The book of Psalms is probably the best-known and the best-loved book of the Bible. Psalms is the one book from the Old Testament that is often bound with the New Testament when only the New Testament is purchased.
The Psalms are hymns and anthems characterized by praise, instruction, worship, confession, and prayer. The Psalms were written over a span of perhaps 500 years. A large number of the hymns were written and collected by King David, but many of the psalms were added to the collection after David’s time.
The New Testament quotes from the Psalms 116 times—more often than from any other Old Testament book. In the early church, the singing of the Psalms was an important part of worship (Colossians 3:15-17). In fact, many of the hymns which we sing today have their roots in the Psalms. These include: A Mighty Fortress is Our God (Psalm 46); The Rock that is Higher Than I (Psalm 62); Glorious Things of Thee Are Spoken (Psalm 87); O God, Our Help in Ages Past (Psalm 90); Praise to the Lord, the Almighty (Psalm 103); and Bringing in the Sheaves (Psalm 126).
The first Psalm is a wisdom psalm with an appeal to wise and godly living. Psalm 1 reminds us that for every human being there are two basic choices—life or death. There is a contrast between the righteous and the wicked. The righteous are prosperous and happy; the ungodly are troubled and in the end experience adversity. (There are, of course, some glaring exceptions to this rule, yet the general principle is true and valid.)
Verses 1-3 paint the portrait of the upright person. Verses 4-6 predict the doom of the ungodly person.
1. The Way of the Righteous (Psalm 1:1-3)
The first Psalm starts out, “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” (verse 1). The word “blessed” (in the Hebrew) is plural, and literally means “Oh, how exceedingly happy are those who do not walk in the counsel of the ungodly,” or “How deep is the joy of those who are careful about the company they keep.”
- It’s not just happiness, but exceedingly great happiness.
- It’s not just joy, but deep joy.
Those who lead untarnished lives, and seek to live by the standards of God’s holy Word—will be blessed in unusual ways. In the end, they will not perish with the wicked.
In verse 1, godly persons are described in terms of what they do not do. People concerned about doing right are marked by things they don’t do, places they don’t go, books they don’t read, and company they don’t keep. The wise person recognizes the significance of not doing certain things:
a. We do not walk in the counsel of the ungodly. That is, we do not follow the advice of ungodly persons. We do not spend considerable amounts of time with those who are out of touch with God, except for careful attempts to witness to them. (Jesus associated with sinners as a means of witnessing to them, not just to “hang out” with them. And when He did spend time with sinners, He always called them to a higher life.)
The “ungodly” are not necessarily brazenly wicked persons. They may be nice people, but they have no serious regard for God and for His commandments. They may attend church services and lead a normal civilized life. They may be intelligent and formally educated—but their focus is on empty, meaningless things. Their lives are filled with activities related to sports, and parties, and new clothes, and the affairs of this life. People who have no time for God in their lives are classified in the Bible as “ungodly.”
We do not walk in the counsel of the ungodly.
Verse 1 continues:
b. We do not stand in the way of sinners. That is, we do not share the lifestyle of rebels against God. The “ungodly” (in the first phrase of verse 1) are those who have no place for God in their lives. The “sinners” (in the second phrase of verse 1) are those who rebel against God and are determined to live in sin. Their entire lifestyle is opposed to the ways of God. Sinners are habitual transgressors of God’s laws.
Disciples of the Lord Jesus will not spend their time in fellowship with such sinners. We will seek to win such persons to faith in Christ, and thus we will mingle with them—but we will not spend long hours finding satisfaction and fellowship with those who defy God’s laws. We should make it a matter of principle not to linger and loiter with those who are following Satan’s path.
The genuine Christian does not live by the standards of people who have no respect for God’s laws. We do not share the lifestyle of sinners.
The final portion of verse 1 says:
c. We do not sit in the seat of the scornful. That is, we do not settle down with ungodly intellectuals who have rejected God’s truth. To “sit with” the scornful implies “identification with” scoffers. It speaks of an acceptance of their points of view. Scoffers not only separate themselves from God; they put themselves above God! They are arrogant, quarrelsome, and full of mischief. They mock goodness, and ridicule and sneer at God.
A young man goes to a seminary where the teachers proclaim that the Bible is not divinely inspired, and that it’s a collection of myth, folklore, and fable. The young man is taught to deny the deity of Christ, and to repudiate the blessed hope of His coming again. His Bible and his boyhood faith have been torn to shreds. He’s been “sitting in the seat of the scornful.” We are not to sit in the seat of those who scoff at holy things.
