Delighting in the Word | Psalm 1
Phil Krause | December 30, 2018
Good morning! My name is Phil Krause. I’m one of the elders here at Redeemer, and I’m grateful for this opportunity to open God’s word together with you while our teaching pastor, Brian Hedges, is away. Let’s pray again.
Lord, we do look forward to a year ahead, and we ask that what we do in 2019 would honor you. We know that needs to include delighting in your word. So we ask now that the “words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts would be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our rock and our redeemer.” In Jesus’s name, Amen.
Think for a moment about contrast. If you ask any artist or any designer, they’re going to tell you — contrast is extremely important. It doesn’t matter what concept they might be trying to represent visually; the right use of contrast is key to helping draw the eye to just the right element of composition in that painting or that photo. It can provide definition, emphasis, even a dramatic effect. Or it helps you read these particular words first before you notice something else over here, right?
Well, good communicators use contrast well. They know how to verbally paint with words. For example, if I told you, “My wife is a patient person,” that would communicate something about Christy to you. It’s not very precise, though, because your idea of patience might be different from my idea of patience.
So if I said, “My wife is a patient person. She’s not impetuous or abusive. She very rarely flies off the handle, she doesn’t lose her temper with the kids or with me, even when we give her opportunity to do so,” now I’ve fleshed out for you a little bit, by using a contrast, what I meant by the word “patient.” She’s patient. It helps explain her character a little bit, and it tells you some things that she doesn’t do, right?
Well, God’s word is no exception, and as we look at Psalm 1 today we’re going to see that. On almost every page of Scripture we see God using contrast to capture our attention, to warn us, to better help us understand subtleties and nuances.
In fact, ancient Hebrew poetry uses parallels and contrasts a lot. A big chunk of the Old Testament is what scholars call Wisdom Literature. It’s Hebrew poetry. It teaches by first stating some kind of proposition, then stating it again from a slightly different angle, then again from another angle, or saying its opposite, and sometimes both, right? It’ll say one thing and then again, and then the opposite. So today we’re going to look at a very beautiful example of that in Psalm 1.
As Pastor Brian mentioned a couple weeks ago, Psalms 1 and 2 form a beautiful introduction to the whole book of the psalms, and all of the major themes of the Bible are actually present, in at least seedling form, in these two psalms. It’s really cool.
The Puritan pastor Thomas Watson said of Psalm 1, “This psalm may not unfitly be entitled the Psalm of Psalms, for it contains in it the very pith and quintessence of Christianity.”
So, if you would, please turn to Psalm 1, or you can follow along on the screen. Watch, though, as I read this; watch for parallels and contrasts; it’s not going to be hard to find them. And go ahead and start asking yourself, “Which of these descriptions fits me better?” Hear now as God speaks to us.
“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.
He is like a tree
planted by streams of water
that yields its fruit in its season,
and its leaf does not wither.
In all that he does, he prospers.
The wicked are not so,
but are like chaff that the wind drives away.
Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous;
for the Lord knows the way of the righteous,
but the way of the wicked will perish.”
This is the word of the Lord.
So this morning the outline we’re going to follow is very straightforward, because it’s pretty obvious in this psalm. Did you notice the contrast? We’re going to look first at the righteous, and secondly the wicked, and (because no good sermon is complete without three points, we’ll add a third, questions to ponder. Also, at each step we’ll consider how each of these most perfectly is portrayed and fulfilled in the Person of Jesus Christ.
I. The Righteous Person
So first of all, the righteous person. Now, I do want to make a note here: don’t get tripped up over the words “he” or “man” or “his” in this psalm. Even though it’s stated in the masculine, this applies, obviously, to both men and women. The Hebrew word, ish, is a word that can be, in this context, is just generic people, right?
So, what are the characteristics of this righteous person that we see listed here?
First of all, we see that the righteous person is “blessed.” In fact, that’s the first word of the psalm. Blessed. Happy. Having the favor of God resting upon him or her. The psalmist is saying, “I’m about to describe to you the kind of person whose life is being lit up by the warm smile of God.”
