Biblical Wisdom

The Cost of Adultery | Proverbs 6:20-35

My son, keep your father’s commandment,
land forsake not your mother’s teaching.
Bind them on your heart always;
tie them around your neck.
When you walk, they will lead you;
when you lie down, they will watch over you;
and when you awake, they will talk with you.
For the commandment is a lamp and the teaching a light,
and the reproofs of discipline are the way of life,
to preserve you from the evil woman, 
from the smooth tongue of the adulteress. 
Do not desire her beauty in your heart,
and do not let her capture you with her eyelashes;
for the price of a prostitute is only a loaf of bread, 
but a married woman hunts down a precious life.
Can a man carry fire next to his chest
and his clothes not be burned?
Or can one walk on hot coals
and his feet not be scorched?
So is he who goes in to his neighbor’s wife;
none who touches her will go unpunished.
People do not despise a thief if he steals
to satisfy his appetite when he is hungry,
but if he is caught, he will pay sevenfold;
he will give all the goods of his house.
He who commits adultery lacks sense;
he who does it destroys himself.
He will get wounds and dishonor,
and his disgrace will not be wiped away.
For jealousy makes a man furious,
and he will not spare when he takes revenge.
He will accept no compensation;
he will refuse though you multiply gifts.

Proverbs 6:20-35 ESV

 

For the first half of chapter six, Solomon took a break from warning against sexual immorality to focus on three other sins, but now he returns to his pleas against the Adulteress, who is the poetic representation of all sexual sin. Here we find the ancient king warning us of the great cost that sexual immorality exacts upon its victims and learn to seek refuge in God’s Word.

THE NECESSITY OF SCRIPTURE // VERSES 20-24

Verses 20-23 are commands and exhortations that provide the same essential message that we have seen before: keep these commandments. The commandments of the father and teaching of the mother in verse 20 refers ultimately to the Scriptures, since parents are responsible for teaching their children God’s Word (Deuteronomy 6:4-9). Again, allusions to the Shema in Deuteronomy 6:4-9 are rampant. Verse 21 pleads with us to hold the Scriptures so closely that we might as well have them bound to our heart or tied around our neck.

Verses 22-23 inform us of the benefits of being steeped in God’s Word. Verse 22 is a commentary on Deuteronomy 6:7, explaining for us the benefits of obeying the latter command. We speak of the Scriptures when we walk because they lead us. Since the idea of two paths (one to life and the other to death) is a prevalent motif of Proverbs, we should find it tremendously significant that the Bible leads us down the path of wisdom, righteousness, and life. We meditate upon the Scriptures when we lie down to sleep because they watch over us. The Word certainly guards our heart against sin even sinful thoughts while asleep, which is why we are called to meditate on it day and night (Psalm 1:3). But the Scriptures also reveal to us the God who guards us. “In peace I will both lie down and sleep; for you alone, O LORD, make me dwell in safety” (Psalm 3:8). When we awake in the morning, we go to the Scriptures, and they talk with us. I love that the ESV maintains the KJV’s usage of the word with. The NIV, NET, and others translate it as speak to you. While neither is wrong (and I am no expert in Hebrew to debate which is best), the word with carries the notion of a dialogue with God through the Scriptures. Through the Bible (God speaking to us) and prayer (us speaking to God), we certainly can converse with the Creator God. In fact, if we take frequent pauses in our reading to pray, our reading even begins to develop the feel of a dialogue.

Verse 23 calls the teachings and commandments of Scripture a lamp and a light, and their reproof of discipline are a path of life. We live in a rebellious age. It is entirely natural for us to question rules, regulations, and laws. We each desire to be the masters of our own fate. Laws set boundaries upon our self-expression; therefore, we rebel against them, if not outwardly then inwardly. We hate being told what to do. But the Bible speaks of our natural desires and inclinations being warped and sinful. Although we know what we want, we are often ignorant of the consequences of receiving those things. Our minds are darkened to what is truly good and what is truly evil. We, thus, hate that which saves us and love that which kills us. This is humanity’s problem of sin. We actively desire the path of foolishness and death. The Scriptures, however, illuminate and expose the foolishness of sin. They reveal to the excellencies of Christ, the true Light (1 Peter 2:9; John 1:9). They provide boundaries of love that guard us from wandering into the consequences of sin. They reprove and correct our thoughts and actions in the discipline of the LORD. Paul emphasizes that the Scriptures are the way of life in his description of them to Timothy: “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17). Gregg Allison provides a great summary of those four benefits of the Word:

