1 Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful.
In the summer of 1988 I was participating in a Bible lectureship in the Pacific islands. During one of the lectures the ground began to rumble and the structures started to shake. For the first time in my life I was experiencing an earthquake. The locals, having been through these disturbances countless times, probably enjoyed the entertainment of watching at least this one American frantically scanning the area for something to grab for support. They knew full well, as I myself soon realized, that nothing above the ground would provide stability as long as the ground itself was quaking uncontrollably. The very foundation upon which we stood having become unstable, we could not expect anything that rested upon this faulty foundation to be trustworthy.
When tragedy strikes and our lives tumble in, we can easily identify with the feeling of helplessness that comes with being in an earthquake. Things are no longer as they once were. People upon whom we depended are no longer within our reach. The temporal, shaky nature of this earthly life is never more evident than when trials beset us. We can stretch with all of our might in an effort to grab hold of something here on earth that is rock solid and immoveable, but we will grasp only air. Where is that stability that we so desperately crave when our world is crumbling? Where is that constant to which we can cling when the tides of sorrow are threatening to sweep us away? Is it even possible for us to regain our balance or are we doomed to live a life of continual sadness and despair?
How appropriate that this first Psalm opens with the word, “blessed” or “happy.” By the use of some powerful illustrations and statements, it declares that this happiness is found in the stability that was mentioned earlier, that precious commodity that all of mankind desires, especially when we’re in the grip of tragedy.
The third verse paints the picture of stability for us as it describes a healthy and prosperous tree. Notice that this is not a tree that has grown up in the wild, nor is it one that has come up from a mere scattering of seed from a farmer’s hand. This tree has been planted. Furthermore, it has been planted thoughtfully and purposefully in a location that is well-watered, thus giving it the best opportunity to be productive. With such tender care given it in its early days, the tree sinks its roots deeply into the rich soil and grounds itself firmly. As it gains strength in its foundation, it bears fruit in abundance and does not wither or fade even during the stress of the hottest of days, the bitterest of wintry temperatures or the harshest of winds. It is steadfast and unshakeable.
The fourth verse again demonstrates stability, though from a negative perspective. Here the picture is of a farmer winnowing his grain. He tosses the grain into the air and while the heavier kernels fall to the ground, the lighter husks or chaff are carried away with the wind. While the emphasis in the verse is on the chaff that is blown away, the analogy bears the implication that there were also desirable grains that were landing where they were supposed to. Instability is pictured in the chaff and soundness and positive expectations are pictured in the kernels of the grain.
Yet another reference to stability is found in the sixth verse in which the Psalmist speaks of the Lord knowing the way of the righteous. One fact is certain when tragedy comes into our lives: We are traveling a new and unknown path. To be sure, we might have faced similar situations in the past, but no two challenges are exactly alike. For example, while the loss of a parent to death is bitterly painful, no one can begin to compare it to the loss of a spouse. While the death of a spouse brings unspeakable sorrow, no one can compare this to the loss of a child. It’s not possible for anyone to rank sorrow as though one type were worse than another. The point is that each difficulty carries its own weight of heartache and grief. Each is a new experience. Each is an unknown way for us as humans, but “the Lord knoweth the way of the righteous.” God knows the way. He is the constant in the uncertainty that tragedy brings with it.
The aforementioned verses show that stability does indeed exist. Further, this stability can be attained by us, even when we’re wrestling with life’s most formidable challenges. But is stability going to show itself voluntarily without any effort on our part? Can we expect to be standing in the darkest of despair’s shadows one day and automatically be catapulted by some unknown force into the brightest of life’s joys the next?
Look again at verse three and notice that this entire verse shows a result. It depicts the end of a means. The means is found in verses one and two. The person described in those two verses is one who does not walk in the counsel of the ungodly, does not stand in the way of sinners and does not sit in the seat of the scornful (arrogant, haughty). This individual does, however, delight in the law of the Lord and meditates therein day and night. This is the reason why he is like a tree planted by the rivers of water. He seeks God and loves His Word. Even though there are things in life that threaten his fruitfulness and spiritual prosperity, he enjoys stability because he is firmly grounded in the One who Himself is the essence of stability, namely, Jehovah God. Just as the farmer purposefully planted the tree in a rich and beneficial location, the individual who enjoys God’s stability has purposefully planted himself or herself in the rich and spiritually beneficial firm foundation of God’s inspired Word.
Now look again at verse four. Who is it who gets blown away like the chaff? Who is it who will never know the stability that God offers through His Word? It is the ungodly man or woman who cannot stand and who will not stand. In fact, verse five clearly shows that those who turn away from God have no foundation at all. When their world quakes uncontrollably, they have nothing solid onto which they can grab because their ungodly foundation is the cause of their instability.
Our stability depends upon us turning to God for He is stability defined. He is eternal (Psalm 90:2), which means He was in existence before the world began. He was there in the beginning of the world, He Himself being the Creator (Genesis 1). He is ever present each second, He Himself being the sustainer of His creation (Jeremiah 23:23-24). He will be there at the end of the world, He Himself being the One who will destroy the elements (II Peter 3:10-12) and judge mankind (Matthew 25:31-46). He was there when the Bible began to be written (II Timothy 3:16-17). He gave each word of the Bible to His inspired writers (I Corinthians 2:7-15). He will be there in the end to employ His Word in judgment (Revelation 20:12). He was there at the beginning of each of our lives (Psalm 139:13). He is with us on a moment by moment basis (Hebrews 13:5). He will be with us at the end of our days (Psalm 23). Daily, He is there when we rise in the morning (Psalm 5:3), He is there with us throughout the day (Matthew 6:25-34), He is there with us when the day is done (Psalm 4:8) and then He is there with us all through the night (Psalm 121:4).
God’s stability is demonstrated in His faithfulness to mankind, faithfulness that can be seen on page after page of His written Word. It’s there in Genesis where we learn of mankind’s fall into sin and then the immediate introduction of God’s plan for redeeming man (Genesis 3:15). It’s found throughout the books of the Law, from the rest of Genesis through Deuteronomy, as the Lord frees Israel from Egyptian bondage, thus ultimately portraying spiritual freedom from sin in Jesus Christ and then as He leads Israel to the earthly promised land of Canaan, a portrayal of the Christian’s walk through the wilderness of this world to the eternal promised land of heaven. It’s in the Old Testament books of history, from Joshua through Esther where God is constantly involved in the affairs of Israel and Judah. It’s in the books of poetry from Job to Song of Solomon in which inspired writers tell us of God’s deliverance and dependability. It’s in the words of the Old Testament prophets, from Isaiah through Malachi where one inspired man after another continues the theme of eternal redemption begun in Genesis by foretelling the coming of the Messiah to pay the price for the sins of mankind. It’s in the Gospel accounts of the New Testament where we read of the actual physical arrival of Jesus, God in the flesh (John 1:14), His perfect life and His death, burial and resurrection. It’s in the book of Acts where we find men like Stephen finding the Lord faithful to him even in death (Acts 7). It’s in the New Testament epistles, from Romans through Jude, in which we find an abundance of precious promises all given by our God who cannot lie (Titus 1:2). It’s in the book of Revelation and its powerful portrait of victory in heaven for the faithful, provided by the One whose “sayings are faithful and true.” (Revelation 22:6).
We can have the stability that brings comfort when it seems our world is falling to pieces. We can be the firmly planted tree and the weighted grain. We can walk confidently upon the shifting sands of life if we are walking with the One who knows the way.
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