Some have pointed out that this word, “blessed,” is actually plural in the original Hebrew. Spurgeon suggested that the word could be translated “blessednesses.” Now, that would be hard to say, but in fact, the New Living Translation does translate this psalm with, “Oh, the joys of those who do not…” and then it continues on with the psalm.
Not too long ago, Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth (she’s my boss; that’s why I pointed to myself) taught through Psalm 1 on her radio program and podcast Revive Our Hearts, and she titled the series “How to Have a Happy New Year.” In fact, you can listen to it, starting this Wednesday, of this week. Of course, when she says “How to Have a Happy New Year,” she’s playing off this concept of “blessedness.” You want a happy year? A truly happy year? Well, keep reading!
Verse 1 continues, describing this happy, blessed, favored person first of all in the negative. We sometimes speak of “sins of commission and sins of omission.” Well, in this case, if you will, this is like “righteousness of omission.” This shows us what this righteous person does not do.
“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.” Did you notice the progression here? This righteous person doesn’t walk...or stand…or sit. See, this process of going away from the path of righteousness, going away from God is gradual. At first, you’re only toying with sin, sort of dipping your toe in the water. According to this passage, it starts by listening to wrong counsel.
Do you remember the scene described in Proverbs chapter 7 about this fool, this young man, this spiritually wayward individual, is first passing by where the strange woman, the adulterous seductress, hangs out.
Verse 6 of Proverbs 7:
“For at the window of my house
I have looked out through my lattice,
and I have seen among the simple,
I have perceived among the youths,
a young man lacking sense,
passing along the street near her corner,
taking the road to her house
in the twilight, in the evening,
at the time of night and darkness.”
So this fool has already compromised, right? He’s in the wrong place at the wrong time. He’s walking where he shouldn’t be. Notice, too, she is hanging out, it says, “on the corner,” right where she’s likely to find a fool passing by. The passage actually says she’s “lying in wait.” Then it describes how she she grabs him, she kisses him, then she spends a good 14 lines of Bible poetry flattering him and convincing him to do more than just stand there talking to her.
And what does he do? He listens. He walks in the counsel of the wicked. He stops, he considers, he becomes convinced. And very soon after that, he’s trapped like a bird in a net or like an ox about to get its throat slit or like a deer with an arrow in its liver.
Now, I know there are some hunters in this room. I see Steve DeVries, I saw Dave Enders earlier; I don’t know where he is. But I suspect that when a deer gets shot in its liver, that’s pretty much the end for that deer. The chances of survival are pretty slim.
This has a lot of applications to life. Don’t think it only has to do with sexual sin! It certainly can include that, but the progression away from righteousness and toward this pathway of wickedness starts with listening to wrong counsel, continues on to adopting sinful ways and, and then it concludes with what Psalm 1 calls this “sitting in the seat of scoffers.”
Now, what’s that all about? Well, here it’s helpful to remind ourselves and remember this biblical concept of sitting. Sitting was a place of authority, a place of teaching. So, for example, the city elders in Israel would sit where? Do you know? At the city gates.
Think of the book of Ruth, when Boaz is wanting to do all the legal procedures he needed to do to redeem Naomi and Ruth, and there was another kinsman redeemer that could have been line sooner. At first he was interested, but then he realized, “Oh, I have to marry Ruth, too. Uhh...thank you, but no thanks.”
So, what does he do? He takes off his sandal — they exchanged sandals. This was their way of signing the contract in their day, right? And it was all done in front of and witnessed by, the Bible tells us, ten elders that Boaz had said, “Hey, come over here and witness this.” It was done in front of ten elders, and they were all seated. The Bible tells us they were sitting.
In the New Testament, when a rabbi was about to expound on a passage of Scripture in the synagogue — in fact, Jesus did this. What did he do? He first sat down, right? In Matthew chapter 5, right before he preached the Sermon on the Mount, it says that Jesus “sat down” and his disciples came to him, and then he opened his mouth and spoke.
