Psalm 1


Many years ago when I was in college, a couple of friends and I were invited to spend the weekend at Billy Graham’s mountain home in Montreat, North Carolina, with his wife Ruth while he was away. Ruth was a wonderful Bible teacher, and she said many things that I’ve never forgotten. One of them had to do with Psalm 1. She told us, “Memorize Psalm 1, because it is the gateway to all the 150 Psalms.” I did memorize it, and even now, a half-century later, I quote it silently to myself almost every morning when I awaken.

It’s fair to say that all the other 149 Psalms are an extended explanation of Psalm 1. It’s almost like you have the whole book of Psalms in a nutshell when you read this one. So that’s what I’d like to share with you today.

Blessed is the one
    who does not walk in step with the wicked
or stand in the way that sinners take
    or sit in the company of mockers,
but 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.

Not so the wicked!
    They are like chaff
    that the wind blows away.
Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
    nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous.

For the Lord watches over the way of the righteous,
    but the way of the wicked leads to destruction.

1. Blessed Is…

The opening word is Blessed. In Hebrew, it is esher. This word occurs 44 times in the Old Testament, and it is always used about human beings. Let me show you one of the times this word is used, and it’ll give us a good idea of the meaning. 

In 2 Chronicles 9, the Queen of Sheba came to visit King Solomon. Sheba was the ancient name for the country that we call Yemen, which is at the southernmost part of the Arabian Peninsula, bordering Saudi Arabia on the south. There was a lot of commerce taking place on the high seas, and the queen had heard of this golden and blessed kingdom to the north that seemed to be mystical and magical—like Camelot, we would say. So she undertook a long trip to see for herself and no doubt to strengthen her international alliances. 

Look at 2 Chronicles 9:5-8:

She said to the king, “The report I heard in my own country about your achievements and your wisdom is true. But I did not believe what they said until I came and saw with my own eyes. Indeed, not even half the greatness of your wisdom was told to me; you have far exceeded the report I heard. How happy your people must be! How happy your officials, who continually stand before you and hear your wisdom! Praise be to the Lord your God, who has delighted in you and placed you on his throne as king to rule for the Lord your God. Because of the love of your God for Israel and his desire to uphold them forever, he has made you king over them, to maintain justice and righteousness.”

Notice the phrases: How happy your people must be! How happy your officials must be!

The word “happy” there is esher, which is translated blessed in Psalm 1. So the idea is this: When we find ourselves under the sovereignty of a good and wise and wealthy King, we are very fortunate. We are in a good place in life. This is where we want to be. That’s what the word “blessed” means—the fortunate, enviable, happy condition of those who are living under a good and gracious and great King.

2. Blessed is the One Who Does Not…

That’s just the first word of the Psalm. Let’s go on:

Blessed is the one
    who does not walk in step with the wicked
or stand in the way that sinners take
    or sit in the company of mockers,

In other words, blessed people are blessed, in part, because they do not let the world around them determine their lives. I remember preaching from this text once at a retreat and a young lady came up to me afterward, troubled. She said, “If I have to give up my non-Christian friends, how will they ever come to the Lord?”

This verse is not telling us to live in isolation from ungodly people. In fact, in 1 Corinthians 5:9-10, the apostle Paul said: “I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people—not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world.” Instead, he said, we should not associate with people who claim to be Christians but are living in sexual immorality and so forth.

The key in Psalm 1 is in the verbs. We are not to walk in the way or stand in the place or sit in the seat of these people. In other words, although we are surrounded by ungodly people we are not to let our lives fall into their patterns. We are not to be like them. We are not to follow them into sin.

3. Blessed Is The One… Whose Delight is in the Law of the Lord

We are not to be governed by the world but by the Word. Verse 2 goes on to say: …but whose delight is in the law of the Lord.

When I was in Israel, I purchased a new English translation of the Psalms done by a Jewish Rabbi, and this verse said, “…but his delight is in the Torah.” The Torah is the first five books of the Bible, which was essentially David’s Bible—Genesis, Exodus, Numbers, Leviticus, and Deuteronomy.

