Psalms 1, The Righteous and the Wicked

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Today I’m starting a series in the book of Psalms, or as I called it in my last piece, “The Book of Praises”, as it was called by the rabbis of the time. My plan in blogging through the Psalms is not necessarily to just be commentary on the book itself, but to also include what I am learning in my own journey through studying it. I don’t want it to be cold and antiseptic. But instead to let you inside to sit with me and take in how it can speak to us in our own circumstances. We can read through many of the Psalms and relate to what the writer is saying because we have been there. That is NOT to say the bible is a book in which we try to insert ourselves into the narrative. We are not to do that. The bible is not a book about US. It is a book about GOD. But when the writer feels pain, we can relate because we have felt pain. Or loneliness. Or thanksgiving. Or joy. My goal in writing will be, while taking in what the writer is saying about himself and his experiences, to more importantly take in what we can learn about Him who inspired it THROUGH the writer’s quill, as it were.

May I suggest, if you want, to open your own scriptures to Psalms Chapter 1 and read through as we discuss it. I am using the Reformation Study Bible in the ESV version. I will take most commentary from this bible’s commentary section as warranted.

Psalms is a book that is very deeply personal. It laments sin, triumphs in victory over the enemy, and sorrows in walking through unbearable trials. However, chapter 1 is a short narrative, differentiating between the righteous and the unrighteous. It draws a distinct line between those who love God and His law, and those who do not. It paints a beautiful word picture when distinguishing the two. The Reformation Study Bible Commentary says this about the introductory chapter:

Like the gateway to a sanctuary, one of the relatively few wisdom psalms introduces the whole collection. Before having close conversation with God, the reader’s attitude toward the law of God has to be considered. The righteous person loves and studies it; the wicked person hates it.

The Reformation Study Bible. ESV Reformation Study Bible (Kindle Locations 90716-90718). Reformation Trust Publishing. Kindle Edition.

I find this extremely interesting. That before even starting to read this book, one is challenged to know what side of the fence he or she is on when it comes to loving God and His laws. Am I righteous, or unrighteous before God? Do I love His word and eagerly look forward to reading and studying it? Or has it been months that it has sat on a shelf? Do I even remember the last time I cracked it open? If I haven’t been reading it as I should, am I convicted of that neglect? Or do I never even think about reading it? Even though we all fall somewhere on such a wide spectrum, I think we can all figure out which end of that spectrum we gravitate toward. I certainly don’t read and study as much as I wish I did. But I realize this shortcoming and do strive to improve more and more in my studying. After all, how can we love a God we do not know? And we can only know Him by knowing and loving His Word.

Chapter 1 starts with a description of the righteous man.

1 Blessed is the man who a 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.

Since we are seeking to know what scripture says about GOD, we can ascertain in Psalms 1 that God gets to determine who is righteous and who isn’t. He gets to make the rules. We aren’t deemed righteous because we try hard to be good. Because we work in a soup kitchen or help the homeless. Or even because we attend church. So what does make one righteous in God’s sight? In verse 1, the word “blessed” ( אַ֥שְֽׁרֵי־ ash·rei) has a stronger meaning than just “happy”. It is to enjoy God’s special favor and grace. How does Psalms 1 describe the righteous one? As one who doesn’t walk in the counsel of the wicked, stand in the way of sinners, or sit in the seat of scoffers.
In scripture to “walk”, “stand”, or “sit” in a certain way means: to live and act or behave; to pursue a particular course of life. (Notice the righteous man is not described by what he does, but by what he avoids.) This means the righteous will not pursue a lifestyle that constantly heeds to the advice of the ungodly. They will not hang out with those who scoff and mock God. Another characteristic is that the righteous person will meditate, or just sit and think about God’s word. ( This is NOT the kind of meditation found in New Age or Hinduism, which tries to achieve a mentally clear and emotionally calm and stable state! )

A.W. Pink discusses this in “The Blessed Man”:

“Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked.” Psalm 1:1

Notice exactly how this is expressed—it is not “does not walk in the open wickedness” nor even “the manifest folly of the wicked,” but “does not walk in the counsel of the wicked.” How searching that is! How it narrows things down!

