The image of a flourishing tree in the midst of desert is a stark and almost impossible picture to conjure in our minds. Presumably there’s a stream nearby or some artesian source of water deep below the earth's surface--or how else would the tree survive? The fact is this tree must be fed somehow: both water and sun. Not only are this tree’s trunk and branches healthy, but its leaves are too--all of the tree’s structure is vivacious and thriving.
This is the picture presented to us in Psalm 1, of the believer who applies him or herself to the knowledge of God. They do not wither, and do not want--they are well fed and prosper in the general sense all their lives. So it is with this prologue psalm; the vast pole dissimilarity of those who seek to do right versus those who don’t care a toss. One prospers while the other fades away.
Three distinct sections of this psalm are apparent: 1) Description of the righteous person and how they’re blessed (vv. 1-3); sharply contrasted with 2) Description of the wicked, and how they’re cursed (vv. 4-5); and, 3) a summary verse that concludes the pungent psalm (v. 6).
Now, this “prospering” suggested in verse 3 is not the same as the world’s perception of the same word. The world would have it as meaning riches and possessions. This is hardly what is meant by the introductory psalm. Prospering, from an ancient Near East viewpoint, means the blessings of God are richly poured out into this life. Prospering is the product of humble certitude toward the Most High, God. To prosper is to be blessed with the secure knowledge and Presence and faith of God; and Yahweh watches:
“For the LORD watches over the way of the righteous,
but the way of the wicked will perish.” (1:6)
There are many psalms that note God’s role in watching over the flock of Israel--any believer--all people in fact. But he particularly watches over, and protects, his ardent followers as suggested in Pss. 32:8, 121:3-7, 127:1, and particularly Ps. 145:20 which says, “The LORD watches over all who love him, but all the wicked he will destroy.”
The very temporary way of the wicked is mentioned many times in the Psalms--see most notably Ps. 37. Wait just a little while, and like chaff, the wind blows them away. Like grass they will soon wither; not so those who call God their saviour however. These alone endure in the end. What comfort this is to know that whilst faithfuless feels forlorn in many respects, the truth is radically different.
In the Sons of Korah song, “Psalm 1,” there is a cool but clear division between that of verses 1-3 and verses 4-5, as the metre and intonation swings lower to the more serious transition toward judgment suggesting terrible consequences for the wicked... “Not so the wicked!” This shows the contrast well, as there would be no better way of introducing the Psalter than addressing with brevity, righteousness and wickedness--which this psalm does very effectively.
The first verse is a command for those called by God--any believer--to set themselves apart from the world. We do something not. This is a negative. We do not... go with those who rush into trouble, or who mock life and authority; and we don’t take advice from them. This takes courage not to ‘go with the flow’ and quietly but unashamedly go the unpopular way of God. First and foremost is our separatedness from the world. (See also James 1:27b.) There’s a call to not flatter, but turn away from those who disregard the LORD.
Perhaps the most striking thing about this prologue psalm is captured in verse 2. The person who truly delights themselves in God is found in his Word, and without any pushing I might add. The desire to read the Bible is a welling up of passion for spiritual truth and life. This type of thirst is unquenchable as we seek continual presence with him who gives us life, and abundantly so. We want the Word of Life to speak to us. Meditating and musing on spiritual sayings and meanings day and night is a very good thing for our hungry souls--the roots of the tree that is our life.
While everything and everyone about us could be dying (these representing the desert) we are to be flourishing trees--fed not by material, food and water--but directly by the ‘artesian spring’ that is God’s Spirit. Critically, the tree bears fruit, and not before time--but in the right season.