Why Do We Sing Psalm 1?1
Imagine for a moment a young traveler embarking on a long journey. All he has with him are the clothes on his back and a map that shows two possible routes to his journey. As he comes to this fork in the road, he can only see as far as his eyes will allow him, but he must make his decision. Which road will he choose?
Two Life Paths (vv. 1-2)
The Psalms open in a similar way, with one major difference: we are told what lies at the end of each path. But before we get to the end, we are given a history of who has gone before us on these paths.
One of the paths is characterized by the counsel of the wicked, the way of sinners, and the seat of scoffers. Not three separate ways, but three different ways of seeing the one path. The text offers no comment on this path...yet. But does it really need to?
The other path has been taken by those who delight in the law of the LORD, such delight that they meditate day and night on this law. We are only told that this person is blessed right now, even before reaching the end of the path, and we can infer that the other path – the one of the wicked, sinners, and scoffers – is not blessed.
Two Present Effects (vv. 3-4)
But there are other effects, and a more detailed image of the two paths now starts to come to light. On the one side, we see a river of flowing water, a mighty tree with a strong trunk yet soft, luscious leaves bringing forth delicious fruit. On the other side, we are told in the simplest terms, “the wicked are not so.” Instead, they are like chaff – dry, scaly, and (by implication) not prosperous.
The imagery is clear: what is the task of any tree if not to bear fruit (for others)? The tree planted next to a continuous source of water succeeds in this task, and can feed others with its fruit. By contrast, no one eats the chaff of wheat because it is indigestible and has no nutritional value. It is quite literally cast aside so it becomes something “that the wind drives away.”
Likewise, the blessed person is the one who heeds the call of Genesis 12: we are blessed to be a blessing. The effect? Whoever cares for a plant or a tree gets to enjoy the “fruit” of their labors. Just as God promised to bless those who blessed Abraham, God in turn blesses those who are a blessing to His people.
By contrast, the un-blessed person is selfish, using their blessings only for themselves. They become like a rotted or dried-up tree. What eventually happens to a dead tree?
Two Future Judgments (vv. 5-6)
We now see the end of each path. The wicked will not stand in the judgment, and sinners will not be among the righteous, because their way will perish. What we see at the end of this path is, in no uncertain terms, death.
But there is another path, and in this other blessed path, there is life. And the assurance is simple, yet profound: “the LORD knows the way of the righteous.”
Two Reasons We Sing
How can I sing a Psalm that speaks about the destruction of others?
The people in the congregation who have not embraced God’s covenant from the heart are given an echo of the end of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount - “Not everyone who says to me ‘Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” And the final result of these people is eerily similar to the final result of the wicked in Psalm 1. Jesus will say to them “depart from me.” Why? Because the LORD knows the way of the righteous, but to these people Jesus says, “I never knew you.”
Singing that “the LORD knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish” further embeds this truth in the hearts of those who have not embraced the LORD from the heart, and it lovingly calls them to repent – to turn from their current path.
For those who have embraced God’s covenant from the heart, for those who have been saved by God from their former path and now seek to do righteous deeds to go along with their new righteous path, singing this psalm gives assurance and motivation to stay on this new, blessed path.
The point of this Psalm is not to cast you into despair because you are not righteous. Before Christ came, the point of this Psalm was that God’s people could be righteous (which does not mean perfect) if they sought to follow God’s law and embrace it from the heart. After Jesus came, the point becomes that, because of Christ’s righteousness in believers, we are set free from the burden of the law, but also set free to live as God always intended – to live a blessed, truly happy life right now (still not perfect), knowing that the end of this righteous path leads to everlasting fellowship with our God, where we will then be made perfect.
Why sing Psalm 1? Because of the good news we have through Jesus Christ - that we can actually live a blessed life right now and that we will certainly live a blessed life in the heavens and new earth.