The ungodly are ever ready to “counsel” the believer, seeming to be very solicitous of his welfare. They will warn him against being too strict and extreme, advising him to be broad-minded and to “make the best of both worlds.” But the policy of the “ungodly”—that is, of those who leave God out of their lives, who have no “fear of God”—is regulated by self-will and self-pleasing, and is dominated by what they call “common sense.”

Alas, how many professing Christians regulate their lives by the advice and suggestions of ungodly friends and relatives—heeding such “counsel” in their business career, their social life, the furnishing and decorating of their homes, their dress and diet, and the choice of school or avocation for their children!

But not so with the “blessed man.” He “does not walk in the counsel of the wicked.” Rather is he afraid of it, no matter how plausible it sounds, or apparently good the intention of those who offer it. He shuns it, and says “Get behind me, Satan!”

Why? Because Divine grace has taught him that he has something infinitely better to direct his steps. God has given him a Divine revelation, dictated by unerring wisdom, suited to his every need and circumstance, designed as a “lamp unto his feet and a light unto his path.” His desire and his determination is to walk by the wholesome counsel of God, and not by the corrupt counsel of the ungodly.

The “blessed man” does not walk according to the maxims of the world.

This righteousness is bestowed on one as the result of conversion. We know that apart from faith in Christ no one is righteous. ( Romans 3:10 ) But He cleanses us and covers us with His own righteousness. The unconverted soul will not pursue godliness.

I love the imagery in verse 3 of the tree being planted by the water, bearing fruit in season. A tree by the water drinks readily from its source of nourishment. Therefore it doesn’t wither. As believers, our nourishment is God’s word. We can drink from it infinitely, and when we do so our spiritual lives will stay refreshed and strong. The Reformation Study Bible Commentary says “As the tree drinks from the stream, the righteous drink from “the instruction of the LORD.”

A.W. Pink describes this beautifully, when he details the process of the tree bearing fruit “in season”.

“He is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season.” Fruit is an essential character of a gracious man, for there are no fruitless branches in the true Vine. “In season,” for all fruits do not appear in the same month, neither are all the graces of the Spirit produced simultaneously.
Times of trial—call for faith.
Times of suffering—call for patience.
Times of disappointment—call for meekness.
Times of danger—call for courage.
Times of blessings—call for thanksgiving.
Times of prosperity—call for joy.

This word “in season” is a timely one—we must not expect the fruits of maturity in those who are but babes.

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I love the picture of different seasons of life causing us to bear different types of fruit, based on growing in maturity.

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.

On the contrary, the unrighteous man does not yield good and useful fruit. He can only produce chaff, the worthless leftover part of the plant after it is dead or has been threshed for harvest. It is useless and will blow away with a puff of wind. The chaff of the plant is good for nothing. The unrighteous man’s life comes to nothing. In the end, he will be lost.

Ultimately, we see that the unrighteous will have no standing when judgement comes. And God will welcome the righteous into His kingdom, while the unrighteous will only inherit destruction.

It is of great comfort to consider that God sees the righteous and knows us. He SEES. And it matters. Even when it can seem dark and it can seem like the unrighteous are flourishing or getting away with their wickedness. Know, my friends, that they are NOT getting away with it. ( I am telling MYSELF this as well as anyone who is reading! ) I know this can be hard to internalize when those who practice wickedness have wreaked their whirlwind of havoc in our lives. We can be easily discouraged and feel very alone. And if we aren’t drinking regularly from the water we can begin to wither. That’s why it’s so important to stay in the Word. Even on the hard days. Even when we don’t even feel like getting out of bed. So that the fruits borne out of times of suffering and trial can be counted as useful for His kingdom.

Psalms 1 is rightly called a “wisdom” Psalm, for it does impart a wealth of wisdom in its short 6 verses. I hope you will read the Psalms along with me and that it will cause you to become fruitful to you as you drink it in during whatever season you may be in. May its joy increase your joy. May its heartcries be your heartcries. Pray along with the Psalmists as they pray. Sing when they sing. Worship as they worship. Be in awe as they were in awe. And in all, may God be praised!

For further reading:

“The Blessed Man” by A.W. Pink

Ligonier Ministries: The Purpose of Wisdom Literature

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