The Way of Blessing
So we read Psalm 1 and maybe the first that we think is that we should really study our Bible more. And if we think that after reading this psalm, that is a good thing to think.
Psalm 1 is pretty straightforward that there are two ways to live: there is the way of wicked, and there is the way of the righteous — and the way of the righteous is the blessed way. The blessed man, or the happy person, studies the Bible. He is the one who resists the way of the wicked, but instead delights in the law of the Lord. (And the word for “law” here is the word torah, which also means “instruction” — and I think that’s the idea. The law of the Lord is the instruction, or the will, of the Lord, and the blessed person delights in this instruction.) The blessed person delights in the instruction of the Lord so much that they meditate on this instruction day and night. And therefore, this person is like a tree.
That’s the image in verse 3. The blessed person who delights in the instruction of the Lord, and who mediates day and night on the instruction of the Lord 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.”
And hey, we want to be trees like that.
When It Comes to Trees
Trees have a lot of symbolism in the Bible, and there are at least a couple other places where we read about trees and it sounds a lot like Psalm 1.
First, going back to Numbers 24, there is the story of Balaam.
Balaam is this prophet who had been hired by an evil king to curse the people of Israel, but each time that Balaam attempted to curse Israel, God turned Balaam’s curse into a blessing (because can do that). This happened four times, and in Balaam’s third attempt, when Balaam knew that God intended to bless Israel, Number 24 says that Balaam, from a distance saw the camp of the people of Israel, and the Spirit of God came upon him, and looking at Israel, he blessed Israel and said,
How lovely are your tents, O Jacob, your encampments, O Israel! Like palm groves that stretch afar, like gardens beside a river, like aloes that the Lord has planted, like cedar trees beside the waters.
So this is another image of God’s blessing on his people. This is how God’s blessing looks: the people of Israel are said to be like lush vegetation planted beside a river. God’s blessing on his people looks like a tree planted by a stream of water.
Which is the same image we see in Psalm 1, and hey, we want to be trees like that.
Another place we see this is Jeremiah 17.
In Jeremiah 17, Jeremiah the prophet has been speaking judgment on the people of Judah, and he juxtaposes the wicked and the righteous. Jeremiah says cursed is the man who trusts in man and makes flesh his strength ... He shall dwell in parched places of the wilderness ...” And then here’s what he says of the righteous. Jeremiah 17:7,
Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose trust is the Lord. He is like a tree planted by water, that sends out its root by the stream, and does not fear when heat comes, for its leaves remain green... (Jeremiah 17:7–9)
And this again sounds like Psalm 1. There’s definitely theme here when it comes to these trees. These are well-hydrated, fruitful, and fearless trees, and we want to be like these trees. We want to trust in the Lord, which means delighting in the Lord’s instruction — which means meditating on the Lord’s instruction day and night.
So we can read Psalm 1, and we can think, “I should study my Bible more!” And that’s a good thing to think.
But there is also more than that going on here, and I think the more going on here is actually more important. There’s a more urgent and more vital message in Psalm 1that impacts how we understand all the Psalms overall, and how we apply the Psalms to our lives. And that’s what I want us to see this morning.
Introducing the Psalms
So the plan for this sermon is a little different than most. Since today we’re starting a new series on the Psalms — which is a lot different from 1 Timothy — I want to spend some time introducing the Psalms and what they’re about, and that means I’m going to be bouncing around to a bunch of different places in the Bible, but I want us to step back and consider a few basic questions. We’re start broadly and then narrow it down. Here are three questions:
What is the role of Psalms in the Bible overall?
What is the role of Psalm 1 in the Book of Psalms?
How do we apply Psalm 1 to our daily lives?
Let’s pray together again:
Father, we remember this morning that the unfolding of your Word gives light, and so we ask, with your Word open before us, please make your face to shine upon us in Jesus’s name, amen.
1) What is the role of Psalms in the Bible overall?
Here’s the answer — I’ll just say it now, and then I’ll explain. Here it is: the role of Psalms in the Bible overall is to make it clear that God has a future for the house of David. God has a future for the house of David — which is important because the Messiah is to come through the house of David.
