Psalm 1:1-2 – Meditating on God’s Law

[Based on my previous article: Nature and Dogma – The Objective Good and its limited subjective perception (2020)]

We are warned of the trouble of dogma from ancient times on. Buddhism warned of it and focused on meditational practice instead of dogmatic preaching, and Judaism did so as well. One can find it quite clearly in the beginning of the Psalms. Psalm 1:1-2 states: “Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful. But his delight is in the law of the Lord; and in his law doth he meditate day and night.” (KJV) We find three kinds of three in the first verse. The first kind of threes is walking, standing and sitting [John Piper: Psalm 1 :1 – How to Lose Your Happiness ?. Desiring God, 2 April 2018. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6zHHoYTqWBY, retrieved on 2 August 2020.], thus denoting a kind of activity on motion. The second group of threes is counsel, way and seat, while the third is ungodly/ wicked, sinners, and scornful. Now, the second group is quite interesting, because while the first is an activity of motion, the second is an activity focused on action. As John Piper makes clear, counsel means advice and thus focusses on words. It all starts with words, but then goes further as way is more than advice. [ibid.] The wicked gave bad advice, but when somebody is on a way, he is already on the wrong track. The seat means that one is at the table of the scoffers [ibid.], so in the last step, one is joining their activities. It is a climax!

The same appears in the first triology, where one first is fully engaged and still able to walk away, but then stands and takes a look, and finally sits down and joins. The third group also works in this way: wicked is a generic term for evil, sinner is the one who is breaking a law of God, and scoffing is bragging about that. [ibid.] So this is the way of radicalization. One looks at evil first, then sympathizes with it, and one finally decides to join. Now, the interesting thing here is the negation: blessed is who does not do it. So what does blessed mean?

If one looks through the Book of Psalms, one gets a clear inherent meaning: joy, happiness, desire! [ibid.] In the same way, Psalm 32:1-2 reminds us of the joy of being forgiven from one’s wrongdoings. [ibid.] However, Piper sees it in a Christian theological way, and proposes that Jesus died for that, but this is something rather controversial, because the Tehilim do not speak of Jesus: the Tehilim are rather poetry! And of course, people tend to interprete a lot into poetry. How shall Jesus wash away all of our sins? How can one person die for humanity? It is awkward! What is more useful in my point of view is charity.

The Likutei Etzot writes: “Through charity, the mind is raised up, and he’ll have a livelihood” [Likutei Etzot, Charity, 9. Online: https://breslovbooks.com/pdf/english-likutei-etzot.pdf, retrieved on 31 July 2020]. Furthermore, “Through charity and (acts of) mercy, foreign ‘wisdom’ is suppressed and one is spared from the burden of the government, and he merits attainments of divine awareness.” [Likutei Etzot, Charity, 11.] Though indeed, charity and mercy are important, since sociability rises our social capital, associating it with a suppression of foreign wisdom is problematic, because wisdom is universal. Therefore, even wisdom which is perceived to be foreign is wisdom – if it is wisdom. And it is wisdom, of course, if it comes from the Good. However, whether it is wisdom proposed by Judaism, Buddhism, Daoism or other beliefs, it is all good in the same way. And indeed, we can learn a lot from the wisdom of religions and philosophies which appear foreign to us. Therefore, it does not differ whether we search ethical values in Buddhism’s sila or Judaism’s Torah: the basic ethical values are more or less the same.

Today, the word “law” has a very narrow meaning. Indeed, law is important – very important actually – but when we read Psalm 1:2, we encounter “But his delight is in the law of the Lord” as response to Psalm 1:1, as in the latter one is stated what we shall not do. So instead of joining the wicked, the sinners, the scoffers, we shall delight in the law of the Lord. Delight is clear, since the blessing is a joy, so if one who follows the law is blessed, he has a certain delight in it. However, law – in this sense – is much broader than a commandment, we can understand it as “instruction”. [John Piper: Psalm 1:2 – Do You Delight In Bible Reading?. Desiring God, 7 April 2018. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SxlVfMyH7Ns, retrieved on 2 August 2020.] Even the writers of the New Testament understood it in this way, where they sometimes talk of law and immediately quote a Psalm. We also find this brought term in Daoism, where one shall observe the Law. Observing does not mean following a law that was written down somewhere, but absorbing the law out of nature. The Dao reveals the Law, and everything has its Law and works according to its Law.

Timo Schmitz, 6 October 2022

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