The Key to True Happiness
Blessed is the Man...
What will make you truly happy? You have probably thought about this even if you haven't put it into words. Everyone wants to have a good life. What will make you truly blessed?
The first words of the Psalms pull us in with the possibility of having this kind of life—a life that is blessed by God: "Blessed is the man…" (v. 1). This blessing means being supremely happy or fulfilled, a deep sense of well-being. His Word carries much joy, and some versions translate these words, "How happy is the man…" This is not superficial happiness that comes and goes but a deep sense of joy from God's grace in my life.
Isn't that what we all want? Psalm 1 offers us true, lasting happiness by presenting a series of contrasts between the righteous and the wicked. It describes two kinds of people living two kinds of lives with two different outcomes. When we see the blessings of the godly next to the emptiness of the wicked, this stark contrast is supposed to make us choose life. The blessings God pours out are so beautiful and compelling that any sane man or woman would want them.
The blessings God pours out are so beautiful and compelling that any sane man or woman would want them.
Who Is Blessed?
First, who is this blessed man? Psalm 1:1-2 describes an ideal man, the kind of person God is looking for. This ideal man is known first by 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." (1:1)
There is a downward spiral in these three negative descriptions. A man or woman settles into sin by stages—he walks, then he stops and stands, and finally he sits down. First he is influenced by the sinners, then he identifies with them, and finally he spreads sin to others through his laughter and sarcasm.
This first verse presents us with a problem that we cannot ignore. If we are honest, you and I will admit that we do listen to the counsel of the wicked all too often. We have stood with sinners. We may have laughed and made fun of someone who is obeying God. To say it another way, you and I are sinners (1 John 1:8).
This is a problem because the grammar of verse 1 requires complete obedience. The blessed man has never sinned. Willem VanGemeren, a noted Old Testament scholar, points this out: "The perfect mood of the verbs in each case emphasizes that the godly are never involved with anything tainted with evil."
So the blessings of Psalm 1 are for those who are and always have been separate from sin. Who can inherit this blessing? Who can hope to have the truly happy life this psalm lays out for us? Is the psalmist tempting us with something we can never have?
In fact, only one man in history has lived out the reality of Psalm 1. Augustine, the great North African theologian of the fourth century, says boldly about this verse, "This is to be understood of our Lord Jesus Christ." From Adam onward, no other man has lived up to Psalm 1:1.
Amazingly, the very first verse of the Psalms points to Christ. Ancient Jews who read this psalm would recognize that David and the kings after him did not live up to the ideals of this opening psalm. Psalm 1:1 would prompt them to look for the kind of messiah who did please the Lord and who did not sin against him. Now that Jesus has come, we can see that he is the only one whose sinless life and delight in God's Word has earned him God's blessing. He is the one truly supremely happy man. Jesus is the blessed man of Psalm 1!
James A. Johnston
In this commentary on Psalms 1–44, readers will find encouragement and inspiration as they encounter the psalmists’ passionate pursuit of God.
How Can I Be Blessed?
So where does this leave us? The good news, the gospel, is that all the blessings of Psalm 1 become ours through his obedience. We have been joined together with Jesus by trusting in his death and resurrection. If you are in Christ, your life is wrapped up in him, and his life is wrapped up in yours. On the cross he took our sin and gave us his righteousness. The Scriptures say,
"For our sake he [God] made him [Jesus] to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God." (2 Corinthians 5:21)
God gives us Jesus' righteousness—his obedience is counted as ours. And since Jesus' righteous obedience is imputed to us, then all the blessings of Psalm 1 are ours as well. Not only so, but if the Spirit of Christ is living in us, Christ himself will help us turn away from sin, delight in his Word, and meditate on his Word. To live out Psalm 1, we need to become like Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit.
This article is adapted from The Psalms: Volume 1 – Rejoice, the Lord is King by James Johnston, which is part of the Preaching the Word commentary series.