“Like a Tree Planted by Streams of Water” (Psalm 1)
One of the delights of late summer is all the delicious fruit that we get to enjoy, fruit that the fruit trees have produced: peaches, apples, cherries. Juicy, ripe, sweet–the fruit is so delicious. I think the peaches are my favorite. But those fruit trees could not have yielded all that good fruit unless they had a plentiful supply of water. They need the water to produce the fruit.
In a way, that is a picture of our lives as Christians. We need the “water” of God’s word in order for our lives to be fruitful. Today I want to commend to you the word of God–the study of it, the reading of it, the receiving of God’s word and your living from it. The word of God preached and sacramented and taught here at church. The word of God read and devoted on in your home. If your Christian life has dried out, this is the way to be refreshed and get growing once again. This is the way for you to be “Like a Tree Planted by Streams of Water.”
Becoming “like a tree planted by streams of water” happens as you delight in and meditate on the word of God. That’s the message of the psalm we sang earlier, Psalm 1. Let’s turn there again, in the front of your hymnal, and now let’s read it together. Psalm 1. . . .
Psalm 1, as the first psalm, serves as a kind of introduction to the entire Book of Psalms, and a fitting introduction it is. The psalm begins, “Blessed is the man.” The Hebrew here can be read as an exclamation: “Oh, the blessedness of” or “Oh, the happiness of the man.” “How fortunate is the person.” Statements like this that begin with the word “blessed” are called “beatitudes.” The beatitude type of saying was common in the ancient world. Think of the Beatitudes our Lord Jesus spoke in the Sermon on the Mount: “Blessed are those who. . . .”
This beatitude here in Psalm 1, before it goes into what the blessed man does, begins by saying what he does not do: “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers.” Notice those verbs, “walk,” “stand,” “sit.” The blessed man does not walk “in the counsel of the wicked.” He does not shape his conduct after the principles of the godless. He does not listen to or follow the wisdom of this world. He does not run his life according to the advice given out by those who have come loose from God. Next, the blessed man does not stand “in the way of sinners.” That is not his basic stance. He does not establish himself in their practices of shameful vice. And third, the blessed man does not sit “in the seat of scoffers,” that is, with those who scorn and scoff at his religion. He does not join in with those mockers of God.
One evidence of the value of God’s word is the character of those who oppose it. Verse 1, then, with its reference to the way of the wicked, the sinners, and the scoffers–this forms a sharp contrast with what follows in verse 2: “but his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night.” “His delight is in the law of the LORD.” Yes, it is in God’s law that the blessed man occupies himself, not in the world’s foolishness and rebellion.
Now this word “law.” As Lutherans, when we hear the word “law,” our tendency is to think of “Law” in the narrow sense: “Law” as “demand,” “Law” as condemning word of judgment, “Law” as opposed to “Gospel.” But in this context, here in Psalm 1, the term “law” has a much broader sense. It refers to the whole will of God, thus including his primary will for our lives, which is to save us–and that’s “Gospel.” So when we see “law” here, we really need to understand both “Law” and “Gospel.” The word translated as “law” here is the important Hebrew word, “Torah.” It literally means “instruction” or “teaching.” Another way to understand this term Torah, then–one that’s probably a little more familiar to us–is “the word of God.” The blessed man delights to be “in the word.”
And notice, “his delight is in the law of the LORD.” You see, the Torah is not some anonymous book or an impersonal law code. No, this is the Torah of the LORD. In most English Bibles, as here in our hymnal, the word “LORD” is in capital letters. That’s a signal that the Hebrew word behind it is the divine name, “Yahweh.” “Yahweh” is the name by which the one true God revealed himself to Moses. Yahweh is the God who made his covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Yahweh is the God who remembers his promises and acts in history, in order to save his people.
