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;
but his delight is in the law of the LORD,
and on his law he meditates day and night.
He is like a tree
planted by steams of water
that yields its fruit in its season,
and its leaf does not wither.
In all that he does, he prospers.
The wicked are not so,
but are like chaff that the wind drives away.
Therefore the wicked will 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 wicked will perish.
Psalm 1 ESV
For all of humanity, life is worship. Every action, every breath, every word spoken all either worship God or worship something or someone else. There is no in between. We were created to be creatures of worship, and we never cease to adore and honor the object of our worship.
The first psalm in the Bible illustrates this idea well. It describes two types of people in the world: the righteous and the wicked (or we might also say, those who follow God and those who do not). We are told that the righteous are known and blessed by the LORD, while the wicked are destined for destruction and judgment. Obviously, we should aim to be counted among the righteous. But how do we know that we are one of the righteous? The psalmist urges us to look at the person’s lifestyle. Those who are blessed by God will be known for delighting in the Word of God and meditating upon it day and night.
This psalm places great emphasis upon how we ought to live our lives. Will we be known for only spending time with and taking counsel from people who reject the LORD? Or will we be known for being men and women who delight in the Scriptures? Worship and our daily life are intricately connected because we give time to that which we adore and esteem. If we love the counsel of the ungodly, we will give our time to them. If we love God, we will then delight in His Word.
THE PATH TO BLESSING // VERSES 1-2
This psalm kicks off by presenting the concept of blessings by discussing what a blessed man looks like. It is crucial, therefore, that we understand what the Bible means by being blessed. Current culture often uses blessed (particularly on social media) as a way of boasting with feigned humility. In fact, New York Times even wrote an article about the word’s popularity. Here is an excerpt:
’There’s literally a chick in my Facebook feed right now who just posted a booty shot of herself — and all it says is ‘blessed,’ ” said Erin Jackson, a stand-up comedian in Virginia. “Now wait. Is that really a blessing?’
There’s nothing quite like invoking holiness as a way to brag about your life. But calling something “blessed” has become the go-to term for those who want to boast about an accomplishment while pretending to be humble, fish for a compliment, acknowledge a success (without sounding too conceited), or purposely elicit envy. Blessed, “divine or supremely favored,” is now used to explain that coveted Ted talk invite as well as to celebrate your grandmother’s 91st birthday. It is carried out in hashtags (#blessed), acronyms (#BH, for the Hebrew “baruch hasem,” which means “blessed be God”), and even, God forbid, emoji.
“‘Blessed’ is used now where in the past one might have said ‘lucky,’ ” said the linguist Deborah Tannen. “But what makes these examples humble-brags is not ‘blessed’ itself but the context: telling the world your fiancé is the best or that you’ve been invited to do something impressive. Actually I don’t even see the ‘humble’ in it. I just see ‘brag.’”
This is significantly different from the biblical meaning of being blessed. Within Scripture, being blessed means to have the favor of God. God’s favor is the Old Testament’s equivalent of grace. In fact, we could even describe grace as being the unmerited favor of God. Having God’s favor means that we are recipients of His steadfast and covenantal love. Because God holds all of creation within His hands, we should long to be blessed by Him.
How Not to Live
Fortunately, the next two verses describe what the blessed man looks like. First, we are told what the blessed man does not do. Of course, I should note that the psalm here uses the term ‘man’ in a general sense, essentially meaning person. Thus, the psalm is not reserved exclusively for males; rather, it speaks to all people. Let us then discuss what not to do first. The actions walk, stand, and sit each invoke the concept of daily living. Some theologians have proposed that they describe a progressive amount of time spent with ungodly people. This could be the intention of the psalmist, but we cannot be certain. Instead, I believe that the emphasis of these statements is upon the reason that someone might spend time with the wicked. The psalmist says that a blessed man does not walk in the “counsel of the wicked.” This means that he does not take advice and/or follow advice from ungodly people. The psalm is not suggesting that we never associate ourselves with non-Christians. Completely separating ourselves from non-believers is doing the opposite of what Christ did. After all, Jesus was often accused of befriending sinners. Rather, the psalm is warning for us not to take counsel from the ungodly. Once more, this does not mean that Christians can only receive advice from other Christians; instead, it is a general principle concerning where we turn to for wisdom. Do we turn to the world and its wisdom for our lives, or do we turn to God?
It is also worth noting that some people might hear these words and think that they are successful in obeying them because they do not spend time with non-Christians. First, we have already addressed that we should befriend sinners, just like Jesus did. Second, we do not necessarily have to receive counsel by interpersonal means. Today, ungodly counsel can come through any number of channels. We might be walking in the counsel of Oprah or developing our values from soap operas and sitcoms. With music, television, movies, social media, and everything else available to us at every moment, we are in danger of receiving constant counsel sinners and scoffers!