Scripture is profitable for teaching, or the communication of authoritative and wisdom-inculcating theological truth; for reproof, or the highlighting of sinful attitudes and actions from which Christians must turn; correction, or the pointing out of the proper road to pursue; and training in righteousness, or the preparation of mature Christ-followers. (p. 113)

All of this means that we are incomplete and faulty without the Scriptures. We need them to speak into our lives, giving sound discipline and correction. Both churches and the Christians within them must be centered upon the Word of God. To depart from it, or even simply neglect it, is to forsake God’s wisdom in favor our own. He who fears God will live and die on His Word; fools reject the Scriptures because they “despise wisdom and instruction” (1:7).

All of these are reasons to submit daily to the Scriptures, but Solomon ends our present selections of verses by providing another: they preserve us from the Adulteress. This is, of course, a transition verse that relaunches Solomon’s assault against sexual immorality. Let us then proceed into the following verses, and we will conclude this study by returning to verse 24 to discuss how the Scriptures preserve us from the Forbidden Woman.

PLAYING WITH FIRE // VERSES 25-29

The structure of these verses is as follows: verse 25 is primary command, while verses 26-35 discuss the reason for, and necessity of, obeying it. So what is the command? Do not desire her beauty in your heart, and do not let her capture you with her eyelashes. Note that Solomon is fully aware of how appealing sexual sin is. In chapter 5, he said that the Adulteress’ lips dripped honey (5:3). She is seductive and alluring, not merely to the eye but also to the heart. The word desire here is the same used for covet in the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:17; Deuteronomy 5:21). It is a strong, almost overwhelming, want of something, and it comes from the heart. Too often, we treat lust as a sin of the sight which leads to sin of action, but lust is a sin of the heart, which then leads to sight and action. Jesus Himself taught us this truth: “But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:28).

Verse 26 begins Solomon’s attack against desiring the Forbidden Woman by describing its ease relative to its cost. By stating that a prostitute can be bought for a loaf of bread but a married woman kills, Solomon is not saying to avoid married women but prostitutes are fine. Instead, he is contrasting the perceived cost with the actual cost. Prostitutes (and all sexual immorality) appear to be inexpensive, but their true cost is the life of the one caught in her eyelashes.

Verses 27-29 give us a mental-image metaphor of the foolishness of sexual immorality. Verses 27-28 ask rhetorical questions: Can a man carry fire next to his chest and his clothes not be burned? Or can one walk on hot coals and his feet no be scorched? The simplicity of these questions is almost offensive to commonsense. The answer is obvious that it is absurd to even have bothered asking the question at all. Of course, in verse 29, we discover that that is the point. So is the connecting word. The man who commits adultery is like a man carrying fire next to his chest and expecting to not be burned. Such is the foolishness of sin. When we sin, we fully expect the consequences to be withheld. We imagine ourselves as the exception to the rule, but Solomon is clear: none who touches her will go unpunished. The word none leaves zero room for wiggling free. Punishment will fall upon those who commit sexual immorality. Period.

THE SELF-DESTRUCTION OF SEXUAL IMMORALITY // VERSES 30-35

Since the discussion of the chapter is sexual immorality, verses 30-31 appear to be quite out of place. Why does Solomon suddenly dive into discussing the thief? He is presenting a comparison of sin’s consequences. When a thief steals because he is hungry, he is not despised (meaning people are understanding of his plight), but if he is caught, there are still severe consequences for his actions. Adultery is altogether different. Sex is not a necessity nor an inherent right of humanity. Someone caught in adultery is not treated with the same level of understanding as the thief. In this way, the adulterer lacks sense (or heart), and he destroys himself. The wounds of lust are self-inflicted, wounds of dishonor and disgrace. Verses 34-35 describe the wrath of an adulteress’ husband as a consequence of adultery, but the principle stands with all forms of sexual sin: we cannot escape the punishment that follows sin.

CHRIST, OUR PRESERVER & SAVIOR // VERSES 24; 29

We will end our study with two thoughts from previous verses.

