Having now finished our long study through 2 Samuel, summer is upon us! And just as we spent last summer in the Psalms, we’ll do the same this summer. Now, don’t hear me wrong. All of the Psalms are wonderful. All of them teach us much, all of them carry us along various melodies, all of them reveal the wonder of God, and all of them together contain all the anatomy of the soul, all the human heart can experience in life. But it is also true that as you read through all 150, some of them just leap out begging to sung, and studied, and preached!
For example, in the Beach Boy’s collection of greatest hits Twenty Good Vibrations there are 20 songs. And while all of them are great, some of them tend to stay with us long after we’ve heard them. Of course we can’t press this analogy too far, because all of the Psalms are inspired by God and are deeply beneficial for us. But some do indeed rise to the surface in prominence. So, Lord willing, for the next eight weeks it’s those Psalms we’ll be leaning into. And before us today is Psalm 1.
Psalm 1 is famous. Not merely because it’s the first Psalm but because the contents of Psalm 1 set the stage for what’s to come throughout the Psalms. How does it do this? Though no title is given to it, no setting is described, and no author is made known, it does launch us out into a certain world. A world where only two kinds of people exist, living two types of lives, that each end with a certain result. You’re either righteous or wicked, and there’s no middle ground. Of course this world is our world, and so the Psalms make us wise about our world. But Psalm 1 does more than introduce us to this world, it functions as a kind of door and brings us into the Psalms as a whole. It urges us to embrace and live the blessed life of the righteous. It reveals to us the glories and the character of God. It opens up for us the joys of the saints and misery of the wicked. And specifically lays bare how the righteous and the wicked experience God throughout all the highs and lows in life. All of these themes are thick throughout the Psalms, but they all begin right here in Psalm 1 as we see ‘two ways to live.’ Because of this many have called Psalm 1 the ‘Psalm of Psalms.’
Let’s enter into it. Psalm 1 is in most translations divided into three portions: v1-2, v3-4, and v5-6, and I’ve used the same divisions for my outline this morning. So see first…
Two Men (v1-2)
“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.”
The first word sets the tone and the direction we’ll be heading in not only in this first Psalm, but in all the Psalms as well. “Blessed…” or ‘O the happiness…’ or ‘How fortunate…’ This word “Blessed” is an interesting word. It’s a plural word in Hebrew and it’s likely given to us in that form to announce that there is a great fullness, a great abundance, and a great vastness to the blessings that flow from God to…to who? Only to the man who doesn’t do some things and does do other things. Notice that? Before describing what the righteous man actually does do there’s a description of what the righteous man doesn’t do. And held within this is also a description of what the wicked man does do and doesn’t do.
So what does the righteous man not do? The language used is all about how one walks, which is a way of referring to course of one’s life. First, the righteous man doesn’t walk in the counsel of wicked. This means more than just not seeking out or listening to the advice of the wicked, it does mean that, but it’s more getting at how the righteous man avoids the ways, habits, and lifestyles of the wicked. He does not walk like the wicked walk. Second, the righteous man doesn’t stand in the way of sinners. This means he has a choicer company, a more select community because he stands among the congregation of the righteous and does not go off with the rest of the world. There may only be a few who love and follow God in this fallen world, but the righteous man knows he’s always in the majority with God on His side. Third, the righteous man doesn’t sit in the seat of scoffers, meaning he doesn’t get comfortable with sin or with sinners. Sin, though present in his life, isn’t something he’s at peace with, accustomed to. No, sin is always a straying away from where he ought to be not a way towards where he knows he should go.
Notice the movement in these words? It goes from walking, to standing, to sitting. This shows not only what the righteous man doesn’t do, it shows how the wicked man is bent from the very get go in the wrong direction, and from that start they go on into more and more sinful patterns until those patterns become habits and those habits become lifestyles built on the very thing God hates. This is the way of sin is it not? It’s a downhill path from bad to worse. This all encompassing language of v1 points out that the righteous man and the wicked man are two men heading in opposite directions. It’s true we all start from sinful beginnings, but as the preaching of the gospel goes out those who believe it are gripped by God’s grace and by His grace they make a U-Turn and head toward God while those who reject the gospel speed up in the depraved direction they’re already heading in.
