Psalm 1 – A Commentary – by Greg Kenyon September 2019.
Looking for a passage to spend some time studying, having tackled two previous Psalms (Ps 81 and Ps 111),  I chose to tackle Psalm One. At first I focused on the two ways. I few days into the study, I realized looking at the Psalm as a Psalm about just two ways is incomplete and without hope. The way of the ungodly leads to eternal death. The way of obedience, that of walking not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standing in the way of sinners, nor sitting in the seat of the scornful, from the perspective of a fallen man, of which I am, does not lead to life, for when I fail at even the smallest part of the law I am guilty and really no closer to a good and right eternal relationship with God than the ungodly are. I realized there are two ways that lead to death, my own way and my own attempt at obedience. The true beauty of Psalm One is its presentation of a third way, the only way that leads to life eternal.
1 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.
3 He 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.
4 The ungodly are not so,
But are like the chaff which the wind drives away.
5 Therefore the ungodly shall not stand in the judgment,
Nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous.
6 For the Lord knows the way of the righteous,
But the way of the ungodly shall perish.
The opening psalm of the books of Psalms sets the stage for the paths of mankind. It is very direct and to the point and presents two ways, two kinds of people, two outcomes.
The same two ways are also presented in opening chapters of the Bible. Genesis 1 & 2 describes how God created life. All was very good. In the garden the Lord presented two ways by saying to Adam,” Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die,” (Genesis 2:16-17) Obey and you will live. Disobey and you will die. Two ways. Life or death. The way of life is good the way of death is not. You know what happened, as recorded in Genesis 3, Adam and his wife, Eve, chose the way of death. They were deceived and thought they were getting something better than the life they had. Instead, they got something far worse. In Genesis 4, we see the out-working of these two ways. Able desired to obey, while Cain did not. Cain’s way lead to murder, while Able, though his body was killed, was heard by the Lord and found righteous. (Hebrews 11:4) This theme of two ways is woven through the rest of scripture. In what is known as the Sermon on the mount, Jesus describes “two gates, two roads, two trees, two types of fruit, two houses, and two foundations.” He says, “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it” (Matt. 7:13–14).” [taken from Boice’s Expository Commentary on Psalm 1].
There are two ways, obedience and life or disobedience and death. If this is the whole story, each of us, if we are honest with ourselves knows this leaves us with no hope, so bent are we, like Adam and Eve, to do things our own way, rather than follow the way of the Lord. As we will see, Psalm One presents something more.
The psalmist begins by introducing blessing. Actually, a fullness of blessing, for as Boice points out, the Hebrew word of blessing is plural. The verse might correctly be translated, “O the blessednesses of the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked.” [from Boice’s Expository Commentary] Compare this to the first chapter in the Bible. After each day of creation we are told, it is “good.” Then, when God finishes His creation, we are told, it is more than good. It is “very good,” like goodness upon goodness. The same sense of goodness and purpose, as presence in creation, is expressed in the beginning of the opening verse of Psalm One. Blessed is the man. Are you attracted to such a person?
After introducing the way of blessing, before even completing the first sentence, the poet introduces us to the second way, to the way of the ungodly scornful sinner. Why does the psalmist focus on the opposite of blessedness so soon in the psalm. Boice suggests three reasons. First, “the Psalm addresses us where we are at. None of us automatically starts out being righteous.” We do not automatically entre the narrow gate and walk the right path. As we learn in verse three of the psalm we first must be planted in the location where we come to be feed by the true and living word. As many places in the Scriptures teach, we cannot plant ourselves. In truth, it is the work of God which plants us where there is living water to feed us and save us. (Ephesians 2:8-9) Second, “the poet is able to introduce the doctrine of the two ways from the start. We do not have to wait until verse 4 to read that there is a way other than the way of the godly.” And third, “He is going to present godliness positively as the way of the one who delights in the law of the Lord. For any positive affirmation to have meaning, it must have a negative to go with it. Thus, in order to say what the way of the godly man is, we must also be able to say what it is not, and that is what the first verses of the first psalm accomplishes.” [Boice’s Expository Commentary]
To be truly blessed, a man should not walk in the way of the ungodly. He needs to consider what counsel directs the way he proceeds through life. He does not follow the way of Cain who, when he brought his offering to the Lord, depended on his own ideas and took counsel from himself, rather than getting his direction from the Lord. He did it his own way and was not willing to even accept the correcting word of the Lord. Cain’s way lead him to murder his brother and, ultimately, to eternally punishment. (Jude 11) The examples of ungodly counsel and the demise of those who following this counsel are numerous in scripture. Pharaoh, the Egyptians, Achan, Saul, Ahab & Jezebel, Judas Ischariat, Ananias & Saphira, to name a few. Those of us who are honest with ourselves know we too are prone to follow the path of the ungodly.