First, recall that verse 29 states that no one who touches the Adulteress will go unpunished. This verse is significant for two reasons. Because the Adulteress is a poetic representation of sexual sin (and even sin in general), this verse is not merely for those who commit the actual act of adultery. We could just as easily say that “none who look at porn will go unpunished”, “none who lust in their heart will go unpunished”, or even “none who gossip will go unpunished”. The point is that while the principle is being applied to sexual sin it still stands for all sin in general. Nahum 1:3 supports this claim: “The LORD is slow to anger and great in power, and the LORD will by no means clear the guilty.” Notice the certainty of that claim. By no means will the LORD clear the guilty. That is the same message of Proverbs 6:29. God will allow no sin to go unpunished.

But all of this seems to fly in the face of what we discussed in Proverbs 3:11-12. There we learned that God disciplines His people as a father disciplines his son. In fact, because we are sons and daughters of God, there is no longer any form of punishment for our sins reserved for us. Every suffering we experience and even the natural consequences of our sin are all the loving discipline of God toward us. By these, He teaches us but does not punish.

How then do we reconcile these two truths? How can God withhold all punishment from us without being a liar? The beauty of the cross is that it brings reconciliation to Old Testament truths such as this. Apart from the death of Christ, these verses are a serious problem for the Bible-believer. It is impossible to unite the love and justice of God as revealed in Scripture without the cross of Jesus Christ. By completely taking the punishment of our sin upon Himself, Jesus receive the full wrath of God that we deserved. This upholds the validity of the Proverbs 6:29 and Nahum 1:3. God certainly does not arbitrarily clear the guilty; rather, their punishment is dealt in its entirety. But the love of God is also revealed because the punishment is placed upon Christ as a substitute for us. This is the splendid beauty of the gospel!

But how do we know this Christ and His gospel? We come to know Christ through His revealed Word, the Scriptures. By this thought, we see that Scripture preserves us from evil (v. 24) by taking us to Christ. Thus, if you are weary of battling a losing-war against your sin, go to Christ in His Word. Saturate your life with God’s truth, and you will soon find yourself in the midst of God Himself. We can never overcome sin by focusing upon sin; instead, we must focus on Jesus and His Word.

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What Is Biblical Inspiration?

All Scripture is breathed out by God…
2 Timothy 3:16 ESV

Before we address what Paul means by Scripture being breathed out by God, we must first identify what we mean by the word Scripture. At its simplest, the word scripture means a writing, some form of written document. The Apostle Paul is using it as a title for what many of us today call the Bible (which means book). The Word of God is also an appropriate title, and the Old Testament is fond of calling it the Law. So the Bible, Scripture, Word of God, and the Law are all titles for the same collection of ancient literature that we Christians value greatly.

You may also note that Paul refers to the Bible as Scripture (singular), but they are also called the Scriptures (plural) just as often. In fact, Jesus Himself tended to use the singular and plural pretty interchangeably. I think this is because the Bible is both a collection of books and one single book.

With sixty-six books, the Bible is a library, divided into two parts: the Old Testament and the New Testament.

Containing thirty-nine books, the Old Testament is significantly larger than the New, and many considered to be much more difficult to read. However, the Old Testament’s story can be easily read in the following books: Genesis, Exodus, Numbers, Joshua, Judges, 1 & 2 Samuel, 1 & 2 Kings, Ezra, and Nehemiah. Those eleven books form the overall narrative, from creation to the restoration of Jerusalem. Beyond that, the Old Testament can be divided into three categories: the Torah (Hebrew for Law), the Writings, and the Prophets. The Torah consists of the first five books of the Bible, authored by Moses. Psalms, Proverbs, and the other poetic books compose the Writings. The oracles of Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Hosea, Jonah, and others fill the largest section, the Prophets.

There is a four-hundred-year gap between the Old and New Testament. The New Testament opens with the four Gospels. These are each accounts of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. The presence of four books that tell the same story should point to the importance and centrality of their message.

Jesus is the focus of the entire Bible.

The Old Testament looked forward to Him, the Gospels proclaim Him, and the rest of the New Testament is a reflection upon what He did and will do.

But why do we need four Gospels?

We can think of the Gospels as being different portraits of Jesus. They all tell the same narrative but from a slightly different angle. Matthew paints Jesus as the Jewish Messiah, coming to establish the eternal kingdom of heaven on earth. Mark depicts Jesus as the suffering servant, coming in authority to lay down His life for others. Luke pictures Jesus as the Son of Man, who reaches out to the poor, sick, and outcast with healing, grace, and mercy. John portrays Jesus as the Son of God, the divine Word of God who eternally existed with God, as God, and has now come into humanity on a mission to redeem us.

