Sermon: Psalms: Book One (Part One)
Blest and Happy Is the Man
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Given 04-Apr-15; 80 minutes
Let us do something unusual here for me and not even have an introduction.
Let us go to Exodus 12. We are going to read the first two verses. I told the people around the table last night that I like to mix things up just a little bit every once in a while. So that is one of the ways that I am going to do it.
Let us go to the next chapter, which talks about last night, what we commemorated in the Night To Be Much Observed.
Exodus 13:4 "On this day you are going out in the month Abib."
With the new moon that occurred two weeks ago, which was March 21st, we entered into a new season of the year on the Hebrew calendar. Usually we call that day the first day of the sacred year. That new moon began the month of Abib, also called after the Jews came back from Babylonian exile, Nisan, which is the Babylonian word for that particular month. And God says here in Exodus 12 that this is the beginning of the year, the sacred year.
Now the Israelites had another year, beginning on Tishri 1, which is the Day of Trumpets. You all probably know all this. But that was not the sacred year. That was the civil year, very similar to our governmental fiscal year. Or a business' legal year, they pick a time and they do all their books and all the things that they do in order to keep track of time in this particular year. So they will go from, let us say, July 1 to July 1, or they go from one date in a year and then they go around the whole year. So the Israelites used the Tishri 1, which was common around the Middle East, as their civil year. And when a new king came on the throne and was coronated, normally the coronation ceremony took place on Tishri 1 and his first year of reign started then even though he may have taken the throne back earlier in January or something like that. That was considered the end of his father's year and then he started on the next year at Tishri 1.
So we have these two years, but the one we are concerned about is the one that starts with Abib 1, as it says here in Exodus 12:1-2. So what does it mean? Well, Abib has to do with the spring. Abib means fresh or sprouting. That is what happens in the springtime, things sprout out of the earth. It means budding, trees start budding. We have got this beautiful Judas tree—Red Buds—they are beautiful right now here in the Charlotte area, budding out in their purple flowers. It also can be translated as earing, not earring as we put in an ear or put a ring in one's ear, but earing as corn earing or barley earing, when the first signs of fruit are beginning to come out. So it is easy to understand that Abib marks the beginning of what we call spring. You know, Tel Aviv, that city in Israel, is literally Spring Hill. A tell is a hill and so they called it Spring Hill. Of course, in the modern Hebrew, most of the time the Vs replace the Bs. We say Abib, they would say Aviv. That is just the way things have changed throughout history.
At the beginning of spring, which we think of in our Western society is beginning with the vernal equinox, which happened on March the 20th, another round of holy days begins and it starts with this one that we are keeping today, the first day of the Feast of Unleavened bread. Now, not all of the holy days are here in the spring. They stretch out actually into two different seasons as we would count them. There are these two holy days of Unleavened Bread in the early spring. There is the holy day of Pentecost, which happens in the late spring. And then there are the four holy days of autumn—from Trumpets to what we call the Last Great Day. You see there is only two seasons that have appointed times. This means that the season of summer does not have an appointed time and neither does the season of winter have an appointed time, but just spring and fall.
Exodus 23:14-16 "Three times you shall keep a feast to Me in the year: You shall keep the Feast of Unleavened Bread (you shall eat unleavened bread seven days, as I commanded you, at the time appointed in the month Abib, for in it you came out of Egypt; none shall appear before Me empty). . .
This is exactly what we are doing. We did not come before Him empty just a few minutes ago. We gave an offering. And so we are fulfilling this command to eat unleavened bread seven days being here in the appointed time to come before God.
Exodus 23:16 ". . . and the Feast of Harvest, the firstfruits of your labors which you have sown in the field; and the Feast of Ingathering at the end of the year, when you have gathered in the fruit of your labors from the field."
What is mentioned here within the covenant, chapter 23 is part of the Old Covenant, are these three times, as it is put here, and specifically mentioned are Unleavened Bread, Pentecost (that would be as it is here, the Feast of Harvest), and then Tabernacles, which is the Feast of Ingathering, as it is mentioned here. So it talks about these three particular times. We would think that the word time here would be moen, which can mean season. But it is not. That is not the word that is here in Exodus 23:14, as in "three times you shall keep a feast to Me in the year." I thought this was interesting. The word is regalim. The "im" at the end tells you it is plural. That word is literally "those things that are at the far end of your leg—feet." Regalim, our feet. And so if you were to read this in the Hebrew, it would literally read "three feet in the year you shall keep a feast to Me."
We would not think in those terms. Why would you three feet in the year keep a feast? That just sounds silly. Well, it suggests making account by tapping your foot 1, 2, 3—three times a year. Now normally when we say 1, 2, 3 we do it with our fingers. But I do not know, maybe the Hebrews just like tapping with their foot and they do it that way. You can think about keeping a beat by tapping your foot. So that maybe that was it. Maybe it was a way to kind of regulate the year by keeping the beat by tapping your foot. The word also can mean paces, like you are walking. So you take three steps, you have taken three paces. That is also another way where you can kind of regulate things, measure things out with paces.
