1 Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful.
2 But his delight is in the law of the Lord; and in his law doth he meditate day and night.
3 And he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth his fruit in his season; his leaf also shall not wither; and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper.
4 The ungodly are not so: but are like the chaff which the wind driveth away.
5 Therefore the ungodly shall not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous.
6 For the Lord knoweth the way of the righteous: but the way of the ungodly shall perish.
The famed 18th century preacher, George Whitefield, endured the scoffing of a group of mockers known as the “Hell Fire Club.” One day a man named Thorpe mocked Whitefield’s recent sermon with precision mimicry. Word for word he quoted the preacher to the glee of the group. He suddenly sat down dumbstruck…and converted, by the mercy of God through the grace of his own preaching of the Word of God. The writer of Hebrews 4:12 could anticipate Thorpe’s bizarre conversion, “For the Word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword and piercing as far as the division of the soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”
God’s predetermined plan manifests two ends attained by two paths walked by two groups of men. Why is one man happy? What makes his path different? What does the future look like for him? Each man must compare his own lifestyle to both the righteous and the wicked, in order to contemplate his own pole of destiny. John Calvin argued, “The sum of the whole psalm is that the servants of God must endeavor utterly to abhor the life of the ungodly.”
The Psalmist introduces a very, very happy man and his lifestyle of avoiding godlessness (v. 1). Three actions of avoidance help the blessed: avoiding wicked counsel on his walk; avoiding the habitual actions of sinners; and avoiding fellowship with those who devalue God’s Word in their declension from God. Tom Constable writes, “Wicked people willfully persist in evil, sinners miss the mark of God’s standard and do not care, and scoffers make light of God’s laws and ridicule what is sacred (Notes, 2010).”
The mind, the action, and the attitude of twisted people are anti-God, if not anti-Christ. Paul wrote to the Ephesians (4:17–19), “This I say therefore, and affirm together with the Lord, that you walk no longer just as the Gentiles also walk, in the futility of their minds, 18 being darkened in their understanding, excluded from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the hardness of their heart; 19 and they, having become callous, have given themselves over to sensuality, for the practice of every kind of impurity with greediness.” Grouped together, often spurring one another on to dirty deeds, the mindset of the scoffing sinner is only evil all the time.
The contradistinctive positive action of the very happy man is his daily inclination toward the Word of God (v. 2). He consistently savors the wisdom of Torah (c/f Psalm 19, 119). His business is to work with the inspired Scriptures in profiting from their reproof, rebuke, and instruction in righteousness (2 Tim 3:16). Knowing the work of the Holy Spirit in His provision of the Scriptures, affirmed by Jesus in His earthly ministry, the happy man delights himself in the Lord and His revealed Law.
The simile of a well-positioned, transplanted tree points to a healthy environment producing prosperity (v. 3). Psalm 118:8–9 warns us against trusting in man. Jeremiah suggests we are cursed when we do (Jer. 17:5–8). He who trusts man will be like a bush in the desert and will not see when prosperity comes. Jeremiah seems to know Psalm 1 as he iterates the blessed man being like a tree planted near water. With deep roots and green leaves, he is fearless in the year of drought. His secret to happiness is his vicinity to the Lord, in whom he trusts, and by whom he prospers to spiritual maturity.
The Psalmist changes his focus from the happy man to the wicked, who is a lightweight (v. 4). The vanity of man is sifted by death. He is dust in the wind and stubble in the whirlwind. The Day of the Lord and the Great White Throne of judgment winnows the wicked. Isaiah prophesied that on that day, the Lord alone will be exalted (Is 2:11c, 17c).
A foretaste of ultimate justice in judgment will come with the waves of judgment upon man and the earth (Rev. 6–18). Idols will vanish, and men will mine with the moles and bed with the bats of the caves. The earth will tremble and man will remember wisdom he ignored, “Stop regarding man, whose breath of life is in his nostrils. For why should he be esteemed (Is 2:22)?”
The future judgment dooms the wicked and prohibits community with the righteous (v. 5). Eternity lost is the end for the wicked sinner. He will forever scoff at his everlasting predicament. He will know no communion, for eternal futility is his reward. He has traveled the way of doom. Outer darkness, complemented with flames of torment, invite the gnashing of teeth where conscious existence leaves him void of the God he mocked.
The Psalmist closes with the contrasting ways of the two groups in the opposite poles of destiny (v. 6). With scrutiny, understanding, and intimate familiarity God searches the heart and knows the way of man (Ps 139:1–6). The happy man is the righteous man. The wicked man is a dead man. God knows the way of both and judges with perfect justice. One man enters life, and one man perishes in hell and the lake of fire.
In sum, we have learned of two men, traveling on two paths, toward two ends. One has been transplanted from the desert to the place adjacent to the river of living waters. He walks in the counsel of the Word of God, not listening to the advice of men. He has the mind of Christ (1 Cor 2:16). He stands in the way of God, not in the wide and deviant way of sinners. His good works are the product of an alien righteousness imputed to him (1 Cor 1:30). His company is kept by God in the garden of grace. He sits at peace with God and with the assembly of the righteous.
In conclusion, each man must consider the path he is on and his ultimate end. He is either positioned for doom or transplanted in Christ. The way of life is Christ (Jn 14:6), the living Word of God, revealed in the written Word of God. The ultimate end of the happy man is an eternity in the presence of Christ Jesus (Rev 21–22). He daily delights in Christ and his happiness is now and forever. He is blessed. Are you that man?
Spokane Valley, Washington
May 19, 2021