Two Ways To Live
The way of the wicked

What he does: v1 he takes bad advice, he imitates bad behaviour, he copies bad attitudes.  His approach is, ‘everyone else is doing it, why shouldn’t I?’

What he is like: v4 he is like the chaff: useless by-product of harvesting, the grain is thrown up into the air, and the wind just blows the husks and bits of straw away.

Where he is going:  v5 The wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous.  V6 The way of the wicked will perish.

The way of the righteous

What he does: v2 He delights in the law of the Lord, and he thinks about it all the time.

What he is like: v3 A tree: planted (put it a particular place for a particular purpose); watered (nourished and refreshed and renewed); fruitful (inward graces and outward deeds); enduring (the child of God will be enabled persevere to the end)

Where he is going: v6 The Lord watches over the way of the righteous.

Ps 1:1 Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers.

In pointing out the way to true blessedness, and warning of the fate of the wicked, this Psalm is a fitting introduction to the whole Psalter. Indeed, it may have been specially composed as such.

Kidner points out that this psalm shares with the Wisdom literature an interest in the company a person keeps, in the two ways to live, and in moral types such as the scoffer. Other leading features are: the imagery drawn from nature, a concern about the ultimate outcomes of moral and spiritual life-styles, and the centrality of the law.

‘As the book of the Canticles is called the Song of Songs by a Hebraism, it being the most excellent, so this Psalm may not unfitly be entitled, the Psalm of Psalms, for it contains in it the very pith and quintessence of Christianity. What Jerome saith on St. Paul’s epistles, the same may I say of this Psalm; it is short as to the composure, but full of length and strength as to the matter. This Psalm carries blessedness in the front piece; it begins where we all hope to end: it may well be called a Christian’s Guide, for it discovers the quicksands where the wicked sink down in perdition, and the firm ground on which the saints tread to glory.’ (Thomas Watson)

See Jer 17:5-8 for a close parallel to this psalm.

Blessed – The Book of Psalms begins with a benediction, as does the Sermon on the Mount. The true faith is a gospel – glad tidings – and brings unspeakable and glorious joy to all who rest in it. The word here means simply ‘happy’.

‘The psalmist saith more to the point about true happiness in this short Psalm than any one of the philosophers, or all of them put together; they did but beat the bush, God hath here put the bird into our hand.’ (John Trapp)

‘Where the word blessed is hung out as a sign, we may be sure that we shall find a godly man within.’ (Sir Richard Baker)

The righteous man does not believe like, behave like, or belong to the realm of wicked men.

Who does not walk… – The blessed man is first described negatively. Three aspects or degrees of departure from God are described. He does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, but rather in counsel of the word of God, v2. To walk in the counsel of the wicked is not only wrong, it ultimately brings misery. It is a reliable sign of grace in the heart, when our outward behaviour is thus affected.

Or stand in the way of sinners – he keeps different company now, and finds happiness in the congregation of the righteous.

Or sit in the seat of mockers – he has no time for the scoffings of unbelievers. Their seat may be very lofty, they may occupy the professor’s chair, the magistrate’s bench, or the king’s throne, but the true believer has no interest in the highest of positions if God is not honoured there.

‘Let others make a mock of sin, of eternity, of hell and heaven, and of the Eternal God; this man has learned better philosophy than that of the infidel, and has too much sense of God’s presence to endure to hear his name blasphemed.’ (Spurgeon)

‘The scorner has brought, in reference to himself, all religion and moral feeling to an end. He has sat down is utterly confirmed in impiety, and makes a mock at sin. His conscience is seared, and he is a believer in all unbelief. Now, blessed is the man who sits not down in his SEAT.’ (Adam Clarke)

Kidner says that ‘counsel’, ‘way’ and ‘seat’ (assembly, dwelling) correspond to the realms of thought, behaviour, and belonging respectively. Together, they portray ‘conformity to this world at three different levels: accepting its advice, being party to its ways, and adopting the most fatal of its attitudes – for the scoffers, if not the most scandalous of sinners, are the farthest from repentance.’ (Pr 3:34)

Spurgeon notes the gradation of this verse: walk in the counsel; stand in the way; sit in the seat. People who live in sin go from bad to worse.

