There are only two paths in life, the path of righteousness and the path of wickedness. As we make our way through this perilous journey of life, we come to realize that there are certain things which are always wrong, and certain things which are always right. The distinction becomes objective, and we are made aware that there are two, very real, opposing aspects of this world, good and evil. Two paths on the same journey. We cannot be on both paths, it is an objective impossibility to do so, and so we must choose our path, the path of the righteous or the path of the wicked.
Psalm 1, the first of the wisdom psalms, tells us how to walk the righteous path by showing us the things that lead toward the wicked path. By contrasting these two paths, the psalmist is able to give us a framework by which to live a righteous life. This contrast will set the stage for many of the subsequent psalms we will encounter in the Bible.
Do Not Walk In The Counsel Of The Wicked
First, I think it is important to define what it means to be wicked. This passage is not making a delineation between someone that is saved or not saved in the Christian sense, given that a Christian is still capable of wrongdoing, it must be expressing a more plain meaning. The Hebrew word interpreted here as wicked, rasha, is referring to the morally wrong, or the actively bad person.
If you knew someone that was a thief, and had gained massive amounts of wealth through continued theft, should you consult that person for financial advice? If your goal is to amass wealth by any means necessary, then yes. If your goal is to live a righteously prosperous life, then no. Obviously, the advice that you get from this person would lead you towards committing morally wrong actions, like theft. This is obvious because the thief is not morally opposed to the idea of taking someone else’s property without their permission, an act which, hopefully, you already recognize as morally wrong.
Suppose instead, that you knew of a person which had amassed a great deal of wealth through theft, had come to regret it, and attempted to make things right. You could feel free to ask them for financial advice, as they most certainly would not send you down the same path that had brought them so much sorrow.
Do Not Set Foot On The Path Of Sinners
As we sin more, we resist less. For the person that had been born atheist, and then saved, this will be abundantly clear. Once a particular sin has become habitual, it is incredibly difficult to break away from it. This is why it is so important to understand that any time we sin, we need to recognize it, and deal with it through repentance and prayer. Without doing this, we set foot on the path of the (unrepentant) sinner, endangering our very salvation. How can one claim to love God with all of their mind, body, and soul, if they do not have remorse in their hearts for their own sin or rebellion against God? Once we have sinned and no longer regret rebelling against God, we are fully on the path of the sinner and find ourselves, once again, in need of salvation.
I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one can snatch them out of My hand. My Father who has given them to Me is greater than all. No one can snatch them out of My Father’s hand.John 10:28-29
Indeed, no one can snatch your salvation away from you, but you can choose to reject it. Likewise, we must also ask ourselves what good we would do for ourselves by rebelling against God? It certainly seems to be the most foolish of choices.
Do Not Sit In The Seat Of Mockers
Mocking other people is rather commonplace. You cannot turn on the radio or television without seeing people mocking each other in one way or another, whether it be standup comedy, opinion pieces in the news, or just a regular televisions show portraying the typical American family. Human beings make fun of each other, and have done so for as long as history has been recorded.
When we ridicule someone, or something, we are actually doing a couple of things. First, we are lowering the value of that person or thing in the eyes of others. Second, we are elevating ourselves to be greater than, or above the object of our ridicule. Both of these actions have a ripple effect, changing the way that we view the world around us. Lowering the value of another person in the eyes of others spreads the message that it is ok to ridicule that person, causing more people to view themselves as being better than others. Elevating our own value causes us to hold ourselves to a separate standard, thinking that our decisions are justified while the decisions of others are not. It doesn’t particularly matter what the decision is, or even whether the results of the decision are positive for us.
Once our personal view of our decisions has been skewed, we will justify our decisions no matter the outcome. If our decision ends in poor results, it is because we were somehow cheated, if it ends poorly for someone else, they must not have done everything that was needed. If our decision yields good results, it is because we did everything right, if someone else experiences success, they must have cheated somehow. In this way, we no longer hold ourselves accountable for the results of our own decisions, and God has been removed entirely from the picture.
Not only does freely ridiculing people end in hatred towards one another, but it also creates enmity towards God. We see the blessings of others as undeserved, a handout to those that are beneath us. But who are we to judge God, or humanity so freely? When it comes to mocking, it is best not to even sit at the table.
Take Delight In The Law
Sure, Jesus changed some things about the law, and this passage of the Bible was probably written with the old law in mind. That does not change the value of the wisdom being given here. Jesus certainly left us with commandments to honor and practice.
“A new commandment I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you also must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are My disciples, if you love one another.”John 13:34-35
Love one another. This sounds like quite an easy thing to do, but in practice, it is very difficult. We are to love one another, not occasionally, but always. This is tremendously difficult without a framework of principles to guide us. God has given us that framework in the example of Jesus’ life, and of moral law that we can derive from the Old Testament. This framework takes time to study and understand fully, and it requires far more work to implement in practice. This is why we must take delight in the law. If we do not find joy in God’s law, how can we devote the proper amount of work and study needed to abide by it?
Not So For The Wicked!
For they are like chaff driven off by the wind. This part of the psalm is making a comparison of the wicked person to chaff, which is a small husk of a seed, light and easily swayed in one direction or another. The comparison to chaff draw parallels to our weakness, our frailty, and visually depicts us as missing the central element of our existence, our seed. The chaff is the husk that surrounds the seed, without the seed, it is worthless.
It is important to note that we are all chaff. We are all small, weak, husks that need the presence of the Holy Spirit within us in order to give us strength, give our efforts value, and to prevent us from moving in whichever direction the wind takes us. The psalmist is not devaluing the wicked, but rather, explaining that God is what gives us all value. Without Him, we are mere chaff to be carried off in the wind.
The Wicked Will Not Stand
The wicked will not stand in the judgement. Here, I would like to focus on two words, stand and judgement. It is easy to understand that the psalmist is not referring to human judgement, as we have already established that this psalm is talking about humanity as a whole. We can infer that the psalm is talking about the final judgement of Christ. So what about standing? The Hebrew word used here actually means to “to rise”, rather than specifically meaning to stand up. This broader definition allows us to draw a parallel between the wicked not rising on judgement day and the following word from Jesus Himself:
“Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.”John 6:54
Here we see the unfolding of an ongoing prophecy. One that is spoken of repeatedly throughout the Bible, regarding the judgement of mankind on the last day. Jesus specifically states that he will raise his believers, but omits any reference to the unbeliever. Thus, on the last day, the wicked shall not stand.
Guarding The Path Of The Righteous
This verse is a bit more ominous, and depending on your interpretation of Hell, it may not fully make sense. The Lord guards the path of the righteous, because the righteous are by His side eternally. The path of the righteous never ends, because the righteous never perish, they continue down the path of the righteous forever walking with God. The path of the wicked will perish, but it cannot do so unless the wicked perish as well. Whether they perish because they become righteous, or they perish in eternal destruction does not matter as the conclusion is clear. The wicked will perish, and no longer walk along their path.