Summary: Two distinct lifestyles. Two eternal destinies.
THE RIGHTEOUS AND THE WICKED
The Book of Psalms begins with a benediction. Psalm 1 then proceeds to declare who are the righteous and who the wicked, along with their separate destinations.
The blessing is literally, “Oh the happiness!” We are put in mind, of course, of the Beatitudes taught by Jesus in Matthew 5.
Yet the happy man is not seen first in what he does, but rather in what he does not do. The contrast with the wicked is intended from the very beginning.
People complain that God’s commandments are full of negative commands: ‘You shall not…’ However, the usual state of man since the Fall of Adam is one of disobedience to God. It is only natural that we should use man in his estate of sin and misery as a contrast to what man should be, and what the “righteous” man is.
We see the blessed man refusing to enter into the postures of the wicked. Whether he walks, stands or sits, he is not numbered with them in their negative attitudes. They are without God, and God has given them over to sin. Their “seat” is the chair of bold irreverence.
The righteous man is described as one who delights in the law of the LORD. This is to place our confidence in the Scriptures of God, and in the God of the Scriptures.
Psalm 119:1 gives us a description of the happy man by way of another benediction: ‘Blessed are the undefiled in the way, who walk in the law of the LORD.’ Here the character of the righteous is seen to be based firstly in his being ‘undefiled.’
Who are undefiled but those whom God has declared righteous in Jesus Christ? We cannot begin to walk this way without Him. But when we are clothed with Christ, God looks upon us and sees not our sins, but the very righteousness of Christ.
Only after this great transaction can we even begin to “delight in the law of the LORD.” It is well to make the Scriptures our constant study. If we are truly His it will be no drudgery, but rather a delight.
The present state of the blessed man is described as being “like” a tree planted by the riverside. To be planted is to take root, to have a permanent residence. Those who are rooted in Christ are irrigated by His Spirit, and bring forth fruit for Christ. (cf. John 15:1-10).
Jeremiah 17:7-8 uses the same figure: ‘Blessed is the man that trusts in the LORD, and whose hope the LORD is. For he shall be as a tree planted by the waters, and that spreads out her roots by the river, and shall not see when heat comes, but her leaf shall be green; and shall not be careful in the year of drought, neither cease from yielding fruit.’
Here the basis of our blessedness is seen to arise from our faith, our trust in Christ. Being ‘rooted and grounded in Him’ (cf. Ephesians 3:17; Colossians 2:7) we find that we are protected from the forces which would otherwise wither our Christian lives.
All that we do for His glory will prosper. The man who pursues holiness will find not only what he sought, but will also incidentally find true joy and everlasting happiness.
The conduct of the wicked is seen to be contrary to that which typifies the righteous. They delight rather in those negative postures and attitudes enumerated in verse 1.
The wicked are not really happy. The man who uses all his energy in the pursuit of happiness will never really find it. The reaper in Israel uses the wind to separate the chaff from the grain. Thus shall it be for those who seek not God: they will be driven away and separated forever from the righteous (cf. Matthew 13:30).
The contrast between the righteous and the wicked is now stood upon its head. The righteous “stand” as those acquitted, those accepted by God.
The wicked made his choice in this life to “stand in the way of sinners” (back in Psalm 1:1). His destiny (here in Psalm 1:5) is that he “shall not stand in the judgment.” The sinners scoffed at the righteous, but now they find themselves excluded from “the congregation of the righteous.”
This eternal separation of the wicked from the righteous is taught throughout the Scriptures. Jesus Himself speaks more than once of a place where there shall be ‘weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ This is no temporary punishment: Matthew 25:46 reads, ‘And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal.’
The blessing of the righteous and the separation of the wicked is a theme echoed at the very end of the Bible. Revelation 22:14-15 reads: ‘Blessed are they that do His commandments, that they may have right to the tree of life, and may enter in through the gates of the city. For without are dogs, and sorcerers, and whoremongers, and murderers, and idolaters, and whosoever loves and makes a lie.’