“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” (Ps. 1:1).
So opens the longest book in the Old Testament and in the entire Bible, the Psalms. I find it fitting that this collection of divinely inspired Hebrew poetry—one could say that most of the Psalms are prayers written in lyrical form, although this one does not seem to be—begins with a description of what our God considers a godly person to be.
The Holy Spirit inspired the psalmist (cf. 2 Pet. 1:19-21) to use the Hebrew word for “man” (ish) in such a way so as to portray a representative example of a godly individual. Such a person “walks not in the counsel of the wicked.” He does not go to the ungodly who walk in darkness to find guidance for his own path. He does not “stand in the way of sinners.” The godly person’s ways, habits, characteristics, and personality traits do not match those of the ungodly. He does not “sit in the seat of scoffers.” According to Solomon’s inspired pen, “‘Scoffer’ is the name of the arrogant, haughty man who acts with arrogant pride” (Prov. 21:24), “a scoffer does not listen to rebuke” (Prov. 13:1), and “the scoffer is an abomination to mankind” (Prov. 24:9). The righteous person is none of these things, and there is a distinct reason for this.
The reason? “His delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night” (Ps. 1:2). The man who “greatly delights” in the “commandments” of the Lord is “blessed” (Ps. 112:1). He prays for the Lord to “lead me in the path of your commandments” because “I delight in it” (Ps. 119:35). He recognizes the sobering but wonderful truth that “if your law had not been my delight, I would have perished in my affliction” (Ps. 119:92). For that and many other reasons, he sincerely says, “I find my delight in your commandments, which I love” (Ps. 119:47). It is this love and delight for the will of God that motivates the godly individual to “meditate day and night” upon the “law” of God. In this he follows in the footsteps of Joshua, who was commanded by the Lord, “This Book of the Law shall not depart your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success” (Josh. 1:8). Thus, the righteous man will vow, “I will meditate on your precepts, and fix my eyes on your ways” (Ps. 119:15). He will exclaim, “Oh how I love your law! It is my meditation all the day” (Ps. 119:97). This he will do, no matter the circumstances of life. “Even though princes sit plotting against me, your servant will meditate on your statutes” (Ps. 119:23). “Let the insolent be put to shame, because they have wronged me with falsehood; as for me, I will meditate on your precepts” (Ps. 119:78).
Christians, does this sound like us? Do we “delight in the law of the Lord”? Do we open our Bibles and upon them “meditate day and night”?
The results should motivate us to do so. “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” (Ps. 1:3). The prophet Jeremiah gave a similar description to the man who trusts in the Lord: “Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose trust is in the Lord. He is like a tree planted by water, that sends out its roots by the stream, and does not fear when heat comes, for its leaves remain green, and is not anxious in the year of drought, for it does not cease to bear fruit” (Jer. 17:7-8). Let us pause and consider the clear correlation between the one who trusts in the Lord and the one who delights in his laws and meditates upon them day and night. They are the same. The one who trusts in the Lord is the one who delights in his laws and studies them daily and nightly. God compares this kind of person to healthy trees that bear fruit and stay strong even in adverse weather, indicating that this man or woman will remain faithful, obedient, penitent, and loyal even during difficult times of life. Like Timothy was exhorted to do, this is the Christian who “practices these things, immerses (himself) in them, so that all may see (his) progress” (1 Tim. 4:15).
“The wicked are not so, but are like chaff that the wind drives away” (Ps. 1:4). I used to have a parakeet. It was always fun to watch him eat birdseed. He would pick the seed up inside his beak, pierce the shell, such out the nutrients inside, and then cast the empty husk aside into his dish. Once or twice a day I had to clear out all the “chaff” — the empty husks, the shells with nothing of worth in them — away; otherwise the poor bird would find it very difficult to get to the actual birdseed at the bottom of his dish which still remained. I learned that it would be expedient to exhale lightly and hold the dish with the chaff inside it away from my nose and mouth because it was so easy for my normal exhalations to blow it all over the floor.
The wicked—in context, those who are the exact opposite of the righteous person described in verses 1-3 whose “delight is in the law of the Lord”—are compared to these empty husks, these worthless shells. God created all of us to fear him and keep his commandments (Eccl. 12:13; cf. Eph. 2:10); those who unrepentantly disobey him fail to meet the purpose of their existence. Their end is next described by the Psalmist: “Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous” (Ps. 1:5). I’m reminded of the prophet Nahum’s fearful warning of the wrath of God: “Who can stand before his indignation? Who can endure the heat of his anger? His wrath is poured out like fire, and the rocks are broken into pieces by him” (Nah. 1:6). Those outside of Christ—and yes, those inside of Christ who, like the thorny soil of the parable, fail to be like the tree described by the Psalmist and Jeremiah and bear much fruit because they unrepentantly find more delight in “the pleasures of life” than they do in the law of the Lord (Lk. 8:14; cf. Matt. 13:41-42)—will not stand in the judgment. Those outside of Christ who find no delight in the law of the Lord will certainly not be interested in worshiping with the saints, and thus will not join “the congregation of the righteous.” Likewise, those inside the church whose impenitent ways are known and their stubborn rebelliousness is proved will be withdrawn from, and thus also depart “the congregation of the righteous.”
The Psalmist then closes this first psalm in the inspired collection with a statement that is both an exhilarating encouragement and a somber warning: “For the Lord knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish” (Ps. 1:6). It gives me so much hope and comfort to know that the Lord knows the way of the righteous. As David sang, “I will rejoice and be glad in your steadfast love, because you have seen my affliction; you have known the distress of my soul…The Lord knows the days of the blameless, and their heritage will remain forever” (Ps. 31:7, 18). Nahum also promised, “The Lord is good, a stronghold in the day of trouble; he knows those who take refuge in him” (Nah. 1:7). Paul would say the same to Timothy, “The Lord knows those who are his” (2 Tim. 2:19). He knows all of this, and he also knows if we are committed to his ways. As David also sang, “Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him, and he will act” (Ps. 37:5). Yet let us also heed the warning given to us. If God knows the ways of those who serve him, he also certainly knows the ways of those who do not. His “wrath…is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth” (Rom. 1:18). Do not be deceived. God’s Word is truth (John 17:17), and there are more ways to suppress it than by the efforts of militant atheistic politicians and activists. We ourselves can suppress it simply by finding no delight in it, and failing to meditate upon it daily and nightly. Is God’s wrath aimed at us?
Christians, may it never be so! Let us be like the righteous described in this psalm, and not like the wicked. Let our “delight (be) in the law of the Lord” (Ps. 1:2)!