I believe David was a brilliant young man who could read and write and who, thanks to his parents and his mentor Samuel, had his own copy of the Torah. And there’s one passage he took very seriously:

Deuteronomy 17 says:

14 When you enter the land the Lord your God is giving you and have taken possession of it and settled in it, and you say, “Let us set a king over us like all the nations around us,” 15 be sure to appoint over you a king the Lord your God chooses. He must be from among your fellow Israelites. Do not place a foreigner over you, one who is not an Israelite. 16 The king, moreover, must not acquire great numbers of horses for himself or make the people return to Egypt to get more of them, for the Lord has told you, “You are not to go back that way again.” 17 He must not take many wives, or his heart will be led astray. He must not accumulate large amounts of silver and gold.

18 When he takes the throne of his kingdom, he is to write for himself on a scroll a copy of this law, taken from that of the Levitical priests. 19 It is to be with him, and he is to read it all the days of his life so that he may learn to revere the Lord his God and follow carefully all the words of this law and these decrees 20 and not consider himself better than his fellow Israelites and turn from the law to the right or to the left. Then he and his descendants will reign a long time over his kingdom in Israel.

There’s no doubt David copied every word of the Torah—the Bible of his time—and read it every day of his life.  And now we have the completed Bible—all 66 books. But notice that David didn’t tell us here to write it out, although that’s a good thing to do. He didn’t tell us to read it, although that’s a good thing to do. He told us to delight in it!

To delight in something is to find a lot of pleasure in it. 

Here is the question for you. Do you find a lot of pleasure in reading and studying and pouring yourself into the Bible? 

This isn’t just a question for kings and preachers and missionaries. It’s for every single follower of Jesus, regardless of our age or educational background. Do you find pleasure in studying this Book?

4. And Who Meditates on It Day and Night

David went on to say… but whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and who meditates on his law day and night.

Now I want to talk about this word: “meditate.” Let me show you two other times this same Hebrew word occurs in the Bible. Both are in the book of Isaiah.

  • Isaiah 31:4: As a lion growls….
  • Isaiah 38:14: I moaned like a mourning dove…

The words “growled” and “moaned” are the same Hebrew word as meditate in Psalm 1. Do you see the connection? This is something you do under your breath. It literally means to mutter Scripture under your breath. It means to make a low sound. To the Hebrews, meditation was a matter of whispering to yourself, muttering to yourself, repeating to yourself in a low sound. In other words, you’re not speaking to someone else; you are using the Word of God to speak to yourself, to mull over it and think about it. 

How often should you be doing this? Day and night! You find a Bible verse or a passage that really speaks to you—like Psalm 1—and you…. 

  • Verbalize it—reading it over and over.
  • Memorize it—almost without trying because you keep going over it.
  • Analyze—like we’re doing to Psalm 1.
  • Personalize it—how does this change my life?
  • Emphasize it—by sharing it with someone else.

In my book about God’s faithfulness, I related a story told to me by Dr. Gary Mathena involving his father. Dr Mathena said:

One of my dad’s heroes in the ministry was an African American preacher named Manuel Scott. After hearing Dr. Scott preach one evening my dad had the opportunity to have breakfast with him the next day. My dad said, “Dr. Scott it is so evident that you are a spiritual man. How does a man become spiritual? How can I learn to preach with the insights and depth with which you preach?”

Manuel Scott thought for a moment and said, “Well, Harold, when you wake up in the morning spend time reading and thinking about the Word of God and then throughout the day meditate and ruminate on the Word of God all day long. And then before you go to sleep at night allow the Word of God to bathe your heart and mind.” Then Dr. Scott paused and reached up to put his thumbs under his red suspenders and said, “If you’ll do that, then one of these days, you’ll just wake up spiritual!”

5. They Shall Be Like Trees

Well, here’s the way King David put it: 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.

I grew up beside the Doe River in Carter County, Tennessee. It forms from waters rolling off Roan Mountain and winds its way through Doe River Gorge, which is one of the most beautiful places in Tennessee, and ends up in Elizabethton where it flows under a historic Covered Bridge and then disappears into the Watauga River. When I was a boy, I grew up in a house just across the street from the river. In fact, our street was named Riverview Drive. When I was in college, my parents moved to their family property in Roan Mountain, which is right on the same river. Beautiful trees line the river, and in my kitchen in Nashville I have an oil painting by a mountain artist of a scene I know very well. It’s a tree leaning over the river and soaking up the nourishment of the life-giving waters of little Doe River.

