As we press on with the Psalms of Orientation, I want to introduce an important genre of Psalmic literature – the Torah Psalms. Torah Psalms give credence to the goodness of the order that Torah brings to the faithful community, and to creation itself. Brueggemann says it this way, “The good order of creation is concretely experienced in Israel as the Torah. The torah is understood not simply as Israelite moral values, but as God’s will and purpose, ordained in the very structure of life. While the creation is sustained by God’s faithfulness, it is also coherent and peacable because of Israel’s obedient attention to the way God has ordered life.” And this seems to me to be a good practice – praising YHWH for the goodness of his word. It reminds us that not bread alone sustains us, but “every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.”
The most obvious and best-known torah psalm is Psalm 1. Again, Brueggemann is helpful: “It [Psalm 1] announces that the primary agenda for Israel’s worship life is obeience, to order and conduct of all of life in accordance with God’s purpose and ordering of the creation…. It is surely placed at the beginning intentionally as a prolog to set the tone for the entire hymnic collection…”
1:1 Blessed is the man who doesn’t walk in the counsel of the wicked,
nor stand in the way of sinners,
nor sit in the seat of scoffers;
1:2 but his delight is in Yahweh’s law.
On his law he meditates day and night.
“There is no middle ground, no neutral ground. Life – like the psalm – is organized in a sharp either/or. Either be a happy person who enjoys torah obedience and avoids alternative enterprises, or be like the wicked who refuse such delight.” Of course, life is more complicated than this. But remember, these particular psalms – psalms of orientation – are giving testimony to a particular experience of God and the world that is “firmly rooted” in the place of it’s planting, and experiencing God and life as generally simple and good. There are, as we will see, other psalms that name the complexity of the human experience, and even the the complexity of life with God. But for now, psalms such as Psalm 1 give us words to pray with that name those seasons where we find all to be ordered and cared for. Simplicity is a mark of orientation, it seems. It’s God’s way, or the worlds. God’s way is good, the worlds is bad.
1:3 He will be like a tree planted by the streams of water,
that brings forth its fruit in its season,
whose leaf also does not wither.
Whatever he does shall prosper.
1:4 The wicked are not so,
but are like the chaff which the wind drives away.
Another attachment to this experience of the world is a simplistic (perhaps overly simplistic) view of consequences. Do good things, and good things will happen. Do bad things, and bad things will happen. Follow God and prosper (vs. 3). Live in sin and rebellion to God and fall (vs. 4). Again, clearly the world is not this simple. In fact, if Jesus is to be believed, there is a great mysteryat work in the world that drives most of us insane. “He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” Nevertheless, there is a season of life, where life is experienced as such, and it should be named as good. Psalm 1 gives us words to pray that experience by.
1:5 Therefore the wicked shall not stand in the judgment,
nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous.
1:6 For Yahweh knows the way of the righteous,
but the way of the wicked shall perish.