Psalm 1 The Happy Person
1. We often stand at crossroads in our lives. We have to choose the path we should take. The choice may be a small one, but we know that many times it will have a great impact on our lives. I've read somewhere that the twentieth president of the United States, Garfield, who was assassinated at an early age, addressed the students of Harvard during a commencement exercise like this: "Your position now, ladies and gentlemen, is just like the highest point in the Rocky Mountains. Assume if you will that there is a bird on that mountain and some rain drops fall on the bird. As the bird flaps its wings, one part of the droplets spring to the left, the others go off to the right. The distance between the drops of water at that time is no more than half a foot or so, but as it builds and flows, one side pours into the Pacific and the other into the Atlantic. At first there is hardly a difference, but then it gives rise to hundreds and thousands of miles. O graduates, you are now standing at a crossroad of whether to choose left or right. You do not foresee at first the future results of whatever choice you make of career, marriage, or books, but you should make solemn choices during this graduation now as in the distant future you will perceive the big differences [in the choices you will have made]."*
2. In all reality, one's choices in career, or marriage, or even books are surely major choices. These choices influence a person's life in a great way. But, as we stand here, the Psalm we read today asks of us of the major decisive choices, the choice of the direction of one's life. There are two roads before us. The names of these roads are given at the end of the Psalm. One is "the way of the person who follows God," and the other is "the way of the person who goes against God." If translated literally, they would be "the way of the righteous" and "the way of the wicked." But when the Bible uses the words "the righteous" and "the wicked," it's not just talking morally speaking. The issue is always and ever one's relationship with God. That's why the translations of "the way of the person who follows God" and "the way of the person who goes against God" are appropriate. If we put it another way, the one road is the way of faith and the other is the way of this world with its back turned on God.
3. What we are hearing now is one of those paths, actually the song of a person who has walked steadfastly on the way of faith. The way of faith is not always a level road. Faith doesn't necessarily make a promise of a tranquil, pain free, trial-less life. We see that clearly when read through the Psalms. But, now, here before us there lies the testimony of a person who has walked that way. Here we have the testimony of a person who risked his life for having walked that way with every bit of his strength. He makes an exclamation at the start of his speech like this, "How blessed he is!" There are many who discuss the good life in this world. But, it is only the person who himself has lived in true blessings who can shout, "Ooh, how blessed I am!" We don't want to hear armchair academics on this. We want to hear the words of the person who has lived the blessings and knows the way, and that's the kind of thing there is here for us to listen to now.
How Happy Is The One Who Loves The Lord's Teachings
4. With that then, let's begin reading from verses one and two.
"How blessed he is!
The one who does not walk following the plans of the person who goes against God,
The one who does not abide in the way of the sinful
The one who does not sit with the haughty
But who loves the Lord's instructions
And who sings to himself those instructions day and night," (1:1-2).
6. The person who can state "How blessed I am!" is also a person who knows what it's like to be really down, not so blessed but misfortunate. In light of this, he describes the blessed person with three negatives first, which are that he doesn't "walk," doesn't "abide in," and doesn't "sit with." He doesn't see [the origin] of human misfortunes in the disasters of this world. Neither is he looking for it in the troubles of this world. He sees it all in the daily life of the person who has turned his or her back on God. He looks at a person's hard times and sees its source lies in their lives in the way they "walk," "stop," and "sit."
7. Bad times begin by turning our ears on what the world says, which is a world turned against God. Society is filled with messages from people against God. It is filled with messages that invite one to its ways of operating. These are messages that mostly promise an easy happiness. They come as messages promising the realization of one's aspirations and the fulfillment of one's wishes. They are attractive and pleasant to the ear. Then, as people give their attention to these messages, they begin to walk in accordance with its worldly discretion or lack thereof.
8. As long as one is still "walking" it might be possible to start again. But, sin takes its prey like the spider's web. After the coils of sin wind around they become inseparable. One sin leads to another sin. A person keeps sinning like the links on a chain fence. As they keep this up, they "abide in" or stop along the way of sinful people. When they get to the point of "stopping" [with sinners], the will to go back and start over is now gone. Their hearts don't hurt anymore. Their hearts have become paralyzed to it. A person might be grateful when his or her heart doesn't ache any more, but in all reality they aren't even in the least bit happy because it only means that their situation has gotten so serious.
