In our previous entry on Psalm 1:3 we looked at the logical outcome of being grounded “in the law of the LORD” (v. 2): fruit. Every good tree will bear good fruit, as our Lord said. Now let’s look into the concepts of vitality and prosperity as the Scriptures explain them.
“….and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers.” (Psalm 1:3, ESV).
I take this to illustrate the level of vitality or strength that a man grounded in the law of the Lord has. The tree’s roots are so firmly grounded on the streams of living water that it is constantly feeding its own fruit, branches, and leaves. They do not wither and fall, as a weak tree’s leaves would; rather, they prove that the tree is so healthy and robust that its leaves have no reason to fall idly and die; which is actually what the Psalmist illustrates the wicked as: weak, dead, withering, easily blown away, without support or firmness.
“….in all that he does, he prospers.”
Let us look at this by looking at what Genesis 39:2,3,21-23 (ESV) says of Joseph,
“The LORD was with Joseph [he was grounded in the law of the LORD], and he became a successful man [as the rest of Psalm 1:3 says, all that the blessed does is prospered by the hand of the LORD], and he was in the house of his Egyptian master. His master saw that the LORD was with him and that the LORD caused all that he did to succeed in his hands [same principle applied]….But the LORD was with Joseph and showed him steadfast love and gave him favor in the sight of the keeper of the prison. And the keeper of the prison put Joseph in charge of all the prisoners who were in the prison….The keeper of the prison paid no attention to anything that was in Joseph’s charge, because the LORD was with him. And whatever he did, the LORD made it succeed.”
The man that is grounded in the law of the LORD and meditates on it day and night will not only yield fruit, but his fruit will be blessed by the LORD. We are not to take the word “prosperity” here to mean what modern preachers today force it to mean; that is, that all that Christians touch will become “gold.” There is a sense in which many today interpret the word “prosperity” to mean “riches.” Although it is true that the LORD blesses His people materially, the whole point of Psalm 1 is that the consummation of the blessedness God gives His elect through Jesus Christ is a heavenly reward, not an earthly reward. And even though it is true that we do receive some rewards here on Earth and that if we are walking on His law we will be blessed, our true blessedness will only be fully enjoyed when we are glorified by the same Lord who gave us His law. Therefore, I take “prosperity” here to mean God’s blessing of the tree by the production of fruit through vitality gained from His streams of living waters. This is not conditioned to evil and dark times, for, as we also saw, firmly planted trees do grow on barren lands. The prosperity the Psalmist here speaks of transcends that which our finite minds can imagine. Support of this definition of prosperity is found here, in the story of Joseph, where we see that his lot was not prosperous (according to human standards). For he was hated by his brothers, sold by them, slandered, imprisoned, etc. And yet the LORD saw fit to make Joseph’s tree grow through these dark times. Earthly prosperity was granted to Joseph as the prince of Egypt, but his true prosperity was evident in the grace he found in the eyes of his master and of the keeper of the prison. That is true prosperity.
A final word on prosperity, by Dr. Martin Luther,
“And with regard to this “prospering,” take heed that thou understand not a carnal prosperity. This prosperity is a hidden prosperity, and lies entirely secret in the spirit; and therefore if thou hast not this prosperity that is by faith, thou shouldst rarher judge thy prosperity to be the greatest adversity. For as the devil bitterly hates this leaf and the Word of God, so docs he also those who teach and hear it, and he persecutes such, aided by all the powers of the world. Therefore, thou hearest of a miracle, the greatest of all miracles, v/hen thou hearest that all things prosper which a “blessed” man doeth. For what is more miraculous than that the faithful should grow while they are destroyed, should increase while they are diminished, should prevail while otliers prevail over them, should enter while they are expelled, and should conquer while they are conquered? For thus the world and its prince are overcome. Yet hath the Lord wonderfully ordained, that, to his saint, Ps. 4 4, that should be the height of prosperity which is the height of misery. This is the prosperity of the wise and the conversion of men” 1
In conclusion, we learn from the metaphor used in Psalm 1:3 that it is an example of Hebrew parallelism, in which an idea is repeated by using another literary form. Furthermore, we learned that this metaphor is a metaphor of grace and one which teaches us to look away from ourselves and into our only source of life: Christ. As a metaphor of grace, we are taught to look away from “the counsel of the wicked….the way of sinners….the seat of scoffers” and into “the law of the LORD.” For in it we find life, and life that produces much fruit, which was ordained by the Father before the foundation of the world (Ephesians 2:10). True prosperity is that which the Lord blesses according to His good will and purpose, not our own.
Look away from man, look into Christ, the living water.
Next time we will look at the conclusion of this metaphor use in verse 4, as it is used in its negative form, that is, the contrary of what we have seen thus far. We will see how the Psalmist connects the conclusion of his metaphor to its explanation in verse 5 as judgment that leads to death. We have thus far seen God’s judgment leading to life for the blessed; next time we will see God’s judgment leading to death for the wicked and cursed.
1 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 Locations 1011-1018). Sunbury, Pa. : Lutheran’s in All Lands Co..