Psalm 1

Psalm 1, along with Psalm 2 (more on Psalm 2 next week) constitutes an introduction to the book of Psalms.  In Psalm 1 we are immediately presented with two ways of life: the Way of the Righteous, and the Way of the Wicked.  The poet seems to see no alternative.  This is quite unlike our society which holds freedom of choice as the highest value.  The poet sees our choices as enormously important, but also believes that such a choice is very straightforward. 

Our poet places this psalm at the head of the collection - ‘Blessed are you’ - for the same reason Matthew places the Beatitudes at the beginning of Jesus’ teaching.  It’s as if he were saying, ‘You should read all the psalms that follow in the light of this one.’  For life lived in fellowship with God and in humble obedience to God is the real way of life.

Two words stand out in the psalm:  meditate, and Torah.    Now we might think of meditation as quiet time in a chapel or a garden.  But the Hebrew word hagah has a different meaning.  In Isaiah 31.4 the writer says, ‘As a young lion growls (hagah) over its prey,’ or we might say, the way a dog worries a bone. 

My first pet was a mongrel whom I named Buddy.  I know, not very creative, but we were buddies.  He was distinctive, almost entirely white except for one black eye, and he had an insatiable appetite for bones.  He was a small dog and sometimes the bone he found was nearly as long as he was.  But he would dance around, tail wagging furiously, as proud of his find as an explorer finding a cache of gold.  I would applaud and then he would go off to some private shady spot and go to work on the bone.  He could worry that bone, gnaw, and lick and growl at it for hours.  It was obviously great fun.  Then, he would disappear to bury the bone.  Sometimes it reappeared and sometimes we never saw it again. 

The psalmist counsels us to meditate day and night.  Playfully, prayerfully, we ‘chew’ on scripture.   We develop the habit just as we practice habitual routines of  daily brushing our teeth, sitting down for coffee, or checking our smart-phones.

The second word, Torah is also important.  It is often translated law, and we think immediately of rules.  But Torah, I remind you, is not primarily rules and regulations, but instruction.  In contrast to scoffers who arrogantly refuse all instruction, blessed persons delight in God’s instruction, having it always before them.

Such a person will be happy (blessed) indeed.  And don’t worry.  Such a life is not gained by mere gritting of teeth and trying harder.  Such happiness comes as a gift of the Spirit.  As we sink deep into God’s instruction and love we feel ourselves freed and like trees, our roots deep, reaching for the sunshine of God’s ever-sustaining grace.