Reflections and a Prayer on Psalm 1
It is generally agreed among the scholars that Psalm 1 is an introduction to the whole book of Psalms. Some think it was never itself sung. So, reading it is a way of orienting ourselves to the whole book that follows. It shows us how the first compilers of this book understood it.
Prayer calls us away. It calls us to focus on the ultimate rather than the immediate. It calls us to attentiveness to God. In a sense, we become more aware of our surroundings, not less aware.
אַשְׁרֵי־הָאִישׁ אֲשֶׁר לֹא הָלַךְ בַּעֲצַת רְשָׁעִים וּבְדֶרֶךְ חַטָּאִים לֹא עָמָד וּבְמוֹשַׁב לֵצִים לֹא יָשָׁב
“How blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, Nor stand in the path of sinners, Nor sit in the seat of scoffers!” (NASB)
And, the very opening word of this Psalm — of the entire book of Psalms — is a word of blessing: אַשְׁרֵי.
We are being invited into a life of blessing, an experience of Divine favor. This is a theme statement for the entire book. It is a book “of blessing.”
But, I need to ask myself: is this what I want? I come before God like the sick man in John 5, whom Jesus asks: “Do you want to be made well?” Do I want God’s blessing today?
Opening up before me is the way of life. Will I take it? Do I want it?
You see, I have a problem with this, and (sorry to say) it runs deep. Deep within me I feel that I should never accept any gift that I can not repay. It somehow feels wrong to do so. This puts me at odds with grace. What I receive by God’s grace can never be repaid. It places me in a position where I am forever in debt to God.
I feel I may not deserve this “blessing.” Since justice is to receive what is deserved or earned, I often feel the jury is out on whether I am deserving of any sort of blessing.
Many of us somehow learned this as a child: “you should be ashamed of yourself.” We learned it well We are. We may not even know why.
But, standing before me is a word of blessing rather than curse.
My NIV Hebrew Lexicon says of אַשְׁרֵי: “a heightened state of happiness and joy, implying very favorable circumstances, often resulting from the kind acts of God.” [Hebrew/Aramaic to English Dictionary and Index to the NIV Old Testament from Zondervan NIV Exhaustive Concordance edited by Edward W. Goodrick, John R. Kohlenberger III, and James A. Swanson. Copyright ©1999, 1990 by the Zondervan Corporation, Grand Rapids, Michigan 49530. All rights reserved. Electronic text prepared by OakTree Software, Inc. Version 1.0]
And, it is actually quite personal. While it is technically correct to translate אִישׁ as “man,” in this context it just means “person” or “human.” (The NRSV switches to the plural just to avoid the masculine generic term “man.”) We are called upon to observe the individual whose life is blessed.
And the question for us is: Is this what we want? Can we accept this? Are we willing to be blessed?
Is this the person described in this psalm the person we want to be?
It matters what direction we choose to take.
grant me the grace to walk in the path of blessing today.
I pray for guidance,
give me the faith to believe that I will have it.
Guide my choices into the paths of blessedness.
Open my mind to the wonderful promise of your favor and blessing.
Your will is for blessing not curse.
Help my unbelief. Amen.