Psalm 1 is a study in contrasts. At the outset of this amazing collection of songs and poems, two types of people, two lifestyles, are laid out side by side for the hearer/reader to compare. On the one hand is the man who is blessed by God (v1), who is later revealed in verse 6 as ‘the righteous’. On the other hand is ‘the wicked’. There is no middle ground. No compromising position is offered where a person could be part one and part the other. The contrast is clearly defined and the two positions absolute. If a person is one, then he belongs in that camp. If not, he must reside in the other.
It is worth noting that the company the righteous keeps is God Himself. The righteous person does not walk with the wicked, stand with the sinners, or sit with the scoffers. Instead, his preoccupation and delight is with the law of God, by day and by night (v2). The law describes and reveals the Only True God and it is by meditating upon the law of God that God Himself can be found and known.
This chosen lifestyle of the righteous gives solidity as pictured by the tree. The roots of the righteous run deep in the things of God, and from these roots come life, nourishment and fruit. The righteous reside, immovably, next to the refreshing waters of the Spirit of God and tap into the life-giving stream. Nothing can come along that will cause them to perish.
Quite simply, the wicked ‘are not so’ (v4). Everything said thus far about the righteous is not true of the wicked. In contrast to the permanence of the righteous, the wicked are quickly dispersed. Although they may seem to be in the ascendancy just a gust of wind moves them on. Although in the short term they walk, stand and sit with others (v1), soon they will be in no position to judge (v5). In fact ultimately they will perish (v6).
The message of this Psalm is simple: the characteristics of a person define where they stand in relation to God and also their ultimate destination. This opening Psalm therefore forces each of us to soberly reflect as to which of the two contrasting characters best describes us.
And so the choice for the reader is clear: Righteous or wicked? Tree or chaff? Delight in God or perish?