Is it Wrong for Christians to Borrow Money?

Imperative or Indicative?

7 Render therefore to all their dues: tribute to whom tribute is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honour to whom honour. 8 Owe no man any thing, but to love one another: for he that loveth another hath fulfilled the law. 9 For this, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not kill, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Thou shalt not covet; and if there be any other commandment, it is briefly comprehended in this saying, namely, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. 10 Love worketh no ill to his neighbour: therefore love is the fulfilling of the law. (Romans 13:7-10, Authorized Version)

Borrowing is not a sin.

Advocates of debt-free living almost always point to verse 8 as a proof text which states (they say) that it is wrong for believers to borrow money. (One wonders if they would also forbid the borrowing of a lawn mower, or a cup of sugar?)

This is untenable, given that loaning to the poor is declared a virtue in the Bible, and since the rule is given in the law that one is not to charge interest on a loan to a poor brother. If it were wrong to borrow, then it would be wrong for us to cause our poor brother to sin by extending a loan to him. But God is not so severe as to place such a burden on people placed in a position of real need.

Does it mean to pay on time?

Other interpreters, seeing that borrowing is not forbidden, read the text as an exhortation – not to avoid incurring debt, but – not to be late in paying our debts, nor to evade them. Certainly, punctuality and conscientiousness are virtues inculcated elsewhere in Scripture; but this represents the importation of an idea foreign to the text; and one that does not fit. Not owing is not at all the same thing as not paying.

Ambiguity in the Greek

In Greek, as well as in English, the same form of a verb may be used to denote either the imperative or the indicative mood. An example of this in our own language appears in verse 6, where the words, “pay ye” can mean either the command, “pay, all of you” or the statement of fact, “ye are paying”. (In this case, the Greek word is unambiguous — it means the latter.)

The Authorized Version renders the verb “to owe” in verse 8 in the imperative mood; but the word may as well be rendered in the indicative; for the Greek is ambiguous. There is no grammatical or syntactical argument that I know of for preferring the imperative.

A Grammatical Problem

Furthermore, the verse, as it stands in the A.V. is ungrammatical: “Owe no one anything… but to love one another”. The infinitive in the second clause, “to love” (Greek agapan) would stand better with an indicative in the first, thus: “Ye owe nothing to anyone, but to love one another.”

On the other hand, if the first verb were an imperative, then we would expect another imperative after the adversative, “but” – “Owe no one anything, but (rather) love one another”. Yet this wouldn’t work anyway; for “but” indicates opposition; yet owe and love are not opposites.

The word is “except”, not “but”.

It should also be noted that the Greek word translated “but” is neither the strong adversative, alla nor the weak adversative, de, but the combination of two words, ei ma which means “except”. Thus, the idea is “You owe no man anything except to love one another.” The various particular obligations are comprehended under one general obligation; so that if we fulfill the general, then we will have fulfilled the particulars. Another way of saying it would be “There is nothing else in addition to love that you owe to anyone.”

Does “do not owe” mean “do not borrow”?

There is also a logical objection to the A.V.’s translation. If the text is indeed intended to prohibit incurring debt by the act of borrowing, why doesn’t it say so? Owing is a consequence – not an act. We owe because we have borrowed.  Does it say “Do not borrow”?

What kind of debts?

For the obligations discussed in the context are not voluntary personal debts; but rather such things as the obedience owed to lawful authority, tribute and custom and (verses 1,7). One has no control over these obligations. One does not incur them voluntarily. They arise without our choice. We cannot avoid owing them; and they can never be paid off.

Neither can we avoid the obligation to love all men. There is no evidence that the apostle has in view voluntary debts at all (much less monetary debts). Rather, he is insisting on the point that every obligation inherent in relationships with our fellow-men is comprehended within the rule of love.

Indicative, not Imperative

For all these reasons, the indicative is to be preferred. It satisfies all the demands of the text; and makes the passage a harmonious whole:

Render therefore to all their dues: tribute to whom tribute is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honour to whom honour. Ye owe no man any thing, except to love one another: for he that loveth another hath fulfilled the law. For this, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not kill, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Thou shalt not covet; and if there be any other commandment, it is briefly comprehended in this saying, namely, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. Love worketh no ill to his neighbour: therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.