So when this psalm talks about this progression of sinful waywardness culminating in “sitting in the seat of scoffers,” it’s saying that this rebellious fool has now gone from listening to wicked counsel, to forming sinful habits, to now foolishly being an expert in sin, someone who teaches others to do the same. A scoffer here, as it’s used, is a mocker, an over-inflated, arrogant person who derides others. Literally, this word “scoff” means “to make mouths at.” One dictionary defines a “scoffer” as “a frivolous and impudent person, who despises scoffingly the most sacred precepts of religion, piety, and morals.”
So, sitting in the seat of scoffers is not a compliment. It would be like being called the “king of the braggarts” or “Chief Blowhard” or something. It’s not a pretty picture.
So that’s the opposite of the righteous person that’s being described here. That’s this negative righteousness. Now let’s look at the positive righteousness. It goes on to describe what the righteous person does do, verse 2. “...his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night.” We see here that this righteous person delights in and meditates on the law of the Lord.
Now keep in mind, at this time, when this psalm was written, the only existing canon of Scripture, the only Bible, so to speak, that they had was what we now know as the first five books of the Bible, the Pentateuch, the law of Moses. So delighting in the law, the way it’s worded there, that was the same thing as delighting in the written word of God.
What about this word “delight”? It just means that God’s word gives supreme pleasure, which makes me ask myself, “What delights me? What pleases me?” We’re going to come back to that in a moment.
Then the word “meditate.” This is a really colorful word. Pastor Brian mentioned it a couple of weeks ago as well. It’s the Hebrew word hagah, which can be translated [to mean] to moan, growl, utter, muse, mutter, meditate, devise, plot, speak, even roar or groan.
Pastor Brian mentioned that the first verse of Psalm 2, where it says, “Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain?” — that word “plot” is this same word, hagah, that’s translated “meditate” in Psalm 1, but “plot” in Psalm 2. So, when someone is concocting a plot, what do they do? They might be muttering to themselves, if not literally, at least in their minds, right? They’re thinking about it over and over again.
Now, a distinction I’d like to make about meditation: some Eastern religions encourage what they call the practice of transcendental meditation. This is really different. In transcendental meditation, you’re supposed to empty your mind of all your thoughts. Not biblical meditation! Biblical meditation says, “Fill your mind with the right thoughts. Talk to yourself. Speak to yourself. Preach to yourself. Don’t let your mind go numb.”
I once heard Pastor Crawford Loritts, from Atlanta, George, describe this concept of meditating almost like an alarm clock going off in another room, while you’re working in the house. It’s this persistent, “Bee-bee-bee-bee-beep! Bee-bee-bee-bee-beep!” It’s in the background, but it’s constant, and it’s just going and going and going. In the case of God’s word, it’s not annoying, right?
Have you ever watched a really compelling film or read a captivating novel of some sort? Even after it was over — after you’ve finished the book or after you’re done with the film — what were you thinking about? If it really grabbed your attention, you’re thinking about that story, that plot; you’re analyzing it. You’re thinking, “You know, if the character had done this instead of this, how would things have turned out differently?” You’re talking about it with your family or your friends. You’re playing certain scenes over and over in your mind. That’s meditation! You’re meditating on that film right at that moment. Well, God is telling us here that that kind of constant thinking about His word is characteristic of a righteous person.
You might say, “But Phil, it’s easy to spend all day thinking about a powerful movie, but when I read the Bible, it’s kinda boring, it’s a little dry. It’s harder to think about that all day.” Again, we’ll talk more about that in a moment, but for now, suffice it to say that this delighting in God’s word and meditating on God’s word that this righteous person is doing is actually an intention, conscious choice that he’s making.
So, no, not listening to the counsel of the wicked, but yes, choosing to meditate on God’s word. If you think about it, this is the Old Testament way of saying what the apostle Paul says in the New Testament when he talks about “putting off” certain sinful behaviors and “putting on” Christ-like character. If you want to look that up later, Ephesians chapter 4 or Colossians chapter 3 both have these pretty extensive passages talking about how to “put off” and “put on.”