‘I would rather go to heaven alone than go to hell in company.’ (R.A. Torrey)

The danger of associating with sinners.  ‘Man, being a sociable creature, is mightily encouraged to do as others do, especially in an evil example; for we are more susceptible of evil than we are of good. Sickness is sooner communicated than health; we easily catch a disease one of another, but those that are sound do not communicate health to the diseased.’ (Thomas Manton)

Ps 1:2 But his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night.

His delight is in the law of the Lord – he does not seek happiness; he seeks to know the will of God, and so finds happiness.

‘This verse does not simply declare (as I have said elsewhere) that those who fear God are blessed; it equates religion with the study of the law. It teaches that God is rightly worshiped only if his Word is obeyed. Therefore, men are not free to model a religion, each after his own idea. The standard for religion must be taken from God’s Word.’ (Calvin)

‘God cannot give us a happiness and peace apart from himself, because it is not there. There is no such thing.’ (C.S. Lewis)

‘God has charged himself with full responsibility for our eternal happiness and stands ready to take over the management of our lives.’ (A. W. Tozer)

The law of the Lord stands in contrast to the counsel of the wicked, v1. The expression, which essentially means ‘insturction’, stands for the whole revelation of God.

‘The mind was the first bastion to defend, in v1, and is treated as the key to the whole man.’ (Kidner)

Meditates – The same word is used for ‘plots’ in 2:1.

There is an echo here of the charge given to Joshua, Jos 1:8, showing that hard thinking about the will of God is not just for the academic recluse, but for the man of action.

‘Perhaps some of you can claim a sort of negative purity, because you do not walk in the way of the ungodly; but let me ask you Is your delight in the law of God? Do you study God’s Word? Do you make it the man of your right hand your best companion and hourly guide? If not, this blessing belongeth not to you.’ (Spurgeon)

An astronomer once remarked that if the moon were visible from only one spot on the earth’s surface, people would travel thousands of miles to see it. But since it is so commonplace in the night’s sky, many of us hardly take the trouble to lift up our eyes in its direction.

How similar is the Word of God. If there was only one copy kept in a museum in some city of the world, many who never have seen or read it would travel thousands of miles to do so. Yet, because it is so available in most homes, few people read it.

Do you take your greatest possession, the eternal Word of God, for granted? The blessed man’s “delight is in the law of the Lord, and in his law he meditates day and night.” (Ps 1:2) Let us spend more time in reading and studying the Book of books. It should never become commonplace just because it is so readily available.

Psa 1:3  He is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither. Whatever he does prospers.

In this verse we have a striking illustration of the person who follows the way of life.  The picture is of a tall, erect palm tree, nourished by constant supplies of water, so that it can withstand the burning eastern sun, still leafy and fruitful.

For a similar picture, see Jer 17:5-8.

  • The tree is planted.  It is not a wild tree, but has been planted by a particular person, in a particular place, for a particular purpose.  See Isa 61:3. Learn here the origin of the Christian life: it does not derive from human decision, or habit, or upbringing, but from the fact that God has chosen, God has planted, God has given life.  ‘This is the difference between religion and atheism, religion doth not grow without planting, but will die even where it is planted without watering.  Atheism, irreligion, and profaneness are weeds that will grow without setting, but they will not die without plucking up.’  (William Gurnall)
  • The tree is watered.  It has been planted by streams of water.  Cf Jer 17:8.  Now the roots of a tree are underground: they are hidden.  Yet how essential they are!  We, too, have hidden parts to our lives, known only to God.  And here, more than anywhere else, we receive spiritual nourishment and refreshment.  The inner life of prayer, communion with God.
  • The tree is fruitful.  It  yields its fruit in season.  Christian fruitfulness consists of inward graces and outward deeds, Gal 5:22; Mt 7:17.
  • The tree is enduring.  Its leaf does not wither.  Jesus spoke of a plant which did not endure: the seed which fell upon the rocky ground.  But this tree does endure.  And so does the child of God.  He is protected by God: there are times of loneliness, temptation, doubt, disappointment.  But his roots are set firm and deep in God, Jn 10:28.

Psa 1:4  Not so the wicked! They are like chaff that the wind blows away.

‘The figure is that of winnowing, in which the threshed corn is tossed up for the husks and fragments of straw to blow away, leaving behind only the grain.’

Psa 1:5  Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous.

Though the wicked may seem to prosper for a while, the last day will judge him for what he really is.

Psa 1:6  For the LORD watches over the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish.

Kidner sums up this verse as ‘the parting of the ways’.