On Psalm 1 – True Happiness

May 26, 2006

By Steve Owen

The first Psalm is not placed at the beginning by chance. It is generally agreed that it is both an introduction to the Psalms and a synopsis, not only of the Book of Psalms but also of the message of the whole Bible. Although this Psalm was written more than two and a half thousand years ago, it deals with a question that men and women are still asking today: “How can I be happy?” And the Bible, and Psalm 1 in particular, claims to have the answer. ‘Blessed (Or ‘happy’) is the man…….’

The word ‘blessed’ suggests a particular sort of happiness- a fixed state. Most people can be happy for short periods. They meet with friends and laugh and joke together, or they indulge themselves in their favourite hobby and forget their troubles. But when it’s all over, the troubles and sadnesses of life come flooding back into the mind and that moment of happiness and contentment is gone. In his book, Down and Out in London and Paris, George Orwell described the condition of some of the down-and-outs of Paris. He tells how they would meet together in a bar on a Friday night and pool their money together to buy some cheap wine. Then one of them might produce an accordion and they would sing bawdy songs, and another one would dance on the table while the others clapped. But then the bottle was empty, the bar closed, the wine tasted sour in their mouths and in their stomachs, their heads ached, their pockets were empty ‘and they remembered how miserable they were.’ No; ‘blessedness’ suggests to me a fixed state of happiness that circumstances cannot alter. Surely that is what everyone desires, and this Psalmist (we don’t know who he was) claims to know how to get it.

v1. 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.’

The psalm starts with a negative. ‘Blessed is the man who walks not…..’ This is not always popular today. The modern man wants a quick fix: “Just give me something to stop it hurting, Doc!” There is no shortage of plasters or band-aids to put upon a troubled or guilty conscience today; a bottle of something is usually to hand, and the flick of a switch will give the choice of a hundred or more television channels to distract the unhappy or anxious mind. But the Bible, like a good doctor, is not interested in quick fixes. It puts its finger on the source of the problem in order to make an accurate diagnosis. The patient may not want to hear it, but the diagnosis, however unwelcome, is the most essential part of the doctor’s work, and there is not likely to be a cure without it.

So the truly happy or blessed man is one who ‘Walks not in the counsel of the ungodly’ (or ‘wicked’- NKJV margin). We should not listen to worldly philosophies. How often we hear someone say, “Ah! But science has disproved the Bible.” At one time it was archaeology that was supposed to have disproved the Bible, and before that, literary criticism; and yet the Bible is still unchanged, though scientific theories come and go like the weather. Nor should we listen to philosophers themselves. They all have one thing in common; they are all dead, or very soon will be. Their thoughts and their wisdom cannot cope with man’s greatest problem- death. Moreover, one philosopher contradicts another and new thoughts supersede old, only to be discarded themselves in a little while. ‘For all the Athenians and the foreigners who were there spent their time in nothing else but either to tell or to hear some new thing’ (Acts 17:21 ). The word of God is constant: ‘I am the Lord, and I change not!’ (Mal 3:6 ).

The next thing to avoid is ‘standing in the path of sinners.’ If we would be happy, we must avoid the way of the world, and that specious philosophy that says, ‘It doesn’t matter what you do, just as long as you don’t hurt anybody else,’ as if each man or woman were an island and our every action did not inevitably affect other people. The ‘Permissive Society’ has given us the scourges of AIDS and S.T.D.s. The appalling toll of the former is well known, but the latter is rampant in the U.K. today and is causing thousands of women to be unable to bear children. Moreover, huge numbers of children are growing up without their fathers and millions more have been slaughtered in the womb without even a chance of life. Drug abuse has multiplied the number of people with psychiatric problems and is the cause of a high proportion of crime today. Excessive drinking reduces whole families to poverty and is increasing the incidence of cirrhosis, putting further strain on the Health Service. Everything we do affects others as wel as ourselves. But even if you were to find some totally solitary sin that no one else had even an inkling of, there is still One who sees, and He will hold you accountable for every deed. ‘For the eyes of the Lord are in every place, keeping watch on the evil and the good’ (Prov 15:3 ).

Thirdly, do not ‘sit in the seat of the scornful’ (NIV ‘mockers, possibly ‘scoffers’). Now we all need to have our pomposity pricked from time to time, and there is certainly a legitimate use of irony, but this refers to those who have no thoughts or philosophy of their own, but pour scorn on anything good or noble or worthwhile. Nothing is sacred, nothing is admirable; everything is to be laughed at and mocked- God included. How clever it all is, how facile! But these people know nothing tender, nothing precious, nothing noble or admirable, nothing beautiful or worth dying for; all that is left to them is a bit of a giggle at other people’s expense.

Is there a sort of ‘Rake’s Progress’ in verse one? Surely there is. We go from walking to standing to sitting. A man starts off just listening to these things, at it were, in passing and he thinks to himself, “Oh, very amusing, but it doesn’t affect me personally;” but soon he is standing and listening and taking in the poison, until before he knows it, he is there, sitting in the midst of these people, every bit as bad as the worst of them.

‘Bad company is a disease,
Who lies with dogs shall rise with fleas.’

v2. ‘But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and in His law he meditates day and night.’

