On Jan. 1 of each year, usually beginning at midnight, people like to wish one another a happy new year. And I’ve been told that there are unwritten rules about how many days after January 1 it’s acceptable to continue saying “Happy New Year” (three, four, fifteen?). But how often do we discuss how to have a happy new year? Let’s see what the psalmist said in Psalm 1.
Psalm 1 has a basic, fundamental message that has applied to every human that has ever lived, regardless of dispensation of time. It presents the two options that every human has: to be godly or ungodly (there is no middle ground). It also reminds us that our decisions have consequences; and, yes, if we follow its teachings we will have a happy new year, month, week, day, etc.
The format of this psalm is very simple: it discusses the godly man (vv. 1-3), the ungodly man (vv. 4-5), and then gives a conclusion (v. 6).
The Godly Man (vv. 1-3)
The inspired psalmist begins by letting the reader know that he is offering a blessing…with conditions. “Blessed is the man that….” The word blessed means happy or happiness. So, the reader is being offered a way or ways to be happy.
There are many speakers and writers who have plenty of suggestions (many are good; some are not) on how to improve one’s life and thereby experience a newfound happiness. We receive numerous emails, texts, and social media posts on this very topic. Some we look at and some we probably delete without reading. But when Deity tells us how to be blessed, we really should listen, remembering that He isn’t offering mere earthly happiness, but spiritual blessing (i.e., eternal life)!
The Blessed Man Turns Away From Sinners (v. 1)
In verse one, we read that the blessed man is one who rejects the influence of sinners. The inspired author uses Hebrew progressive parallelism, in which he says the same thing using progressive imagery (walks, stands, sits).
“Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly.” Don’t listen to the advice of the ungodly! Everyone wants to give advice. Many of them are good hearted, well-meaning people with good intentions, yet who give bad advice. Coworkers suggest calling in sick whether you are or not. People suggest lying about your income in order to avoid (evade?) tax liability (“there’s no way the IRS could find out”). When someone has harmed you in some way, friends who believe they’re seeking your best interest may suggest things that God wouldn’t exactly call forbearance, forgiveness, or turning the other cheek. If the counsel is not based in God’s word, don’t “walk” in it!
“…nor standeth in the way (path, road) of sinners.” The image is of one who has stopped walking and is now standing in the sinners’ road. He is now more open to their ways. Don’t stand where sinners travel! Don’t keep one foot in the world. Don’t frequent places where you’ll be influenced more than you influence.
“…nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful (boasters, mockers, arrogant).” Now our hypothetical man has progressed from walking, to stopping and standing, and now he is sitting. This displays comfort. He walks, he stands, he sits.
An apostate brother doesn’t fall away overnight. Initially he may know sinners in his life (family, coworkers, etc.), but as a faithful Christian, he doesn’t live like they do and therefore doesn’t fit in with them, doesn’t participate in their sinful ways. However, after a while he begins “walking” with them, listening to them, allowing them to have his ear and influence him. Then he gets comfortable enough to stop and “stand” with them, taking part in their evil deeds occasionally. Eventually he’s one of them, “sitting” with them, completely comfortable living in their filth. Those who are sinking deep in sin usually waded in first!
How comfortable are we when we are among the lost? Do we listen to their counsel? Do we laugh at their crude jokes? Do we watch all the same TV shows, regardless of how indecent and immoral? Do we use the same language? Do we look any different to them? Do they know who we are, whose we are, our commitment to God’s Word and His church? Remember, “evil companionships corrupt good morals” (1 Cor. 15:33)! Consider also,
2 Cor. 6:17 – “Come out from among them and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing….”
Eph 5:11 – “And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them.”
God calls Christians to a new life. We aren’t given the option of a partial change. God is serious. God is exclusive. God is a jealous God (cf. Exod. 34:14; Deut. 4:24; Heb. 12:29). He expects purity! Consider a few examples of such purity in His committed followers:
Gen. 14:22-24 – Abraham wouldn’t take any spoil from Sodom.
Heb. 11:24-25 – Moses “refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season.”
Dan 1:8 – “Daniel purposed in his heart that he would not defile himself with the portion of the king’s meat….”
A man or woman who wants to be blessed will recognize the need to turn away from the influence of the ungodly in his or her life.
The Blessed Man Turns to God (v. 2)
“But his delight (pleasure, purpose, desire) is in the law of the Lord, and in his law doth he meditate day and night.” So, in contrast to spending his time with wicked people, he pursues a deeper knowledge of God and His Word.