But the image that it brings out among these other ones that I have just brought out, is that it brings out the illustration in the mind of a walk, of a journey. Or, as these particular feasts are known—Unleavened Bread, Pentecost, and Tabernacles—they are pilgrimage feasts, they are feasts that you have to walk to. And so the Hebrew would have this idea that three feet, three paces, three walks occur in the year. And they happen at these three festivals: the Feast of Unleavened Bread, the Feast of Pentecost, and the Feast of Tabernacles—when they have to go, walk, pace, travel to God and appear before Him. So the paces that they take throughout the year fall on these three times. Their first pace in the spring falls on the spring holy days of Unleavened Bread and then the next pace they take, which occurs fifty days later, falls on the Feast of Pentecost or the Feast of Harvest, as it says in here.
But then they take another pace and there is no holy day in the next season. Remember the next season is summer and there is no appointed time in the summer. So what do they do? Do they fall over? Do they float? Because they have got to put down their foot in the fall for the Feast of Ingathering, the Feast of Tabernacles. So they have got to step down. In your mind's eye, you would not think of just kind of floating over summer? Well, they decided, in their wisdom, that they would step, they would step in summer, but they would not step on an appointed time because there was no appointed time, but they would step there. And then the next pace then would go into the fall and that would be the Feast of Tabernacles and then they would have to take another step in the winter and then they would be back to their original step, original place in the springtime.
So instead of actually they are being three seasons in the year, or two seasons in the year, depending on how you looked at it, there are five. There are five seasons of the year, five paces. It is just that two of them, winter and summer, do not have a festival that is commanded by God.
So what do we have here? Their year contained five paces, five steps, whereas ours usually have four. We call them the four seasons: spring, summer, fall, and winter. They split their year up into five parts, just not as we do, based on equinoxes and solstices. They based theirs on the steps that they took through the year to reach God's appointed times, the holy days. Their periods of time were not based on what was going on necessarily out there in nature. There was some of that. Obviously there were festivals of harvest, and so things were going on in the fields and they were bringing in the fruit of the harvest. We have those themes that are seen in Pentecost and in Tabernacles. But that was not the major theme, at least from God's point of view. From God's point of view they were meeting there at His appointed times, they are meeting with Him.
And so the common themes tended to be sacred themes, religious themes. Their seasons were Passover time (right now), with Unleavened Bread, Pentecost, and then summer and Tabernacles and winter—five seasons. This five part division became a consistent pattern in Scripture. Fives are everywhere in Scripture, especially in the Old Testament when the Israelites were doing all these things and putting them in patterns and such in God's Word, obviously under God's inspiration.
Once we look at it from our perspective, when the New Testament is added to it and some of these spiritual ideas come out, five becomes the number of grace. You can also look at it, not just in terms of grace, but in God's providential care or God's providential gifts, things that God gives to make sure that you have what you need to do the things that He needs you to do. These things are given by grace. We do not earn any of these things. He gives them freely so that we have what it takes to do what He wants us to do and to get where He wants us to get. So we have these groups of five all throughout the Old Testament.
Now, if you remember my sermon on "Psalms: Book Four" from the Feast of Tabernacles, I mentioned that I used that word "handful" purposely. We have a handful of parts of things organized in groups of five and because if you look at your hand, you have five little fingers there (or maybe they are not so little). But you have got five things there where you can count or place each item and remember it. You have, let us say, the five seasons, right? So we could add those to our hand here. The thumb, let us say, is Passover, and then we have Pentecost and then we have summer and then we have fall and then we have winter. So we have got them all there on our hands only as far away as the end of our arm.
Then we can add other things. The five books of the Pentateuch. We have Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. They are all right there too. We just have to start layering them on our fingers so that we understand that they all go together. The five books of the festival scrolls and thus the five festivals that kind of go through with this. You have the Song of Solomon and Ruth and you have Lamentations and Ecclesiastes. Finally, for the winter time, you have the book of Esther. And of course, I know you know where I am going here, the five books of Psalms: Book One, Book Two, Book Three, Book Four, Book Five.
Here we are in spring and I have not done Book One. And so we are going to do Book One of the Psalms over the next, I do not know how long a period of time. Book One is the longest of the Psalms. It has got 41 psalms in it. That is quite a few to go over. I do not know if we are going to go over every one of them. But I do want to introduce you to the first book of Psalms because it is extremely important. If I would have done this the right way I would have just started with Book One. But I started with Book Five, which says something about me, and I have been going back and forth within the book of Psalms. So we are going to do Book 1 today and next Friday on the last holy day, and we will see where we need to go from there.
But because it is spring, it just makes perfect sense to go ahead and do Book One during this season because it is very apropos. You are in the mood already, you are ready for those themes, and so I am going to give you Psalms, Book One. I should say that was probably my introduction, but we just started with the scripture and kind of got right into it. Okay, SPS is over now, into the next part.
The Jews found that the recurring sets of five that I just mentioned by going over them with my fingers here, have common themes. The spring lines up with Genesis and spring lines up with Book One, and the spring lines up with the Song of Solomon. And as we have seen in other sermons on the Psalms: Book Two lines up with Pentecost and with the book of Ruth and with the book of Exodus. They have common ideas that come out. Book Four, which was our topic during the fall feast last year (So we have fall there), shares themes with the book of Numbers and the book of Ecclesiastes. Book Five, which is winter time, parallels Deuteronomy and the book of Esther. Esther of course ends with with the celebration of Purim, which usually occurs in February of the year, in late winter.
