3. Two Worlds

Reaching into the Psalms 1 to 4: 3. Two Worlds (End of Psa 1)

Col 1:13   he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves

Psa 1:6   For the Lord watches over the way of the righteous, /  but / the way of the wicked leads to destruction.

Wrong Understanding: “We’re all the same,” and, “Who are you to say I am inferior?”  Two comments that can be heard when the Gospel is shared. Both are defensive and both misunderstand the truth. The apostle John in his first letter full of love has an unnerving verse near the end: “We know that we are children of God, and that the whole world is under the control of the evil one.” (1 Jn 5:19) It’s that latter part, about Satan ruling over the unbelieving world. John isn’t saying that you and I who are Christian believers are under Satan’s rule but we do live in a world surrounded by people who are.

Distinction: The last verse of Psalm 1 makes a very clear distinction if we hadn’t noticed it before: the righteous and the wicked. There are no in-betweens in the mind of the writer. You are either ‘righteous’ or you are ‘wicked’. Now if you look up modern synonyms for ‘wicked’ you come up with ‘cool’, and ‘terrific’ and ‘fabulous’ which only goes to show how the world has completely reversed the meaning of this word which means evil or immoral or dishonest or corrupt.

Righteous? How can anyone declare they are righteous? What does it mean? A dictionary definition is simply ‘morally correct’.  I would add, ‘one who is morally correct because they are in line with God’s declared will or God’s design’. In his famous treatise on righteousness in his letter to the Romans, the apostle Paul first declared that naturally no one is righteous (Rom 3:9-20): There is no one righteous, not even one,” (v.10) and no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law.” i.e. keeping the rules is not the way because a) we always fall short of perfection and b) such rule keeping is always self-centred. But then he states what righteousness means in God’s sight: “This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe,” (v.22) and “a person is justified by faith apart from the works of the law.” (v.28) So faith, simply believing what God has said, is what is righteousness according to God. For someone like David, living years before Jesus came, the belief was in the Law, that it was the expression of God’s will, declared through Moses, and was to be the basis of the life of the Israelite; that was faith, that was righteousness, even though none of them kept it fully.

Distinction again: Now in this Psalm, ‘the righteous’ as such is only mentioned once, although there is much about the righteous. However ‘the wicked’ are mentioned four times (verses 1,4,5, & 6). When we group verses together there is a clear distinction. First the righteous (implied): Blessed is the one …. whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and who meditates on his law day and night…. That person is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither -whatever they do prospers.”  Then the wicked: “the wicked ….. the way that sinners take…. the company of mockers… 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.” It is like there are two different sorts of people, two different communities, two different countries almost.

In our starter verses above, I included, “he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves.”  (Col 1:13) There Paul makes this same distinction between two different administrations, if we may put it like that, one presided over by Satan, the other by the Son of God. The unpleasant truth for many is that if you have never made Jesus Saviour and Lord, then you are under the administration of Satan, you are living according to his ways and his dictates, you are living a godless, self-centred life that leads to unrighteous thoughts, words and deed. This is the reality about those who are not believers, but it is not because I say so but because the Bible clearly declares it.

The Ways of the Wicked: In verse 1 there are three associated words: wicked, sinners & mockers. They are all expressions or descriptions of godless, self-centred unbelievers. There is a progression there. It starts with keeping in step with the wicked, being associated with them as they walk. But then their walk is purposeful, going somewhere like a path, the way they take, these sinners. But then they have a destination, a place of agreement, of ‘fellowship’ almost where they settle, they sit and they discuss and they mock the faith of believers. Go onto a website (but don’t!) of followers of some of the key crusading atheists and you find this there. It’s a nasty place.

The Outcome for the Wicked: Their outcome is stated clearly in a threefold way. First a general description: They are like chaff that the wind blows away.” (v.4) i.e. they have no future. Second there is a double declaration of their future experience, for they, “will not stand in the judgment, nor …. in the assembly of the righteous.” (v.5) There will come a time after death when they will have to stand before God and explain themselves and they will not be able to count themselves as part of the congregation of the righteous. Thus finally, this walk, this way, this destination ultimately, “leads to destruction.” (v.6) The Bible, in picturesque language, seeking to convey the awfulness of it, speaks of ’a lake of burning sulphur’ or ‘a lake of fire’. (Rev 19:20, 20:10,14,15). Only the devil, the beast and the false prophet, are spoken of as being there tormented ‘for ever’ and unbelievers are simply cast in for destruction (no mention of ‘for ever’.) The implication is clearly for destruction as we find at the end of this Psalm.