Next, the blessed man takes care to not be influenced by those who follow a way of sin. He does not stand in their path. One of the proverbs says, “the companion of fools will be destroyed.” (Proverbs 13:20 b, NKJV) “Standing in the way of” indicates spending time with and being in the presence of. “Standing in the way of” cannot simply mean just being in the presence of. It must have something to do with the path one chooses to stand on. As Paul teaches us when he writes to the Corinthians about being in the way of sexual immorality. “I certainly did not mean with the sexually immoral people of this world…, since then you would need to go out of the world.” (1 Cor 5:10) How then would we, as Jesus instructs us to, let our light so shine before men…. (Matthew 5:16) Do we stand with sinners in such a way that we put ourselves on the same path as them? Or do we stand off to the side striving, while in their presence, to not be on the same path of sin as they are? Do we, rather than risking walking the same path, desire, when in the sinner’s presence, to help the sinner see the truth? Some of us do have this desire, but we also know, too often, we find ourselves looking along the path of sinners. Achieving the blessed way can seem hopeless.
Finally, the blessed man does not become chummy with ungodly scornful people, such that he sits down in their house as though they have much in common with him. In place of the word “scornful” some translations say “scoffers” or “mockers.” These are not just ungodly sinners. They openly mock or laugh at the things of God. Paul tells us to have “nothing to do with the unfruitful works of darkness.” (Ephesians 5:11) To “sit with” is a closer more intimate relationship than standing in one’s path or following someone’s counsel. Paul says, “do not be unequally joked together with unbelievers.” (2 Cor 6:14) As we go through life, do we consider who we join ourselves with?, Who we go into business with?, Who we enter into the battle of social causes with?, and such? If we are in such an arrangement, even that of an unequally yoked marriage, do we spend time with the Lord in word and prayer seeking how He would have us to be separate? Yet, even in this, to be honest, many of us are yoked together, in some aspect of our lives, with those who scorn the way of the Lord. Is there no hope of obtaining the blessedness of the blessed man?
After presenting what seems like a hopeless situation of blessedness which we, in and of ourselves, cannot attain, the poet introduces a most beautiful word, the word BUT….. It promises something more, something different, something different than trying once more to walk the path of blessedness and failing yet again. This is the same word used by the Apostle Paul in Romans 3:21, one of my favourite verses in the Bible. After spending two chapters presenting the depressing truth of mankind and concluding, “there is none righteous no not one….therefore by keeping the law no one will be justified or found righteous in the sight of the Lord,” Paul too continues with “But now….” This ought to be a most captivating transition as it promises a solution. Does this make you want to read on? If you already have, do you rejoice in what follows?
BUT the blessed man delights in the law of the Lord. It does not say he keeps the law. It says he delights in the law of the Lord. If, at this point, you are tempted to remain in the way of the ungodly, rejoicing in not having to keep what you see as an onerous law of “thou shalt nots,” then you do not yet understand. Somehow, the motivation of one’s heart, what one delights in, is key. If one delights in the law, he will desire to keep the law, seeing what he delights in not as onerous but as good.
His delight in the law of the Lord is such a way that he meditates on it day and night. It is not just knowing about, and thinking upon, the law of the Lord, but that he delights in it. For the blessed man, reading the Word, sitting before the preached Word, attending and preparing for Bible study, and meeting around the Word are not a drudgery. Such things are sought after, being truly delightful. The Law of the Lord, of course refers to the entirety of the Old and New Testaments but even the Law known as the Ten Commandments are a delight. In Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5, before the ten, “thou shalts,” the preamble begins, “I am the Lord your God who brought you out of the Land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. In Psalm 81:10, after the same preamble, “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt” it says “open your mouth wide and I will fill it.” The blessed man sits before the law of the Lord, like a baby robin with wide open mouth sits before its mother, waiting expectantly to be filled with a tasty and much needed meal. The righteous man agrees with King David in Psalm 19:7-10
The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul;
The testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple; The statutes of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; The commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes; The fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever; The judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether. More to be desired are they than gold, Yea, than much fine gold; Sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb.
Is the law of the Lord a delight for you? If it is not, why is in not? The Apostle Paul points out in Romans 8:7, “the sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so.” (NIV) If you do not delight in the law of God, you need a change in mind, a change of heart. Are you encouraged to cry out to the Lord to work in your heart a delight for His law, that He would do for you what He promised to do for His people in Ezekiel 36:26 saying, “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh,” a heart with life able to delight in the Lord, rather than a heart of stone unable, in truth, to understand?