Let us also briefly mention the final word of verse one: ‘scoffers.’ Other words that we can call scoffers include mockers, scorners, ridiculers, or disdainers. This describes someone who is happy about nothing. Scoffers are constantly angry, bitter, and cynical. Their lives and personalities are marked by a distinct lack of contentment and satisfaction, which are both qualities that should be present in a Christian. As people who rejoice with thanksgiving in Jesus, we should be quite incompatible with the contemptuous nature of scoffers.
How to Live
Now that we have discussed how not to live, let us see the alternative path. In contrast to the scoffers of the previous verse, the blessed man delights in the law of the LORD. This is an odd concept if we take a moment to think about it. In nearly every society on earth, laws are at least partially considered to have a negative connotation. This was not the case in Hebrew culture. The first five books of the Bible (Genesis through Deuteronomy) are called the Torah in Hebrew. Because of this, the entire Old Testament was often called the Torah as well. Thus, when the psalmist speaks of God’s law, he is referring to the entire canon of Scripture.
This is a sharp contrast to the picture of what not to do in verse one. Instead of taking counsel from those who do not follow the LORD, the blessed man turns to the Word of God. As Christians, this ought to be our default response, consulting the truths that God Himself has spoken to us. We find this notion in two verses of another psalm. “How can a young man keep his way pure? By guarding it according to your word.” I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.” Both of these verses indicate the same principle: we combat sin through increased focus upon the Word of God.
Notice that the psalm states two particular things regarding our interaction with God’s law. First, we should delight in the Scriptures. This is a very biblical notion, especially for the Psalms. “In the way of your testimonies I delight as much as in all riches.” I will delight in your statutes; I will not forget your word.” “More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb.” Do we think of the Bible in those terms? Is it sweeter than honey to us? If we truly believe that the Scripture is the Word of God, then we should.
Consider this for a moment. God said, “Let there be light.” By His sovereign authority, light came into existence because of those four simple words. By similar declarations, God formed the earth beneath our feet, the animals that we see, the galaxies and nebulas in the heavens, and the organ systems within our bodies. God did all of this by His words. God then, over the course of human history, inspired men like Moses and David to write down His words. Thus, every time that we read Scripture, we are reading the very words of the almighty God. Furthermore, we are only able to read them because He loved us enough to place them in our hands. Not only is the God of the Bible great; He also loves us. What glorious news! Why would we not delight in reading the words that God wrote to us because He loves us and wants for us to know Him more?
Second, we are to meditate upon God’s law day and night. Biblically, meditation is not equivalent to the Buddhist idea of meditation. The Bible’s concept of meditating means that we are to think deeply about the Scriptures; as opposed to the Buddhist idea of cessation of thought. Indeed, as Christians, we are called to think deeply about God’s Word, to ponder it, consider it, and contemplate it. Other places encourage this meditating upon the Word as well. Of course, in order to think deeply about the Word of God day and night, we must have portions of it memorized. Committing to Scripture to memory does little for us without then meditating upon it. Similarly, we are extremely limited in our ability to meditate upon God’s Word without first having some of it memorized. We should, therefore, strive to memorize and meditate upon Scripture.
LIKE A TREE // VERSES 3-4
The second major movement of the psalm provides a wondrous picture of the blessed man, as well as a dire warning to the ungodly. Because verse four is explicitly the negative of verse three, we will discuss the two verses in conjunction with one another.
Yet we must note, first, who the wicked being referenced are. The wicked are not necessarily the vilest of people. The psalmist is not thinking primarily of the Neros and Hitlers of the world. Rather, the wicked could also be called the ungodly, meaning that they are without God. These are simply men and women who have neither want nor desire of God in their daily lives. Though they may think they are righteous people, God merely has no impact upon how they live their lives. Thus, by this category, the wicked might very well be religious persons because religious does equate to godliness. For an example, look no further than Paul. He boasts in Philippians 3 that he was a great Hebrew of Hebrews, descended from the tribe of Benjamin, and that he was one of the Pharisees. Paul was about as religious as one can be, but it was not enough. Paul needed not religion; he needed Christ. Therefore, he proclaimed boldly, “But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ.” Religion amounts to nothing, unless it is centered and built upon Christ.
First, the psalmist concludes that the blessed man is like a tree planted by streams of water. The image of a tree should cause us to think about strength and security. Trees are among the mightiest of God’s creations. When they are healthy and their roots run deep underground, trees are utterly immovable to anything but the strongest of forces. Such is the picture that the psalmist paints. The blessed man is not like just any tree; he is like a tree planted beside streams of water. The flowing stream provides plenty of water for the roots to grow deep and strong. Jesus pulls upon this imagery when He speaks about living water. The man of God is rooted in Jesus and in His Word, which enables him to weather through the storms of life with strength and faith. For example, in the midst of suffering, a Christian should be able to lean upon God’s word in Romans: “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” Through this specific verse, we can understand that God orchestrates all things in life for our good. Seeing the evidence of the good that happens because a Christian gets diagnosed with cancer might be difficult (even in some cases, impossible); however, the Christian is able to have faith that God works everything out for good, even if we cannot see it. In promises such as that one, the man of God finds strength to be firmly planted.
