“Blessed is the man…”
We all want to be blessed. And Psalm 1 appears at first glance to be a recipe to earn blessing. A list of dos and don’ts. Don’t walk in the counsel of the wicked. Don’t stand in the way of sinners. Don’t sit in the seat of mockers. Do delight in the law of God. Do meditate on it day and night. Then you’ll be like a well-nourished and fruitful tree, prospering in everything you do.
Yet the overwhelming testimony of the Bible is that no one is righteous, except God. All have sinned. All fall short. We are born wicked, destined to perish. Even our best works are as filthy rags. We cannot earn God’s blessing. We cannot earn our own righteousness. Instead, we are all under the wrath of God. How then does Psalm 1 fit into this larger picture?
A closer reading shows that we draw causal relationships too easily. The Psalmist does not say that a man who does all these things will be blessed. Rather, it is the blessed man who can do all these things. The blessing precedes the doing. More accurately, the blessing motivates the doing (or not doing).
What is this blessing? As Paul puts it, it is every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places (Eph 1:3). And it comes to us on the account of Jesus. United to him in his death and resurrection, our sins are paid for and his righteousness is credited to us. When God the Father looks at us, he sees us as his beloved children, not as objects of wrath. The blessed man knows that he has been adopted into the family of God, not because of anything he has done or will do, but because of everything that Jesus accomplished on his behalf.
Being an undeserving recipient of such rich blessings can only yield the fruit of loving and joyful obedience to the one who has richly blessed us. The blessed man does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, because he knows Christ crucified, the wisdom of God, far surpasses every other counsel. He does not stand in the way of sinners, because he knows the one that stood in the place of sinners like him, so that we might stand in the congregation of the righteous. And he will not even come close to sitting in the seat of mockers, because he will not mock the God who died to save him, and now risen to life sits enthroned in heaven above.
Or to use the Psalmist’s illustration, the blessed man is like a tree with leaves that do not wither and which yields its fruit in season. It is a healthy and fruitful tree because it is planted by streams of water. Trees clearly don’t plant themselves. So who planted the tree there? God did.