1 Blessed is the man
That walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly,
Nor standeth in the way of sinners,
Nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful.
2  But his delight is in the law of the Lord;
And in his law doth he meditate day and night.
3  And he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water,
That bringeth forth his fruit in his season;
His leaf also shall not wither;
And whatsoever he doeth shall prosper.
4  The ungodly are not so:
But are like the chaff which the wind driveth away.
5  Therefore the ungodly shall not stand in the judgment,
Nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous.
6  For the Lord knoweth the way of the righteous:
But the way of the ungodly shall perish.

Psalm 1, KJV

Contrasts and Comparisons

In his helpful introduction to the psalms Tremper Longman III, an associate professor of Old Testament at Westminster Theological Seminary, writes, “Psalm 1 deliberately [draws] two portraits in our minds: the portrait of the wicked man and the portrait of the wise man. The question then is posed: Which are we? As we enter the sanctuary of the psalms to worship and petition the Lord, whose side are we on?” The contrast of the man who is righteous and the ungodly man is central in our understanding of this introductory Psalm. This main contrast is illustrated by several other negative comparisons in our text. I think I can see at least six. I won’t give them all away, that spoils your fun, but let me point out a few.

Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful.

Psalm 1:1, KJV

First, notice the contrast of the two types of men, righteous and ungodly, is spoken of in terms of divergent paths. The righteous man is identified as “blessed” and is said to go a different way than the ungodly man. The ungodly man goes a different way than the righteous man.

Charles Spurgeon expounds on the divergent paths so beautifully in his famous commentary. He writes, “The ungodly walks with other ungodly men, stands with sinners, and sits with scornful men. 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, and are looked up to by others as Masters in Belial.”

Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful. But his delight is in the law of the Lord; and in his law doth he meditate day and night.

Psalm 1:1-2, KJV

Second, observe the contrast in attention between the righteous man and his counterpart. The righteous man delights in God’s Word and meditates upon it. His attention is given to His God, his eyes fixed by faith upon His unseen Lord who has wondrously condescended to express His infinite love through human speech. The righteous man treasures the Word of God. What does the ungodly give his attention to? His eyes are fixed upon the affairs of this life, and he occupies his mind with the counsel, way, and arrogance of his peers. The ungodly have no interest in filling their minds with God’s wisdom because they are infatuated with their own wisdom.

The Gospel According to Psalm 1

The description of the righteous man who is identified as the man who is blessed is certainly idealistic. When any one of us reads the description of these two portraits, we all must recognize we all fall short. Which one of us has not walked in the counsel of the ungodly? Who among us is not guilty of standing in the way of the sinner? How often has each one of us sat in the seat of the scornful? All of us are guilty.

Even now, as regenerate men and women who have a Holy Spirit given desire for God’s Word, we still fail in our practical commitments to God’s Holy Word. We are “simul justus et peccator” which means, simultaneously saints and sinners. We are regenerated, but we do not fulfill the description given in Psalms 1 for the righteous man.

So then, is it best for us to read this Psalm and identify ourselves as the righteous? Should we identify ourselves as the ungodly? Is there another option that is better suited to give the Christian a clearer picture of this Psalm? How ought the New Testament believer best view this question? It is my opinion that the gospel of Jesus Christ helps us to understand Psalm 1 in a way that is biblically faithful, theologically robust, and personally freeing for every individual believer. In Spurgeon’s commentary on Psalm 1, he quotes a Mr. John Fry who said, “I have been induced to embrace the opinion of some among the ancient interpreters (Augustine, Jerome, etc.), who conceive that the first Psalm is intended to be descriptive of the character and reward of the JUST ONE, i.e. the Lord Jesus.”

When we read Psalm 1 in light of the gospel, we see Jesus as the truly righteous man who is blessed and perfectly delighting in the law day and night. It is in recognizing Jesus as the truly righteous one who has merited for us righteousness and now, by grace through faith, we have become the righteous man in Christ. We are still yet to be glorified but are being sanctified. Because we have been redeemed by the blood of Christ and set apart by the Holy Spirit we can rightly understand our place in Psalm 1. We are righteous men and women, through the imputed righteousness of Christ given to us by grace through faith. We have been, as Mark Futato says, “intentionally planted by an irrigation canal and will always be productive”. That irrigation canal or “rivers of waters” (KJV) is a picture of God’s grace to the believer who the Lord has intentionally planted there. The gospel of Jesus Christ is the proper lens we use in viewing all the scripture, and this lens will make clear to us what was once veiled. (2 Cor 3:14)

Connecting the Psalms

Robert Godfrey in his book “Learning To Love The Psalms” asks a great question and helps us to begin to answer it. He asks, “Is the book of Psalms as a whole largely random in its order? Is it just an anthology of poems that would mean just the same if the poems were in an entirely different arrangement? It is tempting to think so.” Godfrey continues, “I have begun to see a structure to the Psalms… and movement of the book of Psalms.” While there are many people who do view the Psalms as a simple anthology, there is a natural structure built into the Psalms as a whole.

We want to ask ourselves as we study Psalm 1, how might this Psalm relate or connect to the book of Psalms as a whole? There are at least two ways we can identify a clear and natural connection of Psalm 1 to other psalms in the book. First, Psalm 1 is often referred to as a kind of introductory Psalm. Charles Spurgeon says, “This Psalm may be regarded as THE PREFACE PSALM, having in it a notification of the contents of the entire Book. It is the psalmists’ desire to teach us the way to blessedness and to warn us of the sure destruction of sinners. This, then, is the matter of the first Psalm, which may be looked upon, in some respects, as the text upon which the whole of the Psalms make up a divine sermon.”

Second, another way to see the connectivity of Psalm 1 is to recognize how it fits together with Psalm 2. Robert Godfrey says, “We can see how the king, Israel, the church, and Jesus are all present by looking at Psalms 1 and 2. Psalm 1 focuses on the individual, specifically, the idea of “the blessed man.” He continues, “Psalm 2 moves from the very personal focus of Psalm 1 to the great cosmic drama of redemption in the covenant community. It gives the big picture of salvation and of world history.” Notice how Psalm 1 begins with “Blessed is the man” and Psalm 2 ends with “Blessed are all they that put their trust in him”. So then, the ideal individual that we read about in Psalm 1 is not perfectly describing me as an individual but it does describe Jesus. Then, Psalm 2 helps me to understand how I can be numbered with Jesus or counted righteous. To use NT image of justification, I am declared righteous, on the basis of putting my trust in Jesus according to Psalm 2:12.