What You Might be Missing About “Blessed is the Man” in Psalms
Written by Keith N. Smith Jr. |
Sunday, April 9, 2023
The big reveal in the New Testament is that Jesus is the blessed man from Psalm 1, the anointed king from Psalm 2, the victorious king from Psalm 110, and the obedient king from Deuteronomy 17. Jesus is the king of glory that is mighty in battle from Psalm 24; but Jesus never picks up a sword and never takes the life of his enemies (John 18:36).
Throughout the Bible there is a theme that you might call “choosing between two ways.” It starts with the two trees in the Garden of Eden narrative: the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil produced death, while the Tree of Life was a source of Eternal Life. You see it also in Deuteronomy, when God tells Israel they have a choice to make: life and prosperity, or death and destruction (Deut 30:15–16).
Five Psalms in particular urge readers to choose between two ways; and all point to the way of life and, ultimately, the way Jesus brings redemption to the world.
Psalm 1 is the foundation for the whole Psalter. In this Psalm, we are immediately introduced to a comparison between two people who make very different choices: the “blessed man” and the “wicked.”
The former is identified by three things he avoids and by one thing that he does. The “blessed” man does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, he does not stand in the way of sinners, and he does not sit in the seat of scoffers. Instead, he chooses to delight in the law of the Lord through a rhythm of daily and nightly meditations. As a result, the blessed man becomes a fruitful tree that is rooted deeply in the soil beside a flowing stream.
In contrast, the wicked does not delight in God’s law and has no rhythm of daily and nightly meditation on it. As a result, the wicked becomes chaff blowing in the wind. “The way of the wicked will perish,” the Psalm says.
The metaphors here in Psalm 1 are rich; they suggest that the two “ways,” while leading to different places, may not always be obviously distinct in this life. A tree that is planted does not rapidly grow roots and spring up overnight. A tree planted is first a seed buried. Chaff, on the other hand, is either the husk of winnowed grain or dried grass (see the Lexham Bible Dictionary). Grain and grass grow at a much quicker rate and yield a larger quantity of produce than a tree. Depending on the stage at which you compare the tree and the grass, it can appear that the grass is outgrowing the tree. The way of the tree is different from the way of the grass. The way of the tree requires time and patience.
“The way of the wicked” (Ps 1:6) is a wicked and worldly understanding of how the world works, of what it takes to be successful. James Hamilton’s commentary on Psalms in the Evangelical Biblical Theology Commentary series brings out the connection between the blessed man in Psalm 1 and Israel’s king in Deuteronomy 17. Both choose the way of obedience to Yahweh instead of following the ways of other nations. Like the blessed man in Psalm 1, this obedient king is identified by three things he avoids and by one thing that he does. The obedient king will not acquire many horses for himself, he will not acquire many wives for himself, and he will not acquire for himself excessive riches. The kings from the other nations established their kingdoms by acquiring horses to build strong militaries. They acquire many wives in order to have many sons. Finally, these kings acquire silver and gold to have the wealth to accomplish whatever they desire.