By David B. Garner
The first Psalm sets the stage for the entire Psalter. Its attention on the covenant God and covenant blessing and cursing, as well as its preoccupation with God’s Word as the source for our understanding, focus the entire Psalter. In fact, as scholars like O. Palmer Robertson have contended, Psalms 1 and 2 serve as the “pillar or gates” to the whole edifice of the Psalter. They are the great building blocks that support the whole.
The Psalms, as Luther contended, do even more. He loved the Psalms, and in his study of them, found in them a snapshot of the whole of the first testament of divine revelation. He understood the book of Psalms to summarize the entire Old Testament.
If the Psalms express the treasures of the entire canon of God’s first words to his people, and Psalms 1 and 2 support the weight of the entire Psalter, these opening words deserve particular attention. On its own, Psalm 1 calls us compellingly to soak our hearts in God’s Word. Understood as the architectural footer for the entire book of Psalms, the Psalm’s call to meditate on the Word of God “day and night” (v. 3) delivers even greater urgency. And as the Psalmist will have us know, neither biblical meditation nor biblical satisfaction is optional!
Let’s get more specific here. Why must we attend to this Word? Why must we “delight in the law of the Lord” (v. 3)? The answer is built right into this description itself. We must relish it, precisely because of what it is. While the Psalm offers words of ultimate benefit from immersion in Scripture (vv. 3–6), the ultimate reason for our holy absorption in God’s instruction is because it is the Lord’s. Because God is God, we must meditate on this personal Word, relish in it, listen to it, and walk by it.
My life consists of a great deal of travel. Those who don’t travel often believe travel is glamorous. Those who do travel regularly know it is not. But for me there is at least one very big plus, a travel perk towering above any other. This benefit comes from no airline mileage account, no hotel point program, no car rental agency trying to persuade me that I am a five-star customer, and certainly no airport restaurant offering me a sorry excuse for a meal that is triple a reasonable price.
The benefit is far more personal than any capitalist enterprise could offer. Sometimes I find it in my suitcase. Sometimes it appears in my Yahoo inbox. Wherever it appears, it brings contentment, joy, and even palpable strength for the journey. My wife often takes time to write me notes—some long, some short. All of them are worthy of close attention and often multiple re-readings. Why do they compel me so much? Because of their author. These words deliver sustenance and encouragement, because the one whom I love and who loves me has written them. My love has taken time to speak, and I cannot wait to listen.
The parallel here is not without note. God has spoken. All Scripture is breathed out by God (2 Timothy 3:16). The Psalms, from the outset, indicate that God has spoken. But more than that, Scripture clearly affirms that God has spoken to us. Using the covenant name of God, the first Psalm tells us that the Word we have comes from our Lord—the covenant-making, covenant-keeping God. Think of it. Our God, the One who is in the heavens and does as he pleases (Psalm 115:3), has written us. His words lovingly address us, and it has pleased him to write.
While life travels often take us places we would rather not go, and while the aspirations the world offers show themselves shallow and dissatisfying, we as God’s people enjoy the words of our God and Father; he has spoken to us. Such a fact ought to spark joy, thanksgiving, and delight to walk in his wise ways. His words bring sustenance and encouragement.
Remember, rejecting the popular laws of unbelief (v. 1) does not come to us as blunt moral warnings from a Cosmic-Killjoy. These warnings come to us from the God of heaven, who judges all the earth yet loves his people, and shows himself to be the God of redeeming grace and glory. How do we know? Because he has spoken. It is written—to us.
So what then? Walking in the counsel of wicked, standing in the way of sinners or sitting in the seat of scoffers offer no ultimate appeal to us. Our loving God and Father has called us to walk in his counsel, to stand in his righteous ways, and to plant our souls in the verdant sanctuary of his holy Word.
Note well. Scripture then does not come to us as some abstract philosophical or moral system. It is not a how-to handbook. It is not a code of conduct or a guide for happiness and prosperity. It is not a tool to meet our selfish desires, the end of which will cast us in judgment before the Almighty. Rather, God’s Word is his speech to his people, whom he calls to hear his ways—ways which radically differ from our own ways, and thoughts that do not blossom by themselves in our self-centered souls (Isaiah 55).
Now don’t misunderstand. Scripture does present an explanation of the way things are (divinely-given philosophy). It does present moral demands (divinely-given law). It does render specific guidance for our conduct and offer promises for our happiness (divine practicality). But in all these aspects of its message, it does so by defining the meaning of all things—including our happiness and holiness, and calling us to trust in the God who is Creator and Redeemer.
Biblical truth comes to us by the God who is both Righteous Judge and Merciful Father. God’s Word comes to us by his covenant grace. Its ultimate blessing delivers what is promised because its Author is the all-powerful Blesser of his people. And since the authoritative word comes from the God of boundless mercy, kindness, and goodness, from the God who works all things for good to those who love him, from the sovereign King of all creation and the God of redeeming grace, even the slightest resistance is the ultimate act of foolishness.
The facts of our lives then present a desperate quandary. We must be honest. We have resisted. We are foolish. We are guilty of violating the Law of God, and delighting in our own law, meditating in the alluring instruction of the world. We have rebelled and we do rebel. We have walked in the counsel of the wicked. We have stood stubbornly in the path of sinners. We have tuned our hearts to the scoffers and planted our roots in derision of the Almighty.
Yet speaking directly into those damning realties of our hearts and lives, God’s Word meets us with the gracious, covenant Lord. He promised to redeem us, and has delivered on his promise. Our foolishness and rebellion are met by the fully satisfying life, death, and resurrection of the One Blessed Man, who without fail, delighted in the Law of his Father, and meditated on his Law day and night.
This Beloved Son is the singularly blessed Man who stood before the Father and was found righteous. It is this holy and vindicated Son who lives ever to intercede for us (Heb. 7:25) and who is our perpetual Advocate before the Father (1 John 2:1). It is because of this promised and perfect Son (Gal. 4:4) that we ultimately prosper “like a tree planted by streams of water” (v. 3). In and through him, we are counted among those who stand tall in the judgment. The King and Son sits at the Father’s right hand, and in his all-pleasing sacrifice and advocacy, we find refuge (Psalm 2:12).
And so now, as sons loved in the Royal Son of God, our hearts are graciously attuned to his will. How then could we possibly despise the Word of God? How could we possibly recoil under the authority of divine revelation? How could we possibly assert our own way, our own rights, and our own authority? To do so defies who we are as beloved in the Beloved.
The authority of our God’s Word is no burden (1 John 5:2–4)! His Word renders life-giving freedom to the sons of God (Gal. 5:1). God’s Word is sweetness to the tongue (Psalm 19:10). Like honey storms the palate with its surge of satisfaction, God’s Word floods the soul of the hearer with what could only be called “sweeter also than honey, and drippings of the honeycomb” (Psalm 19:10). A heart bowed before this Word and its Lord will enjoy the sweet promises of prosperity (v. 3) and eschatological vindication (vv. 5–6). Our God has spoken to us.
Take then and eat.
 O. Palmer Robertson, The Flow of the Psalms (Phillipsburg, NJ: 2015).
Dr. David Garner is Professor of New Testament at Westminster Seminary at Philadelphia and blogs at PLACE FOR TRUTH.