Notice the downward steps in the words of verse 1. The person who is not alert to deception: first “walks“—a casual, passing association; then “stands“—a continued fellowship with persons who are sinful; and then “sits“—a feeling of being quite at home with those who mock God and laugh at holy things.
The psalmist says that one who is upright refuses to take even the first step on this downward path. Upright persons do not follow the advice of the ungodly; they do not share the way of life of sinners; they do not adopt the attitude of scoffers.
In verse 2, the character of righteous persons is described positively. Instead of going to people of the world for advice, godly persons rely on guidance from the Lord. They find their delight in “the law of the Lord”—a reference to the teachings and instructions found in God’s Word.
Psalm 1:2 says, “But his delight is in the law of the Lord; and in his law doth he meditate day and night.” The Christian seeks to be Bible-led and Bible-fed. We “meditate” upon the words of God. The word “meditate” means to soak ourselves in God’s Word; to saturate our minds with it. It’s not that we never think of anything else, but all of our thoughts and actions are to be governed by a deliberate desire to obey God’s Word in every way.
God’s laws are not a burden, but a delight. The follower of Christ “delights in the law of the Lord.” God’s laws are the believer’s chief desire. And the first Psalm says that meditation during the daylight hours is not enough. Godly persons meditate “day and night” (v.2)—that is, they memorize key portions so that they can rejoice in God’s law at night-time when the lights are out, and during the day when hands are too busy to hold the Book.
Christians cannot expect to resist the distorted values of an unbelieving world if they devote one hour a week to meditating on God’s truth, and the other 167 hours providing for the needs of the body and enjoying worldly entertainment. To shape our lives by God’s standards, we need more than the Sunday morning worship hour. We need study times with fellow Christians, regular family devotions in our homes, and a daily block of time for personal Bible reading.
Our delight is not merely in knowing and studying the Word—but also in doing what it says. Serious study of the Word brings forth fruit in our lives. It causes us to grow “like a tree planted by the rivers of water” (verse 3).
Look for a few minutes at Psalm 19.
(1) The effect of the law of the Lord
In verses 7-8 of the 19th Psalm, David says that “the law of the Lord” does four things. The Psalmist says, first:
(a) The law of the Lord, being perfect, converts the soul.
“The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul” (Psalm 19:7a). God’s Word leads to conversion, and refreshes the soul. It provides a measure of strength to do what is right, and to turn away from what is wrong. The message of the Bible is able to turn us from our sins, and lead us through our problems, and enrich our lives so that we can bring glory to God.
(b) The law of the Lord, being trustworthy, makes wise the simple.
“The testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple” (Psalm 19:7b). The Bible is a sure testimony (absolutely trustworthy). It makes “the simple” wise. The word “simple” refers not to those who have a low IQ, but to those who are open and teachable. God’s Word makes us wise by warning against sin and the dangers of sinful living.
(c) The law of the Lord, being right, makes the heart rejoice.
“The statutes of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart” (Psalm 19:8a). The commands of the Lord are right; they are indeed an exact expression of God’s will. They bring “rejoicing” to the heart. They give courage in the midst of trial. Imagine having to face death and eternity without God’s Word!
(d) The law of the Lord, being pure, gives light to the eyes.
“The commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes” (Psalm 19:8b). God’s Word gives insight for holy living. His law “enlightens the eyes”—that is, it gives guidance for today and the promise of glory for tomorrow. God’s Word illumines the path over which we are to walk, thus making it easier for us not to stumble. The 119th Psalm says, “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path” (Psalm 119:105).
(2) The value of the law of the Lord
Verses 9-11 (of the 19th Psalm) assure us that God’s law is of infinite value. His words are more to be desired than fine gold, and are sweeter than the best of honey (verse 10). David compared God’s Word to the most valuable metal known (gold), and to the sweetest substance available (honey). Then David says (in verse 11) that those who drink deeply from God’s Word will experience two benefits: “Moreover by them (that is, by God’s words) is thy servant warned; and in keeping of them there is great reward.”
(a) One who knows the law will be warned by it. That is, God’s law warns against sin and its harmful effects. God’s law warns against the lies and errors of the world. John Bunyan was right when he said of the Bible, “This Book will keep you from sin, or sin will keep you from this Book.”
(b) One who keeps the law will be rewarded by doing it. The Bible clearly says, “Blessed are they that do his commandments that they may have right to the tree of life, and may enter in through the gates into the city” (Revelation 22:14). Those who have accepted Christ and are living for Him have the promise of entering the heavenly City, the New Jerusalem—where there is health without sickness, day without night, and life without death!