And So? No, we are not all the same and, no, I am not claiming special status, but the Bible – here and many places elsewhere – makes this very obvious distinction between the ‘righteous’ and the ‘wicked’.  ‘Wicked’ is measured in terms of self-centred godlessness while the ‘righteousness’ is about relationship that comes about from having heard God’s word about out state and about His provision in the form of the work of Christ on the Cross and believed it and responded to it and live by it. The ‘wicked’ develop and establish their godless, self-centred lifestyle and when they eventually come face to face with God, will acknowledge they are not part of the congregation of the righteous and face destruction, no wonderful future in eternity with God and all the blessings He has for believers. By contrast – and it is a big contrast – the righteous delight in the Lord and in His word and His will, and as they meditate, reflect on, study and feed on His word they are resourced with ‘life’ and they grow, flourish and are fruitful and prosper, while their Lord watches over them and blesses them. It sounds too good to be true, but this IS the reality that the word of God declares. Hallelujah!

2. About Blessing

Reaching into the Psalms 1 to 4: 2. About Blessing

Psa 1:1-3 (ESV) Blessed is the man who(se) ….  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.

Blessing: There is a difference between blessing and blessed. The first is an action, the second is a state. We see blessing first of all in the life of Esau when he blesses Jacob, thinking he is Esau (Gen 27:27-29), a prophetic declaration that cannot be repeated because it was inspired and has its origin in heaven. Jacob later learned this as we see when he blessed Ephraim and Manasseh (Gen 48:13-20) with a prophetic declaration that put the younger before the older. So blessing is an act of prophecy, declaring the good that heaven decrees.

Blessed: But then there is ‘blessed’ which is a state of being, a life with the goodness of God being worked out in it. For the Old Testament people of God the Law decreed a number of ‘blessings’ for obedience to God: “All these blessings will come on you and accompany you if you obey the Lord your God” (Deut 28:2) – sorts of blessing – in city & in country (v.3), fruit of womb including livestock (v.4), cooking (v.5), coming and going (v.6), victory over enemies (v.7), on your work (v.8).  In the New Testament, in the Sermon on the Mount we see Jesus declaring in the kingdom of God who will be blessed: Blessed are the poor in spirit …” (Mt 5:3) those who mourn (v.4), the meek (v.5), those who hunger and thirst for righteousness (v.6), merciful (v.7), pure in heart (v.8), peacemakers (v.9), when persecuted because of righteousness (v.10) and then he declares with each one how they will be blessed: “for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Mt 5:3) …they will be comforted (v.4)…they will inherit the earth (v.5) …. they will be filled (v.6)…they will be shown mercy (v.7)…they will see God (v.8)…they will be called children of God (v.9)….for theirs is the kingdom of heaven (v.10).

It is God! So we have all these ways that the child of God can be blessed but here is the thing, all of these things are because God has acted on our behalf. That is seen particularly in the Deuteronomy verses where it is seen as specific acts of God for good for God’s people. In the New Testament, the blessings come from being the children of God, saved by the work of Jesus on the Cross (as becomes clear later in the book).  Because I think we take these things so much for granted, we need to repeat what this is all about: in the Old Testament it is a state of being that is good because God is doing something to make it good. In the New Testament, for the church, it is God doing good within the individual by the presence of His Holy Spirt to turn apparent weakness into spiritual strength, it is God changing us.

Again, I believe this is something many fail to comprehend, that this is God working for us, God doing things for us, God changing things for us. The simplest illustration of this comes in the simple words in the story of Joseph in the Old Testament: “The Lord was with Joseph so that he prospered, and he lived in the house of his Egyptian master. When his master saw that the Lord was with him and that the Lord gave him success in everything he did, Joseph found favour in his eyes and became his attendant.” (Gen 39:2-4) and later, “while Joseph was there in the prison, the Lord was with him; he showed him kindness and granted him favour in the eyes of the prison warden. So the warden put Joseph in charge of all those held in the prison, and he was made responsible for all that was done there.” (Gen 39:20-22). It is probable this ‘favour’ came in the form of wisdom and insight received by Joseph from the Lord, and also the Lord speaking to first Joseph’s slave master and then his prison warder. But in each case we see specific good coming because of God acting.

