Study Guide for Psalm 1 - The Way of the Righteous and the Way of the Ungodly
Verse six presents a key to understanding this Psalm: For the LORD knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the ungodly shall perish. In this Psalm, the way of the righteous and the way of the ungodly are contrasted.
A. The way of the righteous.
1. (Psa 1:1) What the righteous man does not do.
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;
a. Blessed is the man: Blessed translates the Hebrew word "esher," which has the idea of happiness or contentment. Esher comes from the Hebrew word ashar, which in its root means "to be straight" or "to be right." Blessed is the man speaks of the happiness, the blessedness, the contentment in the life of the man or woman who is right or "straight" with God. The righteous man will be a blessed man, a happy man.
i. "Blessed means supremely happy or fulfilled. In fact, in Hebrew the word is actually a plural, which denotes either a multiplicity or blessings or an intensification of them." (Boice)
ii. "It is not 'Blessed is the king, blessed is the scholar, blessed is the rich,' but, 'Blessed is the man.' This blessedness is as attainable by the poor, the forgotten and the obscure, as by those whose names figure in history, and are trumpeted by fame." (Spurgeon)
b. Walks not ... nor stands ... nor sits: The blessed man does not do certain things. There is a way he will not walk, a path he will not stand in, and a seat he will not sit in.
i. We can say these speak of thinking, behaving, and belonging. The righteous man and the ungodly man are different in how they think, how they behave, and to whom they belong.
ii. Others have also seen in this a progression of sin. "The great lesson to be learned from the whole is, sin is progressive; one evil propensity or act leads to another. He who acts by bad counsel may soon do evil deeds; and he who abandons himself to evil doings may end his life in total apostasy from God." (Clarke)
c. Walks not in the counsel of the ungodly: The ungodly have counsel, and the righteous man will not walk in it. With all the advice that comes to us, from so many different sources, the righteous man knows how to stay away from the counsel of the ungodly.
i. First, it means the righteous man knows how to discern the counsel of the ungodly. Many fail at this point. They do not even consider if counsel is godly or ungodly. They hear advice, or theories about their problems, and they find themselves agreeing or disagreeing without considering, "Is this godly or ungodly counsel."
ii. The righteous man is also discerning enough to know the counsel of the ungodly can come from one's own self. Our own conscience, our own mind, our own heart, can give us ungodly counsel.
iii. The righteous man knows where to find completely godly counsel: Your testimonies also are my delight and my counselors. (Psalm 119:24) God's Word is always the best counselor, and godly counselors will always bring the truth of God's Word to help someone who wants counseling.
d. Nor stands in the path of sinners: Sinners have a path where they stand, and the righteous man knows he does not belong on that path. Path speaks of a way, a road, a direction, and the righteous man is not traveling in the same direction as sinners.
i. The righteous man is not afraid to take a less-traveled road, because he knows it leads to blessing, happiness, and eternal life. Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. (Matthew 7:13)
ii. The righteous can have the confidence of Psalm 16:11: You will show me the path of life; in Your presence is fullness of joy; at Your right hand are pleasures forevermore. God has a path, and it is a good road to take.
e. Nor sits in the seat of the scornful: The scornful love to sit and criticize the people of God and the things of God. The righteous man will not sit in that seat!
i. When others are putting down Christians, it is easy to sit with them and criticize them. It is easy because there are many things to criticize among Christians. But it is wrong, because we are then sitting in the seat of the scornful.
ii. Instead, we should be proud to follow Jesus Christ. "Be out-and-out for him; unfurl your colours, never hide them, but nail them to the mast, and say to all who ridicule the saints, 'If you have any ill words for the followers of Christ, pour them out upon me ... but know this - ye shall hear it whether you like it or not, - "I love Christ."'" (Spurgeon)
2. (Psa 1:2) What the righteous man does.
