“Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly…” So begins the first Psalm, which is another very reasonable place to begin memorizing portions of Scripture. So many psalms are made into hymns and other songs anyway that there are undoubtedly verses that are within most people’s minds already, just as there are many common figures of speech that are originally from scripture.
This psalm well illustrates several major themes that permeate scripture, particularly the collected Writings of Wisdom (Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, etc). A comparison between the righteous and the ungodly is easy to see, various aspects of which can be seen much later in some of the parables in the Gospels.
The first verse begins with a three-stage illustration of the slippery slope of evil. A man who is not righteous may begin by walking along with the ungodly, perhaps intending to go a different direction, but finding himself caught up in conversation with them. Then he is simply standing in the same place with sinners, initially determined to leave them and go elsewhere, but perhaps what they are doing looks interesting. Finally, he is sitting down with the scornful where they are and participating in their activities, having become one of them in the end.
Instead of the unrighteous activities mentioned in the first verse, the righteous will delight in God’s perfect law, meditating in it, immersing themselves in it, thirsting for it. The comparison becomes more abstract in the third verse with the righteous depicted as a tree planted by a river where it can soak up all the water it needs and then produce fruit as a result of being well-nourished.
Water is a constant theme in scripture, illustrating the effect of God’s Word itself on a thirsty people. “Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.” (Mat 5:6). Any drinkable liquid could be used as a metaphor for scripture in various ways, even one as thick as honey, but water is special because it alone is absolutely required for life, and it alone is a chemically pure and simple substance that nevertheless has extremely complex and subtle behavior that is sometimes counterintuitive. For instance, most liquids become more dense when they freeze, but water actually becomes less dense. Because of this, ice on a pond floats, preventing the entire pond from freezing solid and allowing local aquatic ecosystems to survive through the winter.
The fourth verse parallels the first by returning to the ungodly. In contrast to a solidly rooted tree, well-watered and fruitful, the ungodly are merely chaff, all dried up and blown away by the wind, producing no fruit. Compare Jude 12: “trees whose fruit withereth, without fruit, twice dead, plucked up by the roots…” referring to corrupt people preying on the church.
The last two verses emphasize the final nature of the distinction between the righteous and ungodly. They will forever be separated, and the “way of the ungodly shall perish,” while the righteous will be with God. There is no gray area there. Either one drinks of the water of life, or one does not.
There are many other verses that speak of water, some clearly making a link to God’s Word and God’s Spirit, and some only hinting at it. Probably the most direct link is in John 7:38: “He that believeth on me, as the scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water.” Note first that this is the Messiah speaking at the water ceremony traditionally held at the end of the Feast of Tabernacles, and second that he is speaking of himself and of the Spirit, as the next verse goes on to say: “But this spake he of the Spirit, which they that believe on him should receive…” (John 7:39a).
So Scripture is both food and drink to God’s people, spiritually – the Bread of Life and the Water of Life, both of which are also used to describe the Messiah as well. As we cannot live for very long physically without bread and water, we must also eat and drink spiritually.
Challenge: Memorize Psalm 1 in order to write on your heart a reminder of the source of spiritual water, which is the wellspring of truth, and a warning of the slippery slope of evil.