Relationship: By why all these long preliminaries for considering the opening verses of Psalm 1? It is because we are so often tempted to think in mechanical terms: “If I do this, then that will happen.” However, it doesn’t work like that in the kingdom of heaven, it is all about relationship with God. The people of Israel fell into this way of thinking again and again: “As long as I perform the things the Law says, it doesn’t matter what else I do.” ”For day after day they seek me out; they seem eager to know my ways…. and seem eager for God to come near them. ‘Why have we fasted,’ they say, ‘and you have not seen it? ….Why have we humbled ourselves, and you have not noticed?’ “Yet on the day of your fasting, you do as you please and exploit all your workers.” (Isa 58:2,3) i.e. they were appearing very spiritual but at the same time being very unrighteous. Spirituality does not cancel out unrighteousness.

Thus we should never take these opening words of Psa 1 as ‘magic’, for they are to spring out of love for God, not be used to earn the love of God. There is a danger for those of us who can say we love the word of God that we elevate it almost superstitiously while not attending to all other areas of our lives. I have watched others (and I am sure I have been the same in the past), leaders who are great men with great knowledge of the word and yet certain character flaws were very obvious. It should not be so.

Outworkings: So as long as we put these verses in the context of them being expressions of our genuine love for God, we may indeed expect the things these verses say. We may indeed expect our lives to be, “like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither.” Our delight in His word and our meditating upon it, will be a resource that continually feeds us, enables us to grow and, at the appropriate times, bring forth fruit, while at the same time enabling us to remain bright and strong – not withering. I suspect our times of stress, strain, over-weariness, exhaustion etc. come when we do not pause up, spend time with Him, or slowly meditate and feed on His word, so our resources are being run down and not replenished. We all do it sometime!

It is all about relationship, the divine will of God for us and our response to Him. As we live out our Christian lives seeking Him, seeking His word and therefore His will revealed through it, and then live it, then we may expect that ultimate truth to be fulfilled: “In all that he does, he prospers.”  Contrary to the prosperity false teacher, prospering does not always mean financially. It can mean that but actually it is bigger than just money (as good as that may be!). To prosper means to flourish, to grow, to thrive. I love those verses at the end of Psalm 92: “The righteous will flourish like a palm tree, they will grow like a cedar of Lebanon; planted in the house of the Lord, they will flourish in the courts of our God. They will still bear fruit in old age, they will stay fresh and green, proclaiming, “The Lord is upright; he is my Rock, and there is no wickedness in him.” (Psa 92:12-15) The word of God will help us be these sort of people, but it is the life of the Lord flowing in us that enables us to be like this.  As we delight in Him and in His word, so His life will flow in us, always to release the testimony above, and often to extend into our physical wellbeing as well. So, yes, let’s delight in His word as we delight in Him, and let’s let it have effect in our lives in all the ways we have considered earlier in this study.

1. Introduction – Blessed

Reaching into the Psalms 1 to 4: 1. Introduction – Blessed (Psalm 1)

Psa 1:1,2  Blessed is the one ….. whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and who meditates on his law, day and night.

Approach: I have a number of times in the past dabbled in Psalms in various ways and using different approaches but never as a straight forward commentary-cum-meditation approach. Now what I mean by this is that I want to see what it actually says and then, even more, I want to ponder and think about what it means and how it can be applied to you and me in our twenty-first century lives, perhaps reflecting more generally on the teaching that comes out of them.

How we view Psalms: Now I confess to having had a love-hate relationship with the psalms over the years: love because they have many times blessed me as I have read individual psalms, pondered on individual verses or phrases, and used them in personal devotions; hate because they are such a hotchpotch of songs, prayers, pleadings, different writers, unknown circumstances and unanswered questions. The modern cheat’s approach is to look up Psalms on Wikipedia, often helpful, not guaranteed to be reliable always, but laying out some useful structure.