But with v2 we see the reverse of v1. There we saw what the righteous man doesn’t do and what the wicked man does do. Here we find what the righteous man does do and what the wicked man doesn’t do. And it’s all about the law of the Lord, or the instruction of the Lord. While the wicked man is intimate with and settled into all that is sinful, the righteous man is intimate with and settled into the Word of God. Take note though, is it a knowledge of God’s Word that separates the righteous and the wicked here? Is it an agreement with the Word that separates them? Is it attending a church where sermons from the Word are heard? Those are good, amen. But the thing that separates the righteous and the wicked in v2 is a delight in the Word. The righteous man rejoices in this, that God who he loves has made Himself known in His Word. So his delight is in this, his happiness is in this, he feels blessed in this, he feels rich and abundant in this, because he knows God in this and through this. And this is so delightful for him that he isn’t content to merely open it for a brief moment but meditates on it day and night. He lingers over it long enough so that he sees the Lord’s beauty and his heart catches fire. In other words, meditating on the Word is the chief pursuit of his life because God is the chief joy of his life.
There is a great challenge here for us. Most of us churchgoers are eager to avoid the ways of the wicked and keep ourselves pure. Christians are well-known for being people who turn away from much the world has to offer. But while we may turn away from that, do we sit still and grow content thinking we’ve done our duty as Christians, or do we go on and turn towards God’s Word and pursue Him through it? Do we study it? Do we know it? Is it our most familiar companion in life? You see, it is the wicked man who considers a thing based on his own opinion or the world’s opinion; it is the righteous man who considers a thing based on what God thinks about it. The difference between these two men is massive. Bring this all the way back to v1 and see: the blessedness and happiness of v1 isn’t all about saying no to worldly things, it’s about doing that, indeed, but then also saying yes to the best things and pursuing them with all our might!
Is this true of you? May it be! Two further impress this upon us, Psalm 1 now gives us two images.
Two Images (v3-4)
“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.”
As we saw in v1-2, once again we find both the righteous man and the wicked man are present and contrasted in v3-4 with two images. The righteous man is likened to a tree and the wicked man is likened to chaff. These are opposite in nearly every way.
It begins in v3 with the image of a tree. This is what the righteous man is like. He is planted by God near streams of water. So well rooted and fed by that stream that in every season, in plenty and in lack, in lush growth and in dry barrenness, he is ever green bearing fruit and prospering. As you might see this passage is often used in prosperity gospel circles as something of a proof text for God blessing His people so richly. But ask, why is this tree so well planted and strong and prosperous? Because of v1-2, this man is nourished by the law of the Lord. He delights in it and meditates on it day and night, and because of that he has grown firm and stout. So I don’t think material wealth is in view at all here, it’s all spiritual, and it’s spiritual vitality is so deep that even in winter its deep roots are not reached by the frost. This is indeed a beautiful image is it not?
But have you ever asked ‘Why a tree?’ Of all the images the Psalmist could use, why pick a tree? Think back to the Garden. In Genesis 2:9 we learn there were trees in the garden. Adam and Eve were commanded to not eat from one tree, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Which implies they had complete freedom to eat from any other tree in Garden, even the tree of life, as often as they so desired. Trees were not only present in Eden, they were woven into the tapestries and design of the tabernacle (Ex. 25:31-39), they were in Solomon’s temple, (1 Kings 6:18, 29, 32, 7:18), they were in all of Ezekiel’s visions of the future temple to come (Ezek. 31:8-9, 41:18-26, 47:12), and in Revelation 22 we see trees are going to be present in the new heavens and new earth. Why trees in Psalm 1? Because that’s a consistent image of the righteous all throughout Scripture. In Revelation we see Psalm 1 like language returning. The river of life will be flowing out of the throne of God and the tree of life will be growing and flourishing all down its banks growing evergreen leaves that will be for the healing of the nations. Are these literal trees? In Psalm 1 it isn’t a literal tree in view but the righteous man who is described like a tree. So too, there at the end we’ll see this again, as the river of life flows out from God nourishing the saints who are deeply rooted along its banks growing gospel leaves that reach all the way out to the nations. Is it then any wonder that Jesus spoke so much of living water? Ultimately, He is the river that gives life to His people and causes them to grow strong and evergreen. More on this in a minute.