Some Authorities

Matthew Henry admits that the indicative is allowed, and that it gives a good sense:

Owe no man any thing; opheileteyou do owe no man any thing; so some read it: “Whatever you owe to any relation, or to any with whom you have to do, it is eminently summed up and included in this debt of love.

Adam Clarke’s commentary is to the same effect:

Owe no man any thing, but to love one another – Therefore, the apostle says, Owe no man; as if he had said: Ye owe to your fellow brethren nothing but mutual love, and this is what the law of God requires, and in this the law is fulfilled…

Howard Douglas King

Revised June 23, 2019

Against Unrestricted Religious Liberty

The following was written in response to Tony Perkins’ article, “Why Christians Must Support Religious Liberty for Everyone” available to read here: https://www.frc.org/get.cfm?i=WA19F42&f=WU19F10

I really appreciate your ministry, Tony. We need more strong men like you to contest God’s earth against Satan’s power grab. But I must disagree with you on the premise of unrestricted religious liberty.

My first argument is that it is against reason. Alien religions are bound to influence the laws and institutions of our society; and in many cases, they use their freedom to propagate their errors and subvert our society. Don’t you see this happening before your very eyes? There is a reason why we are losing the cultural war. We have allowed the heathen to infiltrate our institutions, mis-educate our children, form public opinion, and re-interpret and remake our laws for so long, with virtually no resistance; that they have more power than we do, humanly speaking. That is the plain fact; and we should have seen it coming.

My second reason is the universal consent of all branches of the church from the beginning until the seventeenth century. As late as 1646, in the famous Westminster Confession of Faith, the idea of religious liberty for non-Christians was vigorously opposed. Until then, it was always understood by Christians that, while we have a mission of grace to unbelievers; since they are unbelievers and tools of Satan, they are the enemies of Christianity and Christian society. America was founded on the Bible and only Bible believers can maintain its system and make it work. Only with the advent of the Enlightenment, falsely so-called, did the idea appear of extending this liberty to non-Christians. The Atheists and secularists naturally wanted to be free to propagate their anti-Christian dogmas. They succeeded in changing the minds of American Christians over time. But the point is; this idea was not the result of pious believers diligently and prayerfully studying the Word. It came from outside. I view it as a an antinomian departure from the teaching of Scripture and a step in the apostasy of the churches which issued in unitarianism and theological liberalism.

My third reason is biblical. Most Christians would admit that the Ten Commandments are not obsolete; neither are they just good advice. the fifth through the tenth are in our country punishable by law. These are the lesser commandments, however. The first four condemn direct infractions against God Himself. How can it be maintained that the lesser are to be punished; but not the greater? The Israelites were not cast out of their land in the days of Nebuchadnezzar for their crimes against humanity so much as their crime of idolatry; which God took as the highest possible personal insult. (2 Chron 24:18) Righteousness is the province of Kings; and the only standard of righteousness is the law of God. Anything else is unrighteousness.

How do you defend your idea from the Bible? You know that the Old Testament is not on your side. But Jesus said that He did not come to invalidate the law or the prophets. That would seem to be sufficient authority to continue the Mosaic laws against false prophets, blasphemers and idolaters. What about the New Testament? Is your view explicitly stated anywhere in the Apostolic canon? You know that it’s not. Then it must be an inevitable consequence of some other teaching. This you cannot maintain. The attempts to do so are shallow, if not ludicrous. Jesus did not address it (but we already know what He thought) and neither did his Apostles.

However, Paul said that the authorities hold their power from God; and that they are ministers of God for the punishment of evildoers (without distinction). Now what standard is there that ultimately determines good and evil? God’s law. Therefore, it is the duty of rulers to know God’s law; and to uphold it by punishing every kind of evildoer. That they may not be aware of or respectful to this standard does not invalidate their authority; but they will be responsible to God for their use of power, based on God’s standard — not man’s.

