Psalms is the Bible’s songbook. Written over centuries, it was finally compiled in the form that Jesus knew, and that we also know, in the post-exilic period, that time when Zerubbabel rebuilt the Temple in Jerusalem with Ezra, Zechariah and Haggai as contemporaries. Many of the Psalms are much older, dating back before Solomon’s Temple and into the life of David, who is a primary author. In the version that gets established, there are five books (Psalm 1-41; 42-72; 73-78; 90-106; 107-150). There are reasons for these divisions, including a doxology that closes each one as well as how God is referenced. Most important, the divisions indicate particular time periods more than anything else.
Psalm 1: An In Depth Study Of The Psalter
In a series that might take us years to complete, there is much to be gained in looking at the Psalms, chapter by chapter. In them we will certainly find worship, song, and poetical language. I believe we will also discover how to link particular chapters to the movement and instruction of Scripture as a whole. The hope is to better equip you as a pastor – to help all of us reimagine our take on the Psalms so we can teach our congregations to do the same.
The book of Psalms starts with a strange chord of truth. As songs of worship to a living God, we might think it should begin with lauding and adoration of God himself – his glory and majesty and beauty. Instead… it begins with us.
It says something like this, “Human! Yeah, you. Do not walk, stand, or sit with the wicked, those sinners and mockers of my name. They will be blown away like a dead tree when the violent weather touches down. They have no foundation outside of their own confidences and pride. Instead, delight and meditate on Me and my law. Run headlong after me, not your own desires that are so frivolous when you really think about it. Remember, human, I created all of this, so don’t for a minute think I don’t know what you’re up to when you’re chasing after the wind. It just won’t work. You’ll die in the process and you’ll be unhappy in your sin. If you delight in me and seek me, then you will be planted like a tree with deep roots. You’ll be by the life-giver and I will grant you sustenance… forever.”
What does it mean to delight on God’s law and to ceaselessly meditate on it (vs. 2)? The image of the planted tree in the next verse should help us. The tree beside water is a call-back to Eden and to the start of our world. God establishes an enchantment over the trees, these one-armed creations that stretch toward the heavens and lean back to the earth to provide fruit.
The first story, as we know, is entangled in the snare of a particular tree. It acts as a boundary line between humans as subjected properly to God, and our desire to be like him without any relationship, or, in the language of Psalm 1, without any meditation on his law.
There are other trees in the Bible. Abraham journeys to the great tree of Moreh when he receives the call from God to go to Hebron. Here, at the great tree he finds out more clearly the next episode of the plan: God will define Abraham in the land and give him roots – sons and daughters who will outnumber the stars (Genesis 12).
Turn to Moses’s story. He receives the message to go and change history by a talking, burning bush tree. It is God in the tree exclaiming his mystery: I AM (Exodus 3).
Elijah runs from Jezebel and the fire he calls down from heaven and rests at the broom tree. After telling God he’s had enough, an brings him warm bread, preparing him to experience God, not in the earthquake but in the whisper (I Kings 19).
God says in Isaiah that his word will not return empty. Like the rain from heaven that grows seed, the trees will clap their hands and the mountains will burst with song as his word goes out in joy and peace (Isaiah 55).
Remember Zacchaeus, who uses the arms of the Sycamore tree to fall into the gaze of Jesus, or the palm leaves that become part of the pageantry of Jesus’ humble entry into Jerusalem (Luke 19, Mark 11).
There are many more examples of trees in Scripture. These particular examples may help us hone in on the point of God’s word and law. When we return to Psalm 1 and read verses 2 and 3 ,we see afresh our need to be in relationship with God: “[Blessed is the one] whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and who meditates on his law day and night. 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.“
God’s law and our relationship with him is about dependence. Like the tree that needs God’s provisions to grow and yield fruit, we are asked to follow a similar dependency. Our life is given so we will give it back. It’s not ours to take and horde for our own desires. We are created for a purpose: to worship our Maker who came and allowed himself to be strung up on a tree in order to recreate all of creation through his bodily resurrection (Acts 5:30).
And we know this to be true: “For the Lord watches over the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked leads to destruction” (vs. 6). We also know that, “To the one who is victorious, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God” (Revelation 2:7).
Zach Kincaid is a part of the Sharefaith Editorial Team. He manages workoutyourfaith.com and has written on C.S. Lewis, G.K. Chesterton, and general Christian thought for more than 15 years. He is a husband, father, and collaborator on a variety of Christian outreach projects including films and educational resources.