The First Psalm

At some point in Israel's history, the Psalms were collected and ordered. The original editors chose Psalms 1 to serve as the first impression of biblical prayer. Tim Keller notes that Psalms 1 "is not itself a prayer. It is what it talks about -- a meditation. Now, if the first psalm is about meditation, it is a strong indication that meditation is the necessary preparation for deeper prayer."1 The gateway to real prayer is through meditation. A healthy devotional life is not simply comprised of academic study of Scripture or passionate prayer. It's the intersection between prayer and the Word.  It's truth on fire.  The stakes of Psalms 1 could not be higher, John Calvin affirms that "The sum and substance of the whole is, that they are blessed who apply their hearts to the pursuit of heavenly wisdom; whereas the profane despisers of God, although for a time they may reckon themselves happy, shall at length have the most miserable end."2 Psalm 1 reveals that prayer and meditation is a matter of eternal life and death.

Scholars agree that King David was the author of Psalms 1. The prose contrasts the lives and hearts of the wicked and the blessed. According to David, what separates the wicked from the blessed is the object of their meditation.  Verse 2 explains that the blessed are those whose, "delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night."3 The Hebrew word "Meditate" combines the concepts of "talking to oneself" while "musing" or "pondering." Elsewhere, the Psalms instruct the reader to meditate on Scripture, God's works, and God himself. Biblical meditation is not an attempt to empty the mind. Instead, the reader actively focuses his heart on the nature and character of God.

In verse 2, David calls for the reader to meditate on the Law, or Word of God. Pleasure and mediation are closely linked. Proper study of Scripture engages the head and the heart. In fact, the Hebrew word for law, Torah, literally means, "to throw something to hit its mark, as in a javelin."4 Scripture often wounds, penetrates, and affects the heart of the reader.  God's Word is not simply information to be mastered. It is designed to move the affections. The blessed meditate "day and night." Meditation is more than sporadic moments of emotional ecstasy. It requires devotion and emotion. As believers approach Scripture with mental discipline, their hearts will be filled with passion.

Mediation is not strictly a Christian concept. According to David, it's an unavoidable part of the human experience. Verse 1 states:

Blessed is the man
who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,
nor stands in the way of sinners,
nor sits in the seat of scoffers

The blessed focus their minds on the Law. The wicked meditate as well. The question is not "Do I meditate?" Rather, "What do I meditate on?" To "walk in the counsel of the wicked," is to exchange God's wisdom for worldly understanding. The human heart innately centers on the "counsel of the wicked" or the "law of the Lord." There are no other options.
Using a botanical metaphor, verses 3-5 continue the contrast between the godly and ungodly. David describes:

He is like a tree
planted by streams of water
that yields its fruit in its season,
and its leaf does not wither.
In all that he does, he prospers.
The wicked are not so,
but are like chaff that the wind drives away5

According to David, the wicked are like chaff while the godly are like a tree. Chaff is the seed covering that separate from the grain during threshing. This metaphor reveals several key points. First, chaff possesses no nutritional or monetary value. Like chaff, a wicked life is worthless . Secondly, evil lacks stability. During threshing, a breeze would blow away the chaff from the grain. Trees are able withstand even the most severe storms. Finally, wickedness always leads to death. Chaff cannot bring forth new life or give sustenance. Like grain, only godliness possesses the capacity to create and nurture life.

If chaff describes the wicked, a tree is an accurate allegory of those who meditate on the law. Plant growth is a long-term process. Trees don't grow rapidly and neither do believers. Christian maturation is a long process of seemingly insignificant growth. Second, meditation always produces the fruit of character. The study of Scripture doesn't just produce a feeling of closeness to Christ, it actually changes the character of the reader. Derek Kidner confirms, "The tree is no mere channel, piping the water unchanged from one place to another, but a living organism which absorbs it, to produce in due course something new and delightful."6 As Scripture enters the heart of the reader through mediation, it leads to real and lasting transformation.

Finally, mediation leads to stability. A gentle wind can blow away. A healthy tree sinks deep roots. As the Christian ponders the works of Christ, his life becomes unwavering. Although meditation leads to stability in suffering, it does not lead to immunity from pain.  David accurately assesses, that the tree "bears fruit in its season." Just as trees grow in different ways in the springtime, winter, and summer. The blessed will also experiences different seasons of spiritual affection. "A meditating person will always grow. Sometimes it is growth internally through suffering (as in winter) and sometimes it is externally through success (as in springtime). But you will always grow and prosper!"7 The godly are like evergreens. They are rooted in the Word and endure any weather, storm, or season.

The godly are able to persevere in the midst of trials, and will stand on judgment day. The wicked will experience a sad demise. David explains,

Therefore the wicked will 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 wicked will perish.8

The wind carries chaff away. At judgment day, God removes the wicked from His presence. The blessed take hope, knowing the Lord "knows the way of the righteous." The word "know" infers that God pays close attention and cares for those who focus their minds and hearts upon Him. Active mediation on the finished work of Jesus leads to assurance on judgment day.  Salvation is not dependent on the fervency or constancy of one's meditation. It is a result of the object  and not the quality of one's delight. If one meditates on the world, achievement, or status, assurance wanes. P.T. Forsyth observes that meditation upon Jesus "is able to warm itself at the fire of God's love, instead of having to steal love and self-acceptance from other sources... We are not saved by the love we exercise, but by the love we trust."9 When the blessed actively reflect on God's truth, their hearts begin to delight and experience the warmth of salvation. Christ centered contemplation produces stability, joy, and certainty in our relationship to God.

Timothy J. Keller, Praying with the Psalms (New York: Redeemer Presbyterian Church, 2008) 16.
John Calvin, Psalms, 32.
Psalms 22:2.
Eugene H. Peterson, Answering God: The Psalms as Tools for Prayer (New York: HarperCollins, 1989), 25.
Psalms 22:3-5.
Derek Kidner, Psalms 1-72 (Downers Grove, IL.: InterVarsity Press, 1973), 48.
Psalms 22:5-6.
P. T. Forsyth, Dynamics of Spiritual Life (Downers  Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1979), 213.

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