1 Blessed is the one
who does not walk in step with the wicked
or stand in the way that sinners take
or sit in the company of mockers,
2 but whose delight is in the law of the Lord,
and who meditates on his law day and night.
3 That person is like a tree planted by streams of water,
which yields its fruit in season
and whose leaf does not wither—
whatever they do prospers.
4 Not so the wicked!
They are like chaff
that the wind blows away.
5 Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous.
6 For the Lord watches over the way of the righteous,
but the way of the wicked leads to destruction.
1. True Freedom is found in Delighting in God’s Instruction (verses 1-3)
What is the first thing that often pops up in our minds when we think of the word ‘law’? For me personally, ‘burdensome’, ‘annoying’ and ‘oppressive’ are just some of those things I think of, when it comes to this repulsive word.
There have been many moments where I’ve wanted to drive double the speed limit just to get home quicker. Moments where I’ve wanted to unleash my fury with my fists at people who infuriate me. Moments where I’ve wanted to pirate my games off the Internet rather than purchasing the actual copies. But often these pursuits of instant gratification, thrill and spontaneity are halted on its tracks, because I don’t want to end up getting arrested for breaking the law!
Our culture has also taken its stance against the tyranny of ‘the law.’ Aussies generally hate being told how to live and they idolise complete freedom and autonomy over their own lives. This is the gospel of redemption and liberation that is preached to the masses: live a life free of any rules and boundaries, and you will be promised everlasting happiness and blessing. What’s even more surprisingly is that even Christians today have joined allegiance with our culture in stigmatizing the necessity of the Law, albeit for different reasons. Many tend to see the Law as the enemy of grace and the instigator towards legalism. Others have superficially understood the civil, ceremonial and moral laws in the Old Testament to be irrelevant due to Jesus’ redemptive work of fulfilling the Law in the New Testament, and so we often disregard the Law’s importance to the Christian faith.
So when we come to this first verse of the very first Psalm we are reading, it sounds bizarre for the Psalmist to say that those ‘whose delight is in the law of the Lord’ (verse 2) are the one who are ‘blessed’ (verse 1).
Now to quickly clarify, the use of the word ‘Law’ in this Psalm is not limited just to the Five Books of Moses, or even to the Old Testament, but it primarily means instruction that comes from God. And God’s instruction is found none other than in His very Word.
To be blessed, then, is to not walk in step with the wicked and living autonomously for oneself, but to submit oneself in loving obedience to the instruction of God in His Word. Isn’t this message antithetical to the secular gospel that our society has been evangelising? In God’s economy, there is no greater freedom to be attained than to immerse ourselves in glad devotion to His Word. God has given His commandments so that His people can be guided to know how to live harmoniously with Him.
The Psalmist likens those who delight in God’s word to a tree that is implanted in streams in water. We often see these agricultural metaphors in Scripture to describe the fruitfulness of one’s works. Trees are designed as such that they can only grow healthy when it has steady access to channels of fresh water. That way, their leaves will not wither and will bear fruit in season! In the very same way, we were made to live in harmony with God and His Word nourishes and sustains our spiritual health, so that we too can flourish and grow as godly worshippers whom God has designed us to be!
Planting ourselves deep into Scripture channels overflowing spiritual truths, which make us wise for salvation (2 Tim 3:15)! It is of no surprise that Jesus also uses these metaphors to testify to Himself as the living water, who quenches our God-shaped desires and gives us everlasting delight by knowing Him intimately (John 4:10).
This Psalm challenges our unbiblical notions about the Law, and gets us to see it as a guide for righteous living, so that we can grow in our godliness and in our love for God.
2. Meditation is the Key to Spiritual Growth (verse 2b)
So the pursuit of happiness and freedom can only be found when we live in harmony with God by joyfully submitting to His instructions of spiritual human flourishing. We should make it our driven purpose to pursue holiness and godly living in delightful obedience to His commandments. But how should we go about pursuing it?
We see in verse 2b that the blessed are the ones “who meditate on his law day and night”. Does meditating on God’s word just mean setting apart time to do your personal devotions either in the morning or in the evening? Well it can mean that, but I think it means a lot more. Of course, we must read His Word regularly in our daily devotions, but there is a type of meditation that runs past the ‘studying and disregarding’ method (where we skim read the bible passage and forget it as soon as we close our Bibles) – we ought to reflect and meditate on God’s word at every moment of our lives in our daily activities. Whether we are at church worshipping God, buying groceries, studying for the next exam, or going to the gym, we ponder on God’s word to see how He can be glorified in these daily activities. This is often done most effectively when we memorise Scripture into our hearts and minds, so that we are able to meddle over God’s truths to examine and live out the implications it brings to the ordinary tasks that we do each and every day, even when we don’t have our Bibles in front of us. The Psalmist understood this principle when he says to God in Psalm 119:11, “I have hidden your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.”
