The Courage to Read: Reflections on Psalm 1

Brian D. Russell

(The second in a three-part series. For part one, see here.)

Psalm 1 challenges us to muster the courage to read Scripture and ponder it deeply out of an attitude of delight. The end of this mode of life is the happy life.

Let’s listen to vv. 3–4:

3 They are like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither– whatever they do prospers. 4 Not so the wicked! They are like chaff that the wind blows away. (TNIV)

Models a Constant Attentiveness to Scripture

Psalm 1 doesn’t merely advocate that the blessed person will meditate on Scripture constantly. The Psalm itself models this by actually using the words of Scripture to make its point. We already pointed out that v. 2 echoes God’s words to Joshua in Josh 1.

Verse 3 draws from multiple texts as well. Virtually every word is drawn from another OT text: Jer 17:5-8; Ezek 47:12; and Gen 39:3, 23. Like Jer 17, the psalmist describes the blessed person as one planted by streams of water. Like Ezekl 47:12, there is always fruit and the leaves do not whither. Like Joseph in Gen 39, there is always success. We’ll say more about these in a moment, but the key is to recognize the need for the words of Scripture to permeate and shape us for our journey of faith. There will be good times as well as times of hardship. The Psalter itself with its mix of lament, praise, and thanksgiving demonstrates this. Scripture is our guide to navigating the waters of life successfully as the people whom God calls us to be.

New Matrix for Success

Psalm 1 redefines success in terms of being near to God and implementing the divine will. Success doesn’t equate with material possessions or wealth necessarily. Success doesn’t mean an absence of suffering for the righteous. When read in light of the texts from which it was constructed, the tree imagery of Ps 1:3 becomes a potent call to choose the way of life. Clinton McCann aptly writes, “The point of the simile is not that the righteous will not suffer, but rather that the righteous will always have in God a reliable resource to face and endure life’s worst” (“‘The Way of the Righteous’ in the Psalms: Character Formation and Cultural Crisis,” in Character and Scripture [ed. William Brown; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002], 137).

God’s people succeed because they are rooted in Scripture. The text from Ezekiel links the waters with the waters of life flowing from the Temple. In other words, Scripture is a pipeline and conduit to God. The promise of success is success in accomplishing God’s will for the moment. Verse 2 alludes to Joshua; v. 3 alludes to Joseph. God gave each success in different circumstances. Joshua succeeded explicitly in life; Joseph succeeded and prospered from the bottom up. Genesis 39 speaks of God’s prospering him as a slave in Potiphar’s house and as a prisoner in Egypt. It is important for us to recognize this new matrix for success. It is living faithfully in the present moment to advance the will of God.

How Deep Are Your Roots?

Verses 3-4 challenge us with a contrasting view of life. Will we be the successful tree or simply be blown about as chaff in the wind?

The key is our root system. How deep are your roots? If our roots are strong, we can be battered by storms. We can lose all of our leaves in winter. We can experience broken limbs. But at the end of the day, we will continue to grow and prosper as long as our roots are near the streams of life giving water. This life giving water is available to us today in the Scriptures.

As we seek to follow Jesus faithfully into the world today, will you find the courage to take up the Scriptures and allow their words to shape your life and guide you to true success in accomplishing God’s work and mission in the world.


Our Loving God,
Make us as strong as oaks by empowering in us the courage to read your Word. Allow your life giving words to flow into us so that we may allow your love and justice to flow back into the world as we seek to serve as your hands, your feet and your mouthpieces in the world today. In Jesus’ name: Amen

Posted Jan 12, 2015

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