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Psalm 1

The choice

Led by our marketers, Western culture tells us what the good life is. The vision is one of wealth, status and security, all attained autonomously. The Book of Psalms offers a very different take on the good life.

How blessed the person
who doesn’t follow the advice of the wicked
subscribe to the twisted values of self-seekers
or join in the empty sneering of mockers.
2 Instead, they savor Yahveh’s instruction
and draw on its wisdom day and night.
3 That makes them thrive
like a tree beside a clear flowing stream—
bearing fruit without pause
growing old but not weak
flourishing in all they do.

But not self-seekers!
They’re like chaff driven by the wind.
Without a leg to stand on before God’s law
they find no place
in the community of God-seekers.
Because God stakes out the path
of those who seek him
while the road the wicked take
leads to doom and disaster.

This psalm and the next frame the entire book, this one by telling us where true happiness lies, contrasting the two ways of life before us and their predetermined ends. Seeking God and his instruction leads to flourishing, spurning him to alienation and ruin. While God’s instruction in scripture is primary, the psalmist commends a constant openness to God, who speaks to us in many ways. Calvin called this a “teachable frame.”

The problem is that the self-seekers’ destination looks nothing like that path in its beginning. Indeed, who wouldn’t want to be their own god, do whatever they like and laugh off anyone cramping their style? Ironically, the autonomy Western culture idolizes is the very evil that leads to ruin. It’s not ultimately freedom at all.

The psalmist’s stark contrast isn’t saying that pleasing God is an endless picnic, self-seeking a total disaster. But being anchored only to yourself does nothing in a storm. And crowd applause dies out fast when the ship is going down. Letting self-love crowd God out ultimately leaves us alone, which is why the psalmist invites us to delight in God and discover life instead.

Most scholars believe the ancient Israelites had no clear concept of the afterlife, that the psalmist speaks of the present life only. Naturally, this raises questions for suffering believers. And many psalms take up those very questions, asking how God can allow the wicked to prosper and begging him to honor his word. Still, this psalm frames the book with the truth that oneness with God brings wholeness and life, ignoring him life’s dissolution.

The choice before me is obscured in a hundred million ways, God. But I see that loving myself supremely leaves me with only myself. How much better to find my true self in you. Please help me hold to the path you’ve marked out for me and love you supremely, whatever the cost. Amen.

During your free moments today, meditate on this truth:

Drawing on his wisdom day and night
they thrive like trees beside clear flowing streams
bearing fruit without pause, growing old but not weak
and flourishing in all they do.


[1] While God’s instruction in scripture is primary, the psalmist commends a constant openness to God, who is everywhere present and speaks to us in a plethora of ways. Calvin referred to this openness as a “teachable frame.”

Why Yahveh?

Every translator of the Psalms must decide how to handle God’s personal name, YHWH, which occurs repeatedly in its Hebrew text. Translators of the King James Version usually translated it “LORD” (all caps) and occasionally transliterated it (badly) as “Jehovah.” Modern translations, likewise, either translate or transliterate it. While translating it aims to make it more accessible to readers, transliterating it is more faithful to the text since it’s not a word at all, but rather God’s uniquely personal name. I’ve chosen to transliterate it to root it more firmly in the biblical story as the name—meaning the “self-existent One”—that God revealed to Moses on Mount Sinai. This name set Israel’s God apart from all the gods of Israel’s neighbors.

Personal names are, well, very personal. Even the sound of a name can evoke strong emotion. One problem with YHWH is that we aren’t sure how it was pronounced since Jews long ago stopped saying it in order better to hallow it. In transliterating it, I follow the advice of my esteemed Hebrew professor, Raymond Dillard. He advocated transliterating it as Yahveh—pronounced yah·vay—arguing that following the modern Hebrew pronunciation of its third consonant makes the name sound more robustly Jewish than Yahweh.
May these psalms be a light to you in dark times. You can read more of Mark Robert Anderson's writings on Christianity, culture, and inter-faith dialogue at Understanding Christianity Today.