9. Then at last they not only "stop" along the way, but come to "sit" there. They start to justify themselves. The word translated as "a haughty person" means "a person who ridicules" or "a person who makes a fool of someone or thing." In order to justify themselves, all they do is ridicule somebody else. All they do is live making fun of others and tearing down somebody else so that they can tell themselves that "We are wise people who conduct ourselves so successfully." Thus, they come to the point of sitting with those who scorn people and those who scorn God, too. They can't even see in themselves that they have become haughty people who don't care about people any more, don't care about God or can't even look to see the differences in their sins. This is truly a terrible way to be and it is not the happy way either. The person in our text knows this misery. Therefore, he expresses the happy person as blessed using the three negatives of not walking, stopping or sitting [with sinners in the way he has so described].
10. But, that's just the negative side. The happiness of living in the way of faith is not just a bunch of "don'ts." It is much more important how we live in the positive sense. Instead of putting so much strength in drawing out a cupful of muddy water, it is wiser to take in a cup of pure water. What we need in order to dispel the darkness is that we bring the light to it. He adds on to his description of the blessed person with he is a person who "loves the Lord's instructions and sings to himself those instructions day and night." The Lord's instructions crush the haughty heart. The Lord's instructions call a person back to start away from the way of the sinful. The Lord's lessons are far from the value system of those against God. The important thing is that we love the Lord's instructions to us, that we live with his Word, that we put his Word on our lips day and night.
Like The Tree Planted By The Flowing Waters
11. Then he gives a contrast in image rich terms of the happy** person and the unhappy** person.
12. Please read from verses three to five.
"He is like the tree planted by the flowing waters.
As time goes around, it yields forth fruit
Its leaves never go dry.
Everything he does will bring forth prosperity.
He who goes against God is not that way.
He is chaff which is blown away by the wind.
He who goes against God cannot withstand the judgment
The sinful person is not fit for the assembly of those who follow God," (1:3-5).
14. The person who loves the Lord's instructions is alive like a tree planted by the flowing waters. He doesn't live like the tree that grows of itself in the wild. He gets his life from the flowing river and bears fruit through that life. For the very reason that he lives near the flow, his leaves are luxuriant with green and freshness.
15. The blessedness of a person is in a certain sense determined by "where he is." But, it is not [determined] by whether or not one is in an environment that the world would call blessed. There are many unhappy people though they are living on easy street. The real thing that matters is whether one is planted by the flowing water. A person's blessedness is determined by whether or not he or she is truly living near the flowing waters of Life.
16. If with God, if alive with love for the Lord's teachings and if living near the flowing water of life, the tree will always yield forth fruit. Because fruit is a sign that there is life. Of course, it takes time for fruit to ripen. The text says, "as time goes around." But, it will always come to fruition. In addition, this truth is expressed as "Everything he does will bring forth prosperity." "The prosperity" spoken about here is not necessarily directly tied to the honors of this world. But, if one is near God's life, then the will of God will be fulfilled through him or her and what God wishes to be will be attained, and God's glory will be richly manifested through that person's life. That's where we find true human happiness and blessing, when it is built on the glory of God.
17. On the other hand, the psalmist speaks in regard to the unhappy person. Even though they might seem to be prospering, they are like the chaff blown about by the wind. The farmer lets the threshed wheat into the air with a winnowing fan. By doing that, the first part of the outer shell is blown away by the wind, and only the good grade wheat comes back into the fan. When the wind blows all of the crop's real value is put to the test. The real test question for us is whether our lives are connected to the eternal One and whether we have eternal value and the real stuff or we are just empty husks with nothing good inside. If a person is only like the husk, his happiness and his very being indeed will be blown away with the wind. The wind of God's judgment blows against every which kind of setting in a life. That anyone knows by experience. But, if someone doesn't know that or hasn't experienced the testing winds, the great wind of Death will ultimately blow things wide open for him or her so he or she can see reality plainly. When they are set before the righteous judgment of God, they will see themselves as the chaff they are and as individuals to be completely blown away.
"The Lord knows the way of the one who follows God.
The way of the one who goes against God leads to destruction," (1:6).
19. Two ways lie before each person. Whichever way you take is your life's greatest choice. It might be that we have to keep on going on a steep road, where there is pain or where there are hard times. But, since the Lord knows "the road you're on," and since it is the way in which the Lord joins you and watches over you, the person who walks that way is happy and blessed.
20. On the other hand, no matter how level or easy the road, or how glamorously bedecked the road may be, since it is the way that leads to destruction, the person on that path is unhappy and cursed. The message of this psalmist shows us that whether blessed or not, whether happy or not, it is not determined by what a person has acquired on his or her own, or by the environment one is placed in, but determined by the direction of one's life. I pray that we might walk to the end on the road that this psalmist had walked on and that we might give evidence of its happiness with our lives.
*This is my poor translation of the Japanese. I would be interested in seeing the original English speech Garfield gave at the commencement at Harvard.
**Same word as "blessed" and its negative counterpart, which can mean "accident, misfortune, woe, disaster, unhappiness."