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;
but his delight is in the law of the Lord,
and on his law he meditates day and night.
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.
The wicked are not so,
but are like chaff that the wind drives away.
Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous;
for the Lord knows the way of the righteous,
but the way of the wicked will perish.
The first psalm pulls triple duty: it introduces Book One of the psalms; it introduces the psalter as a whole; and it is a psalm unto itself. We will begin by considering it as its own psalm and will perhaps see in future meditations how this psalm has prepared us to read the rest.
The psalmist takes man as his subject and considers man’s ways. He offers us a simple contrast. There are only two ways: the way of wickedness and the way of righteousness. A man chooses his way by choosing whom to heed. The righteous man delights in the law of the Lord; the wicked man listens to other wicked men.
See how a man progresses deeper and deeper into sin. He starts by walking with wicked men, listening to their advice. He then finds himself no longer walking but standing on the path of sinful men. Finally, he settles fully into sin, reclining with mockers who have no regard for the ways of the Lord. He reclines, but he finds no peace, for he has no root; he is “like chaff that the wind drives away.”
The righteous man, on the other hand, is like a man in love. The psalmist tells us that he delights in the law of the Lord. It is his joy and his happiness, the place where his heart finds rest. As much as he has taken up residence in the law, the law has set up residence in him. It lives in his mind and heart. It is his constant meditation. It is the home that he looks forward to each day.
These two men could not be more different. Whereas the wicked man is rickety and as insubstantial as chaff, the righteous man is weighty and rooted. The wicked man has nothing to sustain him, but the righteous man has the streams of life supplied by the Living God. The wicked man amounts to nothing and produces nothing, but the righteous man grows up like a vigorous tree and produces life-giving fruit.
The first psalm proclaims wisdom in the classical mode. Think the book of Proverbs. Blessings go to the righteous man. The psalmist is none too profuse, but clear nonetheless. The righteous man is blessed, his leaf does not wither, he prospers in all that he does, and the Lord knows his way.
The wicked man, on the other hand, receives curses. Whereas the righteous man does not stand in the way of sinners, the wicked man will not stand with the righteous in the judgment. His case is too flimsy to withstand the judgment, and so he perishes.
As with most classical wisdom, the first psalm keeps things simple. The lines are stark, and the options are few. The cynic would object that the psalm is too simplistic and too rosy about the blessings and the curses going to the right people. “The world doesn’t work that way,” he might say. The psalmist is no stranger to trouble, as we will see. He has seen what the cynic has seen. But the psalmist sees through the eyes of faith. It may be that today that the wicked are able to walk, to stand, and to recline, but it won’t always be that way. And maybe the righteous man seems flimsy in this life, nothing like the tree the psalmist makes him out to be.
The seeds of righteousness and wickedness are sown in this life, and the fruit is collected in the next life. The first psalm challenges you to ask yourself, are you growing into a tree that bears fruit or into a dead weed that breaks into chaff?