nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous
Psalm 1:5 ESV
In the first part of this verse, the psalmist made the declaration that the wicked will not stand in the judgment. Like chaff that the wind drives away, they will be driven away from the presence of the Holy One on the final day. Which brings us to our text of meditation, the second half of verse 5: nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous.
First, we should note that sinners and the wicked are synonymous here. We are certainly all sinners, but those who refuse to repent of their sins belong to the biblical category of sinners. Likewise, we are all wicked, yet the wicked, as a category of persons, consists of who reject God’s righteous way. This also means that we too were once categorically sinners, belonging in number to the wicked, yet in Christ, we have been ransomed from that path of death and futility. He has paid the debt of our sin before the Father and imputed to us His righteousness.
Of course, God’s plan of salvation has always been Christ, so even in the Old Testament, the salvation of God’s people was established through various sacrifices and offerings that all pointed the faithful to Christ’s final, once-for-all sacrifice.
Few examples are as clear as the Passover lamb. As we have been noting in our study through Exodus, the Israelites were in danger of the tenth plague’s death because they were just as sinful as the Egyptians were. Being just, God was not going to simply treat their sins as if they never happened while striking down the Egyptians; instead, He made a provision for Israel’s sins: a slaughtered lamb. As they splattered the lamb’s blood upon their doorposts, they were marking that death had indeed come upon their homes, yet in God’s mercy, it fell upon the lamb rather than the Israelites. Any Israelite home without the lamb’s blood marking would have been numbered among the Egyptians and faced their judgment. Therefore, as the Israel’s reenacted the Passover each year with the Feast of Unleavened Bread, any Israelite who did not participate in meal and feast was to be “cut off from the congregation of Israel” (Exodus 12:19), for they were numbering themselves among the wicked nations rather than God’s redeemed people.
It is fitting, therefore, that the psalmist would parallel the wicked’s inability to stand before God’s judgment and the sinner’s inability to stand within the congregation of the righteous. The congregation of the righteous are the blessed, those who have been redeemed from their sins by God’s abundant mercy. In the Old Testament, that congregation was Israel; it is now the church. To belong to God’s people in this life is a visible testament that we will stand in the day of judgment numbered among those whom God has redeemed and made righteous. Of course, the church itself does not save anyone; that is the work of Christ alone. So, there will surely be many among the church now who will prove themselves to have been weeds among the wheat. God does indeed save individuals, yet it is also true that He saves us for the purpose of belonging to the others, to the congregation of the righteous, to the communion of saints.