Back in the first Psalm again, godly persons are likened to deep-rooted trees growing along rivers of water. The leaves never wither because of drought, and fruit is produced abundantly. The “rivers of water” may speak of the Holy Spirit (John 7:38-39), and the “bringing forth of fruit” pictures the godly lives of those committed to following the teachings of Scripture.
The word “prosper” in verse 3 (“Whatsoever he doeth shall prosper”), does not necessarily promise great wealth, but the righteous will experience God’s special blessing on their words and activities. The word “prosper” does not so much refer to material prosperity as it does to spiritual productivity.
The way to be truly blessed in life includes three negatives: 1) do not listen to the ungodly; 2) do not linger with sinners; 3) do not laugh with the scornful.
The way to be truly blessed includes one clear positive: let the Word of God capture your full attention. God’s Word is perfect; it is sure; it is right; it is pure. Meditate in it day after day. Let God’s instructions be the road-map for your life. Doing so will bring spiritual productivity in your life.
2. The Way of the Ungodly (Psalm 1:4-6)
This section is shorter than the description of the righteous, because nothing positive can be said about the way of ungodly persons. The entire description is negative. Psalm 1:4 says, “The ungodly are not so (that is, not like trees planted by rivers of water), but are like the chaff which the wind driveth away.”
The sinner is contrasted in this verse with those who are righteous. Unlike the deep-rooted tree, sinners are like the chaff “which the wind drives away.” This is a reference to a threshing floor located on a windy hilltop. The wheat was thrown onto the floor; the grain was trampled upon so that the chaff (the hull) was separated from the kernels of grain. The wheat and the chaff were then thrown into the breeze with shovels. The heavier wheat dropped to the ground. The light and worthless chaff was blown away by the wind.
Ungodly folks (like the chaff which blows away) are without root and fruit. There is nothing much more worthless than chaff. Whatever chaff was left on the threshing floor was piled up and burned. Verse 5 says that “the ungodly shall not stand in the judgment.”
The description of the final Day of Judgment (in Revelation 20:11-15) is one of the most solemn passages in the Bible. The unsaved will be summoned to the Great White Throne and will find that heaven and earth have fled away. Everything familiar will be gone! Everything in which they invested their time and energies will be gone! They will have nowhere to stand. Their house was built upon the sand, and the judgment has swept it all away.
The conclusion to the first Psalm is clearly marked: “For the Lord knoweth the way of the righteous; but the way of the ungodly shall perish” (verse 6). The Psalmist gives words of promise for the righteous, and words of warning for the wicked.
The Lord “knows” the way of the righteous. The Hebrew word means more than that God is simply informed about our activities. The verb more literally means that the Lord “watches over” the way of the righteous. We are guarded by, and blessed by our heavenly Father. God takes an active interest in our needs, and cares for those who are following in the path of righteousness.
The Lord knows the way of the righteous, but the “way of the ungodly shall perish” (or more literally, “shall end in ruin”). To “perish” means “to go out into darkness; to be forever under judgment; and to exist eternally in torment.”
The ungodly will not survive the judgment. They will stand before God without excuse. There will be no mercy for those persons who choose to live without God. The ungodly, all along, wanted God to stay out of their lives. On the Judgment Day their desire will be granted. God will say, “I’m going to give you what you wanted.”
Godly persons are like a tree—sturdy, strong, fruitful, and covered with foliage. The ungodly are like chaff—dead, dry, helpless, and in the end, hopeless.
The key verse in the first Psalm is verse 6, “The Lord knoweth the way of the righteous, but the way of the ungodly shall perish.”
There are only two ways. There is the way of the cross—the way that leads by Calvary where Jesus died, and on to glory. And there is the way of the curse—the broad and popular way that leads to a lost eternity. All of us have been given the power of choice. We have all sinned and violated the laws of God, but we can make a change. We can come to Jesus.
- He is the way; everything else is a dead-end street.
- He is the truth; everything else is a lie.
- He is the life; everything else is the way of death.
There are only two roads that people can travel; nothing is more important than being sure that you are on the right road!
If you are among those who have no personal relationship with Jesus Christ, why not come to Him today? Why face the issues of life alone? Why not choose companionship with Jesus? Why not acknowledge your need of salvation, and experience God’s transforming power in your life today? Jesus came to earth and died on the Cross that you might not only have life, but that you might experience it abundantly (John 10:10).