Book Three (and just so you know this, you can schedule in advance, I am planning to do that this summer because it goes with the summertime, and if you want to read ahead, it goes very well with the book of Leviticus and with the book of Lamentations. The two "L" books in there. Easy way to remember. L is in the middle of the alphabet and summer is in the middle of the year. And that is all I have to say about that), but we will get to that in the summertime.
Like I said, Book One, springtime, Genesis, Song of Solomon (or Song of Songs). It starts with Psalm 1 and it goes through Psalm 41, and it has a summary psalm of 146. Psalm 146 is Book One's summary song and that is another set of five that I did not add before. You have Psalm 146 through 150 which parallel the various books of Psalms.
I would like to go now to Song of Songs (I am going to call it Song of Songs because that is what I like to call it). I just want to give you a little bit of a taste of how this particular book parallels the ideas that are in Book One and springtime most of all, because that is as far as we have gotten right now, is that springtime is a major factor in Book One.
If you remember what is happening in the Song of Songs, there is a Shulamite and there is a Beloved. Those are the two main actors in the book. The Shulamite is a country girl who has been out keeping the flocks. She is not a refined lady, not necessarily, she may become that at one time in the future, but right now she is, as we open the book, just a girl that is out there somewhere in Israel doing what Israelitish girls do in a family that is agricultural in nature. Well, the story is that Solomon (just to keep it simple), sees her and he wants to add her to his harem to be his wife. We will just leave it at that. There are other ways to interpret it, we will just say that is the way it is.
So what we set up here is that there is a Shulamite, this young girl, kind of a country girl who does not know the ways of royalty, does not know the ways of the big city, and she has caught the eye of the king. The king wants to bring her into Jerusalem, into his family, he wants to marry her. And so there is a courtship that begins and the idea here is the Shulamite's love for the Beloved and the Beloved's love for the Shulamite. But it does not always go perfectly and by the time we get to chapter 3 things are pretty bad because she does not respond to him like she should have and things go very badly. But here in chapter 2 we get a setting of what time of the year it is that these things are taking place.
Song of Solomon 2:8-13 The voice of my beloved! Behold, he comes leaping upon the mountains, skipping upon the hills. My beloved is like a gazelle or a young stag. Behold, he stands behind our wall; he is looking through the windows, gazing through the lattice. My beloved spoke, and said to me: "Rise up, my love, my fair one, and come away. For lo, the winter is past, the rain is over and gone. The flowers appear on the earth; the time of singing has come, and the voice of the turtledove is heard in our land. The fig tree puts forth her green figs, and the vines with the tender grapes give a good smell. Rise up, my love, my fair one, and come away!"
So the rains, the snows, the cold of winter has passed. There is this hope of spring and freshness, flowers, beautiful smells, the promise of fruit. They are there, and this love is blossoming. She looks and sees him coming, and she sees him as this wonderfully heroic and gallant figure, anything a girl would ever dream of, and that is him. He comes and tells her to come away with him and spring is the time of love. Love is in the air and she is all excited about this because she has been chosen by the king.
Obviously there are pretty clear spiritual parallels between Christ, the bridegroom, and the church, His bride. We can see if we would go through the Song of Songs that these parallels just go straight through. They are very clear, they come out, and just as in any relationship, sometimes it is not so close. Sometimes you make the wrong decisions and you have to pay for it, and other times things are going well, but over time you learn and you grow together. By the time you get to the end of Song of Songs, she is saying, "I am my beloved's and my beloved is mine." And so by the time you get to the end there is, you might say, perfect love between them.
That is the idea, that is kind of the groundwork for what we are going to be talking about in terms of Psalms: Book One. I want you to understand the feeling of the newness of spring, the promise of fruit, the awakening out of winter, awakening out of being dead and coming to life. But there is things you have to learn too. You cannot just suddenly have fruit, things have to sprout, things have to bud, things have to ear, the fruit has to mature before you can get to a harvest. And so the springtime is a very necessary part of the whole progress of a Christian's life. It is not the end, but it is the very important beginning of things. You have got to get certain fundamental, foundational principles established in the spring or you will not have a harvest. And those are the things that Psalms, Book One tends to bring out, those fundamental things that we really need to understand.
I will not go back to Genesis because it is a long book, there is fifty chapters there and we could probably spend several sermons just going through the parallels that we could find in Genesis. But I want to mention them just so you have them in the back of your mind as we are going through Psalms: Book One. And that is, Genesis starts out, it is the beginning, "In the beginning." It is a start, an introduction to everything. Everything begins there—"In the beginning God." Ah, one of those foundational principles, fundamental principles that you have to understand, that God is right there at the very start. As a matter of fact, He starts everything. He is there before the start and He is the One who creates everything. He creates us. As I mentioned in the sermon couple weeks ago, He is also the One who created all the laws and everything begins with what He says and what He tells us to do. He establishes all the foundation for everything.
So you have got to understand that first things first—and that first thing is God. He is the beginning.
But then you go through and Genesis turns into a series of stories. You get this story of Adam and Eve. What did they do? They chose poorly and they had to face the consequences. You have the story of Abel. He chose wisely and made a very good sacrifice and God appreciated that and accepted it. But Cain chose poorly. He did not give the right sacrifice. And so he got upset, got upset at God, got upset at Abel, Abel said something to him, Cain rises up and kills his brother and sets himself on a path of destruction.
