I keep a track of what books I’ve preached on; and was surprised to discover that I haven’t yet preached on any of what are known as the writings: Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes and the Song of Solomon. So I thought we’d turn now to the Psalms. There are 150 of them and they’re divided into five books or five parts. The first two psalms are introductory and introduce the whole psalter. Psalm 1 is a wisdom psalm. The wisdom literature in the Bible is about the importance of living according to God’s word and about applying the wisdom of God to our daily lives. And so, in Psalm 1, the way of the righteous and the way of the wicked are contrasted. And therefore the way of the righteous is commended to us. Psalm 2 is a royal psalm which is about the coronation of God’s Anointed King on Mount Zion and the hostility of an unbelieving world. Putting these psalms at the beginning of the psalter highlights some of the themes we’ll find in the collection of psalms: we are called to be righteous; but the righteous will face opposition from a wicked world; however the righteous ought to look to God and to his Anointed King for help and for salvation in the end.
Let’s turn then to Psalm 1.
Verse 1 describes the life of the righteous person. This person is described first of all as ‘blessed’. Often interpreters will say that this means ‘happy’. However, as we read through the psalms, we’ll discover again and again that very often the righteous person undergoes trouble and trials and sorrow and suffering; and — because of these experiences — very often the righteous person does not feel happy. However, he is blessed because he has been declared right with God through faith and is no longer under condemnation — which is what he deserves for his sins — but has been pardoned by God and has been promised eternal life. The blessed man is the one who is no longer under the curse of God, but has received salvation from God and rejoices in all that God has done for him.
How then does this blessed, righteous person live? According to verse 1, he does not walk in the counsel of the wicked nor stand in the way of sinners nor sit in the seat of mockers. When we hear the word ‘wicked’, we perhaps think of people who do very wicked things. However, the word simply refers to the unbeliever. Unbelievers may live good lives; they may be ‘good-living’; but they’re wicked in the sight of God, because they have refused to trust in him or yield their lives to him.
Next the psalmist refers to sinners who are those who intentionally disobey the Lord. And mockers are those who mock the righteous and who ridicule God’s faithful people. The commentators notice a growing intensity in these three descriptions. First there’s the unbeliever. Then there’s the unbeliever who sins. Then there’s the unbeliever who sins and mocks God’s people.
Well, the righteous person — or the person who has been declared right with God through faith and is therefore under God’s blessing — does not walk or live in accordance with the unbeliever’s advice. Nor does he stand or sit with them. He does not associate them them. In other words, the righteous person does not follow the ways of an unbelieving world. He does not accept the wisdom of the world. He refuses to conform to the ways of the world, which is hostile towards the Lord and his Anointed King.
Instead of following the ways of an unbelieving world, and accepting the wisdom of the world, the righteous person delights in the law of the Lord and meditates on it day and night.
Now, when we hear the word ‘law’, we think of the Ten Commandments and the rest of God’s laws and commandments. We think of rules and regulations. However, the psalmist is referring to more than that. The Hebrew word he uses simply means ‘instruction’. So, he’s referring to all of God’s written revelation. He’s referring to God’s word, the holy scriptures, which includes rules and commands, but it contains so much more about the grace and steadfast love of the Lord.
And the righteous person delights in God’s word. Later, in Psalm 19, the psalmist will say that — to the believer — the ordinances of God are more precious than gold and they’re sweeter than honey. That’s how the righteous person regards God’s word. And so, the righteous person meditates on it. In Bible times, no one had their own copy of the Bible. They had to memorise it. But, having it memorised like that meant that throughout the day they were able bring it to mind and think about it and ruminate on it. God’s word was hidden in their hearts, so that they were able to take it out in a sense and turn it over in their minds day and night, or all through the day. Nowadays, we take out our phones and check twitter and facebook. But the psalmist describes the righteous person as turning in those idle moments to God’s word to reflect on what he has said.
And by turning to God’s word like this, reflecting on it, meditating on it, the righteous person’s mind is renewed and reshaped according to God’s word and according to the wisdom that is found there. Instead of being conformed to the ways of the world, the righteous are transformed because their minds are renewed by God’s word.
