First, a little recap. If Psalm 1 is the introduction to the whole book of Psalms, then I am here invited into a life of blessedness: the very first word of the whole book is the word “blessed” (אַשְׁרֵי).
The word signifies: “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 ed. 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 the Psalm says (verse 1):
אַשְׁרֵי־הָאִישׁ אֲשֶׁר לֹא הָלַךְ בַּעֲצַת רְשָׁעִים וּבְדֶרֶךְ חַטָּאִים לֹא עָמָד וּבְמוֹשַׁב לֵצִים לֹא יָשָׁב
“How blessed is the [person] who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, Nor stand in the path of sinners, Nor sit in the seat of scoffers!”
But, then I am immediately hit by a series of Do Not’s: “Blessed is the one who does not… does not… does not…..”
And, in this Psalm the “not” (לֹא) is repeated. So, right off the bat — just as this picture of the life of blessedness begins — I am given warnings. First I am told what to avoid: what not to do.
And, at first, I’m not sure I like this. I don’t want my morality to be defined primarily in negative terms. I don’t want my Christianity to be defined merely by the things I don’t do.
In fact, what is placed before me here is a stark contrast: either the way of the blessed or the way of the wicked (רָשַׁע). I’m given no third alternative. There is no middle way.
The Psalm asks me to make a choice.
The way of Blessedness is unitive. The way of Wickedness is not. There is one way to do a thing correctly and many ways to do it wrong. I have to make a choice to walk on the path of Blessedness. But, I can fall into any of several un-blessed paths by default.
It’s disconcerting to be given such a choice. We live in a world of grays. We live in a world of in-betweens. And, the Bible often challenges us to make a choice between right and wrong: Light and Darkness. As I read 1 John, for example, I am asked whether I “love my brother” or “hate my brother.” Why can’t John just let me like my brother? Why can’t I just tolerate my brother — or using the terminology I find in Ephesians “bear with” my brother?
As I begin my day in prayer, I am called to make a choice. As I pass through this gray between-world, which do I want? Light or Darkness? Love or Hate? Blessedness or Wickedness?
And I am specifically warned off from:
- walking in the counsel of the wicked,
- standing in the path that sinners take
- sitting in the seat that scoffers take.
And, these would be easy to do, simply by matching my behavior with some of the behavior I see around me.
But, if I am going to find the way of blessedness today, I must avoid this.
The alternative to “walking in the counsel of the wicked” is stated in verse 2:
כִּי אִם בְּתוֹרַת יְהוָה חֶפְצוֹ וּבְתוֹרָתוֹ יֶהְגֶּה יוֹמָם וָלָיְלָה
“But his delight is in the law of the LORD, And in His law he meditates day and night.”
Rather than letting people and circumstances be spiritually formative for me, it is God’s instruction (תּוֹרָה) upon which I will meditate.
God’s instruction will form me. God’s instruction will guide me.
By, saying that it is necessary to “meditate” (הָגָה) upon the Torah, it follows that I must apply my mind and imagination. The word signifies “the act of thoughtful deliberation with the implication of speaking to oneself.” I must ask questions, I must seek inner meanings.
It’s not simply a matter of finding the appropriate rule and applying it to the case at hand. Not at all. It is a matter of understanding the rules and their significance. The rules and laws in the Bible were given in the process of a long and eventful journey. Their significance for their times illuminates their significance for me. My goal is not legalism but wisdom. My desire is that the Word from God I encounter through the Scriptures would shape my life. The long process of moral and spiritual instruction I find in the history of the Bible is a treasure. I am called to delight and pleasure in it. I trust that it leads me out of darkness and captivity into the way of light.
I am invited into the Path of Blessedness (verse 3).
וְהָיָה כְּעֵץ שָׁתוּל עַל־פַּלְגֵי מָיִם אֲשֶׁר פִּרְיוֹ יִתֵּן בְּעִתּוֹ וְעָלֵהוּ לֹא־יִבּוֹל וְכֹל אֲשֶׁר־יַעֲשֶׂה יַצְלִיחַ
“And he will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water, Which yields its fruit in its season, And its leaf does not wither; And in whatever he does, he prospers.”
I don’t want to choose.
I don’t want to stand out or be different.
But, You are calling me to choose today,
and every day.
to choose the way of Life
to choose what will form my character
and to choose what voices and examples I will not follow.
Grant me the courage to follow your instruction
To the best of my limited and faulty understanding;
and, to find the path of blessing