Then you have other stories that come on. Noah pops up and what happens? What has the world done? The world has gone the way of Cain and it has reached a point where they are so violent that God just cannot stand it anymore. And so there is one man out of all of those people, however many millions there were before the Flood, who pleases God, who is righteous, who does what is right. So He plucks that one man out, and He says, "Build Me an ark, gather the animals, put them in this ark, take your family, eight souls out of all these millions, and you'll be saved." So you have a division here of the very few. The one, Noah, who did what was right versus the millions who did what was wrong.
After that you get to the Tower of Babel, and the whole world is going wrong again. They want to elevate themselves above God. And God says, "I'm not going to have this. You guys can speak Chinese and Spanish and Hittite," and however many languages that He separated things up into, and says, "Go your separate ways because I can't have this. You guys are coming together too quickly in evil. I've got to separate you out, spread you out all over the world, have all this confusion of language so you can't all get together and just mount up evil." And out of that comes Shem. And later on in his line, Abraham. Abraham does what is right and we follow Abraham.
But now we are beginning to get very particular about things. We are not talking on a worldwide scale here, like we were with Noah and the Tower of Babel. We are going to one man and we begin to see the times when he chose well and the time when he chose badly, and the consequences of what happens when he chooses badly versus when he chooses well. And then we have thrown in stories of Lot and Lot's choosing badly. Even though he was a righteous man, he chose a terrible place to live and he had to pay the consequences for that. That was not a good choice.
Of course then we get to Isaac who does just about everything right. He makes good decisions because he is a type of Christ. And of course we have there Abraham's awesome choice of sacrificing Isaac and being a model of God the Father, and God saying, "Now I know what you're going to do and that you're fully convicted and you're not going to turn to the right hand or the left."
Then we get to Jacob and we are starting to get a lot more complex in the decisions that are being made. This is a man who has all kinds of talents and God could use him greatly but he has this proclivity to deceive and we get kind of real human nature having to be overcome in this man and it takes a long time. Not like his dad who seemed to have it all going in the proper direction from the beginning. Not like his grandfather who said, "I'm going to follow God," and he would follow God because that is what God said, and he would teach his children to do those things.
But Jacob was a schemer. And so we see choices being made from a man's mind who is very complicated, and he does not respond in the same way as his dad or his grandfather. It is much more confused, much more chaotic, not so straightforward. But in the end, of course, he is a converted righteous man. He has not gotten rid of all his bugaboos, he has not really become this paragon of virtue, but he is a good man. But he has raised all these sons and they have their problems, probably because he had his problems and he just passed them on. He has this huge problem of favoritism with Joseph and it causes those sons to make all kinds of bad choices, especially in light of that one son, Joseph.
But Joseph is kind of like Isaac, he does everything right and he suffers and he comes out of it saying, "God made me suffer for your good. I went through all those years of slavery and then I went through all those good years as Prime Minister and God put me through all these things so I could help you guys and bring you guys down here to Egypt with me."
I am telling you this because this is the idea that comes up in Psalms: Book One. That there are paths to take, there are choices to make, and God wants you to make the right one and not go down those other paths. He wants you to choose the right path. And so we have all these stories in Genesis that shows people making the right choices and the wrong choices, and we see their choices having very serious consequences, both good and bad. I am awfully glad Noah chose to follow God. The consequences of that decision made over however many years of following God, made all of this possible, and it still impacts us today. We can still look back into the 6th, 7th, 8th chapters of Genesis and be glad that he made those right choices. So, that is kind of the idea of how these themes come together into what we have here as Psalms: Book One.
Before we leave the book of Genesis in thought, I wanted to add one more that is very important. I started with God, saying God is the Creator God, the foundation of everything. But I also wanted to point out that when we look back over Genesis as a whole and we see God's involvement, what pops up is that He was sovereignly working everything to that point, when we get to Genesis 50 and Israel has come down into Egypt and He is ready then for what we are doing today. We are celebrating or observing the coming out of Egypt of the children of Israel. So He was working out His plan all through the book of Genesis to bring it to this point—where He could raise up Moses and take His people out of Egypt, moving His plan along.
And so what we see, as a theme, is God's sovereignty, that He was in charge all along. He not only made things and got them started, but in every situation—Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, his sons—He was always there observing, interfering as needed, pushing, moving, working things out so that we would come by the end of the book of Genesis to this point where things were set up for Exodus, and the all the spiritual lessons that are involved in that. Where He would call His people out of the world, Egypt, give them His law, make them His people, have a covenant, and go from there.
So the big themes of Genesis that we see, God is at the beginning of the foundation of everything and He is involved in everything. And then the other theme of these men and women making choices, choosing the path they will follow.
So what are the themes of Book One of the Psalms? I have kind of hinted at them and kind of told you outright a couple of times, but I want to give you kind of a list.