Turning now to the third verse, the psalmist pictures the righteous person as a tree. And this tree has been planted beside streams of water. And because of the streams of water, the tree produces its fruit in season and its leaves never wither. Well, if the tree signifies the righteous person, then the streams of water represent God’s word, because just as the streams of water cause the tree to grow and flourish, so it’s that constant meditation on God’s word that helps believers to grow in their faith and in their obedience to the Lord. God uses his word to sanctify us and to renew us in his image. The Holy Spirit uses God’s word to teach us and to rebuke us and to correct us and to train us in doing what is right. He uses God’s word to produce his own fruit in our lives.
But what does it mean when it says that ‘whatever he does prospers’ or ‘in whatever he does, he prospers’? Should those who devote themselves to God’s word expect to become prosperous and to enjoy health and wealth and long-life? Well, the rest of the psalms make clear that that can’t be what he means, because the righteous person is often depicted as suffering terribly. The best explanation I’ve come across is that the context of this promise restricts its application. What does the righteous person want to do? Well, by meditating on God’s word, he’s seeking to live a righteous life and a life that is pleasing to the Lord. So, in that, he will prosper and be successful. He will indeed live a righteous and God-pleasing life, because of the attention he gives to God’s word. And, of course, those who delight in God’s word and in doing the will of the Lord are ultimately only interested in that kind of success.
Well, if the righteous person — who delights in God’s word and meditates on it continually — is like a well-watered and fruitful and flourishing tree, what is the wicked person like? What is the unbeliever like? They are like chaff that the wind blows away. So, when a farmer was winnowing the wheat, he would crush it and then toss the bits into the air. The grain would fall to the ground, while the wind would carry away the chaff, which was light and worthless. In the same way, those without faith cannot please God and nothing they do is of any value in his sight. Ultimately, like the chaff, they will be destroyed when the Lord comes to judge the world.
And so, the wicked will not stand in the judgment; and they will not sit in the assembly of the righteous. Already, in this life, there’s an antithesis, a division, between the righteous and the wicked, believers and unbelievers, the church and the world, those who are under God’s blessing and those who are under his curse. Right not, there’s this division. However, we still live side by side in the world. But when the day of judgment comes, these two groups will be separated finally and forever. The righteous — that is, those who have been declared right with God through faith — will be brought into God’s presence to dwell with him forever in glory. But the wicked — that is, those who do not believe — will be sent away to be punished forever, away from the presence of the Lord.
And so, we have the conclusion in verse 6. The Lord watches over the way of the righteous. That is, he knows them. He knows and loves his people and is watching over them for their good. But the way of the wicked will perish. In this world, they may prosper. They may do well and be successful. But they — and everything they do and everything that they may accomplish in this life — are destined to perish. They will not last, because the day is coming when Christ will come to destroy his enemies and to bring his people into the new heaven and earth.
Of course, there is really only one truly righteous person, who perfectly delighted and meditated on and obeyed God’s word. The truly righteous one is the Lord Jesus Christ, who came into the world to do God’s will and to fulfil all righteousness. But through faith in him, and in God’s promise of salvation, sinners are justified and declared right with God forever. All who believe pass from death to life and are no longer under condemnation or under the curse of God’s law, because Christ the Saviour laid down his life as the ransom to set us free.
And so, if you trust in Christ the Saviour, you are one of God’s righteous ones. You are no longer under his curse, but under his blessing, for in Christ you have been blessed with every spiritual blessing. He knows you and will keep you, both now and forever.
And as one of God’s righteous ones, you ought to take delight in his word and meditate on it continually. Do not conform to the ways of the world or live in accordance to the wisdom of the world, because the world and its wisdom are destined to perish and they will only mislead you. Instead devote yourself to God’s word, to study and apply it, for in it you will find true wisdom for how to live a life pleasing to the Lord, who loved you and gave his Son to save you.
And all who have been declared right with God through faith, do not need to fear the judgment, for you are no longer under condemnation, but can look forward to standing in the assembly of God’s people forever and forever to worship and adore him.