Beckett: Psalm 1 – The Way of the Righteous and the Wicked

1, 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;
2, but his delight is in the law of Yahweh, and on His law he meditates day and night.
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.
4, The wicked are not so, but are like chaff that the wind drives away.
5, Therefore, the wicked will not stand in the judgement, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous;
6, for the Yahweh knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish.

Verses 1-2

A common psalmic theme is the juxtaposition between the righteous and the wicked, beginning immediately with this first psalm. “Blessed is the man” the psalm says. Being blessed is the state of one who places their trust in God and lives according to His commands.

First, let’s define whom “the wicked” are. Simply put, the wicked are unrepentant sinners—that is, unbelievers. Some would even include false Christians—wolves in sheep’s clothing. By fake Christians they mean those who call themselves Christians but live as if God doesn’t exist. Author Greg Groeschel has dubbed these types of people as “Christian Atheists.” With these types of people, it is impossible to distinguish them from true atheists by their actions alone despite their professed faith because the wicked come in a myriad of shapes and sizes. They could fit in the category of “wicked,” but I’m cautious of including these false Christians in the category “wicked” because we can never truly know a person’s heart.

To “walk in the counsel of the wicked” is to spend a significant amount of time with such people. Such high exposure puts one at risk of “standing in the way of sinners,” which is to live in a sinful lifestyle whilst remaining unrepentant. Such examples of this would be sexually active homosexuals and homosexual marriage, the practice of premarital sex without repentance, committing adultery, being a compulsive liar, a thief, a glutton, verbally and/or physically abusive, and the list goes on indefinitely—doing any of these sins and others without repentance and without rebuking them. To describe this with a single word, we could use the word hypocrisy. A Christian who claims to believe in the One True God and adhere to His Word yet practices some sexual perversion or is a compulsive liar—i.e. walking in the counsel of the wicked/standing in the way of sinners—is, quite frankly, hypocritical.

Lastly, to “sit in the seat of scoffers” is to be in the comfortable disposition of contempt. What does this mean? It is the act of hatred—allowing hate to boil so deep within your soul until it spills from your mouth and maybe even your actions. Many Christians face such contempt from militant atheists when they scoff (that is, mock) Christians for their beliefs. Indeed, even some Christians are guilty of being scoffers, and perhaps from spending too much time among them.

Rather than following these ways of the wicked, the Christian meditates on the ways of the Lord day and night. By meditate it does not mean the Buddhist practice, but rather to ruminate. Martin Luther is particularly helpful here. Luther describes the daily Christian life in a threefold pattern: oratio, meditatio, tentatio—prayer, meditation, and temptation respectively.

When Luther talked about this cycle, he wasn’t using “temptation” in the traditional sense, temptation being our inclination and desire to sin (he uses it in the more traditional sense elsewhere). The German word he used for it was Anfechtung, which is difficult to translate into English. The widest translation used among Lutheran pastors and scholars is “spiritual affliction.” Regarding this, Luther wrote that our spiritual afflictions (tentatio) daily drive us to prayer (oratio) and meditation/dependence on God’s Word (meditatio), especially about what God says regarding our reconciled status before Him and the promise His Word speaks to us (forgiveness of sins).

This daily threefold cycle is a helpful theological framework to understand verse 2. Whether our spiritual afflictions drive us to despair or doubt, we ought to return to our total dependence on the Word—meditation/rumination upon it—to remember who God is and the Word of promise He has spoken to us.

Verses 3-6

Thus, the one who relies totally on God’s Word is prosperous. Prosperity gospel heretics are quick to use this as “evidence” that God promises financial prosperity. God can certainly choose to operate that way as He so chooses, but where in this verse is financial prosperity promised for every Christian? Nowhere. Exegetically, it cannot be found. It is only found eisegetically—that is, reading into the text what you believe rather than what the text actually says. So, what sort of prosperity is this psalm describing?

Jesus said the Psalms and the Prophets testify about Him (Luke 24:44); therefore, we need to read the Psalms Christologically. Jesus has promised us His peace (John 14:27); not world peace, but His peace, which is peace—or reconciliation—with God the Father.

To illustrate this prosperity, the psalm says the wicked are blown away like chaff. Chaff is debris form the husk of wheat separated from grain that the harvester would toss into the air, which the wind would blow away. In stark contrast to this, the righteous remain rooted and fruitful, prospering in the way of the Lord, never uprooted. Judgement will blow the wicked away, but the righteous will endure forever. That is true prosperity—eternal life.

Many sins appear enticing, but they are infinitesimal compared to God’s coming judgement that they’ll be unable to withstand. The wicked may appear to prosper, but it’s always temporary. Compare the image to the right with the image of the tree that’s the featured image of this article. As Christians, we are righteous in Christ (Romans 3:22), and God plants His righteous people like trees next to a stream. We are rooted in Christ, and in Christ we are nourished by the waters of His Holy Spirit as He enables us to produce His fruits (cf. Galatians 5:22-23). The wicked, however, will be swept up and easily blown away like useless chaff. If unrepentant, the wicked will be blown away like chaff in God’s judgement, but the righteous will endure forever.

Psalm 1 Prayer

Father, keep me from walking in the counsel of the wicked. Keep me from their perishable ways. Help me to overcome my sin(s) of [list them there]. I can only overcome sin with Your strength. Help me to overcome it [or them] and to annihilate any hatred in my heart. Make the words on my tongue sweet, ridding the bitterness. Father, I know I sometimes act like an enemy, but in my heart You know I’m an ally—I am Your child. Guide me towards prosperity so that glory may be given to Your name, not just from my mouth, but any who witness Your prosperity. Thank You for all You have done for me already [feel free to be specific]. In the name of Jesus I pray. Amen.

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