woman praising God

Psalm 1 – Blessed

 December 5, 2023

Psalm 1 – blessed. The first word of the first psalm of the book of Psalms is blessed. “Blessed is the one who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers.” What better way to begin? But what does it mean to be blessed, in particular, what is the Psalmist trying to tell us?

Blessed versus Happy

Some translations of the Psalms use the word happy instead of blessed. Personally, I prefer blessed. As the curmudgeonly Doc Martin from the popular PBS show of the same name states, “I think happiness is overrated.” So do I. Happiness comes and goes. It’s shallow and short-lived. Certainly, that doesn’t fit with the image in Psalm 1 of a tree planted by a stream. “He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither.” (vs. 3)

Trees have roots and are stable. Happiness is the butterfly that flits from place to place, alighting for a moment before moving on. As Thoreau tells us, “Happiness is like a butterfly, the more you chase it, the more it will evade you, but if you notice the other things around you, it will gently come and sit on your shoulder.” However, this is a modern-day interpretation of happiness, not necessarily how people of Biblical times understood the word.

By the same token, our modern understanding of blessed doesn’t necessarily correspond to Biblical understanding. Some equate blessings with the prosperity gospel, that if we have the right kind of faith, God will give us blessings – material goods, good fortune, and success – in the world. But that definition doesn’t entirely fit with the word in Scripture.

So what does it mean to be blessed?

Blessed in Scripture

Biblical scholars often define blessed as happy, hence the translation. If the word refers to God it is related to praise, blessed be God, or praised be God. Whereas if the word refers to people, it means happy or favored. In the Old Testament it is most often connected to material prosperity. In the New Testament the term starts to move away from material to spiritual blessings.

Jesus tells us, blessed are the poor, the mourning, the meek, the pure, the peacemakers, the persecuted. That has nothing to do with material goods or worldly success. How are these people blessed? Jesus goes on to tell us, they will be comforted, satisfied, shown mercy, and inherit the earth. More important, theirs is the Kingdom of God, they will see God, and be called children of God. This blessedness has nothing to do with feelings of happiness, everything to do with God. As John W. Ritenbaugh states in the article, What the Bible Says About Blessed, “Because God thinks well of them, they are ‘blessed.’ God’s blessing is far broader and exceedingly more important than merely being ‘happy.’” Amen!

What Does Jesus Promise his Followers?

Jesus promises his followers, not worldly blessings, but suffering and prosecution, as well as blessings. “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life.” (Mark 10:29-30) “If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you.” (John 15:20) So, to be blessed by God doesn’t mean we won’t have trials in this life.

In her article, What Does it Really Mean to be Blessed? Sarah Walton says, “Some of the greatest spiritual blessings of my life have come through undesired earthly circumstances.” I have found this to be true in my own life.

Paul tells us in Ephesians, we are blessed with spiritual blessings that far surpass any earthly blessings. “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.” (1:3) Amen to that as well.

Psalm 1 – Blessed

Psalm 1 talks about two paths, or two ways: the way of the righteous and the way of the wicked; the way of God or the way of the world. The way of the world is full of lies, people listen to the lies, whereas in the way of God, you listen to God. The righteous one meditates on the Torah, “his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night.” (2) His reward, “In all that he does, he prospers.” (3b)

The psalm goes on to compare the righteous to a tree by a stream and the wicked to chaff. “The wicked are not so, but are like chaff that the wind drives away.” (4) They will not be able to hold their heads up at the last judgment or be part of the congregation of the righteous. “Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous.” (5)

The psalm ends by summing up what has been said. “For the LORD watches over the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked leads to destruction.” (6) The Lord will watch over the righteous, thus they will be blessed. But the wicked, all their plans and ambition will come to nothing.

Making a Choice

Ignatius of Loyola, in his spiritual exercises, challenges us: under whose banner do you march? God’s banner or the worlds? To choose God is to be blessed. As we hear in Deuteronomy, “I call heaven and earth to record this day against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life, that both you and your seed may live.” (30:19)

Psalm 1 puts the same choice before us. The choice is ours and continues to be ours. Before we do anything else, read any other psalms, we need to choose. Do we choose to follow God or the world. Do we choose to accept all the blessings God is waiting to pour out upon us, or insist on our own way? Psalm 1 asks us, are we ready to be blessed?

It’s up to us. And so, I ask, what has been your experience of blessing? Are you ready to be blessed?

New Church Year – New Beginnings

With the first Sunday of Advent, we begin a new church year. This seems an appropriate time to start once again my series on the Psalms. It is with some trepidation that I begin another round of reflections. What more can I say that I haven’t already said? What can I say that others haven’t said better? Yet the depth and richness of the Psalms is such that I feel compelled to go again. I could go through the Psalms countless times and not plumb their depth. Who am I to say I’ve said it all? As St. Benedict tells us, “Always we begin again.” And so, I begin again. I hope you will join me on my journey.


This post is part of a series of blog posts on the Psalms. Sign up to follow this blog and and receive a free copy of  Still Dancingthe second book in my Dancing through Life Series.      click here to sign up

(Please note – in order to help ensure you receive email with link to new book, please add my email, patricia@patriciamrobertson.com to your contact list. Some servers are quick to send newsletters to spam or other boxes.)

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.