As you might expect, the idea of of springtime, they have to do with Passover. the themes of Passover, the themes of Unleavened Bread. They are all in there one way or another, as I just mentioned with the coming out of Egypt and all of that. One of the clearest themes (that we will get to next Friday), is the theme of the life and ministry of Messiah. Now, this is often seen in parallel with the life of David. David went through all kinds of stuff in his career, both before he became king and after he became king. But those experiences that he experienced are types of things that Christ experienced in His life and ministry, some of the thoughts that He had, some of the things He had to do. So when we go through them in Psalms: Book One, these are actually things that happened to David and it is his thoughts, his memories, his feelings about what had gone on. But really they have an undertone of what happens in Christ's life and things that He thought, things He went through.
Now from those ideas life and times of Messiah come the other sub-themes such as trust in God. Trust in God is all through Book One. It makes a nice little Bible study to go through with a particular color of pencil or whatever and underlying all the times where it talks about trusting in God or having faith in God, because it really pops out at you. Do it in a vibrant color so you can really see that this is just about on every page or in every psalm that there is an encouragement there to trust God. You are going through this, trust God. It might be bad, but trust God. Do not worry about what is going on around you. Trust God, believe in Him, He has got your back, and I might say, He is sovereign, He is working these things out, do not worry. Trust God.
Another sub-theme then would be suffering. Did not the Messiah go through a whole lot of suffering? Does not the individual Christian go through a whole lot of suffering? And it seems like, especially at the beginning of one's conversion, because it is so different from the life he has had before. People tend to suffer because they are having to unlearn all these bad things and learn all the good things and it puts them in conflict with family and friends and employers and such. And so they have to overcome these things. Of course with the suffering comes, usually, opposition because it is the opposition bringing the suffering on you. So how do you face opposition or even worse, how do you face persecution? Not just opposition, but somebody actually pinpointing you, targeting you, for what you believe. And of course with Messiah, you also have the very obvious themes of redemption and salvation and kingship—leadership, rulership. Those are all things that are involved in the life of Messiah.
Now, you remember the old joke, there are two kinds of people. Well that joke ends in about 9,000 different ways because everybody categorizes everybody else in different ways. So there is one kind of this and this opposite over there. Well, I am not saying that Psalms: Book One is a joke, but it does have that theme. There are two kinds of people in this world and those two kinds of people are the righteous and the wicked. That is a major, major theme of Book One: there are two kinds of people, the righteous and the wicked. And this is shown in Psalm 1, that there is a path. Actually there are two paths. There is the path that God has called you to walk, and then there is the other path—the path that sinners follow.
So there are not just two different kinds of people, there is two different kinds of paths. Then we find that there are two different ends to those paths: the ones who are righteous end up saved and rewarded. But the wicked perish, all they get is destruction and death. So we have this dichotomy: on the one side the righteous who go down the right path and end up saved, glorified. They are supposedly good people that do the right thing, they are on the right path, and they get a wonderful reward. Then on the other side of this dichotomy, you have the wicked, sinners, who are on the wrong path. And of course, their end is death. Their reward, their wages is death. So you have this one side versus the other.
Along with that, though, the righteous people going down this path that God has chosen toward a future that is wonderful and glorious, you have things like the ideas of hope coming out. Things may be going terribly along this path that you have chosen. It is God's path, but God's path does not mean that it is all yellow brick road or anything like that. There are things that happen along God's path that are going to test you. There are tests and trials along that path. But there is also that hope out there at the end of the road, that there is going to be good things happening.
Just like spring, you know that once you begin spring and following spring's path, that there is a lot of work involved to produce the fruit at the end of the road. The promise is there, but you have not gotten it yet. The promise of growth and fruit are still in the future and it takes time. You have to be patient, you have to overcome a lot of things, you have to get down in the dirt, you have to weed it out, you have to make sure you water it right, you have to make sure you keep the bugs away. There are lots of things that you have to do before you get to the fruit. There is always the hope though, that you are going to have a great crop. And so there is this idea of hope and promise that the year, once it ends, it is going to end in glory and in all kinds of growth and fruit.
So that is another theme that comes out. It is not necessarily that hope is going to show you the words, "that I had hope." Usually what it is, is at the end of a psalm or however it comes out, it is something along the lines of, "Then I remembered the Lord," or "God put me on the right path," or "God delivered me." And so there is there is a final kind of doxology that says, "Praise God for these wonderful things because I'm going to have this in the future, because God is with me." That is how you will usually see it in these psalms.
As I have done with the other books, I am going to go into the introductory psalms, and I say that purposely. There are actually two introductory psalms in Book One, not just one, but we will probably only have time for the one today because this first one is very important (and like I said, hopefully I will get to the other one next Friday, and if we have time Friday I will do the summary psalm).
Let us go back in the Bible to Psalm 1. The two introductory psalms (Psalm 1 and 2, right at the beginning) actually are the introductions to both Psalm 1 and to the whole book of Psalms, but I am going to treat them mostly as the introduction to Book One. Psalm 1 introduces the first major theme, which we have already discussed a little bit. Psalm 2 introduces the second major theme, but they are so big and they are so important that we get it and get it right at the beginning, and do not forget it, that God decided to split them up into two so that we can concentrate on the one first and then we can go to the other. Then once we are done with the second one, we can mash them together and see them popping out time and time again in the rest of the psalms. But these two themes in Psalm 1, the first theme, and Psalm 2, the second theme, are so important that we have to get them stuck in our minds from the very beginning and make sure we understand them as deeply as we can.