And for all this to make sense, we need to back up and say a word about the Old Testament. In the way the Old Testament is written there are two things going on. When you read the Old Testament you’re either reading the storyline of Israel or you’re reading reflection on that storyline. In other words, there’s what happened to God’s people and how God’s people should think about what has happened. There’s history and there’s commentary on that history.
The Story of Israel
And in terms of the history, I want to just run through that very quickly. I’m going to do this fast, so hold on tight, okay? Of course this goes back to Genesis and it goes like this:
God made world. World forsook God. God gets world back — and he does it through a promise he makes to Abraham. God promised Abraham that he would bless his family and then bless the entire world through one of Abraham’s descendants (see Genesis 12:1–3; Galatians 3:16).
And that promise continued to Isaac and to Jacob, and from Jacob to his twelve sons, and one of them was Judah, and God promised Judah that the scepter, the kingly rod, will not depart from Judah (see Genesis 49:10).
Well, fast-forward a little bit and the the people of Israel are enslaved in Egypt for 430 years until God set them free by the hand of Moses, and he led them for 40 years through the wilderness to the Promised Land. God gave Israel the law, and then he gave them the land, but Israel continued to sin, and so God would send judges to bail them out, but overall this was very unstable situation for Israel until God established the monarchy.
God set up a kingdom in Israel, and the king was David. This was God’s plan — David, within the line of Judah, a descendant of Abraham, was the King of God’s people, and God promised David in 2 Samuel Chapter 7 that he would have a son whose kingdom would be established forever. A son of David — a descendent within the house of David — would reign as king forever, and this king was called the Messiah. And this was an amazing promise. It means the promise to Abraham became concentrated on God’s promise David. David was the how to Abraham’s blessing. And the kingdom under David prospered. These were good times for Israel ... until things fell apart.
The kings after David forsook the Lord; they forsook the law and instruction of the Lord; and the kingdom was divided; the northern kingdom Israel basically assimilated with other pagan religions, and the southern kingdom of Judah was taken captive by Babylon and sent into exile, and there was no longer a son of David ruling as king because the entire people were being ruled by Gentile kings, and that’s where the history gets stuck. The king of Judah, the offspring of David, are literally in prison in Babylon (see 2 Kings 25:27–30).
That creates a problem in the Old Testament: the house of David, which was the hope of God’s people, had become a house of disarray. And later in the history there were some returns and reforms back to the Promised Land, but the main problem never gets solved even when we get to the New Testament: the people of God were ruled by Gentile kings, and it seemed like the house of David was done.
That was the problem in the air, and we can feel this tension within the Old Testament. The big question is: What in the world happened to the house of David? Is God going to keep his promise to Abraham and to David?
And well, the Psalms want to answer that question for us. The Psalms are here to say that God does have a future for the house of David. God is going to fulfill his promise to Abraham by fulfilling his promise to David by raising up a son of David to reign as king forever.
Setting Up the Psalms
And this is central to how the Book of Psalms is set up. You can especially see this in the Hebrew Bible. In the Hebrew Bible, or the Jewish Bible, the arrangement of the books are in a little different order. The Hebrew Bible divided into three parts: there’s the Law, the Prophets, and the Writings. And the Writings are the poetry and wisdom books. This is the major commentary or reflection part of the Old Testament, which includes the Psalms, and the Book of Ruth. In one ordering the book of Ruth is the first book of the Writings, right before the Book of Psalms (see Baba Bathra 14b; Goswell, JETS; Demspter, 15–51).
Now why is that? The Book of Ruth is a historical book. It’s a little four-chapter story that happened way back in the time of the judges. It’s basically a narrative flashback, so why is with the Psalms?
Here’s the thing: the story of Ruth is all about the house of David.
The story starts: Ruth Chapter 1, verse 1: “In the days when the judges ruled there was a famine in the land, and a man of Bethlehem in Judah went to sojourn in the country of Moab.”
So a man from Bethlehem in Judah sojourning in a Gentile land.
And this man’s name was Elimelech, which means “God is king.”
So there’s a man from Bethlehem in Judah, named God is King, in a Gentile land, but here’s the thing: this man dies, and then his two sons die, and so he’s got no one left in his house. Ruth is the Moabite daughter-in-law who stays with Naomi because she trusts in God, but she’s a widow. The problem in the story is that Elimelech, God is King, dies in a foreign land and he doesn’t have a son in his house to follow him.