I contend, therefore, that the dogma of unrestricted religious liberty is a grave error. Reason is against it; traditional Christianity is against it, and most importantly, the Bible is against it. Please consider these things.

I am not so naive as to think that anything can stop the humanistic philosophies and ideologies from running their destructive course (unless God intervenes) But I feel bound to contest this point whenever I am given the opportunity, even if I am a voice crying in the wilderness. I commend to you the works of the old Presbyterians, the Puritans, the Reformers, and the church fathers on this subject; works that are, in my opinion, more erudite, more soundly scriptural and more logically rigorous than anything being written today. The so-called “Theonomists” of our times have also written some good books on the subject of the relevance and authority of the law of God for our criminal law.

God be with you, brother; and keep up the good work!

Howard Douglas King

Studies in the First Psalm: Part 4

The Needful Discipline of Meditation

2 But his delight is in the law of the LORD;

and in his law doth he meditate day and night.

The word translated “meditate” is used elsewhere in a variety of senses: mutter, groan, mourn, etc. , but the main idea in all of these is “talking to oneself”. Do you talk to yourself about the word of God? If you don’t, it is no wonder that you have nothing to say to others about it.

The Puritans were spiritual giants, and one reason they were is that they practiced this sacred discipline of meditation in the Word. I have never known a serious Christian, a deep Christian, an impressive Christian, a spiritual Christian, who was not practiced in the art of meditation.

Meditation gives us the matter for our prayers. Once again, many embarrass themselves when they are called upon to pray in front of others, because they rightly feel that they have nothing to say to God. It is like trying to shoot an unloaded gun! Meditation fills the mind with matter for praise, thanksgiving and supplication.

By meditation we learn the meaning of God’s word. The Bible does not yield up its treasures to triflers. It is one thing to know what the Bible says — quite another to spiritually understand what it means. You cannot make the Bible simple. The world is complex, our lives are complex, and the Bible is complex. It is not written in the form of a manual, or of a handy book of definitive answers to all of life’s questions. To penetrate its secrets will require some effort; to master its principles, some hard thought; to learn its wisdom, reflection and heart-searching. We must be in earnest, or the Holy Spirit will not favor us with His instruction.

By meditation we come to know our own hearts. “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” (Jeremiah 17:9) The Scripture searches our hearts as we allow it to speak to us through meditation.

Part 5: Blessing and Judgment

3 And he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water,

that bringeth forth his fruit in his season;

his leaf also shall not wither;

and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper.

4 The ungodly are not so:

but are like the chaff

which the wind driveth away.

5 Therefore the ungodly shall not stand in the judgment,

nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous.

6 For the LORD knoweth the way of the righteous:

but the way of the ungodly shall perish.

And he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth his fruit in his season; his leaf also shall not wither; and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper.

The word rendered “rivers” might be better translated as “canals”. In that case, the psalmist must be understood to allude to the ancient mode of watering by irrigation channels. But it matters little, for the point is that the tree has a reliable source of — and therefore constant access to — the necessary water.

The tree is used so frequently in Scripture as a metaphor for human beings that it is needless to cite examples. A concordance will yield many instances of this usage. A tree usually represents a man who is established — who has a place of his own, and is rooted. A dry tree is a man weakened to the point that he is in danger of dying. This tree is planted in such an ideal situation, that he will never dry up — the water is plentiful. The grace of God is an unfailing stream. He whose roots drink from the river of living waters shall never thirst. He shall not fail of fruit at the proper time, and will still be green and youthful, even in old age.

The ungodly are not so: but are like the chaff which the wind driveth away.

What is lighter than chaff, or more insubstantial? What fitter contrast to the solidity and stability of a living tree? The ungodly man is of no account to God, and he should not trouble or intimidate us, either. His time is the briefest of moments, his legacy emptiness. What a pity that man, who was made from dust into God’s image, should have made himself into dust again!

Therefore the ungodly shall not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous.

The purifying fire of God’s judgment shall consume all the wood, hay, stubble and chaff, and leave the earth clean again at last. At the end of history, there will be no sign left to indicate that the wicked were ever here. The hypocrites will be separated out of the visible church, gathered, and cast into the everlasting furnace of God’s holy wrath.