Whatever reading you do in commentaries, you conclude that scholars and cultures are at odds over the number, the use, the order etc. etc. of the psalms. I have recently been reading a not-quite-a-commentary on psalms which frustrated me as the scholarly approach was good in the big overall sweeps but said little about detail. It also made me realize that anyone trying to make sense of the order of the psalms and their relationship to one another, let alone the way they fit or don’t fit into history, comes up with a lot of assumptions or suppositions that may or may not be true.

What all of these suppositions, theories and possibilities can end up doing is hide the lessons and challenges of the text. So, not because I reject scholarly helps but because I want to focus on the meaning of the texts, I am going to try at least to sit before the psalms, read them, mull over them, chew over them (that’s meditation), and see what they might say to me today. Because such an approach is a very personal thing, if you did the same, you would almost certainly come up with a different end product.  All I can invite you to do is peer into my mind in the coming days to see the things that surface there, and hopefully find something of use emerging.

Length of studies: I have also struggled over the years with what length to make any particular writing. I am aware that I have often gone for the longer meditation approach but realize that this makes large demands on readers who want something short and pithy for, say, a quick morning reading. So then I have swung to the opposite extreme and produced ‘short meditations’, usually based on a single verse each day, but these have often left me feeling they are very superficial. I have also tried meditations that fit somewhere in between but they have left me feeling personally frustrated, being neither one thing nor the other. So here’s my health warning: these are going to be the slightly longer style meditations, so apologies to those who want short and pithy. These I hope might have an element of deep and meaningful (time will tell).

Having said that, I am going to limit this ‘series’ to just the first four psalms in the psalter, simply to make it easier to identify them and recover them in the future. I may well go on later with further psalms but this ‘block’ will cover at least twenty studies. So let’s start in on Psalm 1.

Blessing? Blessed is the one” (v.1a) Well, this is supposed to be just an introductory ramble as we gaze out over the vista before us, but if we want something spiritually meaningful even from such a page, we should perhaps ponder a little on just why we will bother with this exercise. The answer has to be in the words of our introductory two verses of the first psalm that I have reduced to, “Blessed is the one ….. whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and who meditates on his law, day and night.  I don’t count Psalms as part of the Law but in as far as they are part of the canon of Scripture they must, surely, fit within Paul’s description: “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” (2 Tim 3:16,17) Thus, as we ponder on these psalms we will be blessed (made to feel good) because surely within them we will find chastening, correction, and training to be godly, and we will be better people because of that.

Delighting? But I note a condition that is imposed: “who delights” and who “meditates… day and night.” Perhaps a short cut would be to say the person who will be blessed by these psalms will be the person who hungers after the word of God, and to expand on that, it will be the person who acknowledges the Bible as from God and whose heart yearns to read it, study it and meditate upon it, who will be blessed. The starting challenge is, therefore, all about the state of my heart. John Piper wrote, “to ‘love God with all your mind’ means engaging all your powers of thought to know God as fully as possible in order to treasure him for all he is worth.” That, I suggest, comes when we delight in Him and in His word and spend time in it regularly, with a hungry heart.

To Ministries: A word to preachers and teachers: if you don’t spend a lot of time in the Bible (not just for preparing sermons) and you don’t hunger for the word of God and for God to feed you through His word, keep out of the pulpit. People’s lives will be changed by the preacher who speaks with authority (because they have spent much time in His word) and with anointing (because they have spent much time in His presence). If these are missing, either stop preaching or start changing. A word to prophets: exactly the same thing applies to you. Without that authority and anointing your words will often be shallow or empty. A word to evangelists: exactly the same applies to you. Without that authority and anointing your words will come has human endeavor and the fruit will be limited.

And Us? A word to each and every one of us who call ourselves Christians. The word of God is the foundation upon which our faith is built and without it, our thoughts about God will be pure speculation, our knowledge of Jesus and our salvation will be absent and the life we live will be built on human wisdom and endeavor. When we read it, study it and particularly meditate upon it, it will feed us and change us and be the instrument the Holy Spirit will use to release faith in us and empower us.  If you don’t read it meaningfully and pray over it every day, may I encourage you to do that and pray, “Lord, make me hungry for your word and for your presence. I need your help.” Let’s let the Lord change us though His word, bless us with it as we delight in it and meditate on it daily. Amen? Amen!