Psalm 1

Psalm 1:1-2. “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stands in the path of sinners, nor sits in the seat of the scornful. 2 But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and in His law he meditates day and night.”

These set of verses contrasts the sources of blessedness and delight. Two words stand out in the first two verses of this famous psalm, that of being blessed and that which gives us delight.

There are a number of Hebrew words that denote the concept of being blessed in the Old Testament, each of them emphasizing different nuances. This particular word is not about God bestowing blessings or favor on you. This Hebrew word, eshre, emphasizes sheer gratitude and happiness we can have. For David to say that one is “blessed” here simply means that one is incredibly happy. So, what does David say gives us this real happiness? He starts this psalm by giving us three negative illustrations; what true happiness is not. Let’s take a look at each of these.

First, true happiness is not “walking in the counsel of the ungodly.” The word “ungodly” is a very generic term. It has a wide usage pertaining simply to anything that is not holy. It can refer to people or to things. To “walk” with ungodly people means that we are casually living life under their influence, their lifestyle, and their worldview. It’s a subtle activity, thus called a “walk.” Almost unbeknownst to us, we pick up on—and can easily take on—people’s ways, lifestyles, behaviors, and language. Who you “hang out with” will determine who you are being influenced by. But not only do people influence us, but things around us can cause great negative influences. Take the internet for example, and particularly the social media. There are literally thousands of ways that the Christian is being negatively impacted by the social media as we scroll (aka, “walk”) through various news feeds and opinions that are simply not Christ-centered or at the least time-drainers on things that have no eternal value. We need to admit the negative influences around us, including our social media. Are you causally compromising your walk with the Lord by allowing ungodly relationships to subtly influence your thoughts and behaviors? Do you catch yourself dabbling in the things of the world, being lured into these casual time-wasting social media pits? Take a moment to honestly reflect on the sinful subtleties that can creep into your home and lifestyle.

Second, true happiness is not “standing in the path of sinners.” Notice the progression. We are not happy with the casual interactions with ungodliness (“walking”). And now, real happiness doesn’t occur when we are standing with sinners. Unfortunately, we tend to progress in our sins, from casual interactions to spending a bit more time with sin, thus the metaphor of “standing.” To stand with someone shows more time in relationship than walking. More than casual glances, more than casual conversations, more than a casual scrolling on news feeds. To “stand” indicates that we are now staring, not glancing. To stand with sinners means that we are now deeply immersed in sinful conversations, allowing crude language to creep in or to engage in sinful relationships. Instead of scrolling through ungodliness, our computer screens are locked onto images and people that we have no business looking at or getting involved with. To “stand” indicates a heart that is willing to be influenced. This does not bring happiness! The progression from walking to standing is real; let’s be honest and reflective on that. Clearly we shouldn’t be walking with sin, but even worse, we shouldn’t be willfully standing in it!

Third, true happiness is not “sitting in the seat of the scornful.” The concept of sitting shows a measure of completion (e.g., sitting down after a long day’s work), of resolve (e.g., a king sitting on his throne), and implies a deeper, intimate relationship (e.g., sitting at a meal together). This phrase shows a willful defiance and a deeper relationship with sinful things. The intensity of the word scornful also accentuates this willful defiance, as it denotes rebellion and mockery. We ought not sit with those things that—or people who—have no regard for God, displaying clear-cut rebellion against all that is righteous. I’m sure we have seen in our lifetime those individuals who were once “walking with God,” and because of numerous reasons and situations found themselves now in a place where they mock religion, want nothing to do with God, and take delight in finding the inconsistencies of the Jesus followers. Lord, help us to never get to a place in life where we mock You or cynically cast judgment on Your people due to our situations in life!

These three illustrations demonstrate both the downward progression and the intensity that sin has. It begins so subtly, by listening to and dabbling in that which is unholy. Then it progresses into more frequent indulgences into sin with the ever-so-slowly movement away from conviction of sin. Before long, our lives are cast into a new mold and these sinful changes in our lives have become so complete that we don’t even recognize what godliness is or what God is like, becoming cynical about anything that is of God. This clearly cannot bring happiness!

