Psalm 1:1–6comment (0)
November 5, 2009
By Douglas Wilson
Related Scripture: Psalm 1:1–6
Explore the Bible
Associate Professor of Christian Studies, School of Christian Studies, University of Mobile
The first song in the Hebrew songbook introduces readers to a series of contrasts. First, wicked counsel stands against God’s Word. Second, godly success stands in sharp distinction to the eternal worthlessness of rejecting God. Third, the godless are not presently counted among the righteous nor will they be during the Judgment. Finally, God is intimately involved in the lives of those who trust Him, but the wicked will be forever separated.
This psalm may remind the discerning Bible student of the challenges of Moses, Joshua and Elijah to the people of Israel. Moses told a new generation preparing to enter the promised land that it was to choose between life and death, blessing and cursing (Deut. 30:19). Joshua challenged the elders to choose whether they would serve the Lord (Josh. 24:15). Elijah confronted the people of the northern kingdom, demanding they stop wavering in their religious allegiances (1 Kings 18:21). Our choices are ultimately not about us but about our fellowship with God. This is the fundamental message of this lesson.
God Has a Plan (1–3)
Bad advice leads to bad actions and bad attitudes. This psalm begins with a warning: Following this sequence leads to ruin. Counsel from ungodly people leads us to stray from God’s path. Any other pathway puts us in sin, which is rebellion against God. Once we get comfortable on this road, we see everyone else as an inconsistent hypocrite. Instead of focusing upon God, we compare ourselves to fallen men. By contrast, the happy (or blessed) person centers his or her attention upon a relationship with God, made clear through the teachings of Scripture. Literally the term used is “Torah,” likely referring to the books of Moses. After all, every foundational teaching regarding God, His creation and His covenant is revealed in the Pentateuch. Rather than listening to godless counsel, the blessed believer finds direction and delight in God’s Law.
Success is measured in different ways. Some measure it by the abundance of possessions, status in society or numbers on a scoreboard. The person who follows God’s counsel finds satisfaction walking in a covenant relationship with Him. “Whatever he does prospers” is not a promise of health and wealth; rather, in light of Galatians 5:22–23, it suggests that we will faithfully bear fruit for God.
Some Reject God’s Plan (4–5)
A sharp contrast comes in these next two verses, in which the ungodly are mentioned again. In verse 1, it is the advice of the wicked against which the psalmist warns. In verse 4, the godless are described as chaff at harvest time. This stubble contains no crop; the grain is already separated out. Chaff is blown away in the winnowing process, and the field covered with chaff is later burned. Again the wicked are the focus of verse 5. Wicked people will not survive the Judgment. This term “survive” may be understood as “stand” or “be established.” Coupled with this is the parallel line that sinners will not be found in the community of the righteous. According to God’s Law, only those who trust God and offer atoning sacrifice are allowed in the congregation as they meet to approach Him. The wicked and the unrepentant will be excluded from the gathering of worshipers in the Judgment.
Choose God’s Path (6)
“The Lord watches over the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked leads to ruin.” Translated as “watches,” the term is literally “knows.” God is intimately familiar with the pathway of the righteous. After all, when Thomas asked the Master for a map to get to where He was going, Jesus said, “I am the way” (John 14:6).
“There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death” (Prov. 14:12). The wicked man refuses to submit his will to God’s will. He is completely blind to the reality that everything he owns is by God’s grace. God sustains his health, abilities, job, family and very life, though he rejects God’s authority. Rather than having intimate fellowship with God that lasts for eternity, he faces a future when the Master will say, “I never knew you! Depart from Me” (Matt. 7:23).