But then there’s Boaz, who is the kinsmen redeemer. So he marries Ruth and then they have a son — and this is the son who is going to continue the line of Elimelech, God is King. And the name of the son is Obed — and then the story of Ruth ends with a genealogy. Boaz fathered Obed, and Obed fathered Jesse, and Jesse fathered David. And now, welcome to the Book of Psalms!
The message as we come to the Psalms is that there is still hope for the house of David because the house of David is the still the hope. That is what the Psalms are telling us. That is their role in the Bible overall:
Even when it doesn’t seem like it, even against all odds, God is going to fulfill his promise to David. David will have a descendant, the Messiah, who reigns as king forever. Let me show you!
That’s what the Psalms are doing in the Bible.
So second question.
2) What is the role of Psalm 1 in the Book of Psalms?
So here, at the level of structure, Psalm 1 and Psalm 2 actually go together, and they are meant to be an introduction to the entire Book of Psalms. When it comes to Psalm 1 and 2, notice that unlike most psalms, neither of these have a superscript. There’s not a header to these that say anything about the author or the context about the time when they were written. These two psalms are just there, both of them together, and they are tied together by the bookends of Psalm 1:1 and Psalm 2:12. Psalm 1 begins: “Blessed is the man...” and then Psalm 2 ends: “Blessed are all...”
So, at the level of structure, these two psalms go together, and they are the lens through which we’re supposed to understand the whole Book of Psalms. And so now what exactly is that lens?
Well if we read Psalm 1 and think that we should study our Bible more, and that’s a good thing to think — the blessed person is like a tree planted by streams of water. That image is important, and we want to be like that tree.
And King David does too. Actually, David talks about himself in the way that the Psalm 1 man is described. In other Psalms by David, you can hear echoes of Psalm 1. For example, in Psalm 26, verse 4, David says:
I do not sit with men of falsehood, nor do I consort with hypocrites. I hate the assembly of evildoers, and I will not sit with the wicked.
And that’s basically Psalm 1 — he is not walking in the counsel of the wicked (he’s not consorting with them). He’s not sitting in the seat of scoffers. David says, Hey, I am doing it the Psalm 1 way.
Then another place we see this is Psalm 52. And here we see echoes of Psalms 1 and 2 together. In Psalm 52 David is speaking about the wicked, who have plotted destruction, and he says, Psalm 52, verse 5:
But God will break you down forever; he will snatch and tear you from your tent; he will uproot you from the land of the living. The righteous shall see and fear, and shall laugh at him, saying, “See the man who would not make God his refuge, but trusted in the abundance of his riches and sought refuge in his own destruction!” But I am like a green olive tree in the house of God. I trust in the steadfast love of God forever and ever.
So David, in contrast to the wicked, is like a tree. He’s like a green olive tree in the house of God.
So again, David the King is like this Psalm 1 man — now why does that matter?
God’s Vision for His King
Well, it matters because that is how God’s King is supposed to be.
Way back in the Old Testament, in Deuteronomy 17, when God laid out the stipulations for his kings, this is one of the things he said. Specifically, the king is to be devoted to the law of the Lord. Deuteronomy 17:19 says:
And [the law of the Lord] is to be with him, and he shall read in it all the days of his life, that he may learn to fear the Lord his God by keeping all the words of this law and these statutes, and doing them …
The king of God’s people is to be devoted to God’s word.
And also there is Joshua. Joshua — who has an important name — he was the leader who succeeded Moses as the king-like ruler over Israel. God told Joshua, in Joshua 1:8,
This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it.
So again, God’s ruler over his people is meant to be devoted to, and saturated by, the word of the Lord. That is God’s vision for the king.
And so now it makes sense how Psalm 1 and Psalm 2 fit together. Psalm 1 is about this blessed man who meditates on the Bible day and night, and Psalm 2 is about God’s king who triumphs over his enemies, and here’s the deal: it’s the same guy. That’s why David, as King, understands himself to be like this Psalm 1 man.
When we look at Psalm 1 and 2 together we see that the blessed man in Psalm 1 is God’s anointed one (or the Christ) in Psalm 2, verse 2, who is also God’s King (in verse 6), who is also God’s Son (in verse 7 ).