Notice that if you look at Psalm 1, there is no superscription. It does not say a psalm of David, it does not say that it is a certain type of psalm. It does not say anything, it just launches into "Blessed is the man." Your Bible may have some sort of heading there, but that is from the translators. Mine says "The Way of the Righteous and the End of the Ungodly." That is not in the Bible, that is not in the text of the Bible, not in the original, that is just something some man has decided to tag the psalm with. It is not wrong, but the Psalms open with "Blessed is the man" without any introduction. It just goes straight into that. Psalm 2 is the same way. There is no superscription there either to tell us who wrote it or what kind of psalm it is. It just goes right in to "Why do the nations rage?"
This is kind of a good indication that they were purposely put here as introductory psalms because just about every other psalm in Book One has a superscription. They are almost all psalms of David. Psalm 10 does not have a superscription, but that is understandable because Psalm 10 is actually kind of the back half of Psalm 9. They were just split into two. I think the same happens with Psalm 33, another one that does not have a superscription. But these two do not and just about all the others do, so it is pretty good indication that these two are important. They have to be just read as is with no extraneous knowledge.
What this does is this gives us a two-pronged heads up for what is coming. Like I said, these are the two big themes and we need to understand what they are all about.
On top of the fact that they do not have superscriptions, they also share several words in common and they are important words. Not just like "the," "and," or anything like that. We are talking pretty important words that are thematic in themselves. The first one is haga, and it is a rare verb. It only occurs a couple times in Scripture, so that it happens in Psalm 1 and in Psalm 2, right next to each other, is a pretty good indication that they are dealing with similar things.
It is interesting that this word haga means "to murmur." Not like the children of Israel did in the wilderness. This is a different word. That word murmur is all throughout the Pentateuch because they did a lot of it. This is a different kind of murmuring. Let us look at the second half of verse 2 of Psalm 1.
Psalm 1:2 And in His law he meditates day and night.
The word meditates is haga. We would not think that murmur would translate into meditate. But what it is talking about is that before modern times, people did not read silently. They read aloud. And if they were trying to be quiet, they would read very softly and it would sound like they were murmuring. If they were going over it line by line by line by line, just talking to themselves, it would sound like they were murmuring. You could not exactly make out what they were saying. So this is the idea, that this person is meditating. He is murmuring over God's Word, God's law, day and night. He is always thinking about it. He is always talking about it. He is always concerned with it.
The other one is in chapter 2, verse 1.
Psalm 2:1 Why do the nations rage, and the people plot of a vain thing?
The word there is plot. I believe here they are speaking silently and covertly together making plans.
So, you can see how the different ideas come in and how it is translated these two different ways. But the idea is mostly that they are talking quietly.
The next common word is one we have mentioned before in other sermons. It is the Hebrew term derek. I mentioned this when we went through Psalm 119. This is the word "way." Derek is the word way and this comes out in chapter 1, verse 1 in the word "path."
Psalm 1:1 Nor stands in the path of sinners.
That is derek. It is also in verse 6 twice with "the way of the righteous" and "the way of the ungodly." And then in chapter 2, verse 12, the second line there, "and you perish in the way." This idea of a way is very important in Psalm chapter 1.
Finally, I want you to notice the first word in verse 1, "blessed" or "blessed is." And then the first word of the last line of verse 12 in chapter 2, "Blessed are." These are the same word. It is the Hebrew word ashre. They bracket these entire two psalms. You are "blessed" if you are in the right way in Psalm 1, and in Psalm 2, you are "blessed" if you put your trust in Messiah, in the Son. So these are the two major themes: Blessed if you are in the right way, if you made those right choices, and then the other one is blessed if you are always trusting in God.
Let us look then at Psalm 1. Psalm 1 is an instructional psalm and I want to go ahead and read it fully.
Psalm 1:1-6 Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stands in the path of sinners, nor sits in the seat of the scornful; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and in His law he meditates day and night. He shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that brings forth its fruits in its season, whose leaf also does not wither; and whatever he does shall prosper. The ungodly are not so, but are like the chaff which the wind drives away. Therefore the ungodly shall not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous. For the Lord knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the ungodly shall perish.
Like I said, it is an instructional psalm and it has parallels in things like Proverbs, where Solomon would say, my son do this, do this, do this. Also there is a couple in Isaiah and Jeremiah that have kind of similar themes. But this is an instruction saying this is the way to be blessed and it introduces, of course, the theme of two paths, two kinds of people, two kinds of ends, depending on the path you choose.
Now being so prominent, and being in the beginning, it is an indication that God wants us to read the Psalms as instruction from Him, that these are very important teachings that He wants you to think about, and that He has put them in this form, rather than the form like He might have used in the Pentateuch, so you can get even more out of it. So what comes through in reading this psalm is that if we love and fear God, if we want the ends that He desires for us, then we are to learn His way, follow His instruction. We are to put those things into practice in our lives, and not just in Psalms, but throughout the whole Scripture, and we are going to reach that good end. But we must be involved in learning the things of God. You have to take the instruction that He gives you. If you are not willing to take the instruction that He gives you, even if you have chosen properly at the beginning, you are not going to reach the end.
