If you are joining us in the effort to read through the Bible in 2018, we are coming up on the end of the first quarter. And for my money, it’s the toughest. Genesis was a joy to read. So, too, the first half of Exodus. (Unless you’re Egyptian). Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy? Not so much.
There are fascinating stories here and there in the last three books of the Pentateuch (the technical name for the first five books of the Bible), but for the most part, they present a serious challenge to even the most serious readers. So this is a good time for some encouragement. Where to find it? The Psalms, of course.
Take a moment to read Psalm 1.
Blessed is the one
who does not walk in step with the wicked
or stand in the way that sinners take
or sit in the company of mockers,
2 but whose delight is in the law of the Lord,
and who meditates on his law day and night.
3 That person is like a tree planted by streams of water,
which yields its fruit in season
and whose leaf does not wither—
whatever they do prospers.
4 Not so the wicked!
They are like chaff
that the wind blows away.
5 Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous.
6 For the Lord watches over the way of the righteous,
but the way of the wicked leads to destruction.
First, this Psalm demonstrates the thematically unified nature of the Bible. It begins the way Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5 begins: Blessed is. It’s almost like Jesus had read Psalm 1! Verse 3 mentions a tree planted by streams of water. That reminds me of the two trees in Genesis and the Tree of Life in Revelation. These connections suggest that the books of the Bible, while unique in purpose, setting and genre, are not just isolated units. They are part of an overarching narrative revealing God’s work to restore all creation to its original innocence. And that even includes Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy.
Second, Psalm one isn’t a prayer at all. It’s a statement about how life works. How you live determines your destiny. Who and what you pay attention to determines how you live. Your future is shaped by the virtues or vices you embrace here and now.
Third, Psalm one takes a very black and white view of life. There is no gray here. You either walk in step with the wicked or you delight in the law of the Lord. You perish or flourish. That challenges us because we like subtlety and nuance. We also like grace, but this Psalm focuses more on personal responsibility. In an age of equivocation and fence-straddling, however, the candor here is refreshing.
The Process of Perishing
Speaking of candor, Psalm one gives us only two options for life: Walk in step with the wicked or delight in the Law of the Lord. That’s it. We will do one or the other. And if we choose the wrong option, we perish. In fact, verse one draws a vivid picture of what the process of perishing looks like.
We walk in step with the wicked.
We stand in the way of sinners.
We sit in the company of mockers.
Walking, then standing, then sitting. So what does it mean to walk in step with the wicked? It means we march to the drum beat of a culture that does not acknowledge God. We embrace its values. Adopt its standards. Order our lives by its priorities. Sooner than we know it, we are not just walking in step with the wicked, we are standing in the way of sinners. In other words, we take a stand – a firm, public position opposed to God. Finally, we are sitting in the company of mockers. The Hebrew word for sit is mosh – as in mosh pit. We are not just listening to a culture that rejects God – we are swimming in it. We are a part of it.
The Other Option
Or we could delight in the law of the Lord. Which may sound completely impossible. How do you delight in Leviticus? This past week, I read Deuteronomy 28 – the section on curses for disobedience. It was anything but delightful. You and I may well come to enjoy engaging with the Bible, but it is not always a pleasure to spend time with a book that spends so much time confronting you. Maybe this will help.
The word delight is deep and rich in meaning. It carries the idea of leaning into something. If you tell me I have to always enjoy reading the Bible, I’m going to struggle. But if you tell me that the way to a life that flourishes is to lean into the Word of God – now that sounds doable.
Flourish or perish. Those are the only two outcomes Psalm one imagines. That, too, is a consistent biblical theme. In Deuteronomy 30, Moses offered Israel life or death, prosperity or destruction. The Psalms and Proverbs contrast wisdom and folly. Jesus spoke of light and darkness. Paul framed the outcomes in a number of ways – spirit and flesh, freedom and slavery, new and old.
In Psalm one, the wicked are like chaff – the dry hulls of wheat that are blown away by the wind. Those who have taken a stand against God will not, in the end, be able to stand at all.
What of those who lean into the Word of God? My favorite image is in vs. 3 – they will be like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season. Verse 1 described the process for perishing – walking, standing, sitting – which can happen frighteningly fast. In verse 3, the idea of a planted tree suggests a slow but steady unfolding. A flowering. That encourages me. It takes longer to flourish than to perish. But then, that’s how it is with most good things. The walk to a blessed destiny is longer. But it is worth every step. Keep walking.