1 Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; 2 but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night.
3 He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers. 4 The wicked are not so, but are like chaff that the wind drives away.
5 Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous; 6 for the Lord knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish.
Reflections on Psalm 1
This month, we have the privilege of memorizing one of the most familiar psalms in the entire book. It is also the leadoff hitter, and boy does it deliver! Psalm 1 is a poetic masterpiece! The psalm flows brilliantly—its veins pumped full with just about every known type of Hebrew parallelism—all carrying the reader to the heart of the author’s eternally valuable message in six short verses. What is that message? It is that the righteous man is blessed by God, while the wicked are of helpless estate.
In short, it is a psalm of contrasts. To follow these skillful comparisons, we can trace one word which occurs in each major section… but. It appears three times in the psalm (vv. 2, 4, 6), once for each major contrast. A closer look reveals three areas of contrasts between the way of the righteous and wicked person. Each is centered around a but statement. These men are presented with opposing desires, diagnoses, and destinies. Each distinction screams at the reader as a desperate plea to abandon the path of unrighteousness.
As the psalm opens, verses 1 and 2 introduce us to the contrasting desires of the two parties. The blessed man is he who has nothing to do with evil. He does not heed its counsel or give way to its lifestyle. Instead, “he delights in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night” (v. 2). When the righteous man needs guidance, he goes to the scriptures for the counsel of God himself. Furthermore, he commits himself wholly to memorizing and focusing on them, so that he may follow well the “wonderful counselor” (Isa 9:6).
The ungodly man couldn’t be more different. Where does he go for advice? To his despicable friends! O how quickly he seeks to follow in their wickedness, rather than seeking God! I can’t help but picture the chief priests, murmuring during their secret assemblies about how they might kill Jesus, all the while ignoring the scrolls before their very eyes, which would have told them to worship him.
Verses 3 and 4 continue the theme but change the approach. As if these two men were patients at a medical practice, the author provides artistic diagnoses for their conditions. The righteous man’s diagnosis? Perfect health! He is compared to a “tree planted by streams of water” (v. 3). This tree will survive the harshest of desert conditions. More than surviving, it will thrive! Its leaf never withers, and come harvest time, its fruit is abundant. Why? Because it is well nourished. When every other plant is scorched by the searing heat, this tree perseveres hydrated, strong, and green. So it is with the man who sets his heart to love and obey the counsel of the Lord.
“The wicked are not so, but are like chaff that the wind drives away” (v. 4, emphasis mine). If the psalmist were a doctor, this would be a disheartening prognosis. While the righteous man was given a full bill of health, the wicked man was told to prepare his will. He is compared to chaff. Chaff refers to the outer casing of grain which is worthless and inedible. During threshing, the chaff would be separated from the useful grain. When the grain was gathered, the chaff would either be left behind for the wind to blow away or sometimes gathered into piles and burned. It had no permanence or usefulness. In more familiar terms, it is like the dying leaves that fall from our trees every year—tossed to and fro until it is lost or disposed of. O how helpless is the estate of the wicked!
Finally, these two paths reach different ends. The sinner’s rejection of the law of the Lord will not be forgotten. We find in verse 5 that he is defenseless before the judge. He is unfit to gather in the assembly of the righteous. Instead, he is on a one-way road, and its end is destruction. In contrast, the “Lord knows the way of the righteous” (v. 6). They will congregate while the wicked perish.
It is worth remembering here that we were every bit as hopeless as the wicked man. The testimony of scripture is sure; only one man actually fits the category of righteous. That man is Jesus Christ! Apart from his gracious intervention and atoning death in our place, our most righteous pursuits would fair us no better than the scoffer. “Before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed” (Gal 3:23). Praise be to God “that Christ has regarded my helpless estate and has shed His own blood for my soul” (Spafford, It Is Well with My Soul). Let this love motivate us to evermore delight in the law of the Lord!
Blessings, Pastor Austyn