I live with three teenage daughters. It is quite the experience. Much of the time I feel like a very dumb Dad, and this is mainly to do with music. They listen to music that I have never even heard of, and when I do eventually and inevitably hear it around the house, it does not resemble what I would define as ‘music’.
For example, the other day one of my daughters was in the kitchen and in that croaky whiny voice that pop-stars call singing sang:
“I’m a bad guy”!
My daughter’s head went straight up and with wide eyes filled with shock said to me, “Dad, how do you know that song”?
So I am not that dumb after all?
Singing is part of our culture, though it seems to me that much of what people sing about in Western culture is not that profound, not in the pop genré anyway.
The Bible is filled with songs, and they are songs I think our culture would do well to listen to because they answer a very important question, How are we to worship God?
Our culture says, “Well you can worship God however you want. In fact, you can define God to be whatever you want him/her/it to be or not to be. However, God is not silent on the subject. The Psalms also remind us of how we are to worship God and what the Psalms do is that they take the basic themes of Scripture (the OT) and turns them into songs.
I think Psalm 1 is the key Psalm. The big idea of Psalm is that there is one God and that every human being is made to love, know and worship this one God. And Psalm 1 sets this tone for the entire book of Psalms. It is a song that our world needs to listen to for it sets forth the claim that there are only two types of people in this world.
This clashes with our culture straight away, for our world says there are many types of people. Think about all the different types of people you know; the foodies, those who are into sport, those who love the beach, those who love the bush; cat people, dog people. Rich people, poor people, those who are in between. We have the Baby Boomers, Gen X, Gen Y, the Millenials, Post Millenials. Those who are pro-Brexit, those are are anti. There are anti-vaxers, vegetarians, and there are those people who identify with a nomenclature that twenty years ago would have had a very different connotation, ‘extinction activists’.
Psalm 1 cuts through all the confusion, all the nomenclatures, all the labels, all the social categories, and says there are two types of people, with contrasting values, with contrasting lifestyles that lead to very different futures.
The first type of person is a truly happy or blessed person. And the source of their happiness is God.
1 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;
2 but his delight is in the law of the Lord,
and on his law he meditates day and night.
The truly happy or blessed person is one whose life is guided by God’s law, God’s Word rather than being guided by those who reject God’s instruction. The contrast is massive. Do you notice it? The first person is happy, delights in the law God, meditates on it day and night. God’s Word is that at the forefront of their mind. Whereas those who don’t are described as scoffers.
I remember years when I worked in the Bible Society bookshop in Bathurst St in Sydney, and these two young guys came in and they were trying to steal things, and when they realised that we knew what they were doing, one of them said, “Do you really think I would want to steal a Bible?” He almost spat out the word ‘Bible’. To him the Bible was to be scoffed at, it was not a delightful book, it was not something to be treasured, nor even read. Not so with the truly happy person, whom this song says:
3 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.
They are like a fruitful tree that is well nourished that blossoms and bears fruit in season. It has a constant supply of water. Those who delight in God and his word they prosper. This does not mean that they will be healthy, wealthy and wise as some churches teach. But they will bear fruit that benefits others.
That is the first type of person delights in God’s Word, in his instruction and will have a fruitfulness. Not so the wicked.
I have been called lots of things in my life, but never have I been called wicked. It is not a word that we use often in modern-day parlance. It has a number of meanings in English, none are positive. It can mean evil, wrong, immoral or sinful.
What shocked me about the Christian faith when I first encountered it in high school, was just how ego-shattering it was. Before then I did not think that I was immoral or sinful. I thought I was basically a good person who simply talked too much. To discover that compared to God and his standards that I was sinful was a big shock, but when I was honest about it, I knew deep down that it was true. God was not my delight. My values were not the same as those who delighted in God. Looking back, it was this song being played out.
In Psalm 1 we see that the wicked have contrasting values and as a consequence, they are the opposite of fruitful – they are barren:
4The wicked are not so,
but are like chaff that the wind drives away.
In the old days, the farmers would harvest the wheat. They would thresh it and so when the wheat is tossed into the air, the husk, being lighter than the wheat kernels is driven away by the wind – the chaff. Chaff is the opposite of fruit. Fruit from a tree is beneficial to everyone, everyone gains from a fruit tree. But no-one benefits from the chaff. This is why no-one keeps it, no one sells it and no-one uses it. It is good for nothing.
The Lord Jesus, whom our culture loves to depict being a lover of lambs and flowers says something rather confronting and it is very similar to what this song says:
If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. (John 15:6)
So much for gentle Jesus meek and mild.
What confronts me about this son is that the person who abides in Christ and the person who delights in God and his Word are one and the same. It is impossible to abide in Christ and not delight in God’s Word. How can we delight in the Word of God incarnate – the Lord Jesus and not take delight in the Word of God written? It is impossible.
As I wrote earlier, there are many types of people. I am Australian. I am male. I love cats. I love winter, the cold and the rain. Faced with the choice of tea or coffee, I choose tea (“Earl Grey, Hot”). I know people who are not Australian, who are not male, don’t like cats and love summer, the heat and the sun who drink coffee. Humanity is diverse. Different shapes, sizes, colours, languages, tastes, interests, likes, dislikes. But the Psalmist tells us that there are two types of people. The blessed person and the wicked. They have contrasting values; they have contrasting fruitfulness and thirdly they have contrasting destinations.
5 Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous;
6 for the Lord knows the way of the righteous,
but the way of the wicked will perish.
These two lives are on different trajectories, they have different destinations. The fruitfulness reveals where one’s values lie and reveal where one’s allegiance, either to God or themselves. All of which is revealed by one’s life. And God will make this contrast between them permanent. Those who reject God’s rule will not be part of the congregation of the righteous. They will not stand in the judgment.
The Lord Jesus loved this song, he believed and this song like all the songs that we call Psalms are actually all ultimately about him he says the same thing again and again. There are two types of people, there are two ways to live. He uses the imagery of two types of animals, sheep and goats, two types of fish. In Matthew’s Gospel he says the same thing as the song but uses the image of two types of builders:
24 “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25 And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. (Matt. 7:24-25)
Our TV is filled with building shows, most of them are from the USA, there is one from Texas, one from Mississippi, even one from Alaska. They are all the same in the end, and the principle is true with every house that is ever built. One can build the best house ever, with the greatest fittings, stovetops, a lovely backsplash (or backsplash, you can have your luxuriant ensuite, and 7 bedrooms. But if the house is built on sand, the house will crumble and it will end in destruction. You could have two builders build the same house, with the same tools, with the same luxuriance, but the foundations will make all the difference. Two builders, two very different foundations, and two very different results.
Psalm 1 reminds us there are two types of people. One who is blessed, the one who delights in God and his Word, and the one who doesn’t. There are only two types of people because when it comes to life, there are only two ways to live.
We can live our way, where we delight in our own laws, worship God (however we define him/her/it to be or not to be) our way, or we worship God his way, and the way God wants us to worship him, is by trusting, following and obeying the one whom He sent in order that we can be blessed – and that is the Lord Jesus Christ. It is through Jesus Christ that all blessings come.
So I am not that up there when it comes to the latest songs, I don’t recognise nor listen to my teenage daughters’ playlists, but God’s playlist is worth listening to. The songs are three thousand years old, and even though they may not have a huge following on Spotify nor be recognised by Shazam they are songs that our world needs to hear. They are songs I desperately need to keep on hearing.