The Two Walks of Life: A Devotional Psalm

Dr. Ron J. Bigalke

Psalms is the hymnbook of Israel. The majority of the psalms are stand-alone compositions that can be understood independent of other psalms. The two emphases that characterize the psalms are the practical and prophetic. The foundation for the practical message is the character of God in the midst of the crucible of the human experience.

The prominent theme of the prophetic message is the anticipation of the Messiah, and the future blessings for all humanity as benefits of trust in God’s Anointed.

The compilation of the Psalms was achieved through a lengthy era of development, extending from the life of David to the life of Ezra (1000-440 BC). The historical division of the Psalms is fivefold (and may reflect the historical development of the Psalter): Book I (1-41); Book II (42-72); Book III (73-89); Book IV (90-106); and, Book V (107-150). Each division is concluded with a doxology. The historical authors include: Moses, David, Asaph, Korah’s descendants, Solomon, Heman the Ezrahite, and Ethan the Ezrahite.

Psalms is designated as a poetic book because it reflects the main characteristic of Hebrew poetry, which is parallelism of thought (as opposed to parallelism of sound). Poetic climax is employed by arranging specific statements for the purpose of directing the reader to a logical climax through development of progressive intensity. God chose this form that balances one thought or phrase by a corresponding thought or phrase, which generally comprise the same number of words, or (as a minimum) a correlation of ideas. Parallelism not only makes poetical books easy to memorize, but also helps in translation and interpretation. Explanatory notes begin many of the Psalms, and should be regarded as inspired text. The notes include musical instructions and provide information with regard to historical circumstances or reasons for the usage of a psalm. The psalms may be classified as creational, devotional, imprecatory, messianic, or penitential.

Psalm 1 is a devotional psalm that contrasts two individuals: the righteous and the unrighteous. The exclusive portrayal of these two walks of life—the godly life and the ungodly life—is evident throughout the Psalter. Psalm 1 may be visualized according to these contrasts.

The godly life is described both negatively and positively in the initial two verses of Psalm 1. The negative description is threefold, and reflects an evident progression. The antithetic parallelism (i.e. the second line contrasts with the first line) indicates that the negative warnings unheeded will culminate in neglect of the Word of God, and ultimately to perishing in judgment.

The positive description of the righteous life is likewise threefold. The righteous life is described as regulated by the Word of God. The attitude of the righteous individual is one of continual delight and constant meditation upon biblical truth. The enduring blessing of God is extended to those who pursue righteousness, and therefore is not a transient feeling but the result of participation in the divine life. The relationship of the righteous individual to the Word of God is not superficial. The righteous are not only redeemed according to God’s provision through the living Word, but also study the written Word to demonstrate themselves as approved servants of God (cf. 2 Tim 2:15). The righteous prioritize Scripture because it reveals eternal truths, and therefore results in continual delight and constant meditation.

“How blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked.” One who walks the path of righteousness is blessed (Heb. ’ašrê, “happy”) if his or her “walk” (cf. the Hebrew verb ’âshûr, translated “steps” in Job 31:7 and Ps 17:11) is not detained alongside the wicked. The verb hāgâ translated “meditates” is onomatopoeic, and basically means “to murmur”; it is an allusion to a moaning noise or the sound of animals. “Meditates” can mean to murmur to oneself in a low tone, with the purpose of the practice being evident from Joshua 1:8 (“This book of the law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it; for then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have success”).

The righteous person treasures the law (tôrâ) “day and night.” Derivatives of hāgâ with the noun lēb (“heart”) often denote the seat of “thinking,” and are therefore the functional equivalent for the activity of the mind. Moreover, the walk of the righteous is “like a tree” planted firmly by its source of water. There are various characteristics of the walk of the righteous that form a three-part simile.

In contrast to chaff, which is easily blown and moved, a tree is permanent. Unlikely to be moved by adverse winds, a tree stands firm and stationary.

The tree is productive in yielding fruit by season. Trees produce their fruit regularly, not haphazardly. The righteous individual is therefore characterized by consistency in his or her manner of living.

The success of those who walk a righteous life is attributed to the fact that he or she lives in accordance with the purpose and will of God.

A vast chasm exists between the life of the righteous and the unrighteous. The psalmist declares, “the wicked are not so,” in contrast to the life of the righteous. The ungodly individual is likened to chaff. Chaff is insignificant, lifeless, transitory, and valueless. The life of the unrighteous is futile, shallow, unsubstantial, and worthless. The illustration of the life of the unrighteous is explained in verses 5-6 of Psalm 1.

The psalmist states that the unrighteous “will not stand in the judgment.” The unrighteous have no means of defense. The works of those who live ungodly will expose them for who they are (Rev 20:11-15). The unrighteous will be excluded from “the assembly of the righteous” (Acts 17:31; Rev 21:8; 22:15). The destiny of the unrighteous is entirely different from the righteous.

In contrast to the chaff, the imagery of the righteous, “like a tree,” is a picture of life and stability. The unrighteous “will perish,” but the godly will be preserved, “for the Lord knows the way of the righteous.” God knows the life of the righteous in a personal and intimate manner. The Lord “knows” (Heb. yâda‘, “watches over”) the righteous, who nourish themselves spiritually on the Word of God. The righteous are blessed because God graces, guides, and protects them. The life of the righteous is separate from the deceptions and defilements of those who do not internalize the Word of God.

The unrighteous will continue to behave in an unrighteous manner, and the righteous will act righteously (Dan 12:10), yet the Lord is aware of all. When He returns, the destinies of mankind will be irrevocably determined. Jesus said, “‘Behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me” (Rev 22:12a). Therefore, every person must ask the soul-searching question, “What life am I living?” One walk leads to blessedness and permanence, and the other to ruin. The Word of God requires one to determine the manner of his or her life accurately and carefully. The genuineness of the life of the righteous is proved by his or her spiritual character and actions.

Midnight Call - 08/2019

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