Having stated the negative, the Psalmist now turns to the positive. The happy or blessed person is one who trusts and relies and rejoices in God’s word. It is his touchstone. Every new idea or philosophy he filters through the Bible. ‘To the law and to the testimony! If they do not speak according to this word, it is because there is no light in them’ (Isaiah 8:20 ). And this is not some fearful or negative thing, thinking, “Oh, I suppose I’d better try to live up to this thing or God will get me.” Not at all! ‘His delight is in the law of the Lord.’ It is the non-Christian who says, “This is a hard teaching; who can accept it?” (John 6:60 ). But to the Christian, ‘ yoke is easy and burden is light’ (Matt 11:30 ), or again, ‘His commandments are not grievous.’ The Bible tells me how I can be right with God. Philosophy, no matter how clever, comes up against the cold, hard fact of death. The Bible tells me that death shall have no dominion over me. Christ has died in my stead, taken the punishment that I deserve, and in this book, He calls me to follow Him through this world and into the world to come. If we believe His word, surely it is no hardship to follow such a wonderful Saviour?

Someone might say, “Well, I try to read the Bible, but it’s so dry and hard to understand.” Well, pray about it and ask God to help you. Buy a commentary or borrow one and let that help you. Listen to the preached word in church and see how the preacher approaches the text. As the Pastor or church Leader about parts you don’t understand. But above all, don’t stand in judgement on the word; let it judge you! Don’t say, “This doesn’t fit in with my Socialism or Capitalism or Feminism or any other –ism.” If it does, then your –ism is wrong; change that!

v3. ‘He shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that brings forth its fruit in its season, whose leaf does not wither; and whatever he does shall prosper.’

What is this blessedness that comes to the one who loves and listens to the word of God? ‘He shall be like a tree, planted…’ Not a wild tree, but one that is planted; chosen, selected, cultivated, and secured, as Spurgeon says, from that last terrible uprooting. “Every plant that My heavenly Father has not planted shall be uprooted” (Matt 15:13 ). The Christian is planted firm and he will never be uprooted. Let sickness come, poverty, betrayal, bereavement; none of them can ultimately shake the true Christian, because His house is built upon a rock, and that rock is Christ. “Therefore whoever hears these sayings of Mine and does them, I will liken him to a wise man who built his house upon a rock; and the rain descended, the floods came and the winds blew and beat upon that house, and it did not fall, for it was founded on the rock” (Matt 7:24-25 ). Whatever life throws at us- and a Christian goes through many tribulations (Acts 14:22 )- we know that we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken (Heb 12:28 ).

‘Whose leaf does not wither.’ The Christian is like an evergreen tree; our leaves do not drop off- our profession does not fail- at the first wintry blast, not because of us but because of God who strengthens us. The Christian is a ‘man for all seasons’ and he ‘brings forth fruit’ at the appropriate time. What sort of fruit? Fruit of the Spirit! ‘Love joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, self-control’ (Gal 5:22 ). Nothing can cheat us of our reward. ‘Whatever he does shall prosper.’ This must not be taken in a crassly literal sense. The Lord Jesus said, “In this world you will have tribulations. Be of good cheer! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33 ). We will have disappointments and sadnesses, but they will turn out ultimately to be for our own good. The Psalmist declares, ‘It is good for me that I have been afflicted, that I may learn Your statutes’ (Psalm 119:67 ). Yes, even the very worst things can be turned to blessings for the Christian (Rom 8:28 ). Let us determine, therefore, that we shall be those whose delight is in the law of the Lord.

For look at the alternative!

vs 4-5. ‘The ungodly are not so, but are like the chaff which the wind drives away. Therefore the ungodly shall not stand in the judgement, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous.’

Notice that the Psalmist doesn’t compare the ungodly to another sort of tree. Christians aren’t like non-Christians except that they have a little something extra. No, it’s like the difference between chalk and cheese. The godly are likened to a tree planted with roots running deep down into the soil.; the ingodly to chaff, light and insubstantial that the wind blows first one way, then another- no roots, no foundation- like the house built upon the sand.

Now what is chaff? Chaff is what remains when you take the grain out after winnowing and threshing the corn. The grain is the kernel and round it is the husk, the covering, and in the process of winnowing you remove the kernel which is the valuable food source and what is left is the worthless chaff. So why are men and women miserable without God? Because of what they have lost. They have lost their kernel; they are lost souls. God made man righteous for fellowship with Himself, but man has fallen and in that fall he has lost the best part of himself. All that is left in a sense is this empty husk or chaff.

Look at this world, and the men and women in it. Do you think that God made them as they are at present? There is fighting and killing here, drinking, drug-taking and fornicating there. Do you suppose that this is how man was when God pronounced creation, ‘very good’? Of course not! These people are lost! If you don’t know God today then you are lost. You are like the chaff, blown hither and thither, whose fate is to be swept up and burned.

For make no mistake, ‘The ungodly shall not stand in the judgement.’ Surely this must be the scariest verse in the Bible. The day is coming when God will have had His fill of this world and its sin, and He will call it to judgement. How will you stand on that day? You cannot stand! The bible says that, ‘All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.’ You cannot stand! You need a Saviour- Someone to stand between you and the righteous anger of a holy God. You need an ark, a city of refuge; you need Jesus Christ who says, “Look to Me all you ends of the earth and be saved!” Look to Him, see Him bleeding and dying on the cross, taking upon Himself all the punishment that you deserve, believe and trust that it was even for such a sinner as you that He died and you will find Him a perfect refuge today and always.

v6. ‘For the Lord knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the ungodly shall perish.’

The Lord knows your way if you are clothed with the righteousness of Christ. This is that wonderful biblical use of the word ‘know’- to know intimately with love. You are never out of His sight, and He looks upon you with love because His precious, only-begotten Son has died to save you. ‘The way of the ungodly shall perish,’ but there is hope even for the most wicked of sinners. ‘For so God loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whoever believes on Him should not perish but have everlasting life’ (John 3:16 ). Jesus Christ said, “I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” Whoever you are; whatever life you’ve lived, He can wash away your sins in His own blood. There is no need to perish. Go to Him now in repentance and faith.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: