Psalm 1 introduces a contrast between two different conceptions of blessedness, one that fulfills God’s promise in Genesis 1:28 for those who submit to his rule, and one that conceives of blessedness as a life of prosperity apart from God. The truly blessed person, the psalms teach, will not allow his conception of blessedness to be shaped by the counsel of the ungodly.
Rather, “his delight”—what will shape and form his path—“is in the law [Torah] of the Lord.” The term Torah appears thirty-six times in the Book of Psalms, but twenty-six of those are found in just two psalms: Psalm 19 and Psalm 119. These two “Torah Psalms” also use five additional synonyms to describe God’s Law: testimony, statutes, commandment, fear, and judgments. These six terms are spread throughout the psalms, but only Psalm 19 and Psalm 119 use all six.
The Power of God’s Word
In its narrowest sense, the term “Torah” refers to the first five books of Moses, but it can also refer to all of the Old Testament Scriptures. Jesus himself quoted Psalm 82:6 and referred to it as “your Law” (Jn 10:34). Most of the books of the Old Testament are quoted in the NT by Jesus and his apostles as authoritative Scripture. Additionally, New Testament authors also refer to other parts of the New Testament as Scripture. For example, Paul refers to Luke’s writings as Scripture (1 Tim 5:18), Peter refers to Paul’s letters as Scripture (2 Pet 3:15–16; cf. 3:2), and Paul calls his own writings “the commandments of the Lord” (1 Cor 14:37–38) and “the Word of God” (1 Thess 2:13).
In other words, the “law of the Lord” spoken of in the psalms is the 66 books of the inscripturated Word of God. Paul calls God’s special revelation “the holy Scriptures,” which he says is “breathed out by God” (2 Tim 3:15–16)—we use the term inspired to capture this truth. Human authors penned the words of Scripture, but Peter teaches that they “spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit” (2 Pet 1:21). So the Bible is God’s inspired special revelation.
In Psalm 19, David also lists six characteristics of special revelation—perfect, sure, right, pure, clean, and true—and six benefits of special revelation—it converts the soul, makes wise the simple, rejoices the heart, enlightens the eyes, endures forever, and produces righteousness. His stacking on layers of six terms with six characteristics and six benefits communicates the perfect comprehensiveness of God’s law. God’s Word is all encompassing; it is sufficient.
And that is exactly what is communicated with the terms themselves. The Word of God is perfect—it is without error. The theological term we have come to use to clarify this is inerrancy. The Bible is inerrant. It is without error because it is God’s special revelation—he breathed it out. And since it is perfect, God’s special revelation is “sure”—it is reliable and trustworthy. It is right and pure and clean and true.
God’s inspired special revelation is sufficient to transform us. That’s what is communicated by the six benefits of God’s law that David lists in Psalm 19. It converts the soul—complete transformation from death to life. Paul says the Word of God is “living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart” (Heb 4:12). It tells us that we are guilty before God, and it tells us that whoever believes in the Lord Jesus Christ will be saved. God’s special revelation reveals the gospel, which is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes. And God’s Word is profitable, as Paul says, “for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Tim 3:16–17).
David also says God’s Word makes wise the simple. Wisdom is the ability to fit things together properly. We gather all the information of life around us, and wisdom enables us to know how it all fits together as God intended. My favorite illustration of the difference between knowledge and wisdom is that knowledge is knowing that a tomato is a fruit, but wisdom is knowing that a tomato doesn’t belong in a fruit salad. The Bible is sufficient to make us wise so that when we face a decision, we are able to determine what fits with how God designed the world to work and with what he has revealed through both natural and special revelation. That’s biblical wisdom.