Psalm 1:2 moves from the word “happiness” to “delight.” David has described what happiness is not, and now he moves to what true delight is. The word delight is a wonderful translation, conveying the sheer pleasure one receives. But it also includes the concept of what brings us value or worth. David describes that which gives us pleasure in life as well as true worth, value, and significance. And what is it? The Word of God. He colorfully calls it the law of the Lord. The concept of “law” has been misused, making it sound like God is a legalistic tyrant who demands obeisance. But the Hebrew word, torah, bespeaks more about a way of life, a path one takes, a natural lifestyle. Yes, God’s law is simply the best way of life, the best lifestyle to be lived that will bring us true delight (pleasure and value)! After all, God Himself should know what is best for His creation, right?! To walk in His ways gives our lives value, significance and meaning—and it should be the cause of great joy. The “law of the Lord” is a poetic way to describe God’s words to us, the Bible! The Bible provides to all people details on what will give us value and worth, peace of mind, and what will bring us true joy. May we fall in love with the Bible each and every day, taking delight in His words. To meditate on the Word of God means two main things: (1) To chew on it. Allowing God’s Word take root and thinking about the words you are reading, letting them really sink in. Chew on them. (2) To talk it out loud. God’s Word is meant to be read aloud. This actually is a fact of learning: the more we speak things out loud, the more we retain and personalize any information! Let God’s words flow out of your speech! And we are to do this day and night. This metaphor also describes two situations: (1) refers to “24/7.” God’s Word should be a daily part of your life, never skipping a day. Why? Because it brings us joy, happiness, delight, and it solidifies our value and our worth. (2) “Day” = the good times in life, and “Night” = the bad times, depressing moments, the times that aren’t going so well. So, even during the bad times or the good times, stick close to the Word. When times are going good, don’t get causal with God thinking “you got this” by yourself. And when times are rough, don’t let depression, anger or frustration define you; stick with God and His words about you!

Happiness and Delight are two outcomes that every person on the face of the planet desire. Unfortunately, so many people reach for all sorts of things to find true happiness, trying to fill that hole in their heart. But we Christians have the answer to true happiness! It’s found right here in the first two verses of Psalm 1. We ought to be the happiest people on earth. The most content. The most joyful. The most peaceful. Why? Because our delight and happiness, value and worth are found in what God has to say. Reflect on other passages about delighting in the Lord and His Word.

“Praise the Lord! Blessed are they who worship the Lord and who delight greatly in His commandments” (Psalm 112:1)

“I will delight myself in Your statutes and I will not forget Your word” (Psalm 119:16)

“Your Word is my delight and my counselor” (Psalm 119:24)

“I will delight myself in Your Word which I love” (Psalm 119:47)

“I long for your salvation and Your Word is my delight” (Psalm 119:147)

Because the psalms are poetic in nature, at times it becomes difficult to read and internalize each phrase. So I’ve personalized these two verses of Psalm 1 in hopes that it will become more real to you. May you truly take delight, and joy, value and worth, and find true happiness in Him and His Word. Read the following out loud and reflect on His words to you today.

Psalm 1:1-2: “I am so happy when I am not casually and subtly letting sinful things into my life. I find true contentment when I am not seeking after the advice of the world or their worldviews that actually cause me to be discouraged and to feel depressed. And, oh Lord, may I never find myself mocking You or Your people. I really, truly, find great joy sitting at the feet of Jesus and not sitting with those who mock the things of the Lord. I take delight in the Lord, knowing that my value and worth come from Him and nothing else. Thank You for the real, genuine satisfaction I receive when I read Your Word letting Your words lift my spirits.”

I delight myself in You, captivated by Your beauty.
I’m overwhelmed, I’m overwhelmed by You

Psalm 1:3. “He [the righteous] shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that brings forth its fruit in its season, whose leaf also shall not wither. And whatever he does shall prosper.”