2 but his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night.
a. His delight is in the law of the LORD: Throughout the Psalms, the phrase law of the LORD is used to describe God's entire word, not only the "law" portion of the first five books of the Bible. The righteous man is delighted with the word of God!
i. What makes you happy? What gets you excited? This is a good way to see what is important to you. If personal pleasure is the only thing that makes you happy, then you are a selfish, self-centered person. If being with your family or friends delights you, that can be better, but it still falls short. The righteous man finds his delight ... in the law of the LORD.
ii. Luther said that he could not live in paradise without the word of God, but he could live well enough in hell with it.
iii. "Man must have some delight, some supreme pleasure. His heart was never meant to be a vacuum. If not filled with the best things, it will be filled with the unworthy and disappointing." (Spurgeon)
iv. If a person delights in something, you don't have to beg them to do it or to like it. They will do it all by themselves. You can measure your delight for the word of God by how much you hunger for it.
b. In His law he meditates day and night: The righteous man ponders the word of God. He does not just hear it and forget it, he thinks about it. Christians should meditate on God's word!
i. In eastern meditation, the goal is to empty the mind. This is dangerous, because an empty mind may present an open invitation to deception or a demonic spirit. But in Christian meditation, the goal is to fill your mind with the word of God. This can be done by carefully thinking about each word and phrase, and applying it one's self and praying it back to the Lord.
ii. "Meditation chews the cud, and gets the sweetness and nutritive virtue of the Word into the heart and life: this is the way the godly bring forth much fruit." (Ashwood, cited by Spurgeon)
iii. Many lack because they only read and do not meditate. "It is not only reading that does us good; but the soul inwardly feeding an it, and digesting it. A preacher once told me that he had read the Bible through twenty times on his knees and had never found the doctrine of election there. Very likely not. It is a most uncomfortable position in which to read. If he had sat in an easy chair he would have been better able to understand it." (Spurgeon)
iv. The righteous man only has God's word on his mind two times a day: day and night. That covers it all!
3. (Psa 1:3) How the righteous man is blessed.
3 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.
a. He shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water: A tree by a river has a continual source of water. It will never wither away, because it is always getting what it needs. If we are constantly needy, it may be worth examining if we are planted by the rivers of water or not.
i. This would also be a tree that is strong and stable, sinking down deep roots. The life of the righteous man is marked by strength and stability.
b. That brings forth its fruit in its season: The righteous man bears fruit, such as the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23). The fruit comes naturally from this tree, because it is planted by the rivers of water. It is abiding in a life-source, as Jesus spoke of bearing fruit in John 15:5 as we abide in Him. Fruit also has a season. Some get discouraged when they begin to walk as a righteous man, and fruit is not immediately evident. They need to wait until they bring forth fruit in its season.
i. "There are no barren trees in God's orchard, and yet they may have their fits of barrenness, as an apple tree sometimes hath; but they will reflourish with advantage." (Trapp)
c. Whose leaf also shall not wither: Brown, dead, withered leaves are signs of death and dryness. The righteous man does not have these signs of death and dryness; his "leaves" are green and alive.
d. And whatever he does shall prosper: It isn't that the righteous man has a "Midas Touch," and everything he does makes him rich and comfortable. But in the life of the righteous man, God brings forth something good and wonderful out of everything. Even tough circumstances bring forth something that shall prosper.
B. The way of the ungodly.
1. (Psa 1:4) The dangerous place of the ungodly.
4 The wicked are not so, but are like chaff that the wind drives away.
a. The ungodly are not so: Everything true about the righteous man (stable as a tree, continual life and nourishment, fruitful, alive, and prosperous), is not so regarding the ungodly.
i. It may often seem like the ungodly have these things, and sometimes it seems they have them more than the righteous. But it is not so! Any of these things are fleeting in the life of the ungodly; it can be said that they don't really have them at all.
b. Are like the chaff which the wind drives away: Chaff is the light "shell" around a kernel of grain, which must be stripped away before the kernel of grain can be ground into flour. Chaff was light enough that it could be separated from the grain by throwing a scoopful into the wind and letting the wind drive away the chaff. This is how unstable, how lacking in substance, the ungodly are.
i. Spurgeon on chaff: "Intrinsically worthless, dead, unserviceable, without substance, and easily carried away." There is a huge difference between a tree and chaff.