As wonderful as this is, see how dreadful the next image is in v4. The righteous are like this tree in v3, but the wicked are “…not so.” As the language of a deeply planted tree is used all throughout Scripture to describe the righteous, the language of chaff being easily blown away in the wind is used all throughout Scripture to describe the judgment of the wicked. Job, Isaiah, and Hosea all employ this kind of language to depict the end God’s enemies will one day meet, and here we see it as well in Psalm 1. None of the good and glorious things we’ve been lingering on that are attributed to the righteous will ever be true of the wicked. They are the opposite in character and in condition. Instead of being planted by God, firmly rooted, ever nourished, and ever green, they are like weeds, shallow, weightless, like a blemish on a healthy landscape. Or, as v4 says, they are like chaff the wind easily drives away. The image in view is that of winnowing at a threshing floor, where corn that’s been gathered is sifted or tossed up to separate the good from the bad. The corn is then taken into barns and the useless chaff is blown away. Meaning, while the wicked may seem vibrant in this life as they prosper in their vile ways and worldliness, but in the end they’ll be seen for what they are as the Lord bares all things and brings all men to account.
If you’ve not been sobered by the contrasting description of the two men in v1-2, be sobered here in the illustrations of what these two men are likened to in v3-4. God, in His great love, is after our hearts in this. Do you recognize it? Can you sense His warning and instruction here? He’s giving us these words to reveal to us the dark end sin leads us to as well as the bright hope righteousness leads to. Church, hear and heed.
Well, all of this is leading somewhere in Psalm 1. Two men contrasted in v1-2, two images of those men depicted in v3-4, and in v5-6 it all leads to the two ends each man is heading towards and will one day arrive at.
Two Ends (v5-6)
“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.”
Psalm 1 concludes with one more contrast of the righteous and the wicked, but while v1-4 were primarily contrasts about the lives they lived, this last contrast has everything to do with the end each of their lives will lead to. We get this from the first word of v5, “Therefore…” It’s as if the Psalmist is telling us, ‘Because all of this in v1-4 is true of the righteous and true of the wicked, do not be unaware of how all this will end.’
The wicked, v5 says, will not be able to stand in the judgment. We know what this is. To stand is to be able maintain, to hold’s one own, to be stable, and unwavering. The wicked won’t be able to do this in the end. All their confidence, all their bravado, all their boasting, will end as they come to see things for what they are. They also won’t be able to join or be among the congregation of the righteous. Throughout the history of the world the righteous have often been scattered abroad while the wicked have assembled against them. In the end that will be reversed when the Church universal is congregated and gathered once for all. And in that gathering only be the sheep will be present, no goats; only be the wheat, no tares. We might be mixed together now, even in the Church, but day there will be a great separation. Even if they could be present in this host, they wouldn’t like it and wouldn’t want to be there. Why? Heaven would be hell to those who hate Christ. Also, the absence of sin in glory would be hell to those who made a home with sin here. But see the glory if we turn this around. To those who’ve died to sin here, who’ve hated sin here: hated it’s power, hated it’s allure, hated it’s presence, to all those heaven will all the greater due to sin’s absence, as we enter into the joy of our Master and praise Him for His victory forevermore.