For the LORD knoweth the way of the righteous: but the way of the ungodly shall perish.

The word, “know” often means the same thing as “recognize”, or “approve”. God does not merely observe or take cognizance of the way of the righteous — he approves it. But the way of the ungodly which god abhors is a dead end road. His way, his plans, his thoughts, his hopes, his dreams — all will perish with him.

This is a sobering thought; but no one can appreciate God’s work of grace in his life that has made him righteous unless he recognizes that he has something in common with the ungodly man. For we are all sinners; and if we have been saved, it is all of grace. Thank God! that He does not always punish the guilty; at least in their own persons. Christ bore our sins in His own body on the cross. We who are forgiven because of His sacrifice and justified by the imputation of Christ’s righteousness should be very grateful to Him who bought us with His own life’s blood! But for the grace of God, we had been destined to destruction along with the wicked. We must never forget it.

Howard Douglas King

Romans 8:32 No Proof of Universal Redemption

He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things? (Rom 8:32)

Many believers find it easier to believe the first four points of Calvinism than the fifth. It seems to them that the Bible teaches that Jesus Christ died for all men, absolutely all, without any exceptions. My aim is not to answer all the objections of such; but only to remove one obstacle that is troubling to many.

The use of Romans 8:32 to prove a universal design for the atonement is easily refuted; but only if two important principles of interpretation are kept in mind. The first is, we must distinguish between the sound of Scripture and its sense. The second is that the meaning of an ambiguous term is determined by the context.

It must be admitted that, on a surface reading, it sounds as if Paul is saying that God gave His Son for all of us human beings. But that is not what it says, and that is not its sense. If we are used to reading it that way, it is understandable that the impression remains; even after we have learned about God’s eternal love for His chosen.

But the truth is, the expression “us all” is ambiguous, deriving its meaning from the context in which we find it. If I am going on an outing with some friends, and someone asks, “Do you think we can all fit in the car?” I might answer, “I think I can fit us all in.” Now who would think that I meant all humanity? Clearly, “us all” means “everyone who wants to go with us”. Context determines the scope of the term.

The context of this verse (the whole chapter) is particularistic, rather than universalistic. From the beginning, Paul makes it clear that he is talking about “them which are in Christ Jesus”; and the phrase “who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit” draws a distinction between the two groups. In verse 4, we find the pronoun “us” for the first time, and it is qualified by the phrase, “who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.” Verses 5-9 declare with emphasis that the two classes of men are diametrically opposed to each other. In verse 12, he refers to the godly as “brethren”, and in verse 14 “sons of God”, in 16 “children of God”, and in 17, joint heirs with Christ”. All these references are to the same persons, as distinguished from the sinful world. There is not a single reference to the whole world of mankind, saints and sinners included, in the entire chapter.

In verse 18, the pronoun “us” refers to the same persons. In 19, we are called “the sons of God” and in 21 “children of God”. In verse 23, the same persons are referred to as “ourselves also, which have the firstfruits of the Spirit” as distinguished from the physical, non-human world that suffers because of Adam’s fall. In verses 23-26 , “we” is used 5 times, and then “us” to refer to the same persons. In verse 27, we see the same persons called “the saints”.

Verses 28-30 are often called “the golden chain” of salvation. In these verses, the same persons that have been spoken of all through the chapter are set forth as the “foreknown”, the “predestinated”, the sovereignly “called” and “justified” people of God, who will certainly be “glorified”. In this place, the saints are contemplated from the viewpoint of God’s eternal plan for us who are now believers — chosen and loved from the foundation of the world, predestinated to eternal glory.

The “foreknowledge” referred to is not the foreknowledge of some action or event, but of persons. It reads “whom He did foreknow” — not “whom He did foreknow would believe”. In chapter 11, Paul uses the word in the same way with respect to the people of Israel, opening with these words: “I say then, Hath God cast away his people?” which he answers “God forbid. For I also am an Israelite, of the seed of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin. God hath not cast away his people which he foreknew.”