The first two verses of Psalm 1 show us what brings (and what doesn’t bring) true happiness and delight. Now in verse three, we are given an illustration—a simile— of this happy life by using a tree. The one who is deeply embedded in the truths of God’s Word is compared to a tree with four major characteristics. Let’s take a look at these four qualities of a Word-centered person (e.g., “a God-centered tree”).

First, the Word-centered person is planted by rivers of water. There are two amazing promises within this phrase, whereby (a) a change of location and (b) a change of ownership take place. The best translation of “planted” would be better suited as“transplanted.” When God came into your life, He literally transplanted you! Without God, we were lost, in darkness, discouraged, looking for hope. When God saved us, He completely moved your position, no longer as a slave to your own self, the devil, and all that is unrighteous, but now as one seated in the heavenly places! As Paul says in Colossians, God transferred us into a new kingdom (Col. 1:12-13). This new kingdom is with, near and at the feet of Jesus! This is the bountiful and fresh “rivers of water” that David talks about here. The streams of living water, the waterfall of God’s presence surround us. Yes, the “rivers of water” = the presence of God. You have been transplanted to a new location! New ownership and new location! Bask today in the goodness of God’s presence, as He has transplanted you in the rivers of living water! Reflect on the verses below about God’s close presence with you.

“You are a tree bearing much fruit because its water flows directly out of the sanctuary of God” (Ezekiel 47:12)

“Those who are planted in the house of the Lord shall flourish in the courts of our God (Psalm 92:13)

“But I am like a green olive tree in the house of God” (Psalm 52:8)

David goes on to say that the Word-centered person bears fruit. Notice the order here: we don’t bear fruit to get right with God. We are not “doing works” to ensure that God is happy with us. No! He first initiates and transplants us, then we bear the fruit. We’ve been transplanted and are deeply grateful to be located in His presence, but the Christian walk isn’t a day spa or country club. There’s work to be done. Yes, we will worship the Lord, sing praises to His name, and enjoy His presence each day. But in so doing, fruit-bearing will take place! Automatically and naturally. It’s what a tree does! Bearing fruit is the result of meditating on the Word of God and soaking in His presence. Bearing fruit is a natural outcome of a transplanted life. Think about it: there’s actually very little we need to do! He’s done all of the work. He’s done the transplanting. He’s done the pruning! He’s done the watering and care! We simply bear the fruit! So while there’s work to be done, take comfort that it is God who initiates, supplies, and empowers you to bear the fruit! (Keep in mind that yielding fruit has little to do with us: bearing fruit benefits others.) So let’s go out there and bring our spiritual fruit to the lost, the hurting, and the discouraged! Growing spiritually must equate to fruitfulness, so let’s be sure to walk the talk. After all, it’s who we are as Word-centered trees!

Thirdly, the Word-centered person doesn’t wither. This phrase doesn’t mean that we won’t have problems, difficulties, or stressors in life. But it does mean that there will be a never-ending vitality in our walk with the Lord because of all of the things listed above. As we are soaking in the Word, as we are basking in the Living Water, as we are walking the talk (aka, bearing fruit), our lives will have no other option than to be full of refreshing vitality. While our bodies grow older each day, the Lord promises that our soul will continually be renewed!

And lastly, the Word-centered person prospers. The concept of this Hebrew term, tsalach, conveys the idea of accomplishing what was intended. It’s not talking about wealth, riches, or health at all! Since we’ve already seen in this verse that the tree bears fruit, it makes perfect sense for David to exclaim, “the fruit will accomplish its intent—to be beneficial and usefulness to others!” Yes, your life saturated in God’s Word will bring about so much benefit and utility to yourself and those around you. All of your fruit will bring benefit! As God said in Isaiah 55:11,“My word that goes forth from My mouth, it shall not return to Me void, but it shall accomplish what I please, and it shall prosper in the thing for which it was intended.” God promises that your life will have benefit and value! You will accomplish exactly what the Lord intends for you. Remember, it may not be what you thought or what you intended, but God’s plans are so much better than ours! Trust His plans and His ways for your life. Meditating on His Word and reflecting on His promises will accomplish exactly what is good, right, holy, and beneficial.

