A reflection on Psalm 1 for February 14, 2021 at Mosaic Baptist Church
Happy are those
who do not follow the advice of the wicked,
or take the path that sinners tread,
or sit in the seat of scoffers;
but their delight is in the law of the Lord,
and on his law they meditate day and night.
They are like trees
planted by streams of water,
which yield their fruit in its season,
and their leaves do not wither.
In all that they do, they prosper.
The wicked are not so,
but are like chaff that the wind drives away.
Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgement,
nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous;
for the Lord watches over the way of the righteous,
but the way of the wicked will perish.
Psalm 1 (NRSVA)
It is a wonderful opening Psalm.
Israel’s collection of prayers, poems, hymns, and songs commences with a picture of two paths. It presents options.
And they are offered in the starkest – and most memorable – images.
The one who delights in the ‘law of the Lord’ is like a thriving ‘tree’ always nourished by abundant flowing water. In following the seasons they are fruitful and flourish. They ‘prosper’ and are ‘happy’.
These are contrasted with the ‘wicked’. The wise do not spent time among these. After all they are like useless ‘chaff’. The image of them blowing away in the wind taps into the practice of sifting recently harvested wheat. In large baskets the mixed wheat and chaff are tossed into the air where the lightweight chaff is taken away by the wind. Left in the basket is the heavier – weightier – wheat.
Two contrasting possibilities.
Of note here is that we do not have a contrast between the righteous and the ‘wicked’. This is not about the good and the bad – as if the world were so easily divided.
This Psalm is more subtle than that. What we have here is a contrast in ‘meditation’.
The difference between the thriving oak and the disappearing chaff the heart’s musings.
One ‘follows the advice of the wicked’, ‘takes the path’ of ‘sinners’, ‘sits in the seat of scoffers’. Essentially they learn life from ‘the wicked’
By contrast, the ‘happy’ ones, as we have seen, ‘delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law they meditate day and night.’
This is the invitation of the Psalms in a nutshell. These memorable, carefully worded, poetic prayers are – before anything else – an invitation to ‘meditate’ on the way of God.
I cannot think of a better way to invite us into the world of the Psalms than this carefully chosen first prayer. It is widely – and rightly – categorised as a ‘wisdom psalm’. To meditate on YHWH and YHWH’s ways is the place true wisdom begins.
It is certainly worth your time to learn this opening psalm by heart!
What does the word ‘meditation’ contour up for you? Is it positive or negative?
What do you think is meant here by meditation on the ‘law of the Lord’? What does this look like for you?
Where is your heart’s meditation?