The meaning is that God has sovereignly set His love upon Israel, so that they will never be wholly cast away, even though, at present, most of them are enemies and aliens with respect to the kingdom of God. So when he makes us the objects of Divine foreknowledge, he does not mean that God foreknew that we would believe. He means that God makes all things work for our salvation because of His eternal love.

Romans 8:31 reads “What shall we then say to these things? If God be for us, who can be against us?” and there can be no doubt that “us” refers to the same persons. In verse 33, they are called “God’s elect”. In verse 34, they are assured that Christ “maketh intercession for “us”. For the remainder of the chapter, we find only “us” and “we”; and they obviously refer to the same persons.

So that it is illegitimate to claim that in one verse, among all these others, the pronoun “us” refers to the entire world of men, simply because of the presence of the word “all”. “All” in this context obviously refers to all of the persons spoken of throughout. Paul may simply be emphasizing the fact that the death of Christ was for the humblest, the poorest, the most sinful believer, no matter how unworthy he may feel. There is no reason at all to import into this particularistic context the idea of the whole world of men; besides, to do so would destroy the unity of the passage.

Furthermore, the logic which Paul uses in verse 32 would be invalidated. For if the universality of the atonement were to be granted, there would be no assurance at all in the fact that Christ was crucified for us; since in that case, many for whom Christ died would have nevertheless perished. What could be more contrary to Paul’s purpose; which is to give us believers the strongest possible assurance that we can never be separated from the love of God?

Paul, in this verse, uses an argument from the greater to the less, sometimes called the a fortiori argument. If God was willing to give us the greatest gift of all, His own Son, to be our Substitute and Redeemer; how much more will He give us the lesser gifts that are the fruits of Christ’s sacrifice? The gift of His Son cost Him something. It costs him nothing to apply His redemption to us. We should read the “all things” in light of the context as well. “All things” means all the things which Paul has just enumerated: predestination, calling, justification, and glorification. Paul is emphatic: since God spared not His own Son, how shall he not freely give us all the things we need to be brought home to glory?

Some will argue, nonetheless, that whether we believe or not is up to us, because we have free will. Once we believe, then Christ and all His benefits are ours, and we can be sure of heaven. This misses an important fact: that calling (mentioned in verses 28 and 30) is one of the gifts that He gives us. Calling is what makes the difference between us and the unbelieving world; for it is by God’s call that we are made believers. There is a general call of the gospel that falls upon the ear; and there is a special call that reaches the heart of every elect person, which he cannot but obey. This “effectual call” is closely related to the new birth, and results in repentance and faith. We do not receive this special call, and the other gifts that flow from Christ’s sacrifice because we choose to; but we choose to, because of the electing love of God, because of which His dear Son was sacrificed for us all.

Howard Douglas King, September 8, 2018

Revised June 8, 2019

Studies in the First Psalm – Part 3

2 But his delight is in the law of the LORD;

The name used to refer to God’s word is “the law of the LORD”. Whenever we see “the LORD” in the King James Bible, we know that this is the most sacred name, the one that God gave to Moses when he asked God what his name was, the one that the Jews never dare to pronounce, which we transliterate as “Jehovah”, and which translates as “I AM”. This name is a wonderful revelation of God’s nature which suggests His eternity, His self-sufficiency, His transcendence, and the impenetrable mystery of His being.

The word for law in both places is torah. It is used in a variety of senses in Scripture, and is the name given by the Jews to the Pentateuch, but in this place it means the whole of Scripture, conceived of as Divine instruction. “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, and for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works” (II Timothy 3:16).

Not just the New Testament, but the Old is also inspired, and so is equally necessary to the equipping of the man of God: “For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost” (II Peter 1:21).

The very words are inspired by the Holy Spirit: “Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God. Which things also we speak, not in the words which man’s wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual” (I Corinthians 2:12-13).

