The Righteous and the Wicked
Psalm 1 (text); Jeremiah 17:5-8; Matthew 7:13-14
May 24, 2015*
The Psalter is an extremely important part of the church with its prayers, songs, emotions, and doctrine. During the early church and the sixteenth century Protestant Reformation, the Psalms were almost exclusively sung in the churches.
The Book of Psalms is a collection of 150 poems that were gathered together by Jews for their worship services, festivals and commemorations. The title “Psalms” comes from the Greek word for the book, but the Hebrew title is “Praises,” confirming its main use as songs of praises in public worship.
This book has been a part of the canon of Scripture for thousands of years. The Spirit-inspired authors of the Psalms include David (75), Asaph (12), the sons of Korah (11), Solomon (2), and Moses (1). So the Psalms are as much Godâ€™s Word as Genesis, the prophecy of Isaiah, the Gospel of John, or Paulâ€™s epistle to the Romans. The collection is divided into five â€œbooks,â€ with each book ending in a doxology or praise of God. Psalm 150 is both a doxology of Book 5 and of the entire Book of Psalms.
Reading the Psalms engages a variety of thoughts and emotions. John Calvin rightly noticed, â€œâ€¦ there is not an emotion of which any one can be conscious that is not here represented as in a mirrorâ€¦ all the griefs, sorrows, fears, doubts, hopes, cares, perplexities, in short, all the distracting emotions with which the minds of men are wont to be agitated.â€ The ESV Study Bible also says that these emotions include â€œlove and adoration toward God, sorrow over sin, dependence on God in desperate circumstances, the battle of fear and trust, walking with God even when the way seems dark, thankfulness for Godâ€™s care, devotion to the word of God, and confidence in the eventual triumph of Godâ€™s purposes for the world.â€
We begin today with Psalm 1, considered the prologue or introduction of the whole book, and which has been rightly called the â€œfather of all wisdom psalms.â€
Scriptures often speak of two ways. Israelâ€™s obedience to Godâ€™s covenant leads to blessings, but disÂobedience leads to curses (Deut 28:1-2, 15). Abraham looked forward to a city whose designer and builder is God, while Lot chose to dwell in worldly cities (Heb 11:10; Gen 13:12). Elijah made the Israelites choose between serving God and serving Baal (1 Kgs 18:21). Jesus preached two contrasting ways: the wide gate and easy road that lead to destruction, and the narrow gate and hard road that lead to life (Matt 7:13-14). Jesus also taught his disciples that they either serve God or money (Matt 6:24).
Psalm 1 typifies all the wisdom Psalms and Proverbs that talk about two ways: the way of the righteous, and the way of the wicked. Our reading from Jeremiah 17:5-8 highlights the closest parallel to Psalm 1. We will mention it as we proceed. Today, we will consider three things concerning the contrast between the righteous and the wicked: 1. Their Distinguishing Marks; 2. Their Unmistakable Identities; 3. Their Eternal Destinations.
Their Distinguishing Marks
The psalm begins in verse 1 with a description of what the righteous man is not: he is not like the wicked man. What marks distinguish the righteous from the wicked?
First, their counselors are different. The wicked takes pleasure in the company of ungodly counÂselors â€“ the wicked, the sinners, and the scoffers. In contrast, the righteous man delights in the unfailing counsel of Godâ€™s word, â€œBlessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers.â€
Hebrew poetry often contains parallelisms to emphasize a point. This psalm has three triads of parallels: walk, stand, sit; counsel, way, seat; wicked, sinners, scoffers.
The wicked walk with their fellow wicked who hate God and reject Godâ€™s laws. Their counsel is based on worldly wisdom and moral values, which Paul calls foolish (1 Cor 1:20). The wicked also stand with unrepentant sinners whose behavior or way of life is founded on this worldly wisdom. Paul says that â€œthe judgment of God rightly falls on [the ungodly and unrighteous] who practice such thingsâ€ (Rom 2:2). Finally, the wicked sit in the assembly of scoffers who ridicule Godâ€™s word, proud fools who mock the righteous, saying, â€œThere is no Godâ€¦ Where is the promise of his coming?â€ (Psa 14:1; 2 Pet 3:4)
Did you notice the progression to more and more sinfulness here? At first, the wicked only walks with his fellow wicked who gives him ungodly counsel. Later, he stands on the road, waiting and looking for sinners so he may join them in their wicked behavior. Then at last, he sits among the scoffers, mocking the righteous, and plotting evil against Godâ€™s people. So Jeremiah says, â€œCursed is the man who trusts in man and makes flesh his strength, whose heart turns away from the Lord.â€
But the righteous man is not so, because â€œhis delight is in the law of the Lord, and on His law he meditates day and night.â€ Instead of listening to the â€œcounsel of the wickedâ€ in the world, he meditates on Godâ€™s word day and night. This verse echoes Godâ€™s reminder to Joshua about the importance of meditating on the law of Moses, â€œThis Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in itâ€ (Jos 1:8).