God has given your life value! Your life matters! Your life is beneficial! Why? Because you are like a tree that has been transplanted by God out of sin and into a sweet place of luscious goodness! You get to learn and grow right next to Him! You get to be in His presence and to learn from Him! You get to read His Word and it will naturally bear fruit! You get to be encouraged by the promises found in the Scriptures! You won’t “wither” when things get tough because God Himself promises to give you vitality through trials! And God promises that your life will be full of worth and will accomplish good!

“For he shall be like a tree planted by the waters which spreads out its roots by the river, and will not fear when heat comes. But its leaf will be green, and will not be anxious in the year of drought, nor will cease from yielding fruit” (Jeremiah 17:8)

“Those who are planted in the house of the Lord shall flourish in the courts of our God. They shall still bear fruit in old age; they shall be fresh and flourishing. We declare that the Lord is upright. He is my rock, and there is no unrighteousness in Him” (Psalm 92:13-15)

“But I am like a green olive tree in the house of God. I trust in the mercy of God forever and ever” (Psalm 52:8)

Psalm 1:4. “The ungodly are not so, but are like the chaff which the wind drives away.”

Psalm 1:1-2 contrasts two sources for happiness and value. One is either led by sinful things and sinful people or one is guided by the Lord, His Word and people who give wisdom based on the Scriptures.

Psalm 1:3-4 contrasts two lifestyles illustrated by two similes—one is either like a tree or like chaff. In verse 3, the tree (“the righteous person”) is beautifully pictured with four characteristics (using 15 eloquent Hebrew words). But here in verse 4, there is no pomp and circumstance, no flowery or elaborate description, as the fewer words to depict the ungodly person speaks volumes in itself; they are simply described as…chaff driven by the wind (only 4 Hebrew words in total).

Chaff is the inedible hull that surrounds a grain (such as barley, wheat, or oats). Once the grain is removed from the stalk (“threshing”), then the grain needs to be separated from its hull (“winnowing”). This was a long, arduous, and multi-step process. One of the final steps was to throw the grain into the air to get the lighter hulls (“chaff”) to drift away by the wind. The heavier grain falls to the ground and the chaff flies away. 

Once the grain falls to the ground, it becomes much easier to gather without the messy chaff. There are 15 references to chaff in the Scriptures and none of them have good intentions or connotations. Sticking solely within the cultural context of the Old and New Testaments, we see that chaff is depicted in three ways. Let’s look at the three main characteristics of chaff (“the ungodly person”).

First, chaff is easily combustible. Chaff is extremely light and dry, so it can be easily set on fire. It is great for kindling. Unfortunately, the ungodly are also more easily combustible. High tempers. Easily flared up when circumstances don’t go one’s way. More easily angered at people when others don’t see it one’s way. Simply put: angry. Angry at life. Angry at people. Angry at circumstances. Angry at self. Angry at family. Angry at the boss. You see, without God at the helm, where is one’s center? Where is one’s hope? Where is one’s perspective? How can one be even keeled without a True North? The ungodly are easily angered. Oh, that we as Jesus-followers would remember that Jesus took away our sin, gave us hope, gave us a new heart, and gave us peace! We have no cause to be angry or easily combustible! When situations arise, may we remember the work that God has done on our behalf and may we be so utterly thankful people!

Second, chaff has no substance. Humanly (and biblically) speaking, chaff has no value and is useless. It sounds quite disrespectful to say that our unsaved family and friends have no value. The ungodly are created in the image of God, so they matter to God—and they should matter to us as well! But in spiritual terms, they lack spiritual substance. Their lives are characterized by emptiness, searching for something (or someone) that will bring them value. As James says, their lives are but a vapor (James 4:14). They long and reach for things that will fill the void of their empty hearts. We cannot criticize, as we’ve all been there! We, before Christ came into our lives, searched for value and meaning in a wide variety of things. But when Christ arrived, He was a game changer! He gave us value and He gave us values to live by! He gave us perspective, depth and meaning! Our lives now have substance. The emptying work of Jesus Christ on the cross made it possible to be filled to the fullest! He emptied Himself so that we could be filled full. In Him we have value, worth, and significance. And in contrast, those without Jesus will find no real substance.