Not only were the original autographs the inspired word of God, but faithful original language copies are the word of God, as well. For the Scriptures that Jesus appealed to , and attributed infallible authority to, were not the autographa, but the apographa, accurate copies many times removed from the first originals. God’s special providence has guarded the text, so that its details have been preserved intact in the accurate copies, according to the promises:

“The words of the LORD are pure words: as silver tried in a furnace of earth, purified seven times. Thou shalt keep them, O LORD, thou shalt preserve them from this generation for ever.” (Psalm 12:6,7)

“The grass withereth, the flower fadeth: but the word of our God shall stand for ever.” (Isaiah 40:8)

“For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.” (Matthew 5:18)

“And it is easier for heaven and earth to pass, than one tittle of the law to fail.” (Luke 16:17)

“Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away.” (Matthew 24:35, Mark 13:31, Luke 21:33)

While the ultimate authorities remain the approved copies in the original Hebrew and Greek, faithful translations of the accurate copies are also to be regarded as the word of God, for the New Testament writers often authoritatively quote from the Greek Old Testament in common use among Greek-speaking believers. The “holy Scriptures” that Timothy, a Greek, knew from childhood, which his mother and grandmother taught him, would most likely have been in Greek, not Hebrew. The King James Bible, may be properly called the inspired, infallible word of God, for it was made from the accurate, divinely-preserved original language texts, and it is a faithful, accurate translation of holy Scripture.

I dwell on this, because in these days, there are swarms of corrupted Bibles competing for our attention, created for no other purpose than to make fortunes for the publishing companies, that are not worth the match to set them all ablaze. Many of these have been endorsed by well-meaning Christian leaders. I think that there are three main reasons why they are endorsed:

1) Some of these men desperately want people to read the Bible, and they think that people will more likely read an easy-to-understand modern language version like the TEV or the “Living Bible”. But there is no evidence that people who have modern English Bibles read them more than people who use the KJV. From my experience, I would say that the opposite is likely true. Nor do I believe that most people will read their Bibles more, if only they will trade in the old one for the latest model. I think that the real issue is whether or not we are in love with Jesus Christ — whether we want to know Him badly enough to take the time to read his love-letters. If you do, then you will not tolerate anything less than a trustworthy version of the Bible, even if it’s not the easiest to understand.

2) Others wrongly think that the original-language texts were not preserved intact by God, but were corrupted by the scribes and copyists of the church. They think that modern scholarship has created texts closer to the autographs than we had when the KJV was translated, by picking through the wastebaskets of history for clues to the original readings. Naturally, these men think that some of the newer word-for-word translations, like the NAS or the ESV are more accurate than the KJV. But how can they be more accurate, when they are translated from texts fabricated by Modernistic scholars instead of the ones God has preserved, that have been approved and copied by the church from the beginning?

3) Still others think that a word-for-word translation cannot accurately convey the thoughts of Scripture to modern readers, and so they endorse versions like the NIV, which tell us in their own words what the translators think God wanted to say to us. But if we believe that God inspired the actual words of Scripture, why would we not trust his wisdom in that, and treasure those very words that He deemed best to communicate His ideas to us? Why allow mere men to present to us their interpretation of His own words, in place of the very words of God themselves? We have preachers and the commentators to help us interpret God’s word properly — let the translator stick to his proper task, and let him render every precious word faithfully into English, as the translators of the KJV have done.

Use extreme caution in evaluating the modern versions. Do not be taken in by their hype. With few exceptions, they are not to be trusted. I beg you, in Christ’s name, make the real law of the LORD the basis for your reading, study, memorization, meditation, teaching, and public and private worship. You cannot go far wrong following the reliable old English Bible of our fathers — the Authorized or “King James” Version.

Studies in the First Psalm – Part 2

The Blessed Man

1 Blessed is the man that walketh not

in the counsel of the ungodly,

nor standeth in the way of sinners,

nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful.

2 But his delight is in the law of the LORD;

and in his law doth he meditate day and night.

