Psalm 1: Behold! The Mumbling Tree

Read Psalm 1.

“Two roads diverged in a wood,” Robert Frost once wrote. If you know the poem, you know he took the one less traveled. It made all the difference.

As it turns out, Frost wrote the poem as something of a joke for a friend who was routinely indecisive about the paths they should take as they walked together in the forest. But in Scripture, the split path is anything but trivial—and each time it comes up the Holy Spirit beckons us to take the one that leads to our true home in the presence of God, less traveled though it may be.

This fork in the road is as old as creation itself—and it was choosing the wrong bend that brought a curse upon our world to begin with. But the road diverges again and again, and each time the Spirit of God calls His people to embrace the love of their Creator.

The road diverged when Joshua told the Israelites, “Choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD” (Joshua 24:15). It forked again when Elijah warned the people atop Mount Carmel, “How long will you waver between two opinions? If the LORD is God, follow him; but if Baal is God, follow him” (1 Kings 18:21). And it split when Jesus laid the choice down plainly: “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it” (Matthew 7:13).

Here in Psalm 1, the two roads take center stage—“the way of the righteous” vs. “the way of the wicked” (v. 6). The Lord watches over the one, while the other leads to destruction. The choice is obvious, but it is not easy. It never is.

Years ago, when I would read this psalm, I wasn’t able to see Jesus in it. It seemed to me these verses could be at home in any religion’s holy book. “Choose good, not evil, and you’ll be blessed,” they appeared to say. But that’s karma, not the gospel. These days, however, I can hear God speaking to me through these ancient words, the Spirit pleading with me to choose the good way.

The person who follows the path of righteousness—the path of God—meditates on the commandments of the Lord day and night (v. 2), not because memorizing rules will earn anyone anything, but because the laws of God reveal His beautiful heart, bit by bit. Each one is like a clue to the greatest treasure imaginable. The law is not the point; God is.

To meditate is literally “to mumble,” as if God’s Word could become stuck in a person’s mouth and remain there to be chewed on throughout the day. It’s savored with the passing of every breath and becomes a part of life’s rhythm, the soundtrack that never fades into the background.

This is not a description of a cultural Christian, of a sheep that’s forgotten what the Good Shepherd’s voice sounds like. This is not a picture of a mere Jesus fan. True disciples are made of stuff like this. This is someone who has been radically changed by the Lord, who is so committed to Him that they need the sweet taste of His words on their lips all the time. Nothing else will do.

The psalmist sees such a person as “a tree planted by streams of water” (v. 3). Its roots go deep because they are fed by the nearby streams. Its trunk grows strong and is not easily swayed by the winds that blow. Drought is no threat; it has what it needs to produce its fruit in season. It is a tree of life, a blessing to others, not unlike the original tree of life in the garden.

This psalm brings me both conviction and hope. It’s a reality check, as I remember that I am often blown around by the storms that come my way; I am not the strong tree I hope to someday be. But it is also a reminder of God’s power, a power I have access to through the Holy Spirit. This psalm describes who I want to be, even as I am forced to recognize I am not yet there. “Two roads diverged in a wood,” but I can’t stop staring at the trees, especially the one mumbling the words of God by that stream over there.

What is this all about?

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