Instead of living a sinful life and following his own will, the righteous man obeys Godâ€™s law. He delights in the word of God so much that he memorizes Godâ€™s precious promises, as the Psalmist said, â€œYour word I have hidden in my heart, that I might not sin against youâ€ (Ps 119:11). Godâ€™s word is a â€œlampâ€ to his feet and a â€œlightâ€ to his path (Ps 119:105). All his decisions in life are guided by Godâ€™s word, even if it might lead to problems or persecution. So Jeremiah says, â€œBlessed is the man who trusts in the Lord.â€
Instead of belonging to the company of scoffers, the righteous saints delight in the assembly of Godâ€™s people. While the wicked enjoy filthy and foolish talk and crude joking, the righteous take joy in sitting under the preaching of Godâ€™s word. While the wicked make merry with their friends in gorging themselves with food and being drunk with wine, the righteous hunger and thirst for righteousness, nourished by the body and blood of Christ in the assembly of the saints.
Many in the church today have forsaken Godâ€™s word, paying only lip service to its significance in the Christianâ€™s walk with God. The preaching of the gospel has been replaced by entertaining talk shows, moralisms and self-help lectures. Psalms in worship have been supplanted by repetitious, often unscripÂtural mantras called â€œcontemporary Christian music.â€ In-depth Bible studies have been displaced by shallow roundtable survey of opinions. This is why many Christians today are biblically illiterate.
Do you meditate, memorize and reflect on Godâ€™s word day and night? From the time you wake up and go to work until the time you go to bed, do you desire Godâ€™s word more than gold and honey? (Psa 19:10). Do you say with the psalmist that the perfect, sure, right and pure law of the Lord revives the soul, makes wise the simple, rejoices the heart, and enlightens the eyes? (Psa 19:7-9).
Second, their fruits are clearly distinct. Psalm 1 continues in verses 3-4 with a description of the fruits of the righteous and of the wicked, â€œHe is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither; in all he does, he prospers.â€
His life will be one of fruitfulness. He shall be like a tree, which is planted and is nourished by a stream of water. His life will be a blessing to those around him, and they will know that he has the Spirit of Christ in him. He will go to the office or school, or work at home, and do all his work to the glory of God, being careful not to disgrace the name of his Savior.
When sufferings comeâ€”a loved one has terminal sickness and dies; or he has lost his job; or his marriage is breaking apart; or temptations seem irresistibleâ€”his â€œleaves will not wither,â€ and he still â€œyields fruit in its season.â€ Because it is nourished by ample water, its roots are deep, strong and many. Therefore, when the winds of sufferings, temptations and persecutions blow, this tree is solidly rooted and stands. Joseph is one such man. After being sold as a slave and falsely imprisoned, Joseph was favored by God, making him Pharaohâ€™s right hand, so that â€œwhatever he did, the Lord made it succeedâ€ (Gen 39:23). As Jeremiah says, even when difficult days come, Joseph did not â€œfear when heat comes… and is not anxious in the year of drought.â€ Because he is planted by waterâ€”God’s assuring Wordâ€”in which he trusts.
In total contrast to the way of the righteous is the way of the wicked. â€œThe wicked areâ€¦. like chaff that the wind drives away.â€ Here, the word for â€œwindâ€ is the same word used to refer to Godâ€™s Spirit. There-fore, the wicked is driven away by God into eternal punishment. Just as chaff has no root and is blown away, so too the ungodly will not stand on the Day of Judgment. This is why Jeremiah says that the wicked is â€œlike a shrub in the desert… in the parched places… in an uninhabited salt land.â€ In Scripture, the desert and land that is salted are cursed lands. In other words, the wicked are accursed.
The wicked man delights not in eternal things but transitory things. Instead of spending time reading the Bible, he reads New York Times bestsellers, comic strips and Facebook posts, and plays video games for hours. Instead of worshipping God, he worships his money, his car, and himselfâ€”he is only concerned about whatâ€™s in it for him, and how to satisfy his desire for worldly pleasures. He shall be blown away like chaff because his life has no roots, no foundation, and no knowledge of the Godâ€™s word.
But who are the righteous and who are the wicked? Psalm 1 begins with â€œBlessed is the manâ€¦.â€ Jeremiah constrasts this man with the wicked, â€œCursed is the man…â€ The word used for â€œmanâ€ here is also the word used for â€œAdamâ€ in the Genesis creation story. Thus, the imagery in this Psalm is very much similar to the imagery in the Garden of Eden.
Their Unmistakable Identities
The first Adam listened to the counsel of the wicked serpent. Instead of listening to Godâ€™s Truth, he listened to the devilâ€™s lie. Instead of meditating on Godâ€™s word, he looked at the tree and â€œsaw that the tree was good for food, and that the tree was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wiseâ€ (Gen 3:6). Instead of being a fruitful righteous tree, Adam was like chaff driven out of the Garden of Eden by Godâ€™s wrathful Spirit. Instead of inheriting eternal life, he inherited eternal death.
Because Adam was a covenant-breaker, his descendants also are sinful, covenant-breakers. For Paul said in Rom. 5:12 that â€œsin came into the world through one man [Adam], and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned.â€ Therefore, not one person who ever lived, from Adam till the end of the world, can claim that he is not sinful.
