Blessed is the Man (Psalm 1)
Sermon Video: https://fb.watch/451_j0oMW_/
(Marc interviews Ryan: 17:00-28:00)
Sermon Discussion Questions:
- What stood out to you most?
- What was Ryan's point about the importance of poetry? (not only informing the mind but capturing our imaginations)
- Ryan explained that Psalm 1 lays out two paths for us: the path of the blessed and the path of the wicked. What defined each path?
- What are common areas in your life where you are tempted to walk in the path of the wicked?
- What did Ryan say the "springs of water" represent in the psalm?
- Reflect on Ryan's diagnostic questions. Which of these would you like to grow in most? "Do you set apart time to read and think about the Scriptures (whatever that might look like at this stage of your life)? Do you memorize, recite to yourself, and think about God’s word throughout the day? Or is your morning devotion something to be checked off and forgotten about? Do you take seriously the opportunities you have to gather together and sit under the teaching of God’s word week by week, on Sunday mornings, at your small groups? Or are you just waiting for the sermon to be over. Parents, do you teach the Scriptures to your children? Do you talk about them when you wake up, when you lie down, when you drive in the car, when you sit at home?"
- Who is the "man" of Psalm 1? (Re-read the final paragraph before the application). How does this affect how you read the psalms? "Psalm 1, as with all the psalms, as with all of Scripture, is about Jesus first and foremost. Jesus said that the Law, Prophets, and Psalms, were about him (Lk. 24). And yet, if you are a follower of Jesus, then this Psalm is also about you. Jesus says, “Deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow me...” He has marked out the pathway ahead of us. He is the great pioneer of our faith. We see in his life and in his death what it means to avoid the path of the wicked and to walk in God’s instruction. We are to follow him, to pattern our lives after him."
Ryan Sikes was our guest preacher today. Ryan is a missionary with Wycliffe Bible Translators who our church has recently begun to support. For more information on Ryan and Whitney's ministry, click here. Below is Ryan's manuscript from the sermon on Psalm 1:
Picture a mansion – a very old mansion. It is one that Christians have been living in for thousands of years. Jesus himself lived this mansion, as did the Israelite people before him, for generations, since the time of King David. This mansion is the book of Psalms. Now imagine an entrance to this mansion – an outdoor garden entrance, with a pathway running through it and a great fruit tree in the middle of it. This entrance to the mansion is Psalm 1. St. Jerome, the famous Bible translator (4th-5th century), who translated the Bible into Latin many centuries ago, called Psalm 1 “the main entrance to the mansion of the Psalms.” Now imagine, at the head of this garden entrance, with its pathway and tree – imagine a banner. And on the banner, are the words “Blessed is the man.”
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.
- Psalm 1
I would like to read another translation of Psalm 1 – a poetic translation.
One of the reasons the Psalms have been especially loved by Christians throughout the years – why so many have chosen to live in this mansion of the Psalms, is that the Psalms communicate with such beauty and power. The Psalms are poetry. And, as poetry, the Psalms are full of pictures and sounds and intricate structures. In other words, the mansion is not a simple, rugged, purely functional place to live. It has been designed with such intricacy and artistry down to the smallest detail – the finest materials and the best architects and builders in the world were involved in the construction of this mansion, as well its garden entrance. It is this beauty of the Psalms, as poetry, that makes them so attractive and so powerful. The Psalms are meant, not only to inform our minds, but to transform our imaginations.
We can see just from our reading of Psalm 1 that the Psalms are full of images – trees and pathways, chaff; elsewhere we read about shepherds and sheep, fortresses and thunderstorms. The Psalms don’t just tell us about God and the Christian life – they show us. They invite us to “taste and see that the Lord is good.”
And the poetic nature of the Psalms isn’t limited to imagery. The Psalms were originally written in Hebrew, and in Hebrew they are full of beautiful sounds – there is a certain rhythm and cadence to the words.
So, here is a poetic translation of Psalm 1 that I wrote which attempts to capture something of this beauty.
Here’s to the man
Who has not walked in bad advice,
Has not stood in a path of vice,
Has not dwelt in a land of lies.
But in the teaching of the Lord is his delight;
On his teaching does he dwell by day and night
He is like a tree of life planted by fresh flowing streams.
Fruit in season! Leaves unfading!
Always blooming! Ever green!
Here are the wicked
Like chaff – by wind they’re driven away.
So, they will not stand on Judgment day.
Against the just, they’ll have no say.
Because Yahweh knows the way of the just
The wicked’s way will wind up lost.
So, let us together step into this Psalm – this entrance into the mansion of the Psalms – to explore and admire and, by God’s grace, experience his transforming power. Our survey of Psalm 1 can be summed up in three words.