Furthermore, note that he is like a tree planted. The question then must be asked: who planted the tree? The answer, of course, is that God planted this tree. This is stunningly significant. Like a farmer planting a tree to suit His purposes, God plants each of His people wherever they will best be used for the kingdom of God. We are able to rejoice that we have firmness and security that is rooted in the LORD, but also we can have peace in knowing that He has created us and called us for His purposes. The follower of Christ has the rest of knowing that his life is not in vain. The LORD has created every believer with a specific purpose.
Second, we are told that the man yields fruit in season. This is similar to the language that Jesus uses in Matthew 7:15-20 about recognizing people by their fruits. Just like we can identify good and bad trees by whether they bear good or bad fruit, so it is with all people. Though ultimately God is the only one who is able to judge the heart, our actions (aka our fruit) indicate where our hearts are. If we fail to bear fruit, we reveal then that we are a bad tree that is only good for throwing into the fire. This shows us that not obeying God’s commands is just as sinful as disobeying them. Consider Judges 5:23, “Curse Meroz, says the angel of the LORD, curse its inhabitants thoroughly, because they did not come to the help of the LORD, to the help of the LORD against the mighty.” Meroz was thoroughly cursed because of they did nothing. Bearing no fruit is just as sinful as bearing bad fruit.
Third, the psalmist states that the blessed man’s leafs do not wither. A well-nourished, deeply rooted tree remains healthy throughout its life. This also should be true of followers of Christ. God’s intention for believers is never for them to walk strong in the LORD for a time only to fall away years later. Rather, the follower of Christ is meant to remain steadfast in the LORD until the very end.
The ungodly is completely unlike the righteous in each of these areas. While the righteous people are firm like a tree, the wicked are like wheat’s chaff. The chaff is the lightweight shell around the wheat’s kernel that is separated and blown away by the wind. Other than protecting the wheat while it grows, the chaff offers no value to the grower; therefore, it is separated from the wheat and burned in a fire to get rid of it. The psalmist states that this is like the wicked. Though the blessed man is rooted, steadfast, and fruit bearing, the wicked are like useless chaff that are blown away in the wind. John the Baptist furthers this analogy by saying, “His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”
JUDGMENT & FAITHFULNESS // VERSES 5-6
Here now is the end of the matter for the psalm as the psalmist concludes his poem. Because the wicked are like chaff, they will not stand in the judgment. This means that on the judgment day of the LORD, the ungodly will not be able to stand. Though many people may now stand proudly opposed God, we are assured here that they will not do so on that day. Just as “the mountains melt like wax before the LORD”, the wicked will as well. Nor will they participate in the congregation of the righteous.
This is a clear reference to the Church. The body of Christ, which we call the church, is also known in Scripture as a congregation or an assembly. Thus, we should note that heaven (the final destination of believers) will be marked as a congregation, or a church, of gathered believers. This means that the community of the church is essentially a small taste of heaven. Consider this then: if one does not enjoy the fellowship of believers now, what joy would he or she find in heaven? Not only will the wicked not be in heaven, they also would not find enjoyment there even if they were placed in heaven.
The psalm then ends with a conclusive statement about the ways of the righteous and the wicked. The term way refers to the entire way of life or the path of both the righteous and the wicked. The LORD knows the way of the righteous. This means that the LORD watches over the righteous. He knows their hearts, and He cares for them. As for the wicked, they will perish. Also note that their entire way will perish. There will come a day when the entire concept of sin will be destroyed. God will completely eliminate the way of the wicked. This might sound needlessly harsh, but assuredly, it is not. Just imagine, when the way of the wicked perishes, sin and evil will be no more. We will no longer battle with our flesh. We will no more struggle against the temptations of the world. For the follower of Christ, this is glorious news. For the follower of the way of the wicked, it is a call to repent and come to the grace found only in Jesus.
 Bennett, Jessica. They Feel ‘Blessed’. New York Times. May 2, 2014. http://www.nytimes.com/2014/05/04/fashion/blessed-becomes-popular-word-hashtag-social-media.html?_r=0
 Matthew 9:9-13, 11:16-19; Mark 2:13-17; Luke 5:27-32, 7:31-35, 7:36-50, 15:1-2, 19:1-10
 Philippians 4:11-13
 Psalm 119:9
 Psalm 119:11
 Psalm 119:14
 Psalm 119:16
 Psalm 19:10
 Joshua 1:8; Psalm 119:15, 23, 27-28
 Philippians 3:7
 John 4:14, 7:38; Revelation 21:6
 Romans 8:28
 Matthew 3:12
 Psalm 97:5