A lot of Christians have the wrong image when they read Psalm 1. They think if they just choose the righteous path, then everything will be care free, without any trouble or adversity. But the psalter is here to show us what that blessed tree actually looks like and what the nature of growing will actually be. It shapes our image of the blessed life as one that must recognize the reality of wickedness around us and sin within us.
But we don’t just recognize that reality and move on. The Book of Psalms is structured this way so that we will know how to be blessed in the midst of that reality. God doesn’t want us to escape from reality or ignore reality; he wants us to be blessed through that reality. He want us to praise him, not because he will sort of whisk us away into a bubble completely separately from the wicked, but because of what he will do for us as we live right there smack in the middle of them.
You see, the blessedness that is promised for those who choose righteousness is not an easy prosperity; it is not prosperity apart from wickedness and adversity and hardship, it is prosperity through hardship, in the midst of adversity, in side-by-side contrast with wickedness. It is a tree planted by a river, but a tree attacked by insects and choked by vines and infected by disease. And in spite of all of that, it’s still flourishing.
And furthermore, the difference between a righteous person and a wicked person is not that a righteous person wants to prosper and a wicked person does not; all people want to prosper. The fundamental difference between the two, as verses 1 and 2 explain, is our conception of what blessedness will look like, and in particular what forms that conception.
Verse 1 describes this like a path—a “way.” Something we walk along that shapes our journey—notice “walks not…” Or the verse pictures it as a sort of counsel—influence that shapes your conception. These are all pictures of influences that shape a person’s life, that shape his conception of what it means to be prosperous.
Well, verse 1 says that the life of a righteous person is not going to be shaped by the way wicked people conceive of prosperity. The verse is not just talking about avoiding overtly sinful influences, like don’t listen to people who say murder is OK. Because the counsel of wicked people doesn’t always appear on its face to be wicked. The way of sinners, especially if their way is prospering, doesn’t always appear to be sinful. Sometimes it looks like prosperity. Sometimes it looks like blessedness. Sometimes it looks like power and wealth and influence and fame and fortune.
Wickedness even in the psalms is not always presented as sort of notorious evil like murder or adultery. The psalms use this language to describe anyone who does not submit to God and live like he is in control. The very nature of wickedness, and the very nature of wicked counsel, is that the wicked conceive of blessedness and prosperity as a life apart from any acknowledgement of God. Their very image of what it means to be prosperous is prosperity apart form God.
In other words, the contrast here is not necessarily between you, a righteous person seeking a blessed life in the Lord, contrasted with rioters burning down buildings, beating people up, and looting. No, the contrast is between you and your next door neighbor who is a good citizen, raises his children to be kind and helpful, and is living a pretty good life apart from God. I mean, really, which counsel is more tempting for you, the counsel of violent rioters who say, “Hey, come with us and burn things down and harm people,” or the counsel of a neighbor like that who says, “Wouldn’t it be nice to just sleep in on Sunday morning, have a relaxing day out on the lake? Who needs God? I’m successful, I’m prosperous, I’m living a good like without God. Join me.”
A righteous person will not walk in that sort of counsel, and a righteous person will not allow his life, his path, to be shaped and formed by that way, that image of a good life, that image of a prosperous life apart from submission to God and obedience to God.
A righteous person will shape his image of the good life differently, and we will turn to that subject next week.