Well, we see that here in Psalm 1. This is the Old Testament way of saying that same thing.
What follows in this psalm is a beautiful simile. Now, for this we have to go all the way back to your grade school English classes, or language, whatever you called it when you were in grade school. What is a simile? It’s a comparison between two things that uses what two words? Like or as, that’s right.
So if I say, “It’s as dry as a...” and you know it’s “dry as a bone.” Or “She’s as happy as a lark.” Right?
Incidentally (this is on the side here) similes can be written poorly or they can be written well. One smart aleck once wrote, “She grew on him like she was a colony of E. coli and he was room-temperature Canadian beef.” Nice!! Or this one: “John and Mary had never met. They were like two hummingbirds who had also never met.” How about this one: “She walked into my office like a centipede with 98 missing legs.” Not the most appropriate way to describe someone! That’s lovely. This simile is a bit literal: “He was as tall as a six-foot-three-inch tree.” Amazing! This one manages to get both “like” and “as” in it: “Her vocabulary was as bad as, like, whatever.” That’s brilliant!
Well, thankfully, when the Holy Spirit inspired this psalmist to write Psalm 1, he gave him a timeless comparison to use, and it’s a beautiful one. Verse 3, “He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither.”
You know, that is truly beautiful! This righteous person who does not walk, stand, or sit, this righteous person who does delight in and meditate on the word of God…is like a tree.
So what is this tree like? Well, it goes on.
First of all, it’s “planted by streams of water,” or as the King James say, “rivers of water.” C.H. Spurgeon commented on this, “Not a wild tree, but ‘a tree planted,’ chosen, considered as property, cultivated and secured from the last terrible uprooting, for ‘every plant, which my heavenly Father hath not planted shall be rooted up,’ Matthew 25:13.” And then, about the phrase, “By rivers of water,” he said, “...so that even if one river should fail, he hath another. The rivers of pardon and the rivers of grace, the rivers of the promise and the rivers of communion with Christ, are never-failing sources of supply.”
Second, we see that this tree is fruitful. This righteous person is receiving the blessing of God, right (that’s the first verse, “Blessed is the man who…”)? So he’s receiving the blessing of God, which produces in him fruit, which then blesses others. Think about that. God intends for us to pass on the blessing.
Notice, too, that this tree yields its fruit in the right season. There’s nothing more disappointing than a fruit that is from the wrong season.
I am a kid who grew up in the tropics. So I have very fond memories - for example, we had mango trees in our yard. At the right season, when the mangos were ready, I’d climb up in that tree with a book in one hand. I’d grab a mango in the other hand, and I’m sitting there trying not to drip mango juice into my book while I’m trying to read in the tree, you know? Fond memories! And that fruit! So sweet, so delicious. The strings would get stuck in my teeth, and I loved it.
Now, imagine my disappointment when I come to Michigan and I go to the store and I get a mango, and I’m telling you, more than half the time it’s disappointing. I mean, it’s this insipid, bland, flat-tasting excuse for a mango, really. Sometimes it’s even kind of getting brown on the inside...ugh!
I understand why it is. These fruit have to travel so far that they have to pick them when they’re too green, and it just doesn’t help the flavor of this fruit all that much. They’re out of season, right? These fruit are having to be picked too soon.
Not fruit from this tree. It’s yielding fruit in the right season. It’s the best kind of fruit.
Next, we see that its leaf does not wither. When you see a wilting, withering plant, what’s the first thing you think it might need? “Oh, it needs water,” right? It may or may not be the case; sometimes if it has too much water… But not this tree. This tree is planted by water. It’s drawing its nourishment from that plentiful supply. It’s fruitful. It’s blessing others. And it can withstand drought and wind and blight because it’s receiving all it needs from outside itself. In fact, it’s receiving what it needs from God himself, right? So this tree is strong and healthy.
