Happiness and the Avid Learner
Around 500 BCE, when Israel’s priests compiled the anthology we now know as the Book of Psalms, they were very intentional about its organization. Based solely on content, it’s apparent the editors considered how the poems conversed with one another—how one psalm’s placement before or after another added dimension to both. We don’t know exactly how the collection was used in worship or daily devotion. But a through-line is clearly detectable, a certain way of seeing and engaging the world and its Creator that the editors sought to instill in the hearts and minds of Israel.
Psalm 1 offers a wonderful contrast of parallels that launches wisdom as one of the book’s crucial themes. It paints the portrait of a contented individual and explains why that person does so well. First, it explains he or she avoids foolish company. “The truly happy person doesn’t follow wicked advice, doesn’t stand on the road of sinners, and doesn’t sit with the disrespectful,” the poet tells us. Instead, happy people “love the Lord’s instruction and they recite [it] day and night!” (Ps. 1:1-3).
That is to say, the person who can discern foolishness and not be lured into its trap is someone who’s hungry for wisdom. The happy person loves God’s instruction so intensely he or she can (and does) recite it at all hours. Thus the Book of Psalms begins with a fascinating idea: enthusiastic learning is foundational to wisdom. More than that, according Psalm 1, it’s key to success. Everything the avid learner does prospers.
Scholars frequently observe that the “B” side of Psalm 1’s ringing endorsement of the commoner’s learning and wisdom is Psalm 2’s warning to rulers. (These pairings are a recurring trait in the collection) The privileged class’s rants and imaginings baffle the writer. Their behavior is decidedly unwise and the abuses that result from their villainy lead to trouble. “Wise up!” verse 10 says, lest the Lord “become angry, and your way will be destroyed” (Ps. 2:12). Taken together, the two psalms paint a powerful picture of the benefits derived from loving wisdom versus the penalties levied against those who foolishly rely on unrighteous counsel.
The Psalms’ wisdom couldn’t be more timely, as each day’s “breaking news” breaks our hearts and hurts our heads. With each day, our leaders’ mental health seems increasingly questionable. Their eagerness to attend to conspiracy theorists and gonzo sensationalists paints a grim picture of hardship that lay ahead for our country. These folks who brag about all their business savvy and powerful connections should know better! The good news is wisdom isn’t a precious gift that only the privileged classes can afford. It’s a simple thing to gain, provided you have the clarity of mind and integrity of intention to reach for it. The Psalms begin by portraying ordinary people who know how to gain obtain extraordinary insight that rewards them bountifully. It’s wise to seek wisdom. That’s the headline in today’s psalms.
Join us this Thursday evening as we continue our look at the psalms with a special focus on the wisdom poems. We meet online at 7:30p CDT via Zoom. See the info below to find out how to access the study.
Meeting ID: 564 427 274
You can also phone in at 1-312-626-6799, using the same meeting ID and password.
We need your help!
As we think about the future of Gather, please let us know what gifts you bring and would like to share with the community. There are many roles that have to come together to make Gather happen every week. This includes setup, technical support, worship, managing handouts and information, coordinating drinks, and teardown. We need your help. Please let us know what type of service you’d be interested in!
Watch God Work,
Tim & Shea
As we prepare to become a vibrant worshipping community, we invite you to enjoy a Spotify playlist that captures the kind of worship we hope to embrace. Give it a spin while you’re driving. Make it your workout jam. Add it to your devotional time. Most of all, feel yourself becoming part of a sacred village of believers who love their God and one another!
Check out the Gather Worship Playlist here.