The poet of Psalm 1 continues, likening the blessed man to a thriving tree, showing three truths about the man whose delight is in the law of the Lord.
First, He is not like just any tree but to a tree planted beside the rivers of water. This is not stagnant water, like a tree surrounded by too much water, as when a beaver builds a dam, creating a swamp where all the trees end up dying, like a man who focuses continually on his hopeless inability to keep the law perfectly enough to satisfy the righteous requirements of the holy God. It is not the scary waters of a raging sea, where no tree can survive and people drown, like a man drawn into building his own empire in this cut throat world, or a man drawn to look for goodness in alcohol, drugs or pornography. But the blessed man is like a tree beside the river where nourishment is easily and always available. The man is described as not just any tree but to a fruitful prosperous tree with green leaves, which is well nourished. Such a tree is beside not just a little water but ample water, rivers of good water. Jesus describes this water to the Samaritan women at the well near Samaria in John 4:14 saying, “whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst. But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life.” In The Revelation of Jesus Christ 22:1 John sees “a pure river of the water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding from the throne of God and the Lamb.” Jesus says in Revelation 21:6, “I will give of the fountain of the water of life freely to him who thirsts.” Do you thirst for this?
How does one become like such a well nourished tree? We are told we need to be planted by the source living water. A tree cannot plant itself but has to be planted. No man manages to avail himself of and to be nourished by the law of the Lord, the Word of God, on his own accord. The Gospel of John begins by describing this Word of God, as God Himself. John 1:14 clearly show, Jesus, the Son of God. Are you seeking such nourishment? Do you desire to delight in and feed upon the Water of life, the Word of God. The promise of the Lord Jesus Christ, the source of this living water. is “seek and you will find.” (Matthew 7:7, Luke 11:9)
Second, the blessed man, as mentioned, is not like a barren tree but is like one which bears fruit in season. Kel and Delitzsch, in their commentary, say the “fruit” which the tree bears, is the good works of blessed man. Such fruit does not give life to the tree, the same as good works do not bring about salvation of sinners. The fruit of good works is the result of the life which is there already. A tree, properly cared for and fed, brings forth fruit. Not just any fruit but the kind of fruit the tree is designed to bring forth. We were created to love the Lord God and to love our neighbour. The blessed man, planted where he is nourished by the living water, the Word of God, which is living and powerful (Hebrews 4:12) and does not go out to come back void, always accomplishing what it is meant to do, he (Isaiah 55:11), delights in the Law of the Lord. This delight is played out according to the Law, in the man loving the Lord God and loving his fellow human beings. A tree bearing fruit, as it is supposed to, is a beautiful sight and is usually sought after. Are you like a well nourished tree feeding on the living Word of God and bringing forth good fruit in season, delighting in the things of the Lord and caring for you neighbour? Or are you like a tree, all on its own, not properly rooted and nourished which cannot not bring forth good fruit? Boice says, “The land about might be hot. But if the tree is planted by the stream, so that it can sink its roots down and draws nourishment, it will prosper and yield fruit.” Such is the blessed man.
Third, the blessed man is like a tree with succulent green leaves which never wither. The energy, needed for the nutrients supplied to the root to be changed into the growth of the tree and into fruit, comes through the leaves. In nature, the energy of the sun enters the tree through the leaves. Kel and Delitzsch, in their commentary, say the leaves represent faith. It is through faith in Jesus, the Word of God, that we begin understand and accept the Word and its power. Green leaves are also a sign of life. For Noah in Genesis 8:11, the dove returning to the Ark, with a living olive leaf, gave him what he needed to believe the waters had receded and life had returned to the earth. All Noah saw was the leaf, yet he believed what he could not see (Hebrews 11:1). The earth was once again ready for life to live upon it. The leaf of the tree, the blessed man is likened to, shall never fade. This is the nature of true faith. It remains and cannot be taken away or destroyed. The fact a tree is covered in ever succulent leaves is a sure sign the tree is a live and thriving and likely to bear fruit. This cannot be hidden. Do you have this faith, faith which cannot be hidden?
