Most folks seek their happiness through subjective whims. “Do what makes you happy” is the motto of man without Christ. But true happiness, true blessedness, isn’t found in the utilitarian’s hedonism. The first Psalm sets the blessed life before us, inviting us out of our own maze of searching for joy, into the straight path of righteousness leading to eternal blessedness.
“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. But his delight is in the law of the LORD; and in his law doth he meditate day and night. And he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth his fruit in his season; his leaf also shall not wither; and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper. The ungodly are not so: but are like the chaff which the wind driveth away. Therefore the ungodly shall not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous. For the LORD knoweth the way of the righteous: but the way of the ungodly shall perish.”
Summary of the Text
In this Psalm which forms the preface for the entire Psalter we have set before us a fork in the road, with one path leading to covenantal blessedness the other leading to covenantal misery & curses. This Psalm has two mountains in it, on one side is the Mount of Blessedness (vv1-3) and on the other the Mount of Judgement (vv4-6).
The blessed man is identified by what he doesn’t do. He doesn’t slow down to match pace with the aimless wanderings of ungodly counselors (v1); he doesn’t station himself where he knows he will brush shoulders with sinners; he doesn’t nestle down into the couch of scoffers (v1). Rather, he delights in Yahweh’s Law, and makes it his muse evening & morning (v2). This sort of man can be likened to a tall & flourishing tree which has been planted–by Another’s hand–in an Edenic garden (Cf. Gen. 2:8-10); this tree of the Lord’s planting will be fruitful, it will flourish, and it will be faithful (v3).
But emphatically, it is not so with the ungodly (v4). They are like the useless chaff which is fanned into the fire (v4). At the day of judgement, these ungodly ones will not stand, nor can they masquerade any longer in the congregation of the righteous (v5). While the Lord continually knows the way of the righteous, all the ways in which the ungodly have charted for themselves will come to a fearful end (v6).
God’s people, both corporately and individually, are continually presented with the temptation to a slow-burn apostasy. Each day you are faced with choices to either grow & flourish in righteousness, or to slowly but surely deteriorate into the lifelessness of sin. This life of the blessed man is set forth as a refusal to go along, slow down, or capitulate to the counsel, habits, or scorn of the ungodly. Think of Solomon’s simple admonition: “My son, if sinners entice thee, consent thou not (Pro. 1:10).”
In our current moment, many who have grown up in the church have demonstrated that they’ve kept their ear open to the whisperings of the ungodly counsel. They’ve kept looking out of the corner of their eye to make sure they don’t stand out as unfashionable in their manner of life or their way of thinking. The word “deconstruction” has been used to put a respectable sheen on a trajectory of apostasy. Rather than delighting in the law of the Lord, many Christians have sought to rework the fundamentals of their faith––trimming here, nipping there––in order that it might not stand out so much from the pattern of the world.
Notice how someone who “deconstructs” tends to end up with a worldview that is not offensive at all to the worldly way of thinking, living, or doing. This is what Paul warns us of in 2 Corinthians 6:14, there is no fellowship between blessings & curses. All too frequently, saints listen to the counsel of the ungodly which leads them to partially participating in the ways of sinners, which eventually (without repentance) lands them in the gutter of mocking God’s Word.
Delighting in the Word
Notice that the thing that delineates the blessed from the ungodly is their posture towards Yahweh’s Law. The blessed man is marked out by his delight in the Lord’s Law. Whenever God has been pleased to send a revival, it always is marked by a great delight in searching out the Scriptures (2 Ki. 22, Acts 17:11, ad fontes, Nadere Reformatie). This is why you must read and sing and study and muse upon the Word of God daily.
Think of a time when you’ve been outwitted by someone who you perceived to be more knowledgeable than you on the topic. If you’ve contented yourself with settling for ignorance, snake-oil salesmen will easily dupe you. But if you delight in the Word and obey the Word, you will never be moved (Cf. Ps 15).
False doctrine (i.e. ungodly counsel) always leads to false living (i.e. the scorner’s seat). But it should be noted that the scoffing from the scorners is done in order to cover up the shame of their guilt. Anything but an apocalypse. The Word cuts us open, the Word is light for the path, the Word is bread from heaven, the Word is a sword to battle error, a fire to purge the gold of dross.
If you are diligent to hear & heed the Word, you will not be left shamefaced at the judgement. And this Word declares to you that there is none Righteous. The Word declares that this blessing comes to you not by your doing, but as a gracious gift of God’s covenant mercies
The Tree of the Lord
It shouldn’t escape our notice that in this Psalm God plants a tree of life in a fertile, well-watered garden. This is the inner sap of the life of blessing. God has planted a tree. This tree is Christ.
You will be thwarted in your efforts to live a holy life and avoid the ways of the ungodly if you do not first see that it is only by being grafted into the vine of Christ whereby you may bear this fruit. It is by covenantal union with Christ that you are planted in the damp forest of God’s blessing. But the fearful warning is that by refusing to hear God’s Word that salvation is by Christ alone, you will come, in the end, to find yourself as nothing by chaff. Nothing but fuel for the fire. Nothing but a dry branch that must be pruned.
The Psalter begins with this Psalm which sets before us blessings and curses, life and death, Christ or chaos. There are only two paths: a desert wasteland of endless searching for fleeting pleasures or the fruitful tree of the Lord watered by Living Waters (Is. 44:1-6).