Theme: The Way of the Wicked
In this week’s studies we learn how the doctrine of the two ways is described, and that the Lord Jesus Christ is the only one who perfectly fits the description of the righteous man of Psalm 1.
Scripture: Psalm 1:1-6
The first verse of Psalm 1 and therefore also the very first verse of the Psalter, begins with the word “blessed.” This is important certainly, for it is a way of saying that the psalms (as well as all Scripture) have been given to us by God to do us good. “Blessed” means supremely happy or fulfilled. In fact, in Hebrew the word is actually a plural, which denotes either a multiplicity of blessings or an intensification of them. The verse might correctly be translated, “O the blessednesses of the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked.”
At first glance it might seem surprising that the idea of the blessed or happy man is at once followed by a description of the wicked man, particularly since a description of the way of the wicked also appears later on in verses 4 and 5. But it is actually an excellent device. By starting in this way the poet achieves three important things.
First, he begins where we are. None of us automatically starts out being righteous. We start out being sinners, and if we do eventually enter by the straight gate upon the narrow road that leads to life, it is by God’s grace. No one, either in the Old Testament or the New Testament periods, was saved in any other way. Second, the poet is able to introduce the doctrine of the two ways from the start. We do not have to wait until verse 4 to read that there is a way other than the way of the godly. Third and finally, the author also says something important about godliness. He is going to present godliness positively as the way of the one who delights in the law of the Lord. But any positive affirmation, to have meaning, must have a negative to go with it. For the formula “A” equals “B” to have meaning, you must also be able to Say, “A” is not “C” or something else. If “A” equals everything, then “A” is nothing. Similarly, in order to say what the way of the godly man is, we must also be able to say what it is not, and that is what the first verse of the first psalm does.
How beautifully it does it! The most striking feature of Hebrew poetry is what is known as parallelism, one form of which is to say the same thing or a variety of the same thing, in two linked lines. That is what we have here, only in this verse there are three linked lines and there are three parallel terms in each line: set number 1, “walk, stand, sit”; set number 2, “counsel, way, seat”; and set number 3, “wicked, sinners, mockers.”
Because of this common feature of Hebrew poetry, a number of writers are reluctant to see any special progression in these terms.1 But it is hard to believe that the phrases are not saying that the way of the wicked is downhill and that sinners always go from bad to worse. Certainly Spurgeon thought so. He said, “When men are living in sin they go from bad to worse. At first they merely walk in the counsel of the careless and ungodly, who forget God–the evil is rather practical than habitual–but after that, they become habituated to evil, and they stand in the way of open sinners who willfully violate God’s commandments; and if let alone, they go one step further, and become themselves pestilent teachers and tempters of others, and thus they sit in the seat of the scornful. They have taken their degree in vice, and as true Doctors of Damnation they are installed.”2
In my judgment, this interpretation is built into the psalm. For the psalm does not merely describe the lifestyle of the wicked. It shows the fruit of that way of life and its end. To the unsaved “the way of sinners” may seem wonderful and exciting. It is the track they want to be on. But the psalmist warns that it is actually a fast track to emptiness and frustration here as well as to judgment in the life to come.
What does the word “blessed” mean, and what is the significance that in Hebrew the word is plural?
By contrasting so early the righteous and the wicked, what three things does the author achieve?
What is the progression of sin as illustrated in Psalm l?
Reflection: How do you see the world exalting in sin, refusing to believe that unrighteousness has eternal consequences?
1 H. C. Leupold says, “It is true, these three clauses are presented in an ascending climax. But no particular importance is attached to this climax” (Exposition of the Psalms [Grand Rapids: Baker,1969], p. 34). Peter C. Craigie writes, “Though the three lines, taken together, provide a full picture of what is to be avoided, it would be stretching the text beyond its natural meaning to see in these lines three distinct phases in the deterioration of a person’s conduct and character” (Word Biblical Commentary, vol. 19, Psalms 1-50 [Waco, TX: Word, 1983], p. 60.
2 C. H. Spurgeon, The Treasury of David, vol. 1 a, Psalms 1-26 (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1968), pp. 1-2.