Where we go, what we do, the people we listen to all have a qualitative impact on our happiness. When we have a decision to make and we ask for moral advice from people bent on evil plans then we are going to be presented with bad advice. People who are content to break the law will encourage us to do the same. When we live with people who are known for ridiculing and mocking others we will find it easier to do the same.
Now a person may find a certain level of happiness plotting evil things, breaking the law, and mocking others, but is there happiness for the person who does not take part in these things? One step further is there happiness for a person who has never participated in these things? Does not the experience of regret teach us that having never done unwholesome things would be more pleasurable then having done them? How often have the words, “I wish I hadn’t…” fallen off our lips? These words prove that the momentary happiness of sin does not compare to the fuller happiness of abstaining from sin. The text that was sent. The letter that was mailed. The word that slipped. The uncontrolled burst of anger. At the moment there may have been a devious happiness found but now with time passed we all would tend to agree if these things did not happen we would have been left happier. Happiness isn’t a bad thing to have or experience. Nor is happiness unchristian. In fact as we look at Psalm 1 we see that happiness is cast in a positive light. But we should take a moment to ask, ‘where should that happiness to be found?’
Some might say that to be happy like the man of Psalm 1 we need to avoid ‘bad’ people altogether. Just as the saying goes ‘bad company corrupts good morals’. In one sense this is true. You hang around a criminal long enough and you might get charged with being an accomplish to a crime. But in another sense this is not a Christian approach to happiness. This is not Christian for two reasons: first Jesus was a friend of sinners who always found himself being accused of hanging out with questionable characters and second Paul tells the believers in Corinth to continue hanging out with people who don’t consider themselves to be believers.
The man of Psalm 1 does not find himself to be happy because he avoided ‘bad’ people. This man found himself to be happy because of the pleasure he took in the teaching of God (YHWH – the divine name). This man took pleasure in knowing and talking about God’s teaching. It would be accurate of us to associate this teaching of YHWH with the Torah— which is the first five books of the Bible. But I believe we are being faithful to God’s word by expanding this teaching to include the entire Bible. But at least for the sake of Psalm 1 this man is finding happiness in the teaching of YHWH which at the minimum is the first five books of the Bible. And it is his habit to muse upon this teaching. He finds himself in constant conversation on different passages of God’s promises to His people to himself when he is struggling with hopelessness. Or recounting narratives of God’s faithfulness while he is busy working with others. The happiness that this man has found is not in the world or even intrinsically in the gifts of YHWH. This Psalm 1 man finds his happiness exclusively in YHWH’s teaching.
To paint the picture of taking pleasure in YHWH’s teaching Psalm 1 invokes a beautiful image of a transplanted tree to show what this man is like. When we think of this tree being transplanted we should think of the intentional focused event of moving a tree from one location to another. In this case the new location is next to canals of rain water where the water allows the transplanted tree to flourish and produce healthy fruit.
I grew up in Riverside, CA where there are numerous orange groves. In these groves there are dirt canals which have been dug to irrigate the orange groves. Growing up I remember driving by these orange groves where I would see these canals filled with water as the irrigation pumps had been turned on to water the trees. All the trees in the orange groves were transplanted into these orchards to start out as two foot tall saplings but as the years went on they become large eight to ten foot tall orange trees which produced oranges which were then shipped out. The purpose of the orange trees had been accomplished. Their purpose was/is to produce oranges. Even a child could tell you that healthy orange trees make oranges— every time.
The man of Psalm 1 is like one of these transplanted orange trees. Being put in a location where his heath and maturity is dependent on these canals of water which feed the him and allow his leaves to never fade or wither. And like an orange tree in the spring season you can tell when the tree is about to start producing oranges because the aroma of the orange blossom is unmistakable. So to the fruit which results from this man taking pleasure in the teaching of YHWH ‘s teaching is unmistakable. These canals of water are the life giving words of the teaching of YHWH which fill the heart like fresh rain water and bring life to a dry soul. As the man takes pleasure in these words and muses on them his inner and outer self then begins to display the reality of being filled with YHWH’s teaching. But the climax is not in the changed man but in the fruit which he produces. When a healthy orange tree tries to produce an orange it succeeds. When the man of Psalm 1 acts on the teaching of YHWH he succeeds. The success is not in what comes to him, but in what he does. He accomplishes what he set out to do.
When a man does not find pleasure in the teaching of YHWH there is no canal of proverbial water filling the man’s soul. Instead the man withers and dies from dryness. Driven by the wind the man will fall. In the orange groves of Riverside when a tree dies it is eventually pulled up and replaced. The barren tree is an eye sore among the healthy trees. The remedy is to remove the dead tree and replace it with a living tree. There is no use for an orange grove full of dead trees.
Someday there will be a judgment for the man of Psalm 1. He will be judged on what kind of tree he is like. If he is like a tree that is healthy, thriving, and producing fruit every season then he will be kept standing. If the man is like a tree that doesn’t have any of these characteristics he will not raise up at the judgment but instead he will be destroyed.
This is made evident in the final line of Psalm 1. YHWH knows the way of righteous because this way begins and ends with YWHW. Jesus said that he was the Way the Truth and the Life and that no one comes to His Father except through him (Jesus). The man of Psalm 1 is most exemplified in Jesus of Nazareth. Because Jesus was the only man who ever perfectly took pleasure in His Father’s teaching.
Although YHWH knows the way of the righteous the way of the wicked is destruction. This way of destruction is broad and wide. The destruction will not just be in the end. The whole way is destruction. From beginning to end those who find themselves on this way will also find themselves surrounded by destruction until one day they too are completely consumed by the destruction.
Our fullest happiness will only be found in YHWH. Our lasting pleasure will only be found in His teaching. Our greatest conversations will always be fuelled by the teachings of YHWH. But not in a forced and stiff fashion. But in a natural and fluid fashion. We have a tremendous amount of freedoms but to what end is that freedom for? Shall we submit ourselves to the idols of materialism and vanity, or shall we submit ourselves to the teaching of YHWH and find lasting delight? Shall we take pleasure in YHWH(‘s teaching). I encourage you to be like the man of Psalm 1 and find yourself fully consumed with the teaching of YHWH! I encourage you to find your fullest happiness in YHWH’s teaching! I encourage you to find your happiness in YHWH!