And lastly, chaff is easily moved by the wind. If you are on social media, you cannot help but see this in our world today. The slightest of change in our culture has caused a maelstrom of opinions, disagreement, disrespect for another, and highly charged viewpoints. The world is so easily swayed by culture. Exodus 23:1-2 says, “You shall not circulate false reports. Do not go along with the crowd and become and unrighteous witness. Don’t follow the crowd and do evil and don’t speak in a way that perverts real justice.” Wow, doesn’t that seem to describe our culture today? (a) Circulating false reports (fake news!). (b) Going along with the crowd without real fact checking. (c) Perverting truth to make it whatever you want it to say. To contrast, look at what Jesus says about John the Baptist. Jesus said that he wasn’t a weak man swayed by every breath of wind! (Matthew 11:7). Oh, may we Christians be swayed only by the very breath of God’s Word (2 Timothy 3:17), not moved by the fleeting breath or wind of humanistic philosophy, ever-changing culture, or wind of doctrine that blows through. Paul gives us these encouraging words in Ephesians 4:14, “We no longer need to be tossed to and fro, or carried about with every wind of doctrine, or tricked by cunning, crafty, or deceitful people.” Christ is our source of truth, perspective, and wisdom! As intense as opinions become, we have spiritual stability. As the psalmist writes, “God is my rock and my salvation. He is my stronghold and I will not be shaken!” (Psalm 62:2).

Unfortunately, the unsaved are—in general terms—summed up as chaff: angry, empty, and easily swayed by the culture. May the Lord strengthen your heart, that you would see yourself as the tree and not the chaff. May we dig deeply into the wellspring of His Word to find true wisdom (and encouragement!). Thank the Lord today for His abundant care for your life, giving your life substance, value, and not being moved by every cultural wind that blows through. And may we bear witness to the lost culture around us, to help them see that there’s a different way to live, a better path to walk, and a more stable ground to be rooted into.

“I have set the Lord always before me. He is at my right hand. I shall not be shaken!” (Psalm 16:8)

Psalm 1:5-6. “Therefore the ungodly shall not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous. For the Lord knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the ungodly shall perish.”

The outline of this short Psalm 1:1-6 is straightforward:

Psalm 1:1-2 contrasts two sources for happiness and value, either sin or the Scriptures.

Psalm 1:3-4 contrasts two lifestyles illustrated as a flourishing tree or as chaff.

Psalm 1:5-6 contrasts two outcomes of one’s choices in life.

In looking at these two final verses (see the outline below), the psalmist describes the outcome of the ungodly and their choices to live without God (1:5 and in 1:6b), and sandwiched between these verses is a small phrase describing the final outcome of the righteous and their faithfulness to God (1:6a). The ungodly form the bookend, while the center-point positively reflects those who are Godly.

A The Outcome of the Ungodly (1:5)

B The Outcome of the Righteous (1:6a)

A’ The Outcome of the Ungodly [restated] (1:6b)

The Outcome of the Ungodly (1:5 and 1:6b)
In verse 1, the psalmist describes the happiness and delight one has when they are not standing or sitting with sinners. Now in verse 5, we see in contrast how the sinner will not be able to stand or sit with that which is holy. The ungodly will not be able to stand in the judgment. There will come a day in everyone’s life when they will go before Almighty God, seeing Him face-to-face in all of His radiant glory. It is in that moment, as Paul says in Philippians 2:10, that every knee will bow before Him and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. For those who gave their lives to Jesus, this will be a glorious moment of seeing our Savior, worshiping and bowing down in complete awe! But for those who didn’t give their lives to Jesus, it will be an immense eye-opening, humiliating experience as they will see the absolute holiness of God and recognize their sinful ways of rejecting Him as their Savior. While the Christians bow in worship, the unrighteous will not be able to withstand God’s judgment. What a sad picture that is given to us: the way of the ungodly results in judgment that cannot be withstood. They personally will be judged, and their ways will also be judged! Not only will the ungodly not be able to withstand God’s judgment, but they will not be able to sit in the congregation of the righteous. For the ungodly, there will come a day when they will experience no fellowship with anyone anymore! Loneliness and despair will be their siblings. There will be no partying, no relationships, no celebrations. Not only will they be separated from anything that is holy, they will also be separated from everyone. These are not encouraging words here and should cause us deep sorrow for the lost.