This is where modern Protestantism really falls down because they have rejected the law of the Lord. And so they may have accepted Jesus Christ, believed in His name, but they are not listening to the instruction that is going to get them to that right reward.
It should be an automatic response that if we love God, we are going to love His way, and we are going to follow it. But that does not always happen, so we have to learn, we have to learn to fear God. One place in these psalms, David tells us, "I am going to teach you the fear of the Lord." So we have to learn those things. We have to be full of God's instruction and we have to do as it says here in verse 2. That we have to meditate, we have to murmur on it. We have to haga on it day and night. It has got to be a constant thing that is going on. Not that we are supposed to be reading the Bible all the time and forsaking everything else. It just means that these ideas, these principles, they need to be part of us and all that we do, all the time, wherever we go.
The key word here in chapter 1 is torah. That is the word law in verse 2. It is mentioned twice there. "His delight is in the law of the Lord, and in His law he meditates day and night." Now most people, when they hear the word torah, they think the Jewish idea of Torah, they think the first five books of the Bible, God's law. But we should not think, in the case of the psalms and usually in the case of most of the Bible, most of the Old Testament, that torah means any kind of narrow structure or narrow amount of text or whatever. We should not look at it in a narrow sense. He does not mean the Pentateuch. That is not what he is talking about when he says his delight is in the law of the Lord. He is not talking about Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy. That is not what he means.
He is not talking necessarily about legalism. That is not even close to what he is talking about, any kind of keeping the law in order to be saved. That is not what he is talking about at all. He is not talking about any specific law or any specific collection of law. He is not talking about the Ten Commandments, or he is not talking about "You shall love the Lord with all your might, with all your soul." He is not talking about that either. He is not talking about the two great commandments.
He is talking about it in a very broad sense—everything that God has taught you! All the instructions in Scripture, and not only that, all the lessons you have learned based on that instruction and on your experiences throughout life. These are the things that we are supposed to be thinking about all the time. Not just the specific laws, the specific stories, the specific principles, but how we have responded to them, how we have learned how to put these things into practice. That is what our meditation is supposed to be on—all of that instruction.
That is the best word to translate torah, "all of that instruction." And it comes in many different forms, in many different ways. But it is just broadly instruction. The instruction of God should be on our minds all the time, because if we are going to follow and reach that goal that we want to reach, that is what we need to follow, the instructions that God has given us.
So if we want a blessed life, we have got to do what did Jesus Christ said: eat His word, eat Him on a daily basis. And that is the lesson of the Feast of Unleavened Bread. That we have to be ingesting the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. And if we want to bring in Psalm 2 here, we have to eat His flesh and drink His blood, meaning the Messiah, Jesus Christ, is the personification of all that instruction. He is the focus of all of that instruction. It also brings in themes of Passover as well. So this is the understanding that comes out. One of the big themes is we have got to be eating and digesting His Word all the time.
Let us go through the first half of this.
Psalm 1:1 Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stands in the path of sinners, nor sits in the seat of the scornful.
This paragraph describes the blessed man, the righteous person, in contrast to the wicked man. Now, this first verse describes him negatively in terms of the sinner. The righteous man is put in contrast with the sinner and described saying that the righteous man is not like this. He is described negatively in terms of the sinner and the things that the sinner does. So he is contrasted with the ungodly and with sinners and with the scornful.
Now one thing I want you to see here, and I think this is very important. You cannot see it as well here in the English, but in the Hebrew, those words are plural. Ungodly sinners, that one is easy to see, and the scornful, they are all plural. Righteous man is singular. This is God telling us that you are going to be in the strictest of minorities here. It is going to be you against the world, you against the many. Is that not a common theme throughout Scripture? God calls one here and one there. He says, "Do not worry, little flock," the Father wants to give you the Kingdom. There is only a remnant, maybe only 7,000, but that is what God's working with right now.
We get this idea immediately that it is one against many, and it is not just one against many people out there as individuals, but many in groups and they hate you, and they hate what you stand for, and they hate where you are going. But the righteous man does not dabble in any of that, does not get involved. He is separate from that. So he tells us, right as we begin here, that we are going to be alone in many respects on this path, the good path that we choose.
Just pop over to Matthew 7 because our Savior warned us of that right in the Sermon on the Mount.
Matthew 7:13-14 "Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it."
Like Psalm 1, Jesus tells us right at the beginning, you guys are a small number, a little flock, you are not going to have the support of the world, and there is going to be a lot against you, but you have got to aim for that narrow gate.
Another obvious point here back in Psalm 1, is the progression. It progresses or regresses from walking to standing to sitting. So you are moving and then you are stationary and then you are stopped. Now, some have suggested that the regression illustrates the progression of sin, which you do not want to get into. You do not want to, let us say, run or walk with the crowd in sin because what is going to happen is you are going to end up stopping and standing there and getting used to the sin and kind of being become blase to the sin. Finally, you are going to sit down, stopping altogether, and be totally used to it and it becomes a habit and a lifestyle. You do not want that. The righteous man does not do that.
Others say that the progression of the words counsel and path and seat kind of mirror this as the sinner listens to bad advice about sin, and then he joins his advisers in their evil deeds. Ultimately he makes their sinful lifestyle his own. So he sits with the scornful.
