Saturday, September 8, 2012


Read: Psalm 1

How blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, Nor stand in the path of sinners, Nor sit in the seat of scoffers!
Psalms 1:1, NASB

The book of Psalms was the songbook of the nation of Israel. It contains in some places raw, emotional poetry and in others the refined language of liturgy. Psalms is the largest book in the Bible at 150 chapters and is itself divided into 5 'books'. Psalms 1-41 make up the first book, mostly written by King David. It is widely believed that the 5 books correspond to the 5 books of Moses, linking this collection of Psalms to Genesis – the book of beginnings. The relevance of this will become more apparent as we study the Psalms together in the days ahead.

Blessed, the first word of the first psalm, is Christian-ese for a Hebrew word אשׁר (esher) which simply means happy. The first psalm is describing the question that nearly all people face in their lives: how can I really be happy? In the first verse, David explains it negatively, by listing three things which will keep you from being happy. 

Paraphrasing slightly: Happy is the man who (1) does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, (2) does not stand in the path of sinners and (3) does not sit in the seat of scoffers. I would like to spend a little time considering each of these. 

First, the way we walk can prevent us from being happy. Everyone has been the victim of bad advice, but it seems some people make a lifestyle of it. When we walk in the counsel of the wicked, we allow those who are ungodly to set our path for us. They might (and often do) have the best of intentions for us, but they do not know all of the consequences. A place might not be bad intrinsically, but will be disastrous for the wrong person at the wrong time; any path which is not God's path for our life will be the path of trouble. Trying to walk our own way, which is the way of wickedness, apart from God will prevent us from being happy.

Second, where we stand can prevent us from being happy. Somewhere below our actual activity, standing has everything to do with association. While we should not cut ourselves off from other people (a very important point which I do not mean to understate*), we must remember that bad company corrupts much easier than good company reforms. This does not refer to literal proximity (as Jesus sat with the adulterers, the crooked tax collectors and other notorious sinners and even spent time with them), but to standing in the path of their lives. We should not try and align our situations with those caught up in sin, daring ourselves to be caught up in the same. Thinking we can handle the temptation quickly becomes an exercise in the worship of our own will. Moreover, we almost always fall into the sin we thought we could resist. Like leaning over a deep pit, our intellect ought to override our curiosity. Examples are plentiful: spending time with ill-tempered people puts us in a bad mood (making us ill-tempered), trying to slip into the halls of the greedy makes us focus on the material and fall into greed, et cetera. Usually, people know they are unhappy in certain company, but still are drawn to it, like someone depressed is drawn to a sad song or a moth is drawn to a flame. These things clearly will prevent us from being happy.

Third, and most obviously, is that when we sit in the place of scoffers, we will not be happy. Sitting is more passive than standing or walking, and scoffing is more passive than actions or associations. The scoffer is defined by his attitude. Here is the person who cannot, and will not, be pleased. They are constantly afflicted, but it is never their fault. Everyone is out to get them and everyone is incompetent. When presented a rose, all they see is the single withering petal. Such people usually seem to brag about their illnesses and get pleasure from being unhappy. You know at least one of these people, and might be one yourself. To quote Ray Stedman: “Parents blame the children, the children blame the parents, and they both blame the schools. The schools blame the parents and the government. The government blames the hippies; the hippies blame the establishment. One nation blames another nation.” The plain message of the Bible here is that if you choose to lounge around complaining, you keep yourself from being happy. A critical spirit, while it may bring pleasure for a little while as you build yourself up at the expense of others, will ultimately leave you empty and unhappy.The critical spirit might lead us to associate with the wicked beyond propriety. Association may lead us to walk in their paths. Where you sit affects where you stand and where you stand affects where you walk. Sorrow begets sorrow.

Let us turn away from these things! Let us give up our negative attitudes, the painful associations and the activities that go against God. If we instead seek God first and walk in His ways (Matthew 6:33 and Deuteronomy 5:33), spend time with the righteous and the wise (Proverbs 27:17 – specifically in church: Hebrews 10:25 and Acts 2:42), and look for the good first (Philippians 4:8), we will be happy.

* If you follow this blog, you will see me elaborate on this more another time. The basic overview is this: you want your boat in the water, but you don't want the water in your boat. We can and should spend time with those who need Christ, but we need to be aware of our own weakness and avoid situations which will tip us over the edge. How close is too close? We must have the discernment of God to see this. Remember that in an airplane, you put your oxygen mask on before helping children around you. You cannot help them if you are incapacitated. In general, you know how close you can get, even if you don't want to know it. More to come on this subject at a later date.