The very last phrase (1:6b) is a poetic restatement—a parallelism—of 1:5, the ungodly shall perish. The outcome of ungodly, sinful choices, a life outside of Jesus Christ results in death. This death has been defined, or at the least further illustrated, by 1:5 as the inability to withstand God’s final judgment and the eternal reality of the loss of fellowship with Him and with all people—utter darkness. This, as described by the psalmist, is indeed death. The negative outcomes of the life of the ungodly are straight-forward: judgment, eternal isolation, death. I don’t wish this final outcome on anyone! Absolute separation from God is horrific judgment. The choices one makes in this lifetime have monumental outcomes for the future! Oh, that the Lord would continue to impress on our hearts to share God’s love of grace and forgiveness of sins with others around us! It should cause us to pray for our unsaved family, friends, and neighbors. It should cause a stirring in us to do something, to say something, that brings them to Jesus!

The Outcome of the Righteous (1:6a)
And now, directly in the center of these negative outcomes for the unrighteous is a beautiful, positive phrase for those who have given their lives to God. In Psalm 1:6a it simply says that the “Lord knows the way of the righteous.” This word, know, is a beautiful concept. It’s not a head knowledge and it’s not even just experiential knowledge. It reflects the idea of relationship, intimacy, and familiarity. The modern way of talking about this would be the phrase, “I want to get to know you better.” It conveys a desire to have a deeper relationship with someone, to know their likes and dislikes, to understand what makes them tick, to spend more time with the other, and to learn and grow together. So, when God says that He knows you, it speaks volumes about how much He loves you, how much He is committed to you, and how much He desires to spend time with you. In contrast to the outcome of the unrighteous who will spend no time with God, no time with His people, and will be isolated from every relationship, here we see the positive outcome of those who have followed Christ: eternal intimacy and relationship with God! We will forever be in His presence! We will forever spend time with, learn, and grow together with our holy God! We will forever be known by God! Simply put: heaven! That is our final outcome for those of the faith.

The very first word of this psalm is “blessed,” while the last word is “perish.” One cannot see a more clearer contrast! There are only two options in life. One option is difficult, but trusts God and His Word. This option, albeit narrow and counter-culture, brings such joy, peace, contentment and true happiness. The other option is wide, sensual, flowing with the culture, and easy to follow because it preys on our naturally sinful proclivities. This option, albeit wide and tantalizing, brings despair, heartache, loneliness, with no peace or contentment. One option leads to eternal life; one option leads to eternal separation. Please take some time this week to read the words of Jesus found in Matthew 7:13-27. Jesus makes it abundantly clear that there are only two options in life, illustrated in four examples:

Two types of gates (7:13-14)

Two types of trees (7:15-20)

Two types of followers (7:21-23)

Two types of builders (7:24-27)

The world doesn’t want to view life as limited to two options. The lie of the enemy would have the world believe that the world is our oyster. But as Joshua says, “Choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve…but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord” (Joshua 24:15). Two ways: the path of righteousness or the path of the world.

As the psalm ends, might we humbly thank the Lord for His saving grace in our lives, may we walk humbly with Him through life’s trials and difficulties by trusting Him, and may we share our faith experiences with others around us so that they too could experience true joy and delight for eternity!

The famous words of John 3:16 ring true! “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son. That whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have everlasting life.”