The Word Made Fresh
(Book 1: Psalms 1-41)
1Those whom God rewards do not follow the counsel of the wicked,
or stand around with sinners,
or join in the talk of those who make fun of the faithful.
2Instead, those whom God rewards take delight in the LORD’s ways,
and study the LORD’s laws day and night.
3They are like trees planted beside pools of water,
putting forth their fruit in the right season,
their leaves always fresh and green.
They prosper in everything they do.
4But those who are wicked won’t fare so well.
They are like litter being blown by the wind.
5And that is why the wicked will not escape judgment,
and sinners will not be part of the congregation of the faithful.
6The LORD watches over the path trod by those who are faithful,
but the path of those who are wicked will be swept away.
The Book of Psalms is a distinctly different kind of literature from what we have seen thus far in the Bible. Each psalm stands on its own. There is no continuity from one to the next. Each day brings a new and fresh look at life and at God and at history and at creation.
There are 150 psalms. Contemporary practice is to acknowledge that they were arranged in 5 collections, referred to as books. In some English versions, then, you will see the heading “Book 1 (Psalms 1-41)” just before Psalm 1. Each of the five collections ends with a “doxology” (“word of praise”) that honors God, ascribes eternity to God, and ends with the “Amen.”
The book of Psalms is the prayer book of Israel and the hymn book of Israel, but it is so much more. It is a spiritual journal. It is a faith perspective into the human condition. It is a book of instructions for the quest of holiness. It is a window that looks inward to the soul, and outward to the ways of God.
1-3: There are two words in the book of Psalms that are often translated “blessed.” The first is “esher” (which begins the first verse of Psalm 1), which communicates uprightness – that is, living a life that God chooses to reward. The second is “barak” (which occurs in the last verse of Psalm 41), which refers to a posture of kneeling or prostrating oneself. Many modern translations choose to translate “esher” as “happy.” I regret that choice; “happy” is a state that depends upon happenstance, and that is not true to the meaning of the opening line of Psalm 1. Rather, the person being described here possesses a quality that has nothing to do with what is going on in his or her life at the present moment. It is a quality that is grown through a lifetime of persistently acknowledging and submitting to the rule of God.
How do we attain such a blessed state? First, we do so by turning away from the advice of the wicked, from the path of the sinner, and from the posture of scoffers. By “scoffers” it means those who treat spiritual practices and faith in God with disdain and ridicule. Second, we do so by being deliberate in practicing the things of God. Through this dual approach of self-denial and self-giving we receive constant nourishment and are productive in the things God gives us to do.
4-6: The second half of the Psalm is a warning: those who turn away from the things of God will be left out of the community that God claims as a God’s own. The sentiment is not quite as naïve as that expressed by Job’s friends, for example, that wicked people are sure to perish. Here it is the way of the wicked that will ultimately fail, and I think that is a wiser assessment of the way God manages the world.
There are basically two ways of journeying through this life. One is to seek and do what God wants of us. The other is to seek and do what we want for ourselves. The Psalm is clear about which way is best.