Then, with a sort of umbrella statement about this righteous person, the psalmist sums it up by saying at the end of verse 3, “In all that he does, he prospers.” If it weren’t the word of God, I’d say, “This is unbelievable!” What a beautiful, beautiful picture; what a great analogy.
There’s one other thing that is true of the righteous person, and we find it in verse 6. “For the Lord knows the way of the righteous.” Ah, what a blessing to be known by God! This is an intimate knowledge. It’s also, we see, in the present tense. It’s not, “The Lord is going to know,” no; it’s not that the Lord knew; no, he knows! No matter what your way is at the moment, the Lord understands it. Right now! He knows the way of the righteous.
Now, how do we see Christ in this picture of the righteous person?
First of all, our righteousness is not our own. It is the righteousness of Jesus, imputed to our account. Secondly, Jesus is the only One who lived perfectly every aspect of this happy, blessed life that we see described here in Psalm 1. He perfectly avoided the counsel of the wicked. He never stood in the way of sinners. He never sat in the seat of scoffers. He completely delights in doing the law of the Lord, delighting in it, meditating on it. He constantly engaged in holy meditation on the Word. How else could he fight off the devil’s temptations by using Scripture?
He truly is our Tree of Life. Like the tree in the Garden of Eden, like the description of Lady Wisdom in Proverbs chapter 3, where it says that “she is a tree of life.” Like the trees the prophet Ezekiel saw growing next to the roaring river in the desert, whose leaves were for the healing of the nations, like the tree of life mentioned again in the book of Revelation. Jesus is our righteous, life-giving Tree, who (interestingly enough) gave up His life for us on a tree so that we might have life. So, Christ is the Righteous One, and He is our righteousness.
II. The Wicked
If that were not beautiful enough, now let’s apply the contrast the psalm has here, the contrast of the wicked.
Verse 4, “The wicked are not so, but are like chaff that the wind drives away. Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous; for the Lord knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish.”
So, first of all, “the wicked are not so.” Just that very simple little phrase tells us that everything that’s true about the righteous person is the opposite for the wicked, right?
So, the wicked do walk in the counsel of the ungodly, they do stand in the way of sinners, they do sit in the seat of scoffers. The wicked don’t delight in the law of the Lord. In fact, they delight in anything but God’s word. They don’t meditate on his law, ever.
Verse 4, then, also contains a simile, a descriptive comparison for the wicked: They’re like what? They’re like chaff.
Chaff is the unusable part of the grain. After the wheat had been threshed, they would winnow the grain. They would actually toss the kernels of grain in the air, and the lighter chaff would blow away. If there was no wind, they would actually use some kind of a fan or blow on it in some way to create this artificial breeze. Chaff.
The righteous person is like a living, fruit-bearing tree; the wicked are like useless chaff. Dead. Inedible. No life. Worthless. A bother. Not permanent. They’re quickly blown away, they’re lightweight, they’re of no value.
The contrast couldn’t be more clear. The lack of permanence or solid substance in the wicked will be seen most clearly in the day of judgment. We see that in verse 5. They “will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous.”
Again, Charles Spurgeon said, “Sinners cannot live in heaven. They would be out of their element. Sooner could a fish live upon a tree than the wicked in Paradise. Heaven would be an intolerable hell to an impenitent man even if he could be allowed to enter; but such a privilege shall never be granted to the man who perseveres in his iniquities. May God grant that we may have a name and a place in his courts above!”
Finally, the last, sobering clause of this psalm: “The way of the wicked will perish.” Mark it down. It will happen. Apart from the merciful intervention of God, the wicked are doomed to a torturous separation from everything good about him.
So, how do we see Christ in this description of the wicked? Well, of course, Christ is the solution to the sin problem. Left to ourselves, we’re all wicked, right? That’s Romans 3. We’re all born in sin. But John 3:16 reminds us that “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life.”
You see, Jesus actually became sin for us. He took our wickedness so we could have His righteousness. He suffered the winnowing judgment of God. He became like dead, worthless chaff so that we could become wholesome, fruitful grain.
Hallelujah! This is the gospel! It’s the most wonderful news there ever could be.