Blessed is the man…

The Hebrew word eh’-sher, here rendered “blessed”, and sometimes translated “happy”, has nothing to do with the subjective emotional state. It refers to objective well-being, which in Scripture is always the result of being in a right relationship with the God who rules all our lives by His providence. The blessed man is the one for whom all things work together for good (Romans 8:28), because God is his own God, bound by His word of promise to do him good. He is the man to whom God has sworn with an oath, saying, “Surely, blessing I will bless thee, and multiplying I will multiply thee!” (Hebrews 6:14)

The world has its own standard of well-being. Material prosperity is the measure of security and stability for worldly men. But that is an illusion, as events will certainly reveal — for the rich cannot evade death, any more than the poor. And then what good will be those riches to the man who heaped them up?

The word used here, ish, like the English word, “man” applies primarily to male humans, but can be used in a secondary sense that is inclusive of all humans. The latter is the sense here, and the use of the masculine pronoun throughout this passage should not obscure its applicability to females.

that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful.

The godly character of the blessed man is marked, first, and negatively, by his separation from the world. Solomon tells us, “He that walketh with wise men shall be wise: but a companion of fools shall be destroyed.” (Proverbs 13:20) That man is blessed who steadfastly refuses to receive advice from or to be influenced by ungodly men, or even to familiarly associate with sinners, much less, to join in mockery with scorners.

Calvin comments:

“Commencing with a declaration of his abhorrence of the wicked, he teaches us how impossible it is for any one to apply his mind to meditation upon God’s laws who has not first withdrawn and separated himself from the society of the ungodly. A needful admonition surely; for we see how thoughtlessly men will throw themselves into the snares of Satan; at least, how few comparatively there are who guard against the enticements of sin. That we may be fully apprised of our danger, it is necessary to remember that the world is fraught with deadly corruption, and that the first step to living well is to renounce the company of the ungodly, otherwise it is sure to infect us with its own pollution.”

This is an artful construction, with a twofold progression that seems designed to suggest the downward steps that lead a man to spiritual ruin:

1. The progression from the incidental contact to the occasional liaison, and finally to the established friendship — Walk…Stand…Sit.

2. The progression from the merely “ungodly” to open and habitual “sinners”, and then to the openly “scornful”.

But his delight is in the law of the LORD; and in his law doth he meditate day and night.

The second, and positive mark of the godly man’s character is his attitude and action with respect to the written word of God.

The law of the LORD is mentioned twice in verse 2 for emphasis — the writer might have used the personal pronoun (it) in the second instance, but he chose not to. The man is said to “delight” in the law, and he is said to “meditate” in it “day and night”, that is, constantly.

The reason that this is so important is because relationships depend on communication, and consequently our relationship with God depends on us communicating with Him in prayer, and Him communicating to us through His word. We can be sure that a wife who does not cherish communications from her husband, especially when they are separated from each other, is no longer in love with him. If you love God, you love His Word. It becomes central to your life.

Many who profess Christianity have no interest in God’s word. They are so far from finding it a delight that they never read it unless at church. They say that they have no time for reading, and this may be true. But if it is true, then it is the result of the way they have chosen to live their lives, and what priorities they have set for themselves.

The blessed man of our psalm read his Bible! How else could he know what it said, so he could meditate on it? What else would a man do who delighted — took pleasure in God’s word? I have known men who go fishing every chance they get. They delight in fishing, and it is never far from their minds. Sit down with such a man at lunchtime, and he will want to talk about fishing. While he is working, he is planning his next fishing trip.

If we would be blessed of God, we must become people of the Book. We need to read it continuously — every day — not just picking out passages at random, but reading consecutively through whole books, and thinking about what we have read, and studying to find the answers to our questions about it. We need to pray over it, begging for wisdom and strength to apply it correctly in our lives. We need to talk about it with fellow Christians in a way that furthers our understanding, and to exhort each other to obey it (Malachi 3:16). We need to administer teaching and correction to the ignorant and the out of the way in a spirit of meekness, so that our tongue becomes a tree of life (Proverbs 15:4).