This thought is developed further one last time in v6 as we see the final contrast in Psalm 1. “…for the LORD knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish.” But wait, doesn’t God know all things? Why does it say He only knows the way of the righteous? Doesn’t He also know the ways of the wicked? Of course He does. The word ‘know’ here in Hebrew isn’t getting at ‘knowledge of’ but ‘closeness with.’ This is the word used in Genesis 4:1 when Adam knew Eve and had a child. This is a word of intimacy, of affection, of great love. So yes the Lord knows all things, but He only knows (loves greatly) His people. In this sense He does not know the wicked. So standing against this picture of the Lord’s intimate dealings with His own in v5 is the perishing of the wicked in v6. Two men, two images, and two ends have now been made clear for all who read Psalm 1.
You might at this point be concluding that there are truly only two kinds of people in the world, that they truly do look different in this life, and that God truly blesses the righteous and judges the wicked. This may lead you to one conclusion: you should be righteous not wicked. Is that the point of Psalm 1? No. Don’t get me wrong, the world is really full of only two kinds of people, the righteous and the wicked. But we are far too quick to put ourselves in the righteous category. Ask yourself: ‘Have I ever listened to what the wicked say or teach? Have I ever looked up to an ungodly man or woman at work on TV? Has my life ever resembled the wicked?’ We can go further: ‘Have my habits, attitude, or lifestyle ever resembled the habits, attitude, or lifestyle of the wicked?’ One more: ‘Have I ever laughed at obedience and embraced sin as normal?’ The problem with putting ourselves in the righteous category is that the language of Psalm 1 isn’t talking about one who obeys for the most part, but who always obeys, one who doesn’t sin.
Maybe the blessed man of Psalm 1 is Abraham. But no, he lied many times and wasn’t very kind to his wife. Maybe then the blessed man of Psalm 1 is Moses. But no, he killed a man, and went beyond God’s Word by the waters of Meribah. Maybe then, yes this sounds better, the blessed man of Psalm 1 is David. He is called the sweet singer and Psalmist of Israel isn’t he? A man after God’s own heart right? But no, David’s affair with Bathsheba led to murder, deception, more murder, and national strife. What’s up with Psalm 1 then? It is speaking of blessings we can never have? And if not, who can have these blessings and be truly happy in life? Only one, the Lord Jesus Christ. And grace upon grace, “God made Jesus to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteous of God in Him” (2 Cor. 5:21). Church, see what this means. Jesus is the blessed Man of Psalm 1, but when you trust in Jesus God gives us the righteousness of Christ and in His eyes what is true of Jesus is now true of all those who have faith in Jesus.
Psalm 1 then leads us to Christ, and shows us the kind of blessed life we now endeavor to live out in the power of the Spirit.
May our roots ever grow deeper into the living water of the gospel, keeping us evergreen and producing fruit in all seasons of life.
 Roger E. Van Harn and Brent A. Strawn, Psalms for Preaching and Worship: A Lectionary Commentary (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 2009), 51.
 Bruce K. Waltke and James M. Houston, The Psalms as Christian Worship: A Historical Commentary (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 2010), 127.
 Waltke and Houston, 132–33.
 William S. Plumer, Psalms (Carlisle, Pennsylvania: Banner of Truth, 2016), 27.
 Matthew Henry, Commentary on the Whole Bible, vol. 3 (Hendrickson Publishers, 1991), 194.
 James Johnston, The Psalms: Rejoice, the Lord Is King, Vol. 1, ed. R. Kent Hughes, Preaching the Word Commentary (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway, 2015), 27.
 Charles Spurgeon, Treasury of David – vol. 1 (Mclean, Virginia: MacDonald Publishing, reprint) 2.
 CSB Bibles, CSB Spurgeon Study Bible (Nashville, Tennessee: Holman , 2017), 690.
 Derek Kidner, Psalms – TOTC (accessed via Accordance Bible software, 6.5.20) 67.
 Waltke and Houston, The Psalms as Christian Worship, 141.
 Plumer, Psalms, 31.
 Plumer, 31.
 Spurgeon, Treasury of David – vol. 1, 3.
 Johnston, The Psalms: Rejoice, the Lord Is King, 24–25.