The Right Way
The old saying goes, “There are three ways to do anything: the right way, the wrong way, and my way.” In reality there are only two ways: the right way and the wrong way. In Psalms the right way is that of the righteous (Hb., zedeqim), and the wrong way is that of the wicked (Hb., resaim). The right way is God’s way, and the wrong way is the fallen world’s way. The right way leads the one following it to ultimate blessing and happiness, and the wrong way leads the one following it to ultimate destruction and unhappiness. We all make choices each day about which path we will follow.
Psalm 1 is a wisdom psalm that serves as an introduction to the entire Psalter. The Book of Psalms stands at the head of the Writings and the first Book of Psalms (Pss 1-41). Writings are filled with wisdom sayings in Psalms, Job, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs. The first word or words of a Hebrew Bible book often serves as a title or theme for the whole book. The first words of Psalm 1 are “Blessed is the man” (Hb., asre haish). “Blessed” can also be interpreted as “happy” just as in the Beatitudes of Jesus.
1 Blessed is the one
who does not walk in step with the wicked
or stand in the way that sinners take
or sit in the company of mockers,
2 but whose delight is in the law of the Lord,
and who meditates on his law day and night.
3 That person is like a tree planted by streams of water,
which yields its fruit in season
and whose leaf does not wither—
whatever they do prospers.
4 Not so the wicked!
They are like chaff
that the wind blows away.
5 Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous.
6 For the Lord watches over the way of the righteous,
but the way of the wicked leads to destruction (Psalm 1:1-6 NIV).
A Message to the Righteous (1-3)
The Negative (1) - The psalmist begins with a declaration of what the blessed, happy, wise, righteous person DOES NOT DO. He/she does not: 1) “walk (Hb., halak) in the counsel of the wicked (Hb., resaim – a general term for evil persons)”; 2) “stand (Hb., amad) in the way(path) of sinners (Hb., hattaim – those who miss the mark of God's law)”; 3) “sit (Hb., yasab) in the seat of mockers (Hb., lesim – arrogant ones unwilling to take instruction).” The three verbs (i.e., walk, stand, sit) show the progression of sin becoming a way of life. Walk is acceptance of the world’s advice. Stand is accepting or sharing in the world’s ways. Sit is adoption of the world’s ways/attitudes as one's own. Following the wrong path begins with thinking which affects behavior and ultimately belonging.
The Positive (2) - The psalmist then declares what the blessed, happy, wise, righteous person DOES DO. First, his/her “delight is in the law of the Lord” (2). The happy person seeks to understand and follow the totality of God’s revelation. The word “law” (Hb., torah) generally refers to the “instructions” or “direction” of God to human beings for living life. In context here it refers to the whole of scripture. This is not close-minded legalism but openness to receive and follow God’s Spirit-illumined word on a daily basis. The law and instruction of the Lord stands in opposition to the counsel of the wicked. Remember that whatever shapes our thinking shapes our lives and actions.
As Joshua took up the mantle of leadership from Moses, God counseled, “Do not let this book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful” (Joshua 1:8). God gave similar instructions concerning the future Israelite king when he said, "When he takes the throne of his kingdom, he is to write for himself on a scroll a copy of this law, taken from that of the Levitical priests. It is to be with him, and he is to read it all the days of his life so that he may learn to revere the Lord his God and follow carefully all the words of this law and these decrees and not consider himself better than his fellow Israelites and turn from the law to the right or to the left. Then he and his descendants will reign a long time over his kingdom in Israel (Deut 17:18-20 NIV). These instructions to the leaders of God's people were an early form of What Would Jesus Do (WWJD). We must read God's word and listen to the Holy Spirit, the Living Word of God, for guidance in each decision and action of life.
The Application (3) – Next, the psalmist describes what the blessed, wise, righteous person IS LIKE. “He is like a tree planted by streams of water” – We have a chance to live and do what God wants. These words echo those of Jer 17:7-8: “But blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in him. He will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit.” The phrase “which yields its fruit in season” places emphasis on the righteous person bearing fruit in his/her life. The normal progression is planting, appearance of foliage, production of fruit. The tree, here the blessed one, absorbs water and nutrients, which are God’s word, and makes something good. Paul said, “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Eph 2:10). We are saved by God’s grace to do good works. As God’s people we are constantly to bear good fruit for God. As we yield to God, we have His promise of success and eternal life since God promises that "the leaf does not wither" for the one who bears fruit through him. We are free from drought since God’s word never runs dry. It is an ever-flowing, refreshing spring.
A Message to the Wicked (4-5)
Next the psalmist describes the wicked who “are like chaff” (4). There are two verses on the wicked and three on the righteous. The emphasis of Psalm 1 is on affirming the righteous not on condemning the wicked. Like chaff, the life of the wicked person is totally useless and good for nothing. Chaff, the husk around each grain of wheat, is rootless, essentially weightless, and has no nutritional value. It is useless. The wicked cut themselves off from God and His word. The resulting curses/unhappiness are not sent from God upon the wicked but are the natural results of the choice of their way of selfishness over God’s way of self-sacrifice.
The “wicked will not stand (Hb., qum) in the judgment” (5). Unlike the righteous, the wicked have no foundation, no rootedness in God and His word. They will not be able to stand before God but will be led away to judgment. Furthermore, the psalmist declares, “nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous” (5). Those who claim to follow God but who don’t will not stand with the righteous in the judgment. This saying reminds me of Jesus' Parable of the Sheep and the Goats related to the end time judgment.
31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.
34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’
41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’
44 “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’
45 “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me’ (Mt 25:31-45 NIV).
Our good works do not save us but are evidence of our salvation.
The psalmist promises, “For the Lord watches over the way of the righteous” (6). The word “Lord (Hb., Yahweh)" is God’s covenant and relational name. It is God who “watches over (Hb., yada)" and has an intimate, personal relationship with the righteous. God knows the “way (Hb., derek)" of righteousness because he, himself in Christ Jesus has been down the road we follow and helps us overcome all that we face. Certainly, “the way of the wicked will perish” (6). Only the things done for God’s kingdom will last. Everything else will perish.
Are you happy in life? Do you enjoy being a Christian? If not, why not? How do you measure your happiness? Maybe you are using the wrong measure or looking at it wrong. We tend to measure happiness by how much we enjoy ourselves; our achievement of goals; self-actualization; self-fulfillment; prosperity; attaining what we want; feeling good about ourselves and our actions (self-righteousness).
True happiness is not found within oneself but in the delight of believing and doing what God teaches. Our goal is not self-fulfillment but selflessly praising God in our words and deeds. Prosperity is not getting what we want but being connected to God, the source of true life. Righteous actions do not come primarily from our choices but flow out of knowing that we truly belong to God and are secure in our relationship with Him both now and in the future.
Walking the path of righteousness is not always easy. The Psalms are filled with laments from righteous ones who are persecuted, threatened, and abused by the world. Being connected with God and secure in Him is what sustains life and gives hope in every situation of life. Jesus said to some of his first disciples, “Come, follow me, and I will make you fishers of men” (Mk 1:17 NIV). Jesus still calls us to follow him and his way; the right way; the way that leads to the blessing of true happiness and fulfillment in him. Each day we have a fundamental choice to make. We daily face forks in the road before us. Which path will you follow?