Studies in the First Psalm – Part 1

1 Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful. 2 But his delight is in the law of the LORD; and in his law doth he meditate day and night. 3 And he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth his fruit in his season; his leaf also shall not wither; and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper. 4 The ungodly are not so: but are like the chaff which the wind driveth away. 5 Therefore the ungodly shall not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous. 6 For the LORD knoweth the way of the righteous: but the way of the ungodly shall perish. (Authorized Version)

Part 1: Introduction

Two Kinds of Men

The first Psalm delineates the respective characters and the corresponding destinies of two kinds of men: called in verse 6 “the righteous” and “the ungodly”. This psalm makes a fitting introduction for the Psalter, the inspired song-book of the Old Testament church, for it captures in a picturesque and memorable way the essential differences between men who live their lives under the blessing of God and those who live under His wrath and curse.

For the Bible teaches that there are only these two kinds of men. It starkly states that every one of us is either the friend of God, or His enemy; there can be no neutrality. Either one is living a life of grateful obedience to his creator and redeemer, or he is in rebellion against God. Either one is in Christ, and destined to eternal life — or in Adam, and bound for everlasting ruin. To which class do you belong? Are you someone whom God regards as righteous? Or are you one whom he reckons among the ungodly?

The Psalm as Poetry

In interpreting this, or any other psalm, it is important to remember that it is a song, and therefore falls into the literary class or genre of poetry, as distinguished from prose. The Hebrew psalter uses literary devices common to all poetry generally: an artificial structure, rhythm, words selected for their sound as well as their meaning. In addition, it possesses some special features that are characteristic of ancient Hebrew poetry in particular. Among these are the extensive use of parallelism. We see an instance of “synthetic” parallelism in verse 2 and “antithetical” parallelism in verse 6.

The purpose of poetry is to enhance the impression of truth by proposing it to the mind in ways more vivid than a bare description. Poetry deals not so much with abstract ideas as with concrete images, immediately presented to the imagination, which gives it a peculiar force and power. Because a very large part of the Bible is poetry, a translation of Scripture should be judged not only by its conveyance of the meaning of the particular words, but also by its success in rendering Hebrew poetry into English accurately, and in a pleasing way. A good translation of poetic language will preserve as much as possible both the form of the original, and the evocative effect of its words. Most modern translations would have to be rated very low in this respect. The New Living Translation illustrates this point well:

1 Oh, the joys of those who do not follow the advice of the wicked, or stand around with sinners, or join in with scoffers.

2 But they delight in doing everything the LORD wants; day and night they think about his law.

3 They are like trees planted along the riverbank, bearing fruit each season without fail. Their leaves never wither, and in all they do, they prosper.

Notice that the poetic progression, “walketh… standeth…sitteth” has been removed from verse 1. In verse 2, the repetition of the word “law” in a chiastic parallelism is missing. In verse 3, the flowing expression, “planted by the rivers of waters” has been exchanged for “planted along the riverbank”. This is not only flat, but the use of the plural pronoun, “they”, and the gratuitous thought of a row of trees, rather than a single one, combine to mislead the reader. The true picture is of a man who stands out, who is willing to stand alone, if need be, rather than compromise with the world. The psalmist singles this remarkable person out, and exclaims “Behold how blessed is that man!” We could go on, but this suffices to illustrate the point.

This, and other modern versions, because they use the modern idiom, rather than choosing words appropriate to poetry, fail to transmit faithfully what God intended when He caused His word to be written down by men. If God chose to express Himself using exalted and beautiful language, it will not do for us to translate it into the language of the street. By arbitrarily removing important details of the poetry, they produce an inaccurate and impoverished rendering of God’s beautiful word.

Overview

Calvin summarizes: “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.”

Verses one and two describe the blessed man — first negatively, then positively. He does not walk in the counsel of the ungodly, etc. He does meditate in God’s law day and night. The actions of men are indicative of character.

Verse three is a simile that likens him to a well-watered tree: strong, sturdy, and fruitful.

Verse four uses a contrasting metaphor, “chaff” to impress us with the frailty and impermanence of the ungodly, who are vulnerable to the least threat, so that, as it were, they are forcibly driven away by the summer breeze.

Verse five, building on the “chaff” metaphor, declares that such a worthless and insubstantial thing as a wicked man cannot hope to withstand the judgment of God.

In verse six, the psalm concludes with the assurance of Divine approval and perpetual blessing for the righteous, and the denunciation of certain destruction upon the ungodly.