The Purpose of Wisdom Literature
“The Lord knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish” (v. 6).- Psalm 1
Old Testament Wisdom Literature tends to emphasize particular themes, the most important of which is the teaching that if we are to gain wisdom, we must first cultivate the fear of the Lord (Prov. 1:7). This fear is not some kind of nebulous awe at the thought of God, although it is certainly a good thing to be struck with awe when one considers the attributes and work of our Creator. Instead, the fear of the Lord commended in the Wisdom Literature of the Old Testament takes shape and reveals itself in a desire and attempt to keep God’s commandments. Psalm 1 helps us to see that this is the case.
Verse 1 of today’s passage opens with a pronouncement of blessing. One commentator notes that in Scripture, blessing is not something that one earns; rather, it is entirely the gracious gift of God Almighty. The blessing that Abraham received to be the father of many nations, for example, was not something that he deserved; rather, it was sovereignly granted to the patriarch while he was worshiping pagan gods (Josh. 24:1–2). While there is great blessing to be found in keeping the law of God, we have to recognize that the obedience described in Psalm 1 is obedience given in the context of gratefulness for the Lord’s undeserved favor, not a crass attempt to earn blessings by one’s works.
The man who receives, understands, and grows in divine blessing is the man who does not walk after the wicked but who meditates on the law of God day and night (Ps. 1:1–2). In the Hebrew, the sense is that the man who is truly blessed is the man who does not walk in the ways of the wicked even once. Certainly this depicts an ideal, for we will not be sinless on this side of glory (1 John 1:8–9). In any case, the one who enjoys the Lord’s blessing is the one who strives to avoid sin at all costs. This is accomplished as we meditate on God’s law. Such meditation does not refer to a once-a-day “quiet time” with the Lord, as helpful as that can be. The idea is one of constant pondering of God’s law during the entire day (Josh. 1:8). From sunup to sundown, blessed servants of the Lord think about His statutes and consider how to live them out in their specific circumstances. That kind of meditation cannot help but produce the fruit of obedience in our lives.
The final result is that God watches over the way of the righteous (v. 6). Our Creator looks over His faithful servants with such concern that He protects them as they serve Him. It is not passive observation but active sheltering of His servants.
John Calvin comments on today’s passage: “God is only rightly served when his law is obeyed. It is not left to every man to frame a system of religion according to his own judgment, but the standard of godliness is to be taken from the Word of God.” If we want to enjoy the continued blessing of the Lord, we cannot act based on what we think God might want us to do; rather, we must be certain of His statutes. His moral law revealed in Scripture gives us these regulations.
Passages for Further Study