In the opening chapter of the Psalms, a contrast is drawn between the way of the man who delights in the Law from Jehovah and the way of the wicked. Can this contrast be applied to Christians today, and if so, how, without allegorizing the passage.
Allegory of the Scripture is used to imply a different meaning than the literal meaning of the text. Unlike a literal translation, allegorization is an extremely dangerous method of interpretation, as it has no way to verify the meaning apart from taking the author at his or her word. It is often said to be a higher, spiritual, interpretation; however, when the Spirit from God bore along men to write the Scriptures, He did not have them use methods that where contrary to the normal use of the language.
To understand the Psalms we need to look at the meaning of the text, the words used, who it was written to, and the context of the whole passage. Can the Psalms be used for Christians?
Let us take a look and see…
Happy is the man that does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of the sinners, nor sits in the seat of the scoffer, but his delight is in the Law from Jehovah, and in His Law he utters day and night. And he will be like a tree planted upon the canals of waters, which produces fruit in its time and its leaves do not wither. And all that he does will prosper.
Although many English translations use the word “blessed” to open the Psalms, the original language uses a word that means “happiness”. If we do not understand the meaning behind the word “blessed”, right from the very beginning of the book we could get the wrong impression. To describe health, wealth, and happiness in the life of an Old Testament believer, the Scriptures use “blessed”. In Genesis 12:2, 3 God tells Abram that He will bless him, i.e. , health, wealth, and happiness. In Jeremiah 17:7 the Lord speaks through the Prophet saying that a man who trusts in Him, He will bless. Within the context, the blessing is health, wealth, and happiness here on earth during this man’s life.
Happiness will come to the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked. He is not taking and using the advice of wicked men. This man does not stand in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of the scoffer. A scoffer is one who speaks in a roundabout way. This is not someone who is directly speaking down to other, but rather is talking behind someone’s back or speaking out of the side of his mouth. The concept of a translator comes from this word because it of its meaning of one who speaks indirectly.
In contrast to walking in the counsel of the wicked, this man delights (finds joy or pleasure) in the Law from Jehovah. This is the Law that God gave to Israel through Moses. Not only does this man find delight in the Law, he also utters it day and night. The word “meditate” is not a mind term. That is, it is not referring to a process of the mind, but actually comes from a word that means to speak, mutter, or moan.
At first this passage seems like a good passage for Christians. Even if you take away the concept of health, wealth, and happiness, which God did not give as a promise to the Church while here on earth, who would say that delighting in the Law of the Lord and meditation on it day and night would be bad for anyone? However, when you compare this passage with the truths revealed for Christians, problems present themselves that would require allegorization to accommodate them. Oh, yes, it cannot be taken literally because Christians are not under any quality of law according to Galatians 5:18, and many other passages. True, that does not mean a Christian does not have a standard, for we are under the standard of Christ, 1 Corinthians 9:21. However, the Mosaic Law and the standard of a Christian are so different, in order to apply this passage to Christians, the interpreter would have to allegorize the true meaning because it is not addressing saints under grace, but those under the Mosaic Law.
What about happiness, would not a Christian be happy if he or she did not walk in the counsel of the wicked, nor stood in the path of the sinner, nor sat in the seat of the scoffer? Although there is some universal truth about the lifestyle of a person affecting their mental state, this passage is not saying that happiness comes from abstaining from these things, but from a lifestyle that delights in the Law from Jehovah, which would result in turning from the ways of the wicked. When it comes to happiness in the life of a Christian, Scripture reveals that there is more than just the lifestyle that affects the attitude. It is true that having a good conscience, listening to and living according to God opinion of a Christian will bring happiness, it is also true that happiness comes from the hope we have, from the promises we will receive, and even when we suffer because our actions are righteous. (Romans 14:22; Titus 2:13; James 1:12, 25; 1 Peter 3:14; 4:14).
When it comes to uttering the Law from Jehovah day and night, there is actually a huge difference between saints who are under grace and those who were under Law. Many translations use the word “meditate” which implies a meaning that is not true to the original language and can cause confusion between living under Law and under Grace. Since the word is not a mind term, not describing a process of the mind, this presents a problem when applying it to Christians without allegorizing it. (Remember, allegorization of Scripture is extremely dangerous. It does not look at the true meaning of the text, in all actually it ignores it and seeks to be understood by what it means to the reader without consideration of the context or normal meaning of words used.). Christians are not instructed to utter to themselves the standards of who they are in Christ; rather, they are to frame their minds on the things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God the Father, and walk by the Spirit, (Colossians 3:1, 2; Galatians 5:16, 25). Under Law, the saint did not have a spirit that was alive unto God. Under grace, we are regenerated in our spirit and can therefore receive the things from the Spirit, (1 Corinthians 2:10-16; Titus 3:5). Under Law the saint had to continually remind himself of the Law by speaking it to himself continually day and night. Under grace, the saint is to frame his or her mind on the things above, which will affect the actions because of the focus on the truth (seeing things as they really are).
Happiness comes in a similar way to both the Old and New Testament saints. However, we do not want to allegorize Scripture, so how could this passage apply to a Christians? Directly it cannot, however, by contrast the Christian can use this passage without violating the true meaning. A person under the Mosaic Law would be happy by delighting in the Law and uttering it to himself day and night. Whereas happiness in a Christian’s life comes from their actions lining up with who they are in Christ, focusing on the hope they have of the rapture, listening and living according to God’s opinion of the saint who is in Christ, and suffering because of righteousness. To allegorize this passage and apply it to the life of a saint under grace would greatly diminish what that saint has in Christ.
Although the term, “planted like a tree upon canals of waters” is often used to describe one who obeys the Law from Jehovah, it is not an expression that defines a Christian who is living according to God’s opinion of him or her in Christ. The only reference to” planted” for Christians is the fact that they have been co-planted in the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ, (Romans 6:5). By the use of “planted like a tree upon canals of waters”, the author is expressing physical blessings that will come upon the one who delights in the Law. Within Scripture, there is never a promise to Christians for health, wealth, and happiness here on earth. Our promises are heavenly; promises that have far greater worth than earthly promises. Therefore, to apply this to the life of a Christian would violate the true meaning of the text. The only use this passage can have for Christians is by using it to contrast what the saint under grace has compared to those under Law.
As far as the remainder of the Psalm, the description of the wicked holds true in both dispensations. The way of the wicked will be destroyed, and they will not fool God for He knows the way of righteousness.
When we use the Old Testament correctly it can be very healthy for the spiritual life of a Christian, not by allegorizing and miss applying it, but by understanding the true meaning, which often shows how much better thing we have who are under grace compared to those under Law, and will hopefully spur us on to take full advantage of this wonderful salvation that God has so graciously given us.