In particular, Paul says that God’s special revelation is able to make us “wise for salvation through faith which in Christ Jesus” (2 Tim 3:15). God’s Word, which reveals Jesus Christ to us, is able to help us recognize God’s design for all creation to worship and glorify him, to recognize that sin destroys that purpose and deserves judgment, and that the only fitting response is unreserved faith in the sacrificial atonement of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
Again, God’s Word is sufficient to transform us because it is God’s revelation, and his words have power. His words created nature, and his words transform hearts. As Paul states, “For it is the God who commanded light to shine out of darkness, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Cor 4:6). The Holy Spirit of God inspired this revelation, and so the Holy Spirit of God will sanctify us through the very revelation he inspired. God’s special revelation is everything we need for life and godliness (2 Pet 1:3). As the prophet Isaiah proclaimed,
For as the rain comes down, and the snow from heaven,
and do not return there, but water the earth,
and make it bring forth and bud,
that it may give seed to the sower and bread to the eater,
11 so shall my word be that goes forth from my mouth;
it shall not return to me void,
but it shall accomplish what I please,
and it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it.Isa 55:10–11
God’s very words have power to enact his will. For this reason,
More to be desired are they than gold,
yea, than much fine gold;
sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb.
Moreover by them your servant is warned,
and in keeping them there is great reward.”Ps 19:10–11
This is exactly what Psalm 1 promises. The blessed man, Psalm 1 teaches, will delight in the law of the Lord; he will meditate on it day and night. He will recognize the authority and inerrancy and sufficiency of God’s Word so that he is transformed into God’s image from glory to glory (2 Cor 3:18).
But isn’t it interesting that just like there are 5 books in the Mosaic Torah, so there are 5 books in the Davidic Torah, the Book of Psalms? The editors of the Book of Psalms organized the collection into five books almost certainly to display a parallel with the Five Books of Moses. Everyone recognizes the importance and life-regulating significance of the Books of Moses, but do we recognize the Books of Psalms as just as important and life-regulating? Or, to put it another way, we all recognize the critical importance of God’s commandments and God’s doctrine to govern our lives, but songs? That’s just extra; music is just something enjoyable that we may or may not add on to what is truly important. This may be a central reason Christians today so often neglect the psalms.
No, the editors of the Psalms, as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit (2 Pet 1:21), arranged these songs in Five Books in parallel with the Five Books of Moses as a way to say, “These Five Books of songs are the Torah of God with just as important, life-regulating significance as the Five Books of Moses.” And a righteous person will delight himself in this Torah. In fact, the Torah of Moses is absolutely important to give a righteous person the instruction he needs to live a prosperous life under the rule of God, but the Torah of David is equally important because it shapes and forms the righteous, blessed life in ways that the Torah of Moses actually cannot do alone.
You see, our path—our lives—are driven ultimately by whatever we allow to shape our image of what it means to be blessed, what it means to be prosperous. There’s the image of the wicked, an image of prosperity and flourishing apart from submission to God, and there is the image of the Torah, an image of prosperity that results from submission to God. And whatever image you have set before you is what will shape your path.
It’s like a treasure map—X marks the spot, and whatever map you have controlling your search will determine the path you take and the resulting treasure. If you follow a genuine map that will take you to gold, you will find treasure. But if you have a counterfeit map that promises gold but instead leads to quicksand, the results are inevitable.
This life-governing map, this inner image of what it really means to prosper, is what the Bible often calls “the heart”—this is why verse two says that a righteous person will delight himself in the Torah of the Lord. The “heart” in Scripture is not just “emotion.” The heart is an all-encompassing, inner image of the good life, what it means to be blessed, what it means to prosper, and that inner image then drives everything about how we live. It becomes the map that directs our path. As David Naugle suggests, “As the image and likeness of God, people are animated subjectively from the core and throughout their being by that primary faculty of thought, affection, and will which the Bible calls the ‘heart.’”1David K. Naugle, Worldview: The History of a Concept (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002), 267. In both the Old and New Testaments, the idea of heart refers to “the central defining element of the human person.”2Naugle, Worldview, 266.
And so whatever shapes that inner image, what shapes your heart, is of utmost importance. If your heart is shaped by the counsel of the ungodly, the path of sinners, and the seat of the scornful—if your inner image is shaped by their conception of the good life, then you will walk the way of the wicked. And ultimately it determines our final destiny. Notice how Psalm 1 ends:
6 For the Lord knows the way of the righteous,
but the way of the ungodly shall perish.
The way of the righteous is known by the Lord because that way has been shaped by an image of blessedness in direct relationship with him. The image of blessedness that governs the way of the wicked is decidedly apart from him, and so ultimately it will perish.