I’m talking to a friend about the Bible, and we’ll need to check what the Bible actually says on a subject. My friend says, “Here, I’ve got a Bible in my back pocket” and he pulls out his “Bible.” But it’s not a full Bible. I blurt out, “That’s not a real Bible. That’s a half-Bible, a quarter-Bible.”
Old Testament professors are a bit defensive about pocket New Testaments that are billed as real Bibles. The Old Testament is over three-quarters of the Bible, you know.
But there’s one Old Testament book, that occasionally makes it into the elite status of the NT, so that it gets included into these quarter-Bibles.
The Book of Psalms (and occasionally Proverbs).
I’ve started a series of blogs on the Psalms for Biblical Seminary’s Faculty blog, beginning, of course, with Psalm 1. Check it out: The Rewards and Consequences of a Torah-Focused Life [Psalm 1].
As we’ve looked at the first psalm, we’ve discussed the benefits that come from an obsession with God’s law, and the downside of not delighting in torah (= “law”). But in the final verse of this psalm the ultimate blessing of the law comes through clearly.
Psalm 1:6 declares that YHWH “knows” the way of the righteous. While other translations (NIV, NRSV) render the Hebrew word yada reasonably as “watches” here, I like the ESV’s more literal “knows”. The word yada has a wide range of meaning including “to know” someone in the biblical sense. But it makes sense here that YHWH would know someone well who is obsessively focused upon YHWH’s law. Why would someone delight in torah?
Because God’s law will lead one into deeper into relationship with God. In verse two, the blessed person delights in the torah of YHWH and meditates day and night on HIS torah. It’s not just the law, but God’s law. If we want to know God better and be known by God better, what better place to focus than on his words?
I’d love to hear your thoughts on how focusing on God’s laws deepens one’s relationship with God.
Psalm 1 provides both positive and negative motivation for delighting in the law of YHWH. After describing the carrot (prosperity) that comes to the torah-obsessed person in verse 3, in the next three verses the psalmist describes the stick.
While the psalm doesn’t go into great detail about “the wicked”, from verse one we learn that they give advice that moves one away from blessedness and that they are associated with “sinners” and “scoffers” (following the parallelism of the verse). After describing the blessings of the prosperous righteous (OCD, in the best possible sense, about the word of God), the fourth verse informs the reader that “the wicked are not so.” So, unlike the fruity trees of verse 3, they are like chaff, driven away in the wind. Chaff, for those of us less familiar with agricultural terminology, are the outer husks of the grain, inedible and therefore useless. You don’t want to be chaff
If you weren’t sure that being chaff was bad, the next verse spells it out in more detail. The wicked don’t survive the judgment. Now again, we’re not exactly sure what that means, but it’s clearly not good, and it’s contrasted to the way of the righteous because YHWH is going to “watch over” (NRSV) them (Psa. 1:6).
I’ve always been more motivated by the stick than the carrot (although I love carrots, and my dog Tiglath does tricks for carrots). What do you think it means to be “chaff”? How is that connected to not delighting in the law of YHWH?
The person that delights in God’s Torah is like a tree planted by streams of water. Remember that Israel was a more arid land than much of the US (unless you live in Nevada), that was often prone to periods of drought and famine (Gen. 12:10; 43:1; Jer. 14:1).
So, if you wondered why someone would be obsessed by Torah (v. 2), verse 3 answers the question. Torah-obsession directly leads to prosperity, just like a leafy tree by the stream. Everything that this person does prospers.
The thing I love about this psalm is the motivation, that blessings will come to those who focus their lives on God’s word, but it almost sounds too good to be true.
It sounds like a promise of prosperity, almost prosperity-gospel. So, what type of prosperity do you think the psalmist is referring to? What danger is there to making such an open-ended promise of prosperity?