III. Question to Ponder
Now, thirdly, here are some questions we need to ponder as we close.
(1) First of all, which path are you on? The way of the wicked, or the way of the righteous? Which one is a better description of your life, of my life?
(2) Secondly, am I delighting in God’s word? Am I meditating on his word? Folks, we live in a day when everyone has their own little soapbox and their own little megaphone, and everybody’s shouting. There are so many messages out there. But how can we take that time to tune all those other voices out and listen to the one that matters most, the word of God?
A former boss of mine, Dennis Rainey, talks often about what he calls “putting the cookies on the lower shelf.” So, let me get really practical with you here; let me put the cookies on the lower shelf.
Read the word! Read your Bible. Read it! Can you commit to opening the word of God once a day for this year and just reading a portion? I don’t care - it doesn’t have to be hours and hours. It doesn’t have to be chapters, even. But read it.
Brent mentioned earlier the peach-colored — what color would you call that? I don’t know “pumpkin spice latte" — “15 Ways to Feed on the Word in 2019.” This is excellent! I’m just going to read a little bit of number one.
“Read through the Bible in a year.” This is just an idea. “Don’t write this off as overly difficult or too time-consuming. The Bible contains about 800,000 words, which the average person can read in just 54 hours, or about 8-10 minutes every day of the year.” I think we can find 8-10 minutes in our days. In contrast, it says, “Some surveys indicate that the average person spends 5 hours every day watching TV, plus another 1-2 hours on social media.”
Recently my phone started giving me messages. Just out of the blue it would say, “Your average screen time for the day is whatever,” you know, “this last week has been an hour,” or something like that. I’m like, “How, what? Am I spending that much time on my phone every day?” And I can tell you, usually it’s not reading the Bible, right?
(2) Secondly, meditate on it. Think about what you read. Mull it over in your mind as you’re going about your day. Don Whitney says it’s better to read for five minutes and then meditate on what you just read than to read for an hour and then forget about everything you read. So I commend this to you. This is an excellent article that Pastor Brian wrote on just different ways that you can be feeding on God’s word.
(3) A third and related question: How can I be more intentional about cultivating (and I use that word intentionally, very purposefully) my delight in God’s Word? It’s easy to forget that our loves and our delights can be shaped. It takes time, though. It takes time and intentionality. Maybe I need to reach for a Bible instead of reaching for my phone during a break at work. Or maybe I need to set my alarm for 20 minutes earlier in the morning, or maybe I need to turn off the TV and go to bed earlier the night before. Whatever it is, what can I do to intentionally cultivate my delight in God’s word?
(4) Another question to ask: What areas do I need to avoid because they’ll get me on that downward spiral away from God and away from righteousness? Is it an app on my phone that gets me in trouble? Is it a new route home so that I don’t pass the bar I used to frequent? A mom might say, “It’s my kids! They take me down the path toward anger every time I interact with them! How can I avoid my own children?!”
Well, you can’t avoid your family, but there may be some ways that you can start putting on the armor of God ahead of time, you know, to prepare for the spiritual warfare. Ephesians 6 - we’re not wrestling against flesh and blood, right? It’s not the kids who are really the enemy, or your spouse, or whatever. There are demonic forces at play, and we need to put on the armor of God.
(5) And then finally, how can I do a better job of transforming every moment into a mini worship service, as I think about how Jesus, the very Son of the God of the universe, became worthless chaff for me?
These are questions worth asking ourselves. May God grant us the strength to face 2019 in his power, and defeat on his word.
Let’s pray together.
Oh Lord, we do confess to you that, in and of ourselves, we are unable to live out this righteous path of life on our own. We need your help, we need your grace, and we thank you so much for providing that to us in Christ.
Thank you for the mercy you’ve given us. You haven’t left us hopelessly stuck in the way of the wicked. Thank you, Jesus, for what you have done for us, and we do ask that in this coming year we would spend the time to meditate on and to delight in your word. In Jesus’s name we pray, Amen.