The Word: Psalm 1:1-6
Today’s session focuses on how we live our lives: Will we choose a godly path or a sinful one?
· How do certain key decisions set our life on a more godly course?
· How might a person avoid trouble by following a godly way sooner or more consistently?
· In what ways do God’s people, the Scriptures, and the leading of the Holy Spirit guide us to a godly path?
Thankfully, none of us are alone in our life choices. Today’s passage from Psalm 1 gives us some good direction along the way.
Given that the title of the book of Psalms is literally the “Book of Praises,” we might expect the opening psalm to be a call to praise. Instead, Psalm 1 is a call to righteous living. Apparently, those who compiled the final form of the psalter considered righteousness a necessary precondition for praise.
Although it is a summons to righteousness, Psalm 1 could also be called a call to wisdom. The first of several wisdom psalms in the psalter, wisdom themes and terms are sprinkled throughout these six verses: a reference to blessing (v. 1), the contrast between the righteous and the wicked (vv. 1-3, 4-5, 6), warnings against sinners and mockers (v. 1), the promise of flourishing (v. 3) and the threat of destruction (v. 4). With these wisdom motifs, Psalm 1 would be right at home in the book of Proverbs.
Which is it then, a call to righteousness or a call to wisdom? It’s both. The Old Testament believer understood that to be wise was not merely a function of intellect, experience, or education. Wisdom results from the “fear of the Lord” (Prov. 1:7). To fear God means to have “reverence in relationship.” You know that, by grace, you have been invited to become His son or daughter, yet you walk in awe and obedience, ever conscious of God’s power and holiness. To be truly wise is to be righteous, and true righteousness yields great wisdom.
A. The Blessing of the Righteous (Read Psalm 1:1-3)
Sometimes Scripture gives us instructions on what not to do. In this passage, those who desire to be blessed are called to avoid walking, standing, or sitting with sinners, mockers, and the wicked.
The psalm then shifts to guiding us what to do: delight in and meditate on the law of the Lord. The result of such living is health and fruitfulness. Remember: God speaks His Word to His people.
· In what sense does a righteous person prosper?
The righteous person is not alone. Why? God stands with him or her through His law.
The righteous engage this law positively, letting it shape their life-purpose (cf. Deut. 17:18-20), and passionately, delighting in it as one does with something precious (cf. Isa 54:12). The righteous engage this law diligently, through meditation. The righteous also engage this law continually—day and night.
By continual immersion in divine truth, we not only know how to live, we also learn how to think—about God, ourselves, others, what matters, and more. Immersion in the law is God’s gracious means of tuning our hearts to sing His praise.
So immersed, we flourish like a well-watered tree. Those living in the ancient Near East valued trees for their shade and fruit. The tree’s rootedness in the soil and continual contact with life-giving water illustrates the righteous person’s continual immersion in the law. Significantly, leaf and fruit are the result of such immersion, not a reward. This is the way God designed it.
Jesus immersed Himself in the presence of God and nourished Himself by doing the will of God (cf. John 4:34).
B. The Impermanence of the Wicked (Read Psalm 1:4-5)
Having just described the godly person in terms of a well-rooted tree able to stand strong and yield fruit, the psalm describes sinners in terms of the chaff blown away by a stiff breeze. They have no root, no source of life, and no ability to stand.
How does the figure of speech of chaff describe the state and fate of the wicked? (The wicked person is like chaff. At threshing time, when the farmer throws the grain into the air, the chaff blows away because it is dead, useless, and temporary.)
Imagine for a minute the hopelessness of such a life. What might it be like to be blown about like chaff?
What is the ultimate fate of the wicked (v. 5)? (The ungodly will not be able to withstand God’s wrath in judgment. They have no excuse or defense for rejecting God.)
Although the psalmist likely thought only of human judgment, such as that experienced in the courtrooms of the city gate, Christians find in this verse an even greater hope. We recognize that in the greatest judgment of all, we stand clean by virtue of Christ’s righteousness.
C. Contrast Between the Righteous and the Wicked (Read Psalm 1:6)
The path we choose leads to a destination, and if we keep on the path, we will eventually get there. There are two truths here. 1) The way of the righteous leads toward the Lord, and 2) the way of the wicked leads to destruction.
The first truth states that the Lord, Yahweh, watches over the path taken by the righteous. God’s knowledge goes beyond mere supervision, even beyond protection. Those cherished by God are never alone and forgotten. God saves all our tears in a bottle (cf. Ps. 56:8, NRSV: “Put my tears in your bottle”).
By contrast, the way of the wicked leads to destruction. Unlike the previous phrase, which shows God’s personal attention and interest for the righteous person, this phrase frightens, mostly because of what it does not say.
God designed this universe to operate according to natural laws, like gravity. If you work with these laws, things go better for you. If you work against these laws, make no mistake, you will suffer the consequences.
God also designed the universe to operate using moral laws. Although these are not the kinds of laws that can be proven in a laboratory, they remain true. One of the clearest is that obedience leads to blessing, while disobedience leads to disaster.
The psalmist wanted to make it clear that because God made the world in wisdom, choices have consequences. A person can either choose righteousness and reap the benefits, or neglect righteousness and reap destruction.
The righteous come under God’s loving and watchful care but the wicked fall victim to the consequences of their disobedience. The single point to be made from these two opposites: It only makes sense to choose righteousness.
Hosea 14:9b “The paths of the Lord are true and right, and righteous people live by walking in them. But in those paths sinners stumble and fall.”
D. Connect to My Life and the World
Our world is filled with many different ways of living, many paths to choose, and many routes to take. The godly life is a way of living: a path made up of thousands of choices that add up to a life lived in response to the Word, headed for an amazing destination in the presence of God. The wicked life is also a way: a sum of choices lived by rejecting God in our daily lives. Occasionally we are reminded, sometimes shockingly, the day-in-day-out choices we make are really life and death choices, and have been all along.
Do you think everyone can be put into one of two categories today—those who walk in the way of righteousness and those who walk in the way of wickedness? Why or why not?
What makes a person righteous? What makes a person wicked?
Consider the following.
Which path are you on today?
What activities should you avoid if you desire to be righteous? What activities would God have you embrace?
What priorities need to be changed if you desire to be righteous? What priorities would God have you embrace?