Expository Sermons in the Christian Year. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2016.

Jacobson, Rolf A., and Beth Tanner. “Book One of the Psalter: Psalms 1–41.” In The Book of Psalms, edited by E. J. Young, R. K. Harrison, and Robert L. Hubbard Jr. The New International Commentary on the Old Testament. Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge, U.K.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2014.

Kraus, Hans-Joachim. A Continental Commentary: Psalms 1–59. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1993.

Kidner, Derek. Psalms 1–72: An Introduction and Commentary. Vol. 15. Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1973.

Longman, Tremper, III, and Peter Enns, eds. Dictionary of the Old Testament: Wisdom, Poetry & Writings. Downers Grove, IL; Nottingham, England: IVP Academic; Inter-Varsity Press, 2008.

Longman, Tremper, III. Psalms: An Introduction and Commentary. Edited by David G. Firth. Vol. 15–16. The Tyndale Commentary Series. Nottingham, England: Inter-Varsity Press, 2014.

Matthews, Victor Harold, Mark W. Chavalas, and John H. Walton. The IVP Bible Background Commentary: Old Testament. Electronic ed. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2000.

Motyer, J. A. “The Psalms.” In New Bible Commentary: 21st Century Edition, edited by D. A. Carson, R. T. France, J. A. Motyer, and G. J. Wenham, 4th ed., 485–583. Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press, 1994.

Waltke, Bruce K., James M. Houston, and Erika Moore. The Psalms as Christian Worship: A Historical Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge, U.K.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2010.

White, R. E. O. “Psalms.” In Evangelical Commentary on the Bible, 3:367–98. Baker Reference Library. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1995.

Wilcock, Michael. The Message of Psalms: Songs for the People of God. Edited by J. A. Motyer. The Bible Speaks Today. Nottingham, England: Inter-Varsity Press, 2001.

[1] Michael Joseph Brown, What They Don’t Tell You: A Survivor’s Guide to Biblical Studies, (Louisville: John Knox Westminster Press, 2000), 125. “…verse divisions are not part of the original documents, but were added much later. When we speak of the Holy Spirit’s inspiring the Scriptures, we are talking about the text itself, not about the reference numbers.” Duvall, J. Scott; Hays, J. Daniel. Grasping God’s Word (Enhanced Edition): A Hands-On Approach to Reading, Interpreting, and Applying the Bible (p. 155). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.

[2] Hans-Joachim Kraus, A Continental Commentary: Psalms 1–59 (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1993), 115.

[5] Bruce K. Waltke, James M. Houston, and Erika Moore, The Psalms as Christian Worship: A Historical Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge, U.K.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2010), 141.

Sources

  1. “Within [Henrik] Ibsen’s play The Wild Duck, a life illusion is the belief that some object or condition will finally bring you the satisfaction for which you long. But this is an illusion. At some point reality will destroy it, and nothing destroys it like actually achieving your dreams.” Keller, Timothy. Making Sense of God: An Invitation to the Skeptical (p. 82). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
  2. “We go through houses and spouses and jobs and the constant reinvention of our lives, assuring ourselves that at the next level “it” is going to finally be there. But psychologists call this merely speeding up the ‘hedonic treadmill.'” Keller, Timothy. Making Sense of God: An Invitation to the Skeptical (p. 84). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
  3. “Tertullian regarded martyrdom as the highest accomplishment of the Christian life and referred to it as the ‘second baptism.’” David S. Dockery et al., Holman Bible Handbook (Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers, 1992), 860.
  4. Rolf A. Jacobson and Beth Tanner, “Book One of the Psalter: Psalms 1–41,” in The Book of Psalms, ed. E. J. Young, R. K. Harrison, and Robert L. Hubbard Jr., The New International Commentary on the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge, U.K.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2014), 63.
About @DannyScottonJr 148 Articles
Imperfect servant striving to be an unapologetically apologetic ambassador for Jesus the Christ. Princeton University Alum | Palmer Theological Seminary Student