“Blessed is the man” — pause there. Who doesn’t want to be the blessed man, happy, content, and joy-filled? Nearly all philosophical frameworks for human history have chased this goal. The question “how can I be the blessed man?” drove (and still drives) the ethicists and philosophers of Greece, Rome, Europe, and America. Their answers are scattered, but they all fall short of the word of God’s richness, depth, and beauty.
Aristotle’s answer is pretty typical of the larger strains of philosophy, and of our modern society’s posture as well: he taught the the blessed man delights in virtue and good, and recognizes it inherently because he himself is good.
If Aristotle’s right, we’re all screwed.
God teaches us in the Bible that all men 1) naturally do not delight in virtues or goodness (John 3:19), and 2) are inherently evil (Jeremiah 17:9). Thus what is the ultimate good according to God is folly according to the world.
Yet in another sense, Scripture agrees with Aristotle. In Psalm 1 we learn that “Blessed is the man … [whose] delight is on the law of the LORD” (Psalm 1:1-2). So the blessed man truly does delight in virtue and goodness. (For what else is the law of the LORD but virtuous and good? Don’t believe me? Read Psalm 119. I’ll wait.)
So we’ve established that the blessed man delights in — shall we just call it “righteousness”? So here are a few observations about this man, and how we can become him. First, Psalm 1:1-4:
Blessed is the man
who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,
nor stands in the way of sinners,
nor sits in the seat of scoffers;
but his delight is on the law of the LORD,
and on his law he meditates day and night.
He is like a tree
planted by streams of water
that yields its fruit in season,
and its leaf does not wither.
In all that he does, he prospers.
What He Doesn’t Do
The three negative categories that the psalmist first presents us with, counsel, way, and seat, correlate to thinking, behaving, and belonging, “in which a person’s fundamental choice of allegiance is made and carried through” (Kidner). The blessed man does not give his allegiance to sin; his identity is not in the flesh or the world.
But the blessed life is not a mere list of “don’ts.” The Bible never orders us to just lay off something without offering something better, something healthier, in its place. So these triple negatives bring to bear the question of where the blessed man’s allegiance does belong.
What He Does Do
Similar to the outward/internal dichotomy of the works of the flesh and the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5, note the difference between what he doesn’t and what he does do: he doesn’t walk in the counsel, stand in the way, or sit in the seat; instead, delight and meditation. They are far more internal, and far more pleasant. Like the fruit of the Spirit, they imply the freedom of the blessed man.
Delighting in the law of the Lord is a gift, and it’s a skill. We cannot delight in his law unless the Lord changes our hearts and gives us new desires. And yet it is something we hone and grow in with a measure of deliberateness. Again, read Psalm 119, Psalm 19, and basically all the other Psalms. the law of the Lord:
- reveals our sin and need
- reveals God’s heart and character
- teaches us to love him with gratitude
- restrains sin
Those are truly things to delight in! Going beyond our simple understanding of “law” may also be of some help to us. The use of law here (tôrâ) is used to either specify a command, or (as here) the whole of God’s revelation in Scripture. The includes his commands, his precepts, statutes, prophesy, poetry, et cetera.
There is enough meat to chew on in tôrâ that we can meditate on it day and night. Meditation is how we work the law deep down into our very being, and further delight in it. When God gives us new taste buds for his law, he asks us to chew on it like a juicy piece of steak. As we work it over in our mouths the flavors soak in and take on nuances and subtleties we didn’t know it had.
What He is Like
He is like a tree planted …
It can be a helpful practice when studying the Bible to notice what it doesn’t say. Psalm 1 doesn’t say “He is like a tree who planted himself by a stream of water.” He is planted. I think that’s important. Aristotle’s blessed man either plants himself, or just exists there in an ontological state of plantedness. Not so with the biblical blessed man. He is planted. For us to be by streams of water and reap all the benefits of the blessed man, the Lord must first give us a new heart and regenerate us. Otherwise we will have no taste for righteousness.
by streams of water …
The blessed man is not located in the midst of a desert, doomed to scrape out a meager, short existence with the sand, scorpions, and scorching sun. Instead, his roots dig deep into the rich, fertile soil of the gospel, and he draws nourishment and refreshment from the stream of living water.
that yields its fruit in due season …
As the Spirit produces fruit in the believer (Galatians 5:22-23), so this true yields its fruit. Count on it. But it does not instantaneously pop a cherry out of a blossom overnight. This sort of botanical growth and fruitfulness takes time, and patience. There are seasons of rapid growth and much fruit, and long cold winters. But it does yield its fruit, in due season.
[This] emphasizes both the distinctiveness and the quiet growth of the product; for the tree is no mere channel, piping the water unchanged from one place to another, but a living organism which absorbs it, to produce in due course something new and delightful, proper to its kind and to its time.
and its leaf does not wither.
The psalmist’s point is not that the leaf is not susceptible to the effects of Autumn, but rather that it is free from the “crippling damage of drought” (Kidner again). As discussed in a previous post on peace, even though the earth may crumble away we remain steadfast as we remain in God. In times of plenty and times of scarcity, the Lord is with us and will not leave us to wither away. Consider the lilies!
In all that he does, he prospers.
This is no prosperity message. This is a message of God’s sovereignty, love, and provision. This particular word (ṣlḥ) has no direct English equivalent. It is both to prosper or succeed in a journey or quest, and also to cut through, make a way. When the servant found provision and success in his quest for a bride for Isaac, he said to the Lord, “you are prospering (ṣlḥ) the way I go!” Proverbs 3 says that the Lord will “make straight your path” — he will make straight your way, and provide for you, inasmuch as he has given you new desires, and set you on a new way, rather than that of sinners.
Final Observation: Take and Read!
The Bible is telling you to read your Bible, and meditate on it day and night. It’s not legalism, it’s an obedient expression of gratitude and delight.
The soul of the sluggard craves and gets nothing,
but the soul of the diligent is richly supplied.
When I am being a sluggard, I cry “why are you far from me, Lord? Why are you hiding the face of your pleasure from me?” I crave; I get nothing.
When I am diligent, I am richly supplied. As Chad Escue says, I diligently lay wood on the altar, and the fire will come from the Lord. The Lord is faithful to change our delights, to allow us to taste his goodness, and to plant us in a place of safety, health, and pleasure.
Who doesn’t want that?!