When I read the Bible, God’s Word, I hear the Holy Spirit speak to me and show me things of the Lord, just as Jesus promised: “The Spirit will take from what is mine and make it known to you” (Jn. 16:15 NIV).
Being the first psalm imposes the responsibility of giving the first impression for all the psalms. Therefore, we can get a strong indication from God, who inspired the psalmists to write what they did, as to what he considers to be of importance. So what do we see here in this first psalm about that?
We see that life is a matter of utmost importance; our existence is literally a matter of life and death. Life ends. The supreme importance of our life is seen in verse five, because there it says that there is a judgment, just as other Scriptures do:
“It is appointed for men to die once, and after this, judgment” (Heb. 9:27 WEB).
And verse six says that it is possible to perish: “The way of the wicked will perish.” This is as serious as it gets. There is no room for complacency here. The consequences of complacency are absolutely deadly:
“For the waywardness of the simple will kill them, and the complacency of fools will destroy them” (Prov. 1:32 NIV).
The psalm breaks through the complacency of foolish men by contrasting the two lifestyles human beings live and then contrasting the two, opposite consequences of these lifestyles. Contrast plays a major role in Scripture and this psalm in teaching deep truths about life and death.
1.: “Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers.”
The first contrast is found in the first verse, which uses the word blessed when describing the righteous. But in verse four this is contrasted with state of the wicked, put simply in the words, “. . . not so the wicked.” The righteous are blessed, the wicked are not.
Verse one then goes on to list three levels of unrighteous living:
These three levels are listed from the final state of being (walking) to intermediate (standing) to origin (sitting). Taking them in reverse order, from origin or cause to final result, we find a definite and logical progression from bad to worse.
This is used as a fitting metaphor for mockers because most mocking is done with words and speech and takes the least effort of the three: Sitting is easier than standing, and standing is easier than walking; speaking is easier than standing up for one’s beliefs and easier than putting into action those beliefs by walking the talk. So it is appropriate to associate sitting and mocking. Talk is cheap in effort required; anybody can easily mock. Sitting.
But there is this further association between the two, sitting and mocking. Words are first formed by thoughts in the mind, and what one thinks with the mind comes from what is in the heart. What is within gives rise to what the mouth expels out.
“For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks” (Mt. 12:34 NIV).
But human nature is such that it is never content merely to sit and say; it wants what is said to be noticed. People who sit and talk are seldom noticed. To be noticed, one must stand up. Therefore, the second step in being wicked is to stand up in opposition to God. It is not enough simply to speak against God; he must be pointed out to others as someone to be opposed, with all his rules and regulations for governing our lives. So the wicked person literally rises up against God.
But doing this just once is not enough; God must actively be opposed at all times. Thus standing is not enough any more than sitting was. No, a further breach must be made between anyone wishing to declare himself independent of God. He must not just sit; neither is simply standing up to God enough. An entire lifestyle must be lived in opposition to God. He must walk the talk.
Man is, by nature, a gregarious creature. He must, normally, have the companionship of others to live a satisfying life. This applies to both the wicked and the righteous. So the wicked person seeks out others who think and speak and believe as he does. Those of like mind are sought for their companionship and counsel. Sit–stand–walk. The cycle and transformation is now complete.
That is the way of the wicked man. The righteous man, however, chooses a better way. The wicked man may rail against the law of the Lord, but for the righteous man it is a different story:
2.: “His delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night.”
By contrast, the man who does not follow this wicked way but whose delight is in the law of the Lord, meditates on that law day and night because it is his heart’s delight. Every man goes where his heart leads him.
“The heart of the wise inclines to the right, but the heart of the fool to the left” (Eccl. 10:2 NIV).
Those who incline to the right, the wise, are . . .
3.: “. . . like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither. Whatever he does prospers.”
A tree’s fruit is determined by what kind of seed is planted into the ground. So too the small seed of the heart’s desire, buried deep within the ground of one’s being, the heart, is that from which the fruit of one’s life, the deeds, are produced. The righteous man who joyfully nourishes the things of God in his heart will later see the fruit, with no shriveling or loss, despite attacks by disease or drought, by the living water of Jesus Christ. This applies not only to spiritual matters but to all areas of life. Whatever he does prospers.
4.: “Not so the wicked! They are like chaff that the wind blows away.”
Again, contrast. Notice that there is a difference between weeds and chaff, between wickedness and uselessness. This verse says that the wicked are like chaff, that is, not necessarily noxious weeds that are clearly evil (although that is often true), but like chaff, which is not clearly wicked but simply a useless substance that needs to be removed.
This is the great danger of many a believer in God, that they are not overtly wicked and, in fact, may seem to live a life of good deeds. But their heart is not fully united to the Lord, hence those deeds are not acceptable to him. To them, the Lord Jesus issues this warning:
“I know your deeds, that you are neither hot nor cold. . . . Because you are lukewarm–neither hot nor cold–I am about to spit you out of my mouth” (Jesus to the Laodecian church–Rev. 3:5,6 NIV).
5.: “Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous.”
Chaff has no nutritional value–and God expects fruit from the lives of those whom he created.
“No one is to appear before me empty-handed” (Ex. 23:15 NIV).
This does not mean that we can offer anything to God of ourselves, but that he himself produces fruit in us when we surrender our selves to his Son Jesus Christ, who said as much:
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. . . .No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing” (Jn. 15:1-5 NIV).
Because the wicked are not in Christ, they can produce no good fruit; they will not stand in the judgment, nor in the assembly of the righteous.
6.: “For the Lord watches over the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish.”
The Lord sees the chaff and the grain. He blows away the chaff by the breath of his mouth when he speaks righteous judgment against the wicked who are chaff–and they perish. But over the way of the righteous he closely watches and blesses it and causes it to produce yet more. This is the final contrast, both of the psalm and of life.
Sit–stand–walk. How we do all three matters enormously. This psalm is a matter of life and death.