That’s a picture of every person on earth who avoids letting their friends push them into negative patterns in life, and who lets the Word of God dominate their thinking.

This is a very common biblical metaphor.

Jeremiah 17:7-8 says: “But blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in Him. They will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit.”

Psalm 92 says: “The righteous will flourish like a palm tree,  they will grow like a cedar of Lebanon; planted in the house of the Lord,  they will flourish in the courts of our God. They will still bear fruit in old age, they will stay fresh and green, proclaiming, “The Lord is upright; He is my Rock, and there is no wickedness in Him.”

There’s a reason why this is so. Remember what I said about the painting by a mountain artist? Our minds are like a canvas. When we’re born, there’s very little on the canvas, but as we begin learning one brush stroke after another adds color and content. Without the Bible, the colors are dark and dull and shadowy. But whenever we let the Lord dip His paintbrush into the pallet of Scripture, He covers the canvas with the cheerful colors of truth and joy and hope and life. The more we meditate on Scripture, the brighter our minds and the wiser our hearts and the happier our lives.

6. Not So the Wicked!

But now let’s go on to verse 4: No so the wicked. They are like the chaff that the winds blow away. 

The righteous are like a tree, but the wicked are like the chaff that the winds blow away. That’s a dramatic contrast. I have never winnowed grain, so I looked up some videos. When you harvest wheat, you bundle some of the stalks together and these are called sheaves. The sheaves were stacked up in the field to let them dry out some more. At the top of every sheave is the heads of the plants containing the wheat berry. You had to figure out how to remove the kernels of grain from the straw. A lot of times that was done by putting the wheat on the ground and having a donkey pull a threshing board over it or you might beat it against the wall of a building or the floor, and that breaks loose the wheat berry from the little sheath around it. 

But then how do you separate the wheat berries from the chaff? It would take hours to do it by hand. No, you find a windy day, toss the mixture into the sky, and the wheat is heavy enough to fall back to the ground, but the wind carries the chaff away like dust or debris. 

Back in the 1970s, a musical group came out with a song that was very popular, but it was fatalistic and despairing. The words said, “All we are is dust in the wind.” That’s something of the picture the Psalmist is painting.

Now, let’s look at verses 4 and 5 together: Not so the wicked! They are like chaff that the wind blows away. Therefore the wicked shall not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous.

Does this remind you of any other passage of Scripture? When John the Baptist came to prepare the way for Jesus Christ, this is what he said in Matthew 3:11-12:

“I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me comes One who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 12 His winnowing fork is in His hand, and He will clear His threshing floor, gathering His wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire.”

This is a picture of the judgment! The ultimate judgment at the end of the age.


But notice the final verse: For the Lord watches over the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked leads to destruction. Those who walk in step with the wicked and stand in the way of sinners and sit in the company of mockers will wind up in judgment and destruction.

But the Lord watches over the way, the life, the path, the destination of those who know who to avoid, what to think, and how to meditate on God’s Word.

Dr. Walt Larimore once saw a woman who was battling depression. Her name was Debbie, and she was in her thirties. She had all the classic symptoms of low level depression including lack of energy and stamina. Depression was in her family history, and Dr. Larimore talked with her and together they devised a plan. He took his prescription pad and wrote out a prescription for a mild antidepressant, then he turned the page and wrote another prescription. He tore it off and gave it to her and told her to come back in two weeks.

She was back two weeks later, and she was like a different woman. She was energetic and upbeat. He went through the screening questions for depression, and her results were much better. She said, “The prescription you gave me really worked.”

He said, “The antidepressant usually takes three or four days before it kicks in, sometimes three or four weeks, but I’m glad it’s working for you.”

But she told him that was not the prescription that had the biggest impact on her. It was the second prescription. The second prescription said, “Read your Bible every day and memorize Psalm 1.”

May I offer the same prescription for you today!