This is why Paul warns us in Ephesians 4:17-19 that as believers, we must â€œno longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart.â€ And because their minds are darkened and separated from God, their hearts become hardened. And what kinds of fruits do unbelievers â€”whose hearts are futile, darkened, ignorant and hardened â€“ produce? â€œThey have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity.â€ These are the deeds of the wicked, sinners and scoffers.
In contrast to the wicked man is the righteous man. But who is this righteous man? It cannot be any of us! Who among us do not walk in the counsel of the wicked, do not stand in the way of sinners, and do not sit in the seat of scoffers? We are totally depraved creatures. We continually walk in the counsel of the wicked. We continually stand in the way of sinners. We continually sit in the seat of scoffers. Because in this world, we are immersed daily in the worldâ€™s sinful advice from our family, friends, co-workers, television, radio, newspapers and movies.
Who among us delight in the law of the Lord? Who among us meditate on Godâ€™s law day and night? In our struggle with sin and temptation, we often find ourselves questioning Godâ€™s word. We try to find loopholes in it to satisfy our wants. And, obviously, it is impossible for us to meditate on Godâ€™s word continually throughout the day.
Who is this perfectly righteous man? Jesus is that blessed man!
In the wilderness, he meditated on Godâ€™s word for forty days, enabling him to resist the devilâ€™s temptations. His Spirit drove Satan away like chaff in the wind with the word of God. He is the only person who fulfilled all of Godâ€™s law, and who delighted and meditated on it day and night. He is that Tree of Life in Eden, as well as that Tree â€œplanted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season.â€ He himself is the Living Water which gives eternal life to anyone who drinks of it. If the first Adam passed his test, he would have eaten of the fruit of the Tree of Life, and he would have had eternal life. As the Word of God, his leaves do not wither, because â€œthe grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand foreverâ€ (Isa 40:8).
Our Lord Jesus Christ delighted in Godâ€™s law even to the point of death on a tree at Calvary. Because his death paid the penalty for all of our sins, that tree of death became the Tree of Life. But only by his death on the tree are we then made righteous before God. We cannot be righteous by our own works, because our righteousness is a righteousness outside of us given by Christ. Only Christ the Righteous One, the Last Adam, can give eternal life to those who have faith in him (Rom 5:19).
Their Eternal Destinations
Not only does the Psalmist contrast the character of the righteous with that of the wicked. In verses 5 and 6, he also contrasts the destinations of these two kinds of people.
In verse 6, God says that he â€œknows the way of the righteous.â€ The word â€œknowâ€ used here is not just knowledge of acquaintance, but that of intimate sexual knowledge between a man and his wife. Therefore, God knows the righteous man intimately. He knows the righteous man even before he is born. He knows his righteous deeds even before he does them, â€œFor we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in themâ€ (Eph 2:10).
The Lord Jesus tells us that in the last day, all the nations will stand before him. He will separate the righteous sheep from the wicked goats. On that day, Jesus will say to the righteous sheep, â€œCome, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the worldâ€ (Matt 25:34).
What about the wicked? Verse 5 says that â€œthe wicked will not stand in the judgment.â€ To the wicked goats, Jesus will say, â€œDepart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.â€ They will be like chaff driven by the wind, gathered together, and burned with unquenchable fire (Matt 3:12). Christ will tell the wicked that he does not know them in the same manner that he knows the righteous, â€œI never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessnessâ€ (Matt 7:23).
Jesus tells us in the parable of the wheat and weeds that at the end of the age, the eternal destinations of the wicked and the righteous will be in stark contrast to each other. All causes of sin and all law-breakers will be gathered and thrown into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. But the righteous saints â€œwill shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Fatherâ€ (Matt 13:40-43).
Do you look forward to that day when Christ will invite you to come inherit the Kingdom of God? Or do you dread that day when you will hear his terrible voice saying, â€œI never knew you. Depart from me, you evildoers!â€ If you are in fear of that day, Christ offers forgiveness of sins to all who come to him in faith and repentance. Then, and only then, you will become a citizen of that heavenly kingdom.
In the heavenly kingdom, there is a tree which yields fruits in its season, in fact, â€œtwelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month.â€ This tree is for â€œthe healing of the nations,â€ because the righteous saints who are healed from their sin will come from all nations of the earth. These are those who are â€œblessedâ€¦. those who wash their robes, so that they mayâ€¦. enter the city by the gatesâ€ (Rev 22:2, 14).
This tree is Christ, who is the blessed, perfectly righteous man. Believe in Christ and in the perfect righteousness he gives to you, and you will also be counted among Godâ€™s blessed in his kingdom. And if you are a citizen of this heavenly kingdom, you will meditate on Godâ€™s word day and night. You will eat of the fruit of the Tree of Life, which gives you eternal life.
Then, the Spirit of Christ who indwells you, will drive Satanâ€™s temptations and wicked ones away from you. He will enable you to not walk in the counsel of the wicked, to not stand in the way of sinners, to not sit in the seat of scoffers. He will give you delight in the law of the Lord, and enable you to meditate on it day and night. And he will seal you with the promise of a heavenly inheritance, because the Lord knows your way. Amen.
*Revised from a sermon preached on July 7, 2013