Wednesday, June 1, 2011

The Community of the Blessed

Therefore the ungodly shall not stand in the judgment,
Nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous.
For the LORD knows the way of the righteous,
But the way of the ungodly shall perish.
(Psalm 1:5-6)

The first of the month finds me once again at Psalm 1. Usually it is something in the first half of the psalm that captures my attention. Today it is the last half that has grabbed me.

Verse 1 begins with “Blessed is the man,” not “Blessed are the men.” The psalm writer is talking about an individual, not a group. Indeed, there is one group he is definitely not a part of: the ungodly, sinners, mockers. Rather, he delights in the instruction of the LORD and meditates on it continually (v. 2). So he is like a tree bearing fruit in season. He prospers in everything he does and becomes a blessing to others (v. 3).

The ungodly are not like that at all but are blown away with the wind, in emptiness and vanity, and are not missed (v. 4). When the time of divine judgment comes they cannot stand up under it. There is no place for them in the “congregation of the righteous,” for they have not kept faith or bothered to become one with them. Indeed, everything they have do demonstrates that they are detrimental to the life of the community.

Here is part of what causes the righteous one to prosper: He has become like a tree. A tree has roots. The righteous one is rooted, established by rivers of life-giving water. We can liken the rivers of water to the instruction of the Lord, certainly, and also to the Spirit of God. Jesus said, “He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water” (John 7:38; verse 39 tells us that He was speaking about the Holy Spirit). But we should also think of the rivers of water as the community of the faithful, the people of God. He is part of them and established together with them in God. When the circumstances of life come and test him, he holds up well — he stands in the “congregation of the righteous.”

“Righteousness” is a term of covenant. A righteous man is one who has kept covenant. God made a covenant with Israel. They became His people, He became their God. It is in regard to this covenant that He revealed His name, Yahweh, because as His people, they bore His name. Those who believed Him and kept the covenant were considered fit for fellowship with Him in the community. That is, they were considered righteous.

Yahweh knows the way of the righteous, that is, He has regard for their manner of life — it is a life of faith. The Hebrew word for “righteous” is in the plural form. They are bound together in community, with each other and with God, so they remain and are blessed. But the way of the ungodly perishes, vanishes in destruction. The Hebrew word for “ungodly” is also in the plural. It does not portray a community bound together in covenant but a collection of individuals who have nothing more in common than their wickedness.

In the New Testament, King Jesus the Messiah established a new covenant, a better one based on better promises (Hebrews 8:6). Better because it is not just for ethnic Jews but has been broadened out to include all the nations of the world, whoever will believe in Him. Better because Jesus Himself has faithfully kept it on our behalf, enduring the cross for our sake. Better because it is a covenant cut in His own blood. That is why on the night He was betrayed, He took the cup and said, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood.” He established a new table of fellowship for the covenant people of God.

Jesus is the one Psalm 1 speaks about. It is in Him that we have become the people of God. It is as Him that we now have access to every blessing of heaven and the prosperity God has promised His people. Blessed is the Man and the community that has fellowship with Him.