Week of Oct. 18

God’s Positioning Strategy

Read: Nehemiah 11-12; Psalm 1; Acts 3

“. . .For the Lord knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish.”
Psalm 1:6, ESV


The life of praise should be reflective. I am not seeking to be philosophical, so please allow me to explain what I mean. Our praise should mirror what God has done for us. It becomes our poetic response to God’s self-revelation in history (WBC). I am indebted to Peter Craigie for reminding us that poetry was a form of language that was native to Israel, and it preceded the psalms (e.g. Exodus 15:1-18; Numbers 10:35-36; Deuteronomy 32; Judges 5; 1 Samuel 2:1-10; WBC).

The nation’s poetry gave it a way to express its deepest feelings. Its verse was often oral and not written down, but it survived through “constant use in worship and liturgy.” Israel lived its psalms, so to speak, before they were ever written down. This background to the origin of psalms in Israel will help us to understand how Psalm 1 likely came into existence, and how it became life-shaping. This approach to life will our focus today.

A Biblical Lens

Psalm 1 is a wisdom psalm much like Proverbs (cf. Proverbs 2:12-15; 20-22). It may very well have been used initially as a literary and poetic composition that lays out a very clear statement about the different types of people and their destinies (WBC). The psalm provides us with a powerful reminder to choose one’s path well. The righteous, on the one hand, stand on a solid foundation (1:1-3), but the unrighteous, on the other hand, have no sure footing (1:4-5; cf. a similar theme in Matthew7:24-27).The psalmist concludes by offering the contrast between the two life paths (1:6).

There are key characteristics of those who devote their lives to God. First, they are described as being “blessed” (1:1). The word may also mean “happy,” but the psalmist makes it clear that their flourishing comes from their activity. From a negative perspective, we can achieve happiness by avoiding the counsel, lifestyle, and company of the wicked (1:1). The verse is written with three parallel statements. Each of the terms provides a slightly different facet to the state of the wicked. Stated simply, we are to avoid those who are evil and practice it.

The righteous are also described as being devoted (1:2). We tend to think of the law as being the first five books of the Old Testament; however, it is likely that the psalmist was pointing to something more foundational. The righteous person is devoted to the instruction that God gives (cf. being a “disciple”). The Lord provides guidance for living a life that is satisfying. Humankind may discover meaning in life by taking “delight” in the law.

The righteous are also described as those who flourish (1:3; contrast with chaff in 1:4). These are planted, literally, by “irrigation channels” (WBC). Wadis were available throughout the land, but they would often dry up, even in rainy seasons. Water never ceased to flow, by way of contrast, in irrigation channels. The writer wants us to understand that the flourishing life is not a reward, but it is the result of a particular type of life. The person who lives by the guidelines that God sets down will be like a tree that is planted by a constant water supply. Let’s consider the moral significance of being led by a particular source of beneficial guidance.

A Moral Pathway

What did we ever do before GPS? I recall times where I would pull my car off of the road, reach beneath the seat, and pull out my copy of Mapsco. Did you ever own one of these map books? This spiral-bound street guide enabled me to get back on the right path many times. One of my family members, who shall remain anonymous (I am chuckling as I write this sentence), recently missed a turn and continued for some time even though the GPS was providing ongoing reminders to turn around to get back on the right path! Happily, there was no moral harm suffered other than the loss of time.

Sadly, people have ample warnings to make a moral U-turn in life but pay the warnings no heed (cf. Luke 13:1-5). Yes, I know. We have all read or heard similar applications and largely ignore them. I will not feel slighted, if you do the same. However, before you tune me out, let’s use the above analogy but from another perspective.

The first psalm provides GPS, “God’s Positioning Strategy,” for the remaining 149 psalms. It may well be that this psalm is the lens through which worshipers were to view the entire psalter. In other words, it sets the tenor for the entirety of the psalms which cover the entire spectrum of life. The point? We will not get the meaning in the psalms, or our lives here on this earth, if we do not invite God to position us correctly to receive his guidance.

For Your Journaling

1. Take some time to write down your life statement in twenty words or less. Compare your aims to the wisdom found in Psalm 1. Decide which path you will take in life.

2. Write down the things that are most important in your life. Not your “stuff,” but things that are valued simply for themselves (e.g. life/health, family/friends, work, etc.). Ask yourself on who or what you have grounded those things. Now, that is a Psalm 1 reflection. Is God the basis for all you are and do in life?

May all your paths be straight,
Larry C. Ashlock