3. God is the Overseer of our Spiritual Growth (verses 4-6)
If we no longer confine our worship for God within the walls of our own study room (through mere reading of Scripture), and walk out of our rooms to exhibit our delight and joy in God’s decrees to the world through laborious meditation, then what we will quickly notice is that the world has noticed we no longer live and breathe the gospel they breathe. As God’s people, true believers who joyfully obey His instruction, we are called to be set apart from the rest of the world (1 Pet 1:14-16), demonstrated by living godly lives through the means of His Word. Naturally then, we shouldn’t be surprised when we encounter hostile opponents of the gospel, who may urge us to indulge in their sin and relapse back into our old life, or seek to accuse us of wrongdoing (1 Pet 2:11-12). Our workmates might question why we keep the Lord’s Day on Sunday sacred, and not decide to take extra working shifts. There might be tension in our relationship with family and friends, due to the fact that we’ve set our time on Friday nights for bible study and fellowship. Our culture will wage war against our convictions for godliness, in the vain hopes to bury us again in the condemnation of God’s wrath against lawlessness and evildoing.
This reality for us, as Christians, can be intimidating and discomforting. But this Psalm gives us two final encouragements for us to continue flourishing in our spiritual walks:
a) The wicked will not prosper (verses 4-5)
It might often seem as though the enemies of God prosper in their evil ways (Psalm 10), as we press hard to do good deeds and glorify Him. Some might manipulate our generosity and kindness to them, knowing we are often quick to forgive. Others might stand on the moral high ground, denouncing our beliefs in Scripture to be primitive, misogynistic and degenerate. In many of these cases, we are left vulnerable and defenceless, incapable of enacting justice for the wickedness committed against us. But the Psalmist ensures us that our transgressors won’t be able to stand on the final day when they must meet with God. They are like chaff (the husks of corn and other seed), they are useless and unable to escape the unquenchable fire for their heinous deeds.
b) God watches over the way of the righteous (verse 6a)
We can be certain of God’s judgment over evildoers, because He has knowledge of all the affairs of men, whether righteous or wicked! He knows us relationally as His children and His sheep, and He watches over us carefully, tends to our needs and protects us when we are in peril (2 Thess 3:3). By means of His saving grace, God assures His people that He is committed to their spiritual wellbeing and that they would never be led astray.
At the same time though, the Psalmist does leave with a final warning: ‘but the way of the wicked leads to destruction’ (verse 6b). God does not guarantee divine protection for those who persist in their wickedness and rebellion against Him and will drink the cup of destruction poured out for them on that final day.
Final Reflections on the Psalm
This prompts us to seriously consider this question to ourselves: ‘How can we find delight in the law of God?’
Some of us here may feel unmotivated to read God’s Word, because you actually don’t believe that it is enriching and delightful to read. Your unbelief is impeding your reception to the blessings that comes through diligent reading of God’s Word, and you are stuck in your spiritual infancy. Might I suggest that, if this is you, there is hope to fix your unbelief.
The psalmist in Psalm 119:18 asks God to ‘open [his] eyes that [he] may behold wondrous things out of [God’s] law” – the reason for his solemn plead is because he knows that no one naturally finds delight in the wisdom of God. The writer confesses to God that he is unable to see the splendour that comes from His Word, and pleads that God would profoundly remove his blindness. For those of us here who struggle in this area, to muster joy in our bible reading, my encouragements to you are to continue praying to God that He would open your eyes and radicalise your taste buds, so that you begin to savour the word of God as the most delicious, nutritious meal to look forward to, every time you come into devotional time.
But we mustn’t just stop at praying. If we desire to keep growing steadily in our Christian walk, we should also persist in our daily devotions in Scripture, even when we often lack desire to read it. We won’t always savour and enjoy every single meal we eat and we don’t often remember the meal we had at lunchtime two days prior. Yet we understand the vital importance of eating to sustain ourselves, and we consume our meals whether or not we enjoy every single one. All these meals have brought you to where you are sitting right now.
It is the same for the Christian life. We won’t enjoy every portion of Scripture we read, and we certainly won’t remember all that we’ve read and meditated on, but God nurtures and grows us steadily and slowly through these ordinary means of disciplined and regular feeding of His Word, and we mustn’t lose these great opportunities to flourish in our faith with the pretext that we need to find authentic passion and delight in the law of God before we actually come to reading it.