Any man, who is like such a tree, will prosper in all he does. The season of fruit will, in due time, be all the time. Such a one as this, rather than making ones’ self at home in the house of the wicked, will become part of a home attractive to others, with a life others will desire to have, and a pathway leading up to the house that others will follow, hoping to enjoy some of the fruits. Such a one as this, rather than seeking counsel from the ungodly, will be a source of fruitful counsel. Is this not what we were created to do?, to glorify God and enjoy Him forever, through the keeping of the law, by Loving the Lord God and loving our neighbours? The “But” at the beginning of verse two promises such a life is possible. The Apostle Paul, in Romans 3:21 put is this way, “But now the righteousness of God [not based on our keeping the law] is revealed, being [made known] by the Law and the Prophets. [It is] the righteousness of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all who believe.” (the portions in [brackets] is my paraphrase). The key is not the keeping of the law but faith in, belief in, the only one who kept the law perfectly, Jesus Christ.
Have you been drawn to the living water, the river of water, to the saving nourishing grace of the Lord Jesus Christ? In case you are still holding back from coming to Jesus, the psalm turns to a more direct description of the wicked or ungodly man. Lest someone settle in with the ungodly without being told what is in store for such a person. The ungodly are not so. They are not like the righteous. They are not blessed and not truly happy. Rather than walking not in ungodly counsel, they seek such counsel from other ungodly people like themselves, who do not truly delight in the law of the Lord, who do not delight in the way the truth and the life. (John 14:6 a). Not only do they seek counsel from men like themselves, they follow the same path. They stand in way of sinners, seeking out their sinful ways, mimicking their ungodliness. They make themselves at home with those who speak against God. There they sit down. They eventually plant themselves in the home of scoffers. Rather than being planted by the river of living water, instead, like is described in Jeremiah, they “inhabit the parched places in the wilderness, in a salt land which is not inhabited” where they wither and do not bear the fruit of righteousness which they were created to bear.
Rather than being like the heart of a kernel of wheat which can be planted like a tree by the river of water, the ungodly are likened to chaff. Chaff is the useless part if the wheat. It is dry and has no value. Not only is it driven away by the wind, the wind is used to drive it way. The grain of wheat is saved. The chaff is carried away to be seen no more. So, too, with the ungodly. Unlike the righteous who will remain known and close to the Lord, the ungodly will perish and be seen no more with the righteous. They will have no part in the kingdom of God.
Some of the ungodly, may be easily visible, aligning themselves with the world, as they follow the living of scoffers, outwardly taking the name of the Lord God in vain, laughing at the things of the Lord, and refusing to take the law of the Lord with any seriousness.
Other ungodly may be deceptive as wolves in sheep’s clothing, living among believers, acting like trees, giving great pretense to the law of the Lord without truly delighting in it. Such ungodly will not delight in the law of the Lord. They use the law to try to bring their fellow man into bondage, offering hope through keeping their rules, or by claiming the law has been abolished offering hope to the unrepentant who simply say “I believe,” which is not real hope at all.
Most of the ungodly who never come to delight in the law of the Lord, will be greatly surprised when their time comes to stand in Judgement for, unless they repent before they die, while it is still the day of grace, they will learn too late that the Lord God is very serious about what He says in His word and they will not stand in Judgement. The opportunity to joining with the congregation of the righteous will be gone and they will perish to spend eternity in the clutches of hell, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth and there will be no blessing and nothing good. Some of the ungodly may not be surprised, knowing deep down they should have turned to the Lord but “should have” is not they same as “turning.” Although not surprised, they will still perish.
To have this psalm of beautiful hope and blessing, for those who come to be nourished by true living water and delight in the law of the Lord, end with “but the way of the ungodly will perish seems odd. Definitely, this is a truth those who have so far refused to seek God need to hear. But even more they need to appreciate the beauty and hope found only in Christ. It is interesting to discover that early manuscripts and commentators included Psalm one and Psalm two as one Psalm. Psalm one begins with “Blessed is the man who…,” and Psalm two ends with “Blessed are those all those who put their trust in Him.” Clearly “Him” refers to Jesus Christ. Psalm one begins with blessed is the man. The only man who could of Himself live in such a blessed way is the Man Jesus Christ. The conclusion of Psalm two speaks of blessing for many, for all those, who trust in, or are in, the One Man, Jesus Christ. Truly, Amazing!
In which of these ways are you? Which type of man describes you? The man who is known by the Lord, who trust in the Lord Jesus Christ, or the one who will perish from the way? The Lord knows all thing and there is nothing hidden from His sight (Hebrew 4:13). In this sense the Lord knows the ungodly too. But the way the Lord knows the righteous is special and intimate and the source of true blessedness.
Knowing that to be blessed you must be planted by the river of life, do you cry out to the Lord that He plant you? Do you thank the Lord for planting you and share with others this beauty of the Lord God?