Acts is the only other narrative work in the New Testament. It describes the growth of the church and how they, through the Holy Spirit, continue the ministry of Jesus as His body. Romans through Philemon are letters written by the apostle Paul to churches or individuals. Hebrews is a letter/sermon of unknown authorship that explains the Old Testament’s completion in Christ. James through Jude are letters named after their respective authors. Finally, Revelation is a book of prophesy concerning the end of everything. It contains many allusions to Genesis because it the completion and closing of all the Scriptures.

What Is Inspiration?

The most recent books of the Bible were written nearly two thousand years ago, while many Old Testament books were even written thousands of years before those. But even though the Scriptures were written by various authors over thousands of years in a plethora of genres, there is unifying thread that weaves them all into one book: their Source.

While men like Moses, Ezra, Paul, or John are considered biblical authors, Peter tells us that no “Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophesy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” (2 Peter 1:20-21) Notice the phrase carried along by the Holy Spirit. Moses may have physically written Genesis, but the Holy Spirit guided him to write what was needed.

This process of the Holy Spirit carrying along the biblical authors is called the inspiration of the Bible. The Scriptures were written by men but inspired by God, or as Paul says to Timothy, they are breathed out by God. A literal translation would be that all Scripture is God-breathed. The LORD breathed the Scriptures into existence, using the human authors as instruments.

This does not mean that God overrode the authors individual writing styles. Paul writes different than Moses, Peter, or John. But it does mean that there is unity to the whole because ultimately each book is written by God, which makes each book of the Bible feel similar to one another. Exodus and Romans could not be more different, and yet they have a similar gravitas, a paralleling significance. If we consider Clement’s letter to the Corinthians, the familiarity becomes more identifiable.

Clement was a pastor in Rome, who was born in 35 AD, placing him roughly in the generation below the apostles. Living in the time of Jesus’ disciples, Clement wrote a letter to the Corinthian church that may have been finished before the book of Revelation. Thus, you would expect this letter to have much the same feel as the New Testament letters, and yet though Clement’s letter is beneficial and worth reading, one can feel that the Old Testament books are more similar to the New Testament letters than Clement’s letter does. This is because for all of its value, Clement’s letter is not Scripture. God did not breathe it out, and it noticeably does not contain the same weight as the books of Scripture do.

The Bible is ultimately God’s book, His Word breathed out to humanity about Himself. The Scriptures reveal His will, character, and commands for us, and they teach us who He is. They are for our benefit. This means that they are very much the actual Word of God; thus, as we read the Bible, we are hearing God speak to us.

Our value for the Scriptures is enormous; however, they do not themselves grant us eternal life. Instead, the Bible reveals to us the God who holds eternal life. The Bible’s infinite value comes because it is our means of knowing God.

Before concluding this post, we need to pause and consider one more thing.

If Paul truly does mean that ALL Scripture is inspired by God, then we have the duty to submit ourselves to them regardless of whether we like what they say or not. By believing that every word of Scripture is breathed out by God, we can no longer ignore unpleasant parts of God’s Word. We must face all of it, together as a whole, letting God speak to us. If we do not give the Scriptures the right to contradict and correct us, we will never know the God that authored them. You simply cannot know God without all of Scripture.

I urge you, therefore, to trust the words of the One who also spoke galaxies into existence. Give His Word permission to alter your thinking. You will never regret it.

Biblical Worship

A Life of Worship | Psalm 1

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

#blessed

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.’”[1]

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.[2] 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 here 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.[3] 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.”[4] I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.”[5] 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.”[6] I will delight in your statutes; I will not forget your word.”[7] “More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb.”[8] 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.[9] 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.”[10] 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.[11] 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.”[12] 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.”[13]

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.[14] 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.

[1] 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

[2] 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

[3] Philippians 4:11-13

[4] Psalm 119:9

[5] Psalm 119:11

[6] Psalm 119:14

[7] Psalm 119:16

[8] Psalm 19:10

[9] Joshua 1:8; Psalm 119:15, 23, 27-28

[10] Philippians 3:7

[11] John 4:14, 7:38; Revelation 21:6

[12] Romans 8:28

[13] Matthew 3:12

[14] Psalm 97:5