In our previous posts on Psalm 1:2 we have established the nature and source of blessedness. The righteous man is firmly established in the law of the LORD. Nothing within himself or around him can provide a reliable, permanent, objective, life-giving, purpose defining, truly delightful standard for righteousness. All things outside of the law of the LORD lead ultimately to judgment and damnation (vv. 4-6).
Therefore, the law of the LORD is the only true giver of true blessedness. They are truly blessed who pursue “heavenly wisdom,” as John Calvin says of this Psalm,
“He who collected the Psalms into one volume, whether Ezra or some other person, appears to have placed this Psalm at the beginning, by way of preface, in which he inculcates
upon all the godly the duty of meditating upon the law of God. The sum and substance of
the whole is, that they are blessed who apply their hearts to the pursuit of heavenly wisdom;
whereas the profane despisers of God, although for a time they may reckon themselves
happy, shall at length have a most miserable end” (Pg. 32). 1
In verse 1 we saw what blessedness is not; in verse 2 we saw what blessedness is (including its nature and source), now we will take a closer look at the recipients of the blessedness of Christ found only in His law and in their meditating and delighting in pursuing “heavenly wisdom.” We will see how blessed indeed they are and how this blessedness is manifested in their lives. Many have taken verses like Psalm 1:3 into saying that Christians will never suffer poverty, death, or evil, yet we know that God works all things together for good for those who love Him. For the sake of His elect from all over the world He works even with evil for His glory and their enjoyment.
With the context in mind of verses 1 and 2, let’s jump right into verse 3.
“He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers” (Psalm 1:3, ESV).
What we should first notice is the emblematic and climactic use of the Jewish literary form of parallelism (see “Psalm 1:1 – Introduction“). Verse 2 is here explained through a metaphor. The Psalmist tells us that the righteous or blessed man represents a tree, and not just any tree, but a tree “planted by streams of water.” In verse 2 we saw that the man who is blessed is so because he has made the law of the LORD his delight and his meditation “day and night.” Verse 3 illustrates this by comparing a man (in his entirety, not just some parts or functions of his body and mind, but both the body and the soul, or, the whole of man) to a tree; the soil to the law of the Lord; and the streams of water to Christ himself, as our LORD said to the Samaritan woman in John 4,
“….whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (John 4:14, ESV).
“….whoever believes in me shall never thirst.”
“On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.'”
Man = tree firmly planted on
Soil = law of the
Streams of water = Lord Jesus Christ
The law of the LORD is a rich, life-giving, endless source of nutrition for the blessed. This must mean that the tree’s roots go deep into the soil. They dig down to unimaginable depths underground, and daily its roots keep digging down and keep affirming the tree in its place, unwavering, robust, unmovable, firm, unshakable.
As we have previously mentioned, this metaphor was intentionally chosen by the Psalmist to convey one simple message. This message is, in the words of the Apostle Paul,
“What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it?” (1 Corinthians 4:7, ESV).
The tree did not plant itself in good soil, nor did it provide rain for the soil to be enriched, or plant itself, conveniently, near “streams of [living] water.” As other trees (men) have been planted by the Sovereign Lord on wicked soil, so has He also planted His chosen by “streams of water” so that they can “yield fruit in [their] season.” The metaphor is one of grace. It serves to convey that message to the reader.
As Martin Luther comments,
“….it does not stand in his riches, nor in his honors, nor in his righteousness and virtues, nor, in a word, in any good that can be mentioned.” 2
Thus the righteous is ever driven by an increasing thirst and desperation for what makes the soil rich, namely, the streams of water, namely, Christ himself.
“O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you;
my soul thirsts for you;
my flesh faints for you,
as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.” (Psalm 63:1, ESV).
Because there was nothing in the man that could ever have made him stand as righteous before a Holy God, he is driven by a never-ending necessity to receive nutrition from Christ, in humility and joy.
