Series on the Psalms, General Introduction and Psalm 1, Text: Psalm 1, Title: Life with God

GENERAL INTRODUCTION

The Book of Psalms is the Songbook of Israel. It is the original hymnal. The titles of the Psalms include three designations in the Greek translation of the Old Testament. They are called either Psalms, or Hymns, or Spiritual Songs. The Apostle Paul in Colossians 3:16 and Ephesians 5:19, specifically commands the singing of these lyrics. One cannot ignore the fact that the hymnal of the early Church consisted mainly of these inspired Old Testament songs. The argument that one may sing other hymns of human composition maintains that the New Testament refers to fresh compositions for worship as in I Corinthians 14:26. The New Testament also contains psalms and hymns of praise from the Gospels through the Book of Revelation (Luke 1:46-53, Revelation 4:8,11, 5:9,10,12,13). People who believe this generally interpret Paul’s admonition to mean that there is a wide range of musical expression appropriate to the New Covenant Church. Those who oppose this view point out that in Ephesians the command to sing Psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs is preceded by the admonition to be filled with the Spirit and in Colossians Paul precedes this command by saying let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly and both of these suggest only inspired songs. Also, in Colossians these songs are to be used for teaching and admonishment, and in the New Testament teaching and admonishment are always done with Scriptural authority. Volumes have been written on this and we shall not settle the question here, but the neglect of the Psalms in worship is widespread and damaging for several reasons.
1) Even if the Scripture allows other musical compositions as the product of the New Covenant Age, the  command of Scripture includes the use of the Psalter or book of Psalms. This does not mean that the Psalms have to be sung in the format of the Old Scottish metrical Psalter. It may contain beautiful music but that particular form of musical expression is not Biblically mandated. For example those paying attention have recognized that original compositions by one of our own members include some songs setting the words and sentiments of the Psalms in a modern musical idiom which greatly aids the profound expression of these truths. The point stands that God has commanded the use of  His inspired songs in worship.
2) The Westminster Confession of Faith defines worship as including the singing of Psalms in Chapter XXI, Religious Worship and the Sabbath Day.
3) The General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America has advised all churches that they ought to sing at least one Psalm in Sabbath worship and that it should be identified as a Psalm.
4) Perhaps the most important consideration is that the Hebrew books of poetry which mainly comprise the third division of the Hebrew Bible after the law and the prophets, also designated as the Hagiographa, or the writings, have a specific purpose in God’s plan. The law declares God’s will for those in covenant relationship to Him. The Prophets call the people back to the law with threatenings and promises, but the Psalms, Proverbs and wisdom literature have the specific purpose of demonstrating the application of the law to the life of the believer. They therefore encompass all the trials and tribulations, the sufferings and struggles, and all the victories and defeats. They contain all the prayers and praises that emanate from the human experience when we attempt to live out our covenant relationship to God in this sinful world. To ignore this inspired commentary on what it means to be a child of God in actual practice is to encourage a shallow and meaningless Christian experience. The superficiality of much modern Christianity, what C. T. Studd would have called the Chocolate solider syndrome, is a symptom of a Christian piety that has not wrestled with the profound issues of the Psalms.

Introduction

Now the first Psalm is widely acknowledge to be the preface Psalm. That is, it sums up the whole purpose of the Psalter. The editors of the New Geneva Bible maintain that Psalm 2 is also an introductory Psalm and we shall consider that in our next study. However, here in this study, as we look at Psalm 1 I wish to invite you to see the Biblical meaning of blessedness. Since the entire Book of Psalms is focused on modeling life according to the Scripture and practicing the wisdom of God, it is appropriate that the title Psalm emphasizes Man’s true happiness. Indeed John Trapp says of this Psalm that it says more about true happiness than all of the philosophers of this world put together. He says they just beat the bushes, but the Psalmist puts the bird in our hand. True happiness then consists of two basic things, according to this Psalm: Having God’s approval and Heeding God’s Advice.

I Having God’s Approval.

Psalm 1:1,  Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked . The Bible does not mean by blessedness what most sinners mean when they use the term happiness. They are talking about a subjective state of pleasure or satisfaction. This is fleeting and changes with circumstances. Blessedness does not. Blessedness is an objective state. It means being in a relationship to God and having his approval.  To understand this we must look to the end of the Psalm. It tells us that the godly will stand in the day of judgment whereas the ungodly will not, Not so the wicked! They are like chaff that the wind blows away. Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous. For the LORD watches over the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish. The ultimate reason for this is the favor of the Lord. The Lord knows the way of the righteous means that the Lord loves and approves of it. This approval cannot be envisioned as a computation of good deeds. Anyone weighed in the scale of God's holiness and righteousness is found wanting. The presupposition of the Psalm is that the man in view is in a covenant relationship to the Lord. This means two things. First God mercifully accepts the man by the grace and mercy that justifies his people, and then God approves him because the justified man will always show a basic trust in the Word of the Lord. It is this basic disposition that God has created that pleases Him. It is not a numerical summary of the man’s good deeds. For us, that means faith in the Lord Jesus Christ as the one who died in our place and through whom we are forgiven.

II Heeding God’s Advice

The man in a covenant relationship with God heeds his advice, verses 1-3, Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers. 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, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither. Whatever he does prospers. By this he obtains subjective assurance of God’s love because that assurance depends on a relationship. Specifically the man rejects the worldly explanations of life, does not engage in the practices which stem from those false philosophies, and therefore never gets to the place of scorning God which is the ultimate expression of the world-system. Because heeding God’s advice brings assurance, it brings contentment and contentment finds happiness in all circumstances. Thereby it may be said that a man prospers in all that he does. Not that he is always successful in worldly terms. But he is always content and realizing God’s wonderful purpose is being fulfilled in his life. The idea of meditating in the law of God day and night does not describe a kind of monastic activity which makes one a recluse or a hermit. It means the carrying of the Word of God in the mind so that it is in, under, through, and over every situation in life. By doing this the man gains not only assurance of God’s love, but also gains constant insight into God’s perspective and thus is content, happy and blessed.

Summary of Psalm 1

Psalm One sums up the entire Psalter. It teaches us  the only proper response of  one who is the recipient of God's mercy. God has redeemed his people and established His relationship with them as absolute sovereign. The holy design of His redeeming love is that His people might believe and obey His Word which is His law. The entire purpose and meaning of human life is realized through God’s Word, and apart from it there is no contentment in this life or hope for the life to come. This Psalm is perfectly fulfilled in the Savior Jesus Christ in whom God the Father was well pleased.