Torah for the Heart
Living in a wicked world presents challenges for people attempting to walk the way of righteousness. We are constantly bombarded with competing images of the good life, and the wicked often appear to be flourishing. For this reason, God’s people must delight themselves in God’s Word, meditating on Scripture to the degree that our hearts are formed by the right images.
And this is exactly what the book of Psalms is for us. As the Five Books of Moses are the Torah for the mind, so the Five Books of Psalms are the Torah for the heart; God intends for this collection of psalms to form and shape our image of what it means to be blessed, our image of what it means to flourish as we meditate on these songs, as we muse on the music of God-inspired psalms.
This is the difference between a righteous person and a wicked person—what forms our image of blessedness. A wicked person’s image of blessedness is prosperity apart from God, but a righteous person will have an image of prosperity under the rule of God formed by musing on the Torah of God.
And whatever image of blessedness we have determines our way, our life. And ultimately it determines our final destiny. Notice how Psalm 1 ends:
For the Lord knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish.
The way of the righteous is known by the Lord because that way has been shaped by an image of blessedness in direct relationship with him. The image of blessedness that governs the way of the wicked is decidedly apart from him, and so ultimately it will perish.
I mentioned in an earlier post that there are 90 occurrences just of the root for “wicked” in this book of Psalms; but here’s an enlightening fact: approximately half of those occurrences appear in the first 40 psalms. In other words, there is an intensification of contrast between the wicked and the righteous in the first 40 psalms that begins to thin out and give way as the book progresses to the last 50 psalms, which focus on praise. There is a movement in the book from conflict to blessing, from lament to praise. When you get to the last psalm in the book, Psalm 150, there is absolutely no mention of the wicked. They’re gone.
Which is exactly what Psalm 1 predicts. This introductory psalm predicts the destination of the wicked. They will be like chaff that the wind drives away. It’s like that dandelion you pick out of your lawn that has already turned to seed, and the wind catches it and … it’s gone. It’s there, and then it’s gone. The wicked are here, but whoosh … and they’ll be gone. They’re here in force for 40 psalms, and they continue through most of the psalms, but they start to dwindle, and whoosh, Psalm 150, they’re gone.
Because the fact of the matter is this: the presence of wicked people is an unavoidable reality, but it is also an unavoidable reality that “the wicked will not stand in the day of judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous.” They are here, and they will fight against us, and it will often look like they are prospering instead of us. But at the end, in the day of judgment, whoosh, and they’ll be gone.
This is how we have hope in the mist of a dark world filled more and more with wicked ways and wicked imaginations. We don’t have hope by escaping the reality of wickedness around us, we don’t have hope by ignoring that reality. Hope is formed in our hearts in the midst of all of this by musing on the Torah of David, by traveling along this path the psalm editors created for us from darkness, through adversity, to blessedness.
We sing our way through the psalms from songs of lament to songs of praise.
About Scott Aniol
Scott Aniol is the founder and Executive Director of Religious Affections Ministries. He is director of doctoral worship studies at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, where he teaches courses in ministry, worship, hymnology, aesthetics, culture, and philosophy. He is the author of Worship in Song: A Biblical Approach to Music and Worship, Sound Worship: A Guide to Making Musical Choices in a Noisy World, and By the Waters of Babylon: Worship in a Post-Christian Culture, and speaks around the country in churches and conferences. He is an elder in his church in Fort Worth, TX where he resides with his wife and four children. Views posted here are his own and not necessarily those of his employer.