One of my favorite things about the Psalms is the images or word pictures used throughout. The images give us concrete things we can picture in our minds to help us understand abstract realities.
The Psalmist starts with telling us how not to be. “How blessed is the man (or woman) who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, Nor stand in the path of sinners, Nor sit in the seat of scoffers!”
I think it is interesting how these three images progress towards more permanence in the way of the wicked. First is the idea of not walking in the counsel of the wicked…..not even venturing onto the path or walking along the path. Next is the idea of not standing in the path of sinners. For me, standing somewhere has a little more stability. Before I may have just been toying with the idea of walking on this path, but now I have stopped and am standing in the path. And finally the idea of not sitting in the seat of scoffers. If you are sitting somewhere you are definitely in more of an immovable posture. It takes a lot more effort and conscious decision to get up from sitting and move then it does from a standing or walking posture. Sitting is the idea of taking up permanent residence.
I also think the description of the wicked or foolish progress as well. It moves from wicked to sinner to scoffer. To an Israelite the wicked were those who did not keep the covenant with Yahweh, maybe it was even a fellow Israelite. A sinner was someone who has not just broken the covenant once, but their lives are dominated and shaped by their inclinations to go their own way. A scoffer is someone who isn’t faithful to the covenant, their lives are marked by an inclination towards wrong-doing and they actively scoff or mock those who seek to live in a way that is faithful to the covenant with Yahweh.
Our next image is a positive one – delight in the law of the Lord. I think this image is hard for us. We tend to have a negative view of the law of God. We view it as the rules of God that condemn us because we can’t keep them. To an Israelite, the law of God was life. It was the communication of a loving God who has given you His words so that you can live!
An Israelite delighted in meditating day and night in the law. The words day and night are used as extremes to indicate the inclusion of everything in between. I think we struggle with this image because it sounds impossible to us. How can I do anything day and night? I also think we read this as meditating on the law day and night which translates for us into a picture of thinking about the Bible all the time. But notice the Psalmist says meditating day and night in the law. This moves the idea of meditation beyond just thinking – it moves us into the realm of living – the realm of wisdom, acting upon what we know. The idea of meditation in God’s law is about thinking and pondering and memorizing and discussing it with others, but it is also about living in the law (or the way).
The result of this meditation and delight is a picture of stability – a tree firmly planted, near a water source, yielding its fruit in season and not withering. It is a picture of prosperity. The picture of the wicked is in direct contrast – they are not stable – they are like chaff which the wind blows away. When harvesting wheat, after loosening the kernels from the husk, they would throw it into a strong wind and the wind would blow away the useless husk (chaff) leaving the heavier grain to fall to the ground and be gathered up. The contrast is easy to see: fruitful tree or useless chaff, well-watered stability or dry, dusty windblown impermanence.
And now we come to the end of the Psalm and the ultimate consequences or destinations of the two paths. Because of their dry, dusty impermanence the wicked and sinners will not stand in the judgment or the assembly of the righteous. The way of the wicked will perish and those who follow it will perish, because it leads to death. But the way of the righteous is known (personally) by Yahweh!
The point is: How we live and where we take a stand shapes our lives. Said another way, the path we are on and the direction we are walking, (not what we think or know, not our intentions) determines our destination.
Many believe this Psalm was chosen to be the first Psalm because it encourages the readers/hearers to consider the rest of the Psalms that follow as divine guidance. It strongly affirms that how we respond to revelation from God determines one’s ultimate destiny.
Which path will you choose this summer?
The way of the wicked, the fool – who does not follow God?
Or the way of the righteous, the wise – who seek God and are known by Him?
As we think about our answers to these questions, it is important to remind ourselves that wisdom is not just head knowledge. People that are wise make good decisions, they act upon what they know to be good and right and true and that puts them on the path to life and stability and fruitfulness.