Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous; for the LORD knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish. — Psalm 1:5-6
You and I are starving for the glory of God. Underneath all the desires, all the longings, all the cravings, and all the yearnings, this is our fundamental and essential need—an experience of the magnitude and the character of the God of the Universe.
Psalm 1:5-6 speaks to this need as the spiritual diagnosis of all that plagues us. All of our not fitting in, all of our anxiety, all of our brokenness rests on top of the primary problem of our not being able “to stand.” God is holy, and we are not. Thus everything wrong flows from this essential wrongness. Because if standing in the judgment (v.5) means, in part, not walking in the counsel of the wicked or standing in the way of sinners or sitting in the seat of scoffers,” as the psalmist says back in verse 1, I’m in deep trouble. And I assume you are too.
The situation could not be more bleak. The echo of the law of righteousness reverberates so loudly and powerfully in these two verses, that not a single one of us can help from being blown over by its force. The law is the great equalizer. It puts every one of us on the same level, and it levels every one of us.
What are we to do?
Interestingly enough, the emphasis of the entirety of Psalm 1, actually, is not much on things to do. Oh yes, there are certainly things to do. The law is good at telling us good things to do, things that accord with “the way of the righteous.” And yet, we notice that the tone of Psalm 1 isn’t primarily about things to do but rather experiencing things that are done. More specifically, things that are done for us.
Here is the staggering and perplexing beauty of the gospel. The solution to our inscrutable problem of our doing wrong things is not fundamentally our doing right things but having the right things done on our behalf. This is why, for instance, the psalm reads so much in the passive voice.
Apart from the sovereign intervention of the Lord, we would be utterly and hopelessly lost. But by his grace, we “are planted,” as the psalmist says in verse 1.
And this is why I love Psalm 1:6: “For the LORD knows the way of the righteous.” It speaks not immediately to a right religion but to a right relationship. To know of God is vitally important, and to know about God is crucial to righteous living, but to be known by God trumps it all. There is nothing more precious than to be known by God, to be reconciled to him by the atoning work of his Son Jesus Christ, who by his blood has made us sons and daughters along with him.
The tone of Psalm 1 is not on things to do but on things that are. Because of this, we are left to conclude that the person Psalm 1 is describing has not necessarily achieved the blessings of verse 1 by doing and not doing all that’s discussed, but that the person is doing and not doing all that’s discussed because of the blessing of verse 1.
In other words, we don’t do stuff to get this blessing. We get this blessing, and then we do stuff. The tree imagery in verse 3 certainly speaks to this point. Having been planted by streams of water, the tree almost cannot help flourishing in leaves and fruit.
We do receive blessings from our faith and works, but faith and works is received from an original blessing. The man who does not walk in the way of sin understands he is blessed.
Psalm 1 describes the kind of man who seems, by most indications, perfect. Meditates on the law day and night? Do you do that? Well, maybe it just means “throughout the day and night,” at regular intervals. Do you do that? I don’t. It would seem in fact that Psalm 1 is describing perfect personhood, establishing a description of the soul submitted to heaven, the aspiration and ambition of all the psalms that come after it. Psalm 1 is the gory cross-section of a quote-unquote “true person.” And since we who are sinners saved by grace know that we are in the flesh fundamentally disordered persons, we can see that Psalm 1 is actually a better description of the one true man, the second Adam without sin, Jesus Christ.
Jesus is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked but in perfect submission to the Father. Jesus is the man who does not stand in the way of sinners, but is the friend of sinners, becoming the way himself that they find salvation. Jesus is the man who does not sit in the seat of scoffers, but in the seat of mercy. Jesus is the man whose delight is in the law of the LORD, and he always lives to intercede for his siblings. Jesus is the man who on the law meditates day and night, for he does not sleep nor slumber and his holiness is everlasting.
Jesus is like a tree—the tree of life planted by streams of water, living water that, whoever drinks of it will never be thirsty again, water that yields its fruit in its season, the fruit of the Spirit, against which there is no law, and its leaf does not wither, but is instead the true vine, in whom we abide as branches.
In all that he does, Jesus prospers. He never fails. The wicked are not so, of course, but are like chaff that the wind drives away. But he commands the wind. He is the rock, the firm foundation, the cornerstone, the withstander and the driver of every storm. The wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous, but he will be the judge himself, and despite standing in the judgment of the cross, he will be not ashamed to call redeemed sinners his brothers.
The Lord knows the way of the righteous, because he is the way of the righteous.