And so here where it says, “the law of the LORD,” “the Torah of Yahweh,” our text is speaking of the God whose plans and promises have all been fulfilled now in the person of Jesus Christ. Christ, the only Son of God, the Word made flesh–he has made God known to us. Christ has brought us into the new covenant sealed with his blood, which he shed on the cross as the sacrifice for our sin. Christ Jesus lived and died and rose again, in human history, in order to save us and make us God’s people for eternity. Christ Jesus our Lord is none other than the Word of Life. He is “the Torah of Yahweh” in the flesh, the Word of God incarnate. Yes, this phrase “the Torah of Yahweh” moves us far beyond dealing in abstract concepts and grasping for some generic “God” up there. Rather, “the Torah of Yahweh” speaks of the personal will of a personal God, who has acted for us very specifically and very concretely in the cross of Christ. This personal connection–that we know and trust in the God who seeks us and saves us and speaks to us in his word–this is the reason why we delight in the law of the LORD.
Now I have to admit, there are times when I do not delight in God’s word. I get bored or busy or I tell myself I don’t need the word that much. Maybe you’re like that too, I’m guessing. But that’s our old sinful self talking–the Old Adam, as we call him, rearing his ugly head. That sucker is a dead man, though, and he needs to keep on being put to death on a daily basis. If we listen to him–which is really the same as listening to the devil’s lies or the wisdom of this world–then our lives will not be very fruitful. We dry up spiritually without God’s word.
But those streams of living water are right here for us, people, and we are made to soak them right up! You see, you and I are baptized! We are new people in Christ, the people of God, birthed and indwelt by the Spirit of God. The new man resonates to the word of God, loves it, delights in it! And that’s who you really are, dear Christian! The new man in you loves the word of God! There, in the word, you will find your life! There you will find your Savior, who loves you more than you can imagine! This is why you will delight in God’s word.
“His delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night.” The Hebrew word here for “meditate” literally means to “mutter” or to “hum,” to make a low sound. How did this come to mean “meditate”? Well, it seems that in that culture the Scripture was read half out loud in the process of meditation. A person would read in an undertone–reading over the texts of Scripture–a half-aloud reading and re-rereading. The idea was to ponder by talking to oneself. And so the blessed man is the one who keeps on pondering the law of the LORD.
“On his law he meditates day and night.” Day and night, night and day. Constantly, all the time. I’m reminded of what Moses told Israel back in Deuteronomy 6: “These words that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.” Or remember what the LORD told Joshua: “Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful.”
That brings us back to the blessed man of Psalm 1, and to verse 3: “He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers.” Now we see why this man who meditates on God’s word is called “blessed.” He’s got a lot going for him. He’s compared to a tree planted by streams of water. In the Middle East, the idea of being planted near abundant supplies of water was and is very impressive, because of the widespread dryness, the aridity, of the land. Just as the streams supply the tree with nourishing and refreshing moisture, so does God’s word supply us with nourishment and refreshment. When supplied with steady streams of the word of life, our lives will produce both growing faith and good works.
The word-fed life flourishes. But contrast that what we see described in verses 4 and 5: “The wicked are not so, but are like chaff that the wind drives away. Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous.” The wicked have no use for the word of God, and so are dried up and driven away like chaff. Without root below, without fruit above, they are discarded and worthless. Like the branch that does not remain in the vine, they are cut off from the source of life, and they’re dead without knowing it.
The contrast running throughout this psalm is summarized in a nutshell in verse 6: “For the LORD knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish.” Two ways, the way of the righteous and the way of the wicked. Two ways, two roads, two paths, running in opposite directions. One way delights in and meditates on the word of God. The other way has no use for it. One way is blessed by God: “The LORD knows the way of the righteous.” He knows his own and watches over them and cares for them, purely out of his great love and favor. The other way, the way of the world, is a road that leads to destruction: “The way of the wicked will perish,” eternally. You don’t want to go there, believe me. Believe God! Believe his word, which warns you away from the wrong path and gets your feet going in the right direction, on the path of life. You can’t make it on your own. You will stumble and fall. But Christ your Savior will pick you up, again and again, and take you all the way with him, till you reach your heavenly home, to be with him forever. His word, the word of life, will restore you and sustain you.
“The law of the LORD,” the Torah of Yahweh, the living and dynamic word of the true and living God–there is no other way to be blessed. So, as you learned in the catechism, “hold God’s word sacred, and gladly hear and learn it”: in sermons, in Bible class or Sunday School, in midweek classes, and in daily devotions at home. Yes, delight in and meditate on this word, day and night. Well supplied by the life-giving word of God, you will bear the fruits of faith. You will be “like a tree planted by streams of water.”