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Wickedness or Righteousness: Verbs as Holy Instruction in Psalm 1

Verbs breathe life into stories, and Scripture is no exception. Look at the verbs found in a powerful portion of Acts 3. Peter and John are passing through the Beautiful Gate on their way to pray in the temple when they meet a man born lame and begging alms:

‘But when Peter, along with John, fixed his gaze on him, he said, “Look at us!” And he began to give them his attention, expecting to receive something from them. But Peter said, “I do not possess silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you: In the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene – walk!” And seizing him by the right hand, he raised him up; and immediately his feet and his ankles were strengthened. And leaping up, he stood upright and began to walk; and he entered the temple with them, walking and leaping and praising God’ (Acts 3:4-8).

Before his miraculous healing, the beggar requests (and expects) earthly aid. He is clueless that God is providentially placing him in the Beautiful Gate to receive far greater heavenly aid. Then, once the power of Christ breaks into his life and heals him, the beggar raises, walks, leaps, and praises. Like a trail of breadcrumbs, these verbs lead us from desperation to salvation, from destitution to restitution. Likewise, Psalm 1 employs powerful verbs to contrast blessing and cursing, narrow gates and broad ways.

‘How blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked,

Nor stand in the way of sinners,

Nor sit in the seat of scoffers!’ (Ps. 1:1)

Much like the Sermon on the Mount, Psalm 1 begins with the way of blessing. Knowledge of our creator is the highest blessing bestowed upon mankind and the only road to true happiness. God creates us to know and love Him, both now and forever. Therefore, Paul declares: God ‘desires all men to be saved and to come to the full knowledge of the truth’ (1 Tim. 2:4). Like Paul, the psalmist knows this truth is available to all people but only experienced by those who strive after God.

Walk is the first verb we meet. As practical people with a tangible language, the Hebrew psalmist sees life as a journey. This is why Paul also pours over the ‘worthy walk’ in Ephesians 4, Colossians 1, and 1 Thessalonians 2, where he uses walking metaphors to contrast holy God’s way with our own way of sin. You see, we all face a fork in the road: ‘delight’ in the teachings of God (Ps. 1:2) or ‘walk in the counsel of the wicked’ (Ps. 1:1). Fittingly, the Hebrew for ‘wicked’ means to depart from the path. Temptations and deviations abound, so the path we choose to walk is critical.

Just as wisdom and warning (or beatitudes and bewares) bookend the Sermon on the Mount, Psalm 1 offers joy by cautioning against folly. The psalmist wants our every action (from walking, to standing, to sitting) directed at God; not toward those who mock our creator. Like His love, God’s Word amazes us with its ‘breadth and length and height and depth’ (Eph. 3:18), so in just this first verse we are warned against walking on a sinful path, stopping on it, and finally, sitting down. The lesson is clear. One wrong action soon leads to another. Before you know it, you are caught on a downward spiral.

‘But his delight is in the law of Yahweh,

And in His law, he meditates day and night’ (Ps. 1:2)

Having cautioned us, the psalmist rolls out the red carpet of positive verbs, starting with ‘delight.’ The Hebrew verb means to desire something of immense value, and what greater treasure is there than God’s inspired instruction? The verb also means to bend, as only with God’s leading will we bend away from sin. If we love God’s Word as Jesus did, we will gain ‘the mind of Christ’ (1 Cor. 2:16) and repent and trust in Him, leading to reflection and meditation on ‘the depths of God’ (1 Cor. 2:11). When this becomes true in our lives, we will say will David: ‘Oh how I love Your law! It is my meditation all the day’ (Ps. 119:97). And is this not the gospel in glorious miniature? God chooses and changes us, sends the Holy Spirit to illuminate Scripture to us, and in return we praise God forever.

‘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.

The wicked are not so,

But they are like chaff which the wind drives away’ (Ps. 1:3)

One major difference between ancient Jewish and modern Western thought comes in language. We hear ‘tree firmly planted by streams of water’ (Ps. 1:3) and focus on the image, while the Jewish psalmist sees a trunk and branches growing to support the whole tree. And the analogy only grows richer as we dig deeper. In Hebrew, ‘planted’ means to be transplanted from an undesirable spot to a more lovely location. Only when God transplants us into His family can we prosper and yield abundant fruit.

But in case we are getting too comfortable with God’s lavish blessings, along comes a warning. If our actions fall out of step with God, we will wither and fade like leaves on a dead tree: ‘like chaff which the wind drives away’ (Ps. 1:4). As Paul warns elsewhere, we must wear the full armor of God’s revelation or risk being ‘tossed here and there…by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming’ (Eph. 4:14). Therefore, one path leads to blessing, while the other leads to eternal cursing and outer darkness.

‘Therefore, the wicked will not rise in the judgment,

Nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous.

For Yahweh knows the way of the righteous,

But the way of the wicked will perish’ (Ps. 1:5-6)

Like all God’s prophets, the psalmist is compelled to sound one last alarm. His message is plain and the implications immense. Those who walk in sin will not rise to eternal life but will enter the pit prepared for the Devil and his angels. The repetition found in these last two verses is known as chiasmus in Hebrew poetry. It hammers home how God-rejecters not only sacrifice spiritual stability in this life but will inherit damnation in the life to come. Scripture teaches that God knows us all intimately. He knows our end before our beginning. Nothing shocks or surprises Him. Even though we sin each and every day, He still offers us a choice between two paths that determine our eternal destination. So choose wisely. Choose life. Choose Christ.

All Scripture quotations are from the Legacy Standard Bible


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