Notice the psalmist didn’t talk about prayer, or edification of/from brethren, or evangelism; he simply said that this man delights in God’s law. This is the foundation; all these other things are found there.
We should recognize that it’s not enough to simply avoid the bad; you have to pursue the good (cf. the man with the evil spirit in Matt. 12:43-45). The “blessed” man doesn’t just refuse to participate in the ways of the wicked or to take advice from the ungodly; but he longs to know and obey God’s word; he “delights” in it! Do we? Of all the things we desire, does obeying God’s word top the list?
James 1:25 says, “Whoso looketh into the perfect law of liberty and continueth therein, he being not a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work, this man shall be blessed in his deed.” And here: “Blessed is the man that…meditates in his law day and night!” This shows a very high priority.
So, the blessed man 1) avoids the ungodly and 2) pursues God’s word.
The Blessed Man Receives God’s Blessings (v. 3)
“He shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water.” Aerial photos of rivers and creeks always show trees and growth alongside the water, even in the midst of an otherwise barren land. This is because they abide where there’s a constant water supply, a constant source of life. This “blessed” man is like this tree:
“…that bringeth forth his fruit in his season.” This is the expectation we have of this tree – fruit in its season (cf. Luke 13:6-9)! God doesn’t expect miraculous things of us, but He does expect fruit based on what He commands and what we’re capable of. Matt. 7:19–“Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down and cast into the fire.” Jesus didn’t limit His statement to “every tree that bringeth forth bad fruit is hewn down…,” but made it clear that good fruit is expected. If you planted two trees desiring fruit from them, and one produced rotten fruit while the other never produced any, would you not cut down both? Many brethren seem content to sum up their Christian lives by saying “I don’t murder” or “I don’t steal”; “I don’t do this and I don’t do that!” It’s always solely about what they don’t do. But what do they do? They are in just as much danger of being cut down and cast into the fire as the really bad people to whom they compare themselves in order to make themselves feel better!
“His leaf also shall not wither and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper,” because of the water supply. This is true of the godly man because he stays close to God’s word (v.2), the source of spiritual life! This is not a guarantee of success in business, riches, wealth, etc. The tree’s success is only in relation to what is expected of the tree. And, with the godly man, his success should be understood in the context of one who focuses continuously on God’s word. His success is spiritual – in his godly works (personal spiritual growth, edification of brethren, evangelizing the lost, etc.). He will prosper in God’s eyes.
The Ungodly Man (vv. 4-5)
In contrast, “the ungodly are not so….” They’re not like the godly; they are not interested in God’s word, or in separating themselves from unrighteous people and situations. They’re “like the chaff which the wind driveth away.” This is somewhat of an insult! The chaff is useless to the farmer. He doesn’t concern himself with the “quality” of the chaff; he just gets rid of it! It has no value, no place among the wheat (the godly)!
“Therefore (understanding the point about the chaff), the ungodly shall not stand (endure, survive) in the judgment (i.e., amongst those who are approved).” When God judges (final or any other), the ungodly will not survive! “…nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous” (synonymous parallelism). The ungodly have no place among the righteous, in Heaven or on earth. In the church, there’s no place for sinners. This doesn’t mean Christians are perfect, but obedient and forgiven. The sinner in this context is the ungodly person who refuses to repent and submit to God. The church is not to tolerate this attitude (cf. 1 Cor 5; 1 Thess. 3:6; 1 Tim. 1:18). And certainly in the life to come (Heaven) there is no place for sinners; there is no more opportunity to repent and obey.
The Conclusion (v. 6)
“For the Lord knoweth the way of the righteous….” He sees and knows all things (cf. Psalm 139). God knows His own law which He has given to us and, contrary to the presumed feelings of so many, He knows those who keep it. Do you? We can fool some of the people some of the time, but never God! If you’re just going through the motions, this is not righteousness. And if you aren’t righteous, then you’re wicked (there’s no middle ground, as we see in this verse).
“But the way of the ungodly shall perish.” This is antithetic parallelism (saying the same thing, but with the opposite results), and it’s a final and deafening statement: this person will die! Spiritual death (eternal separation from God) awaits all who refuse to submit to Him and His law in total obedience (cf. Heb. 5:9). But this is not what God wants.
God wants all to be saved (1 Tim. 2:4). As we begin another year and make our new year’s resolutions, have we included Bible reading/study, a deeper pursuit of righteousness, godliness, application of God’s word to our lives? Will we make it our goal to be well-pleasing to Him in all we say and do (2 Cor. 5:9)? If we want to be happy (blessed), if we want a truly better, more peaceful life on earth and to spend eternity in the glory of Heaven, we should!