2. (Psa 1:5) The dangerous future of the ungodly.
5 Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous;
a. Therefore the ungodly shall not stand in the judgment: Because the ungodly have no "weight," they will be found lacking on the day of judgment. As it was said of King Belshazzar in the book of Daniel, You have been weighed in the balances, and found wanting (Daniel 5:27).
b. Nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous: This is true both in the future, because sinners will not share the same glorious future of the righteous. It is also true in the present, because sinners sense they do not belong in the congregation of the righteous if they insist on remaining sinners.
3. (Psa 1:6) Summary: The way of the righteous and the way of the ungodly.
6 for the LORD knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish.
a. The LORD knows the way of the righteous: The righteous can have peace because a loving God in heaven knows their way, and will protect and preserve them.
i. "Or, as the Hebrew has it yet more fully, 'The Lord is knowing the way of the righteous.' He is constantly looking on their way, and though it may be often in mist and darkness, yet the Lord knoweth it." (Spurgeon)
b. The way of the ungodly shall perish: The way of the ungodly leads to destruction. They are on a broad path that may seem comfortable now, and gives them lots of company, but in the end they shall perish.
c. At least four times in the Book of Acts Christianity is called the Way. Certainly, it is the way of the righteous, not the way of the ungodly. Which way are you on?
Lesson Passage: Psalm 1:1-6
•The Hebrew title for the Book of Psalms comes from a word which means "praise." The Greek term "psalmos" in classical times meant "the music of a stringed instrument."[class notes, Dr. Bruce K. Waltke, Dallas Theological Seminary]
•Keep in mind that the Psalms are poems and should be read and studied as such. For instance, the writer of Psalm 1 pictures the vitality, fulfillment, and stability of the godly person through the single image of a tree planted by a stream of water.[class notes, Dallas Seminary]
•In Psalm 1, the writer describes two individuals, two paths of life and two results. One is the blessed or godly man (verses 1-3); the other is the wicked man (verses 4-6).
Verse 1 - Describes what the blessed man does not do. (1) He does not walk in the counsel of the wicked. Biblically, "to walk" means to live one's life. He does not take counsel nor advice from the ungodly. (2) He does not stand in the path of sinners. This means to be submissive to or to continue in the action and manner of the sinner. (3) He does not sit in the seat of scoffers. In the Hebrew culture, sitting was the position of the Rabbi or teacher. A scoffer is a mocker, one who mocks God and the things of God. Spurgeon said, "The seat of the scorner may be very lofty, but it is very near to the gate of hell." Overall point: Be very careful about the company you keep! 1 Corinthians 15:33 says, "Bad company corrupts good morals."
Verse 2 - Describes what the blessed man does do. (1) He loves God's Word and obeys it. Notice, he "delights" in God's Word! (2) He also meditates on God's Word. He chews on it; rolls it over & over in his mind "day and night." This man goes way beyond just a casual acquaintance with the Word of God.
Verse 3 - Describes in a beautifully poetic way what the blessed man is like: a tree firmly planted, secure and nourished. Result: this man prospers in whatever he does, he bears fruit, etc.
Verses 4-5 - Describes the wicked man. He is a lightweight. Chaff is the husk of the grain which is light, worthless and easily carried away by the wind. This man will not be able to stand at the judgment, that is, he will be found guilty. He has a fearful end to his life.
Verse 6 - The Lord knows and approves of the righteous man. The way of the wicked will perish, that is, to go into eternity separated from God. The righteous and the wicked are like two parallel lines which never meet and are going in opposite directions.