In other words, to be super super clear: Psalm 1 is about the Messiah described in Psalm 2.
And David identifies with Psalm 1 because David is the great pointer to the Messiah — he’s a foreshadow of the Messiah. That’s why sometimes we’ll read Psalms by David and think: this sounds a lot like Jesus. Sometimes David is speaking of Jesus, and other times it is the Holy Spirit speaking as Jesus through the voice of David. That’s how the New Testament authors understood the Psalms overall, and especially Psalms 1–2.
Jesus the Messiah-King is the son from the house of David who will triumph over all his enemies. Psalm 1 invites us to see the entire Book of Psalm through this lens, and we are invited to see it this way by following in the way. We are invited at the very beginning of the Psalms, right here in Psalm 1, to hope in the Messiah and to understand our own lives in light of his. The Messiah is the blessed man, and blessed are all who take refuge in him. That is the role of Psalm 1 in the Book of Psalms.
Now the third question:
3) How do we apply Psalm 1 to our daily lives?
In other words, what does all this mean for you tomorrow?
This is where I want to get to the take-this-home level of application for Psalm 1. I want us to get this right now in this moment, and tomorrow and the next day and the next.
Psalm 1 is straightforward that there are two paths that lead to two outcomes. There is the way of the wicked, and there is the way of the righteous. The way of the wicked leads to destruction. The way of righteous leads to blessing.
There are two ways. Everybody get that? There are two ways, and every single person is walking in one of those two ways. And so what makes the difference? Or how do we walk the way of the righteous? How do we put ourselves on the path of God’s blessing?
Because we all want that, right? Everybody wants to be blessed. We all want to be happy. So how do we get that? What is the way of God’s blessing?
Here’s the thing. It’s not the way of …
mere do’s and don’ts;
Or mere codes and guidelines;
Or mere advice and commands …
We don’t experience the blessing of God by doing X, Y, and Z. There is not a special formula that we can achieve in order for God to bless us. That’s not how it works.
Instead, it goes like this: the way of God’s blessing is to take refuge in God’s Messiah.
God’s Messiah is the truly blessed man of Psalm 1, and the Messiah is Jesus. …
Jesus is the man of whom the Scriptures foretold, who even as a 12-year-old boy amazed the Jewish teachers by his understanding (see Luke 2:41–52).
In his temptation Jesus told Satan, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4).
In the start of his ministry he stood in the synagogue and read from Isaiah 61 and said: “Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:126–22).
He told the Pharisees, “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me” (John 6:39).
When he was in Jerusalem, in the final week before he was crucified, Jesus was in the temple everyday, speaking and enacting Isaiah 56 and teaching the people from the Scriptures, and “all the people were hanging on his words” (Luke 19:47–48).
Jesus quoted Psalm 110 and told the people that the Messiah is not just David’s son, but also David’s Lord (see Luke 20:41–44).
And then after his resurrection, on the road to Emmaus, talking to Cleopas and his friend, Jesus showed them his glory in the Bible: “And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself” (Luke 24:27)
Jesus is the blessed man of Psalm 1 devoted to the Bible because the Bible is about him, and if we will be blessed it must be in him. Our blessing comes by taking refuge in Jesus. That means we turn from trusting in ourselves. We stop hoping in our own strength, whatever that might cost us — we stop, and we turn, and we trust in Jesus. We hope in Jesus. We become like the blessed man by trusting in the Blessed Man, because blessed are all who take refuge in him.
And so this psalm, Psalm 1, is a call to faith. Psalm 1 calls you and me to hope in the Messiah Jesus.
* * *
So maybe you read Psalm 1 and the first thing you think is: I should study my Bible more. And that’s a good thing to think. It’s good to study and meditate on the Word of God, but only if you take refuge in the Word Made Flesh.
And as we read this psalm, and all the Psalms, that is what we want to do. We come to this Book by faith, with hope, taking refuge in Jesus.
That’s what we remember at this Table.
Our refuge in Jesus is a refuge in his wrath-absorbing cross. Jesus has given us life through his death. He has given us blessing through his being cursed in our place, and at this Table we say amen and give thanks. We embrace the blessing that is in Jesus, and this morning, if you would do that, if you trust in Jesus and take refuge in him, we invite you to eat and drink with us.