(1) A Pathway
(2) A Tree
(3) A Man
Psalm 1 begins with the image of a pathway. V. 1: “Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, nor stand in the pathway of sinners, nor sit in the seat of scoffers” (v. 1). Note also how the Psalm ends with this same image: “The Lord knows the pathway of the righteous; but the pathway of the wicked will perish” (v. 6). The pathway runs right through this garden entrance from beginning to end.
This last word of the psalm (“perish”), in Hebrew, is a word that can also mean “to become lost.” There is a play on words here. The pathway of the wicked “gets lost” as it wanders off in the wrong direction; and so, the wicked “perish/comes to an end.” It’s also worth noting that this last word (“perish”) in Hebrew begins with the last letter of the Hebrew alphabet, whereas the first word of the Psalm (“blessed”) begins with the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet. The Psalm starts with A and ends with Z. In between, we’re given everything we need to know – the A to Z so to speak.
So, we have this image of a pathway. But notice that the psalm presents us, not just with one pathway, but actually with two. Look again at verse 6: “The Lord knows the way of the righteous; but the way of the wicked will perish.” There is the pathway of the righteous, or the “blessed,” and there is the pathway of the “wicked.” This word translated “blessed,” the word that in Hebrew begins with “A” is pronounced ashre (אשרי). The word translated “wicked” is the word rasha (רשע). It’s the same sounds in reverse ashre-rasha (אשרי - רשע). The “blessed” and the “wicked” are complete opposites. The two pathways – the pathway of the blessed (אשרי) and the pathway of the righteous (רשע) and headed in opposite directions.
Now, what is it that makes these two pathways so different from one another? Look at v. 2. (v. 1, “Blessed is the man who doesn’t walk in the counsel of the wicked...) but in the Law of the Lord is his delight.” The law of the Lord is the defining difference between the two paths. The blessed man is someone to be celebrated, because he walks, not according to the advice of the wicked, but according to the law of the Lord.
What is “the law of the Lord”? When we hear “law” we think legal requirements (“You shall not…”), but often in the Bible, “law” means something like “teaching” or “guidance” (like the life lessons a father imparts to his son). This “teaching” or “guidance” of the Lord is what guides the man on his pathway – it points the way for him to walk. He doesn’t listen to the guidance (“counsel”) of the wicked (v. 1). Instead, he listens to the guidance of the Lord (v. 2), and that is what sets his course. That is what determines his pathway. The Scriptures, you see, (the teaching of the Lord) are like a road map, a GPS, a set of directions, for life’s journey. In the Scriptures, God points the way to the path of blessing and life – he guides us. The blessed man of Psalm 1 loves this direction, and he meditates on it by day and by night – he reads it, memorizes it, recites it, and thinks about it; it’s always on his lips and in his mind and on his heart. The wicked, on the other hand, don’t follow this direction – they scoff at it, and so they get lost (or perish) on their pathway, while the blessed man journeys on.
What does this mean, practically speaking? Some of you are facing big decisions in your life journey. Say you’re about to leave your hometown and go off to college. Beware of the counsel of the wicked. Sometimes the counsel of the wicked is patently and obviously wicked on its face. Partying, drunkenness, sex outside of marriage, being cruel to someone – these are certainly things that mark the pathway of the wicked – things you will encounter and must avoid. But sometimes the counsel of the wicked is more subtle and the pathway of the wicked less recognizable. We are told, for example, that your highest goal in life should be to land a nice career, make a lot of money, buy a nice house, and live as comfortably and as safely as you can. This is the American dream, right? This is the counsel of the wicked; this is the path that leads to destruction. What does the instruction of the Lord say? “Whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?” (Mk. 8:35-36). Let the instruction of the Lord be your guide on life’s journey.
Now, in the middle of the Psalm, sandwiched between the image of the two pathways (vv. 1, 6), is a tree (v. 3). The man who follows God’s direction, who lets God’s word guide his steps, becomes like a “tree planted by streams of water.” Now, the phrase translated “streams of water” doesn’t refer to a natural stream (like a river), but to an artificial channel – an irrigation canal. In other words, what we have here is not a picture of a tree out in the wild, but a picture of a tree in a garden, intentionally planted and cultivated by a gardener – the Lord himself. This is a picture of the garden of Eden, and the tree of life in the midst of the garden.