Yet, the point the metaphor is trying to convey is that the soil will at times be barren, even though the roots will not be barren because if the man is truly blessed he will have sought for “divine wisdom” so passionately that his roots will reach all the way to the groundwater itself, the streams of living water flowing from Christ himself. This is not to say that the law of the Lord is barren (since I compared it to the soil), because in this metaphor we can compare the soil both to the law of the Lord and to the world in which we daily toil and struggle as pilgrims. Is there anything that can be more beautiful than a tree growing ever taller, ever stronger, and yielding much fruit in its season in the middle of a barren land? Is there anything more applicable to us as Christians than the image of a tree holding on to the dear life onto the streams of water deep beneath the earth even when it is planted in barren soil? Hear what Martin Luther says on this point,
“….is it not wonderful that a tree should grow in a barren soil, being nourished by the rivers of water only? Blessed therefore is the man, who, the more he feels the barrenness of the world, the more he thirsts after heavenly waters. Thus, this tree does not grow by the richness of the earth, nor does the “blessed” man grow by the luxuries of this world.” 2
The reason why it can be said of the tree in this metaphor that it can always “yield its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither” is because, even through dark times, the roots are holding on to Life itself, to Christ himself. This provides the blessed with vigor, strength, boldness, firmness, temperance, joy, patience, and absolute confidence in the Lord God. The tree becomes so strong that its leaf does not wither! The roots have gone down so deep that it is being sustained 24/7!
We see this same imagery elsewhere in Scripture,
“Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD, whose trust is the LORD. He is like a tree planted by water, that sends out its roots by the stream, and does not fear when heat comes, for its leaves remain green, and is not anxious in the year of drought, for it does not cease to bear fruit” (Jeremiah 17: 7-8, ESV).
“Your mother was like a vine in a vineyard planted by the water, fruitful and full of branches by reason of abundant water. Its strong stems became ruler’s scepters; it towered aloft among the thick boughs, it was seen in its height with the mass of its branches” (Ezekiel 19: 10-11, ESV).
“How lovely are your tents, O Jacob, your encampments, O Israel! Like palm groves that stretch afar, like gardens beside a river, like aloes that the LORD has planted, like cedar trees beside the waters. Water shall flow from his buckets, and his seed shall be in many waters” (Numbers 24: 6-7, ESV).
“There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy habitation of the Most High” (Psalm 46:4, ESV).
“And on the banks, on both sides of the river, there will grow all kinds of trees for food. Their leaves will not wither, nor their fruit fail, but they will bear fresh fruit every month, because the water for them flows from the sanctuary. their fruit will be for food, and their leaves for healing” (Ezekiel 47: 12, ESV).
So what do we learn from this? Let’s turn the benediction from the righteous, to God the Father,
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. In him we have  redemption through his blood, the  forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory. In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire posession of it, to the praise of his glory” (Ephesians 1: 3-14, ESV).
When your leaves are firm, your roots are strong, and your height grows to the sky, don’t boast on anything but on Christ, remembering that you were once a tree planted in wickedness and that he has lavished the riches of his grace on you, who deserved to be cut down and thrown in the fire. Remember that, Christian, lose sleep over that tonight!
Next week we will look deeper into the phrase “that yields its fruit in its season.”
-We are expected to yield fruit for the Lord.
The tree isn’t simply planted just to suck on the nutrients from the streams of water. It is expected to yield fruit and that in its season, to God, and as a result, to men.
1 Calvin, John. “Psalm 1.” Commentary on Psalms. Vol. 1. Grand Rapids, MI: Christian Classics Ethereal Library. 32. Christian Classics Ethereal Library. Calvin College Computer Science. Web. 24 Nov. 2011. <http://www.ccel.org/ccel/calvin/calcom08.titlepage.html>
2 Luther, Martin, 1483-1546; Lenker, John Nicholas, 1858-1929. Luther’s commentary on the first twenty-two Psalms : based on Dr. Henry Cole’s translation from the original Latin (Kindle). Sunbury, Pa. : Lutheran’s in All Lands Co..