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Psalm 1 –
The Righteous Man Contrasted with the Wicked
1Blessed is the man
who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked
or stand in the way of sinners
or sit in the seat of mockers.
2But his delight is in the law of the Lord,
and on His law he meditates day and night.
3He is like a tree planted by streams of water,
which yields its fruit in season
and whose leaf does not wither.
Whatever he does prospers.
4Not so the wicked!
They are like chaff
that the wind blows away.
5Therefore the wicked will not
stand in the judgment
Nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous.
6For the Lord watches over the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish.
The First Psalm contrasts a righteous man and a wicked man. As true poetry, in its six short verses, this Psalm contains a wealth of information about the righteous and the wicked. The Psalmist describes them literally and figuratively; he portrays their attitudes and actions; he relates their respective destinies. The first and last words of the Psalm, in themselves, point out the differing destinies of the righteous and the wicked: the righteous will be “Blessed”, the wicked will “perish”.
As for the structure of this Psalm: verses 1-3 describe the righteous man; verses 4-5 describe the wicked man; verse 6 offers a summarizing contrast between the righteous and the wicked.
In verse 1, “Blessed” denotes complete happiness. The Psalmist goes on to state that complete happiness can be found by refraining from certain unrighteous activities, namely, walking “in the counsel of the wicked”, standing “in the way of sinners”, and sitting “in the seat of mockers”. The extent to which we refrain from these activities determines the extent to which we are truly happy. None of us completely refrain from doing these things; thus, none of us experience complete happiness.
Note the actions associated with these unrighteous activities: “walking”, “standing”, then “sitting”. Collectively, they completely describe the three postures of man as he carries on his day-to-day business. He is either walking, standing or sitting. Thus, if all of these actions are performed in an unrighteous manner, the regimen of one’s entire life is affected. Moreover, note the progression of the actions. One “walks” least frequent; one “stands” a little more often; one “sits” most often. Thus, the three activities seem to form a progression in the participant’s life from infrequent to often engagement in unrighteous activity.
Note the location of the unrighteous activities: “in the counsel”, “in the way”, and “in the seat”. Again, we find a progression. “In the counsel” suggests occasional participation; “in the way” suggests habitual involvement; “in the seat” suggests permanent association with the unrighteous activities.
Finally, note the accomplices in the unrighteous activities: “the wicked”, “the sinners”, and “the mockers”. Once again, we see a progression. “The wicked” are those who knowingly violate the command of God. Although they knowingly violate the command, they have enough familiarity with the commands to know them. “Sinners” are those whose way of life falls short of the Godly standard. Many “sinners” do not even know they violate God’s command. This does not excuse them, for they should be familiar with God’s law. “Mockers” are those who openly show contempt for God’s law. They not only stumble in the law, they also despise it.
Thus, by way of application: Be alert! The path to unrighteousness is progressive. One does not fall into unrighteousness over night; one “walks” then “stands” then “sits”; one participates then habituates then dwells; one stumbles then sins then mocks. Do not progress toward ungodliness! Turn back! Repent!
“But his delight is the law of the Lord.” The word “But” is to denote contrast to the “mockers” of the previous verse. The “mockers” show contempt for God’s law; the righteous “delight” in it. Note, the righteous do not merely obey God’s law, nor do they merely respect it, trust in it and fear it (all of which are commendable); but they “delight” in it. It is their joy and pleasure.
This “delight” is demonstrated by their “meditation” on the law. They do not merely study the law for duty’s sake, but they “meditate” on the law because it is their delight. They do not pigeonhole their consideration of the law to a short, daily quiet time; but they “meditate” on it “day and night”. It is the subject to which their thoughts naturally turn; it is the favorite resting place for their wandering mind.
Now, in the time when the Psalmist was writing, the righteous could only meditate on the unfinished revelation of God. They had the Law, but not the Gospel (nor even the Prophets, at the time of Psalm 1). How much more should we delight in God’s completed revelation!
In verse 3, the Psalmist describes the righteous man figuratively. In drawing this picture, the Psalmist describes many aspects the righteous man’s character and situation.
“He is like a tree planted by streams of water.” Notice, that he is not a tree growing wild, but a “planted tree”. Furthermore, the tree is “planted” with care “by streams of water”. The planter, of course, is the Lord. The Lord is described as a “planter” of His people in other places, most notably, Isaiah 5: “My loved one had a vineyard on a fertile hillside. He dug it up and cleared it of stones and planted it with the choicest vines” (Isa. 5:1,2). Later, Isaiah states, “The vineyard of the Lord Almighty is the house of Israel” (Isa. 5:7). When God plants His people, He does so in the choicest spot. For the vineyard in Isaiah, it was the “fertile hillside”. For the tree in Psalm 1 (representing the righteous man), it is “by streams of water”. The placement of the tree is chosen so that it would yield the most fruit.
And, indeed, it “yields its fruit in season”. “Fruit”, of course, in the Bible represents good works in one’s life that bring glory to God. Notice that the fruit appears “in season”. This signifies that the fruit was produced under the guidance and in the timing of God.
Its “leaf does not wither”. Therefore, it keeps its beauty and health. So, the tree remains fruitful, beautiful and healthy. The Psalmist sums this up by saying, “Whatever he does prospers.”
The wicked, however, do not prosper, thus: “Not so the wicked.” The wicked are figuratively represented, not as a fruitful tree, but as chaff that is good for nothing. In contrast to the carefully chosen placement of the tree, the chaff is blown by the wind. So, while the righteous man (depicted by the tree) has a well-planned, fruitful and prosperous existence, the wicked man’s existence (depicted by the chaff) is useless, purposeless and haphazard.
The wicked are often spoken of as chaff in the Bible. Notably, when John the Baptist describes Christ’s coming judgment, he says that Christ will “clear His threshing floor, gathering His wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire” (Matt. 3:12).
“Therefore” (because they have a meaningless existence) “the wicked will not stand in the judgment.” God will judge the wicked. Many fault God because, many times, the wicked seem to prosper. God is merciful, even to the detriment of His name. It is God’s will that the wicked repent, so He is patient in dealing with the wicked. All who would fault God for not doling out instantaneous judgment on the wicked, should look at their own lives. God has been merciful to us all. Rather than calling down judgment from heaven, pray that the wicked would turn from their ways and glorify God.
Also, sinners will not stand “in the assembly of the righteous”. Currently, the righteous and the wicked reside together. As one commentator states: “Albeit now the ungodly and godly do live togeter, mixed in one kingdom, city, incorporation, visible church, family, and bed possibly.” [Dickson, 3]. There will come a time when the righteous and the wicked are separated. This is described in many ways in the Bible: separation of the wheat from the chaff, the tares from the wheat, the good fish from the bad fish, etc. The wicked will be judged and thrown into hell, the righteous (that is, those clothed with the righteousness of Christ, for none are truly righteous on their own) will gather in the great assembly and praise the Lord. This great assembly is described in the Book of Revelation: “Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them, singing: ‘To Him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power, for ever and ever!’” (Rev. 5:13).
To conclude, the Psalmist summarizes the contrast between the righteous and the wicked: “For the Lord watches over the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish”. This Psalm is appropriate to begin the Book of Psalms because its theme and final statement is one of the major themes of the Book of Psalms: God’s guidance and blessing of the righteous versus the eventual destruction of the wicked.
Lord, make us righteous and keep us from the influence of the wicked. Instill in us delight for Your law; inspire us to meditate on it day and night. Plant us in fertile ground that we may yield an abundant crop for Your glory, through the power of Jesus’ name, Amen.