There’s one other thing to note about this phrase “streams of water” – in Hebrew these words sound a lot like the words in v. 2 “meditates by day and by night.” We’re meant to make a connection: the irrigation canal that nourishes the tree and make it grow and produce fruit is meditation on the instruction of the Lord. So, the teaching of the Lord is not only a roadmap to guide us on our pathway, but also an irrigation canal. When we meditate on the Lord’s instruction, we are like a tree drinking up nourishing water, growing, bearing fruit, putting out leaves, and flourishing – “which yields its fruit in its season; its leaf does not wither; in all that he does he prospers.” … Think of all the good that comes from a tree. Trees are sources of shade, shelter, fruit, nuts, oil for cooking and lighting lamps; even the leaves of some trees could be used for medicine. When we meditate on the Lord’s instruction, we become productive people who bring benefit to those around us and cause all that we do to flourish.
In the next verse (v. 4), we find another agricultural image. “The wicked are not so” (v. 4). “Instead, they are like chaff that the wind drives away” (v. 4b). When you harvest grain, the kernels of grain are mixed with husks and straw – this is the chaff. What you do, then, is, when there is a breeze, toss the mixture of grain and chaff up in the air. The heavier grain will fall back to the ground, and the chaff will blow away in the wind. Chaff, unlike the tree, is lightweight, worthless, and short-lived. This is because the wicked are not rooted in God’s instruction. They do not drink from the channels of God’s Word, and so they do not grow, they are not productive, they are not truly successful. The wind drives them away.
Friends, are you rooted in the nourishing waters of God’s Word? Do you set apart time to read and think about the Scriptures (whatever that might look like at this stage of your life)? Do you memorize, recite to yourself, and think about God’s word throughout the day? Or is your morning devotion something to be checked off and forgotten about? Do you take seriously the opportunities you have to gather together and sit under the teaching of God’s word week by week, on Sunday mornings, at your small groups? Or are you just waiting for the sermon to be over. Parents, do you teach the Scriptures to your children? Do you talk about them when you wake up, when you lie down, when you drive in the car, when you sit at home? This is how God intends for you to grow and flourish. This is what will make you a truly productive – a truly successful person. The key to a successful life, in the Biblical sense of success, is continuous (day and night) meditation on God’s Word.
Now, if we’re honest, none of us fit the description of Ps. 1 very well. We have all, at times, walked in the counsel of the wicked; we have stood in the path of sinners and sat in the seat of scoffers. We have failed, in many ways, to walk in the instruction of the Lord – to let Scripture guide what we think, say, and do. Is Psalm 1, then, merely holding up an ideal standard to which we all must strive and inevitably fail to reach? When the psalm tells us, “Blessed is the man” most of us assume this is referring to us, or at least something that we should be. Some translations even translate this with “Blessed are those…” or something of the like, in order to make clear that the Psalm can apply to anyone, not just men or just to one man. But what if the Psalm is about a specific man – a real, historic individual – who fits this description? Is there such a man? And if so, who is he? Who is this man here at the entrance to the book of Psalms?
We find some clues to that question in Psalm 1 itself. In v. 3, “the man” is compared to a tree. Oftentimes in the Bible and in the ancient world, trees are symbols of royalty. For example, in the book of Daniel, King Nebuchadnezzar is compared to a great tree that gives shelter and puts out fruit (Dan. 4). Could it be that “the man” of Ps. 1 is a king? There is another clue in v. 2; “in the teaching of the Lord is his delight.” If you read the book of Deuteronomy, you’ll find a description of what Israel’s king is supposed to be like. He’s not to be like other kings. He’s not to have a bunch of horses, or a bunch of wives, or a bunch of gold. Instead, he’s to do one thing – meditate on the law of the Lord and walk according to God’s direction (Deut. 17:18f). And there is yet another clue that points in this direction. Psalm 1 is followed by Psalm 2. And just as the main character of Ps. 1 is “the man,” the main character of Ps. 2 is the king. So, it seems as though the blessed man of Ps. 1 is not just any man, but a king.
Now the question becomes, who is this king? We find an answer to this question as we look at the rest of the book of Psalms. The book of Psalms, we have to understand, is not like our hymnal – a loose collection of songs ordered by topic or date or some alphabetic order. The book of Psalms is a book with a plotline; these Psalms are ordered so as to tell a story. Psalm 1 is an introduction to that story, and the words “Blessed is the man” are a like a title to that story.
Some have suggested that “the man” of Psalm 1 is King David. After all, David wrote about half of the Psalms! It would only be appropriate for the introductory Psalm of this book to be about David, the Psalmist. In Psalm 18, David even says, “I have kept the pathways of the Lord; I have not wickedly departed from my God.” In the next Psalm (Psalm 19), David celebrates God’s instruction – “the instruction of the Lord is pure, reviving the soul.” It sounds as though David is “the man” of Psalm 1
But then we come to Ps. 51, “a psalm of David, when Nathan the prophet came to him after he went to Bath-Sheba.” This alludes to the time when King David committed adultery and committed murder to cover it up. He failed to walk on the path of God’s instruction. And this failure ultimately led to the fall of kingdom. The following psalms (52-70) describe David’s fall, until we come to Psalm 71, in which David is an old man about to die and finally to Psalm 72, where David’s son, Solomon, becomes king. Ps. 72 ends with the words, “the prayers of David, son of Jesse, are ended.” David, son of Jesse, is not “the man” of Psalm 1.