There may also be a progression in the words ungodly and sinners and scornful, because the ungodly are those who simply do not know God. They are without God, you could say. But the sinners are those who are actively involved in sin, and the scornful are worst of all. They are the active enemies of God and the righteous. So the sinners go from bad to worse here. You do not want to follow that path because this is the way it ends. It ends up that when you start dabbling into sin and then you just kind of start moving along that path, you are going to end up actually fighting against God.
The righteous person is nothing like this. He takes pleasure, says verse 2, in God's instruction, both in study and performance. "His delight is in the law of the Lord and in His law he meditates day and night." So God's law fills him with joy and hope and purpose. It is always on his mind. And so he goes through life happy, blessed, as it says in verse 1. You might want to just jot down Deuteronomy 6:4-6, because God instructs us there to have these things on our mind when we wake up, when we walk by the way, when we do this, when we do that. It should be on our minds all the time.
Psalm 1:3 He shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that bring forth its fruit in its season, whose leaf also shall not wither; and whatever he does shall prosper.
We do not need to go into this too much. But he is shown that he did not grow up there, he was transplanted there, and that is what has happened when we are called. God called us out of, let us say, the forest of this world, and He transplanted us by His stream of living water. And because of that, because of what God has done, we are going to bear fruit. Remember one of the big themes is God's sovereignty and how He works with us, how He works things out for us, that He put us in the best environment, He planted us by the stream of living water. And not only that, it says here that our leaf does not wither and everything that we do prospers. He is talking about a future time. This is even a little bit of a hint of eternal life, where our leaf does not wither at all, and there will be, in the end, nothing but prosperity and goodness that comes out of that.
Psalm 1:4-6 The ungodly are not so, but are like the chaff which the wind drives away. Therefore the ungodly shall not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous. For the Lord knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the ungodly shall perish.
He markedly contrasts what happens with the bad guys compared to what happens with the good guys. In the Hebrew, it starts out, after he says, "whatever he does shall prosper" in verse 3, it says "Not so the ungodly!" It is like, look at this, it is very different for the ungodly. So he says, their end is just the opposite. He calls them chaff. Instead of being a vibrant, full of life, fruit producing tree, they are chaff, they are little vegetable matter that has dried up and they are being pushed by the wind, they are dead and gone. That is how God sees them.
And so because they are unfit, they are dying, they are blown away by the destructive power of sin, they will not stand the scrutiny of judgment. They cannot stand, they cannot abide in, they cannot continue in, they do not fit in the assembly or the congregation of righteous people. They are just totally different. They are not going to end up in the Kingdom of God, is what he is saying here. That is the assembly of the righteous when God calls all His people from the four corners of the earth and assembles them in His Kingdom, and they will have been judged righteous and good, and all these others will be blown away.
This is kind of the sermon that John the Baptist gave in Matthew 3:7-12. He said when Jesus Christ comes, the One who comes after him, He is going to make a judgment. He is going to judge those who are worthy, and then the other ones He is going to blow away like chaff. And it is interesting. He says the ax is already laid to the root of the trees, and he was talking to the Pharisees and the Sadducees who thought they were trees. But John the Baptist warned them, He is going to cut you down. He planted you, He can uproot you and cut you down in the fires of the second death. So, watch out is basically what John the Baptist was saying.
Before we end here, I just wanted to mention that God finally appears in verse 6. I think this is an important point to get across here. The word "Lord" came in verse 2, but he was talking really about the law of the Lord. Here, the Lord is used as an actor, as a subject, and that He knows the way of the righteous. The sense is that God is aware and that He is providing for. Actually this is a very close parallel with what is said in John 17:3, that knowing the Father and the Son is eternal life. It is just turned around there—that we know Him.
What he is saying here is that the life of the righteous is because He knows us, He knows our way. He knows us and He is giving us grace. Remember the number five? He is providing all that we need. He is opening up routes for us, and avenues to walk down that He has approved. It is also the theme of the Night To Be Much Observed—that He watches over us, that He has made vigil over us, so He makes sure that we escape the ways of this world and brings us into His Kingdom. And so if God is aware, and then we are aware of Him and we are following His way, we are meditating on His way day and night, then we are going to follow the way of the righteous and we are going to have that wonderful future in the Kingdom of God.
But on the other hand, the second half of the couplet, is reversed. This is really interesting to me. It says "the way of the ungodly shall perish." It is kind of interesting here that it is the way of the ungodly. It is not the ungodly, it is the way of the ungodly. But you can never separate it from the ungodly who are walking on that way. But the way it comes across is that this person is trying to go his own way. It is not the way of God, it is his own way. It is a subtle indication in the Hebrew that while the righteous goes to his destiny with God's loving supervision and because of what God does, the wicked tries to be the master of his own life, his own fate, and his end is death. When he tries to do the things that he wants to do with no thought of God, he ends up dead. So the lesson there is that autonomy—trying to go it alone, to be your own man, to forge your own path—is the way of self-destruction.
I want you to conclude with me please in Matthew the fifth chapter. I just want to show you here, just reading some of these very quickly, that Jesus Christ opened up His own ministry in the same way that He opened up the book of Psalms.
Matthew 5:3-10 "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled. Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven."
Just like the Psalms began with "Blessed is the man," Jesus began with "Blessed are you if you follow these things."