“The Lord watches over the WAY of the righteous…”

Psalm 1

Blessed is he who walks after the lord
But the way of the wicked will perish

I find that I read this Psalm eschatologically / moralistically: the way of wickedness – wicked acts – are lost and perish because they do not align with God’s victorious plan. I don’t really read it like “the righteous will go to heaven and the wicked to hell”, because Jesus repeatedly debunks that notion. And although the intro and body talk about God blessing the person, the conclusion says

“The Lord watches over the WAY of the righteous,
But the way of the wicked will perish.”

The way of the righteous – righteous acts, a righteous way of being – indeed align with God’s victorious plan, and thus prosper. If my way is to do bad things, but the universe ends up good, my way perished. If my way is to do good things, and the universe ends up good, my way prospered. I cooperated and participated in God’s plan, instead of failing against it.

I read it this way, because the view/teaching that “good things will happen to good people and bad to bad” doesn’t hold water from any angle — Job and even other psalms show that often the wicked prosper while the righteous suffer in this life. But I might be wrong. The author may have actually meant it this way at the time. The psalmist may have really felt that good will happen to good people. It would be in strong alignment with, say, most of Proverbs.

But even if the author DID mean it that way, which seems somewhat probable to me, I reinterpret it for myself from a “wider perspective of scripture, philosophy, and observations about life” to mean “good acts prosper and bad acts fail in a universe that ends up victoriously good”. My move to reinterpret, however, may be a knee jerk, based in the desire to have each passage be based on an underlying “absolute-truth-revelation nugget” posessed by the author and expressed into his subjective context. Why am I unwilling to let David be wrong for a chapter? Wasn’t Job wrong from time to time? I think I (and others) end up doing some funny things to passages when we read them with assumptions (or at very least, the wrong assumptions) about what the nature of the truth they contain must be.

What do you think David meant by this?
What do you “do with” this passage?

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2 thoughts on ““The Lord watches over the WAY of the righteous…”

  1. I just read Psalm 1 in my Common English Bible (a new ecumenical translation sponsored especially by the Methodists, Presbyterians, ELCA, and United Church of Christ), and it gives a different spin on things.  I thought you might appreciate it:
     
    “The truly happy person doesn’t follow wicked advice, doesn’t stand on the road of sinners, and doesn’t sit with the disrespectful.
    Instead of doing those things, these persons love the LORD’s Instruction, and they recite God’s Instruction day and night!
    They are like a tree replanted by streams of water, which bears fruit at just the right time and whose leaves don’t fade.  Whatever they do succeeds.
    That’s no true for the wicked!  They are like dust that the wind blows away.
    And that’s why the wicked will have no standing in the court of justice–neither will sinners in the assembly of the righteous.
    The LORD is intimately acquainted with the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked is destroyed.”
     
    As to your questions, let me first say that I don’t think this psalm makes any claim of being by David.  I think it’s just anonymous.
     
    Anyway, I’ve had the same thoughts about this theme in scripture.  It wasn’t with this passage (and I can’t remember which passage it was), but I know there are very similar statements all over the place about the wicked perishing, etc.  It’s very tempting to read them just as you said:  the WAY of the wicked will perish, because it does not align with God’s will.  The wicked themselves may or may not be redeemed, but their wickedness itself will be destroyed.  Theologically, I believe this is (at least close to) the truth.  As you mentioned, the literal interpretation goes against the wider themes of scripture, along with philosophy and experience.  Especially if you believe the whole 9 yards of “conventional wisdom,” i.e. that good things only happen to good people and bad things only happen to bad people.  That’s obviously not true.
     
    However, I would tend to believe that the author of this psalm meant what he said.  If he meant the WAY of the wicked all along, then why didn’t he say it that way?  I guess it could be just metaphorical or poetic language, but I suspect it was meant to be true in more than a figurative sense.
     
    Or, it could have been meant as a prayer, implying “God, make it so that the righteous succeed and the wicked are destroyed.”  That seems quite possible to me.  But I’m no expert on psalms.
     
    As to what I do with this passage, I choose to interpret it the way you did.  I find that interpretation theologically and morally satisfying, and most consistent with my life experience.  I wouldn’t necessarily say that scripture as a whole supports that interpretation, since, as I said, the wicked-shall-be-destroyed theme is all over the place.  However, the God-is-merciful theme is all over the place, too, and I choose to believe that it takes precedence over the justice/punishment theme.
     
    As we’ve discussed before, I’m okay with believing the biblical authors were wrong/mistaken sometimes.  So I don’t have a problem deciding to privilege my interpretation over what I take to be the original intent of the passage.  Because I also believe that the Bible is a living document that continues to speak.  My choice is either to reject the text outright because I disagree with the author’s intention, or to look for something in it that DOES speak to me and seem to me to be truth.  And, in the case of this passage, I do find truth in it.  Just perhaps not the truth the author would’ve wanted me to find.

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    1.  @CarissaLick Right. I think I’m agreeing with most of what you’re saying.
       
      Just… it feels… “dangerous” … “libertine” … “slippery slope” … I dunno. I’ve got some processing to do. But I think I have resting and maybe healing to do first. 

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