But there is hope for David’s descendants. In Ps. 72, David prays for the success of his son Solomon. “I have failed to walk in the teaching of the Lord. But may the Lord bless you, my son, and may you walk in his teaching.” And yet, Solomon also fails, and so does his son, and so does his son, and his son after him, until the people are taken into exile and there is no longer a king on the throne. Psalm 89 laments, “you (Lord) have defiled the king’s crown in the dust.” But Ps. 89 also gives a glimmer of hope. The Lord will keep his promises to David, and there will be king who walks blamelessly on the pathway of God’s instruction.
And, so, we keep reading, in search of “the man.” Then we come to Psalm 101, and we are met with a surprise: Psalm 101 is headed with the words, “A Psalm of David.” I thought the prayers of David were ended (according to Ps. 72), yet here is a prayer of David? … Ps 72 says that the prayers of David, son of Jesse are ended. This David, in Ps. 101, must a different David, not the son of Jesse – a new David. And here’s what he has to say, “I will ponder the pathway that is blameless… I will walk with integrity of heart… I will not set before my eyes anything that is worthless. I hate the work of those who fall away; it shall not cling to me. A perverse heart shall be far from me; I will know nothing of evil.” This new David, in other words, does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, nor stand in the way of sinners, nor sit in the seat of scoffers. He will “know nothing of evil” and walk by God’s instruction.
As we continue on the story, we find in Ps. 109 that this righteous descendant of David – this new David, will suffer and be condemned as a criminal, even though he is innocent. But Ps. 109 is followed by Ps. 110, where the righteous king is vindicated by God and made to rule over the whole world. God says to him, “Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.”
This king, brothers and sisters – this new David – is the Lord Jesus Christ. He is “the man” of Psalm 1 – the man who did not walk in the counsel of the wicked, nor stand in the way of sinners, nor sit in the seat of scoffers. Instead, he delighted in his Father’s instruction and meditated on it by day and by night. He said, “Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from God’s mouth,” and “my food is to do the will of him who sent me.” When his own disciple said to him, “Far be it from you Lord, to suffer and die!” he said, “Get behind me Satan! For you are not setting your mind on the things of God but on the things of man.” “He was obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” And by his death on a tree, he has become a tree of life to us, giving shade and shelter, giving nourishing fruit, giving healing medicine – the forgiveness of your sins according to the riches of his grace. Come and take refuge under this tree. “Blessed are all who take refuge in him.” Come and eat of its fruit – “take, eat; this is my body given for you. This fruit of the vine is the new covenant in my blood.” Come and celebrate the Lord Jesus and what he has done for you – “Blessed is the man.”
What does this Psalm mean for us? Psalm 1, as with all the psalms, as with all of Scripture, is about Jesus first and foremost. Jesus said that the Law, Prophets, and Psalms, were about him (Lk. 24). And yet, if you are a follower of Jesus, then this Psalm is also about you. Jesus says, “Deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow me...” He has marked out the pathway ahead of us. He is the great pioneer of our faith. We see in his life and in his death what it means to avoid the path of the wicked and to walk in God’s instruction. We are to follow him, to pattern our lives after him.
So, in closing, let me ask you, which pathway are you walking on? Are you following the blessed man? Or are you following the crowds down the path of the wicked, listening to what the world says about how you should live your life? Are you guided by what the world says about success, about purpose, about money, about sex and marriage, about happiness? Or are you guided by God’s instruction? Do you delight in this instruction? Do you love the Scriptures? Do you meditate on them day and night, as you get up and go to work, as you care for your family, as you make decisions? As you look down the pathway you’re walking, do you see Jesus ahead of you and your church family beside you? Or are you lost in a crowd and headed for destruction.
The pathway of the blessed man is not an easy one. Jesus said, “enter through the narrow gate, because the gate is wide and the pathway is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the pathway is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.” Commitment to God’s instruction and to God’s will led Jesus to his death. It will no doubt bring you suffering as well. “All who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” The world hates the path of God’s instruction. Yet it is the path that leads to life and true flourishing.
Tomorrow, as you go about your day at work, at home, at school, you will face a fork in the road – two pathways. Will you listen to the counsel of the wicked? Or will you listen to the teaching of the Lord? Will you follow the blessed man?