Character Sketch: The Blessed Man

PSALM ONE

In the third century B.C. lived a man named Theophrastus, a man known as a teacher of philosophy. Many of his works survive to this day, one of the most notable being his Characters. In it, he demonstrates the ancient Greek method of describing people by their actions. As he describes the officious man, the grumbler, and the newsmaker, he gives his readers only the actions that one might expect to observe in such a character. This work is considered of great historical significance, because it tells us some of the details of life in ancient Greece that are nowhere else to be found in ancient literature.

The Hebrews were quite different in the way they did character sketches, but they nonetheless did character sketches themselves. Character sketches are scattered throughout the poetic books in the Old Testament. One such instance is that of Psalm One, in which we see the contrast between the blessed (or righteous) man and the wicked. Now, as we will see, unlike the Greeks the Hebrews describe not only the actions of their characters, but they also describe the heart inclinations of their characters. But without further introduction, let’s get into the text where we might discover something of the character of the blessed man:

1How blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked,

Nor stand in the path of sinners,

Nor sit in the seat of scoffers!

2But his delight is in the law of the Lord,

And in His law he meditates day and night.

3He will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water,

Which yields its fruit in its season

And its leaf does not wither;

And in whatever he does, he prospers.

4The wicked are not so,

But they are like chaff which the wind drives away.

5Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,

Nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous.

6For the Lord knows the way of the righteous,

But the way of the wicked will perish (Psalm 1; NASB).

Character Sketch: The Blessed Man (audio)

The Blessed Man

This notion of the blessed man is a reoccurring theme throughout the book of Psalms. The blessed man takes refuge in the Messiah (2:12), the blessed man confesses his sins and they are forgiven him and in his spirit there is no deceit (32:1ff), the blessed man will inherit the land (37:22), the blessed man has made the Lord his trust and turns neither to the proud nor to those who lapse in falsehood (40:4), and there are so many other characteristics of the blessed man which could be mined from the book of Psalms. Today, however, let us turn our gaze to the characteristics given us in Psalm One.

These characteristics are broken down into two categories: the negative characteristics and the positive characteristics. By negative, I mean that we are told the things from which the blessed man abstains. By positive, I merely mean that we are told what the blessed man enjoys to do.

The Negative Characteristics

1How blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked,

Nor stand in the path of sinners,

Nor sit in the seat of scoffers!

The blessed man does not partake in certain activities. Rather, he is different. He is wholly other. He is set apart. He is being sanctified in the Lord. When the world looks at the man of God (the blessed man), there is a reason why they are turned off, why they see him as strange. It’s not because he necessarily dresses different, or because he abstains from certain activities that are not addressed in the Bible.. It’s certainly not because he goes around speaking in Elizabethan English, makes his wife wear long skirts, and refuses to read any book that is not written by someone within his own theological tradition.

We don’t have to add to the Bible to make ourselves seem strange to the world. Rather, the psalmist is pointing out that, when we make the Bible and the Bible alone our authority for all matters of life and godliness, we necessarily deny the authority structures the world has put in place. We deny their authorities, and that to them is strange.

The Counsel of the Wicked. Walking in the counsel of the wicked here means that one’s ear is inclined to the subtle influences of the society of the world. They have not yet stopped and stood in the way of sinners or sat in the seat of scoffers, but they have begun to be inclined in that direction. They are accepting the counsel of the wicked as authoritative and sound, and they are starting to heed the traditions of man rather than the precepts of the Bible.

We see this in the way that evangelism is talked about in much of modern Evangelicalism. We are told that we must “earn the right” to share the gospel with our friends, family, neighbors, and coworkers, which means that we have to dress like them, think like them, listen to the same music as them, and watch the same programs on TV as them. Otherwise, how can they possibly relate to us? How can we possibly have “earned the right” to share the gospel with them?

Many of the same pastors who would argue that we must “earn the right” to share the gospel with those around us also would argue for a more world-centered approach to worship: an approach that would say, God may not have explicitly told us that impressionistic paintings, and heavy metal performances, and skits, and puppet shows have no place in worship, but he nowhere forbids it. Thus, we can use these things, because that’s what the culture wants. I would submit to you that, when a church takes their cues from the culture rather than the word of God in their evangelism and in their worship services, they have begun to walk in the counsel of the wicked. They have begun to be swayed by the subtle influences of the world, and we ought to have none of it.

The Path of Sinners. The next phase in the regression away from the blessed life is that of standing in the path of sinners. This is the phase in which we have inclined ourselves so long toward the subtle influences of society that they have become commonplace to us, so much so that now we find ourselves in the very path, or way, of sinners. It’s interesting that early Christians referred to themselves as The Way. In Acts 22:4, Paul says that he persecuted this “Way” to the death.

At the end of our own text, the psalmist makes a contrast between the “way” of the righteous and the “way” of the wicked. The word for path here is the same word, so we can deduce that the path of sinners is not merely a road on which the man is obstructing the sinner’s journey. Rather, this “way” is a lifestyle; it is the direction in which one is headed. If we head the counsel, the subtle influences of the wicked, before we know it our lifestyles will begin to reflect what we are taking in. That counsel upon which we meditate regularly will always, ultimately become the authority in our lives and will determine our lifestyles.

The Seat of Scoffers. Well, now we come to the third stage of our threefold regression into wickedness: sitting in the seat of scoffers. Scoffers are those who not only deny God, but they scoff at him and ridicule His people. When we think of scoffers, we often think of men like Richard Dawkins and Bill Maher, but if we are honest, even us as Christians can have a tendency to mock and scoff. We can even be fairly vicious toward one another if we are not careful. If we passively incline our minds toward the subtle influences of this world long enough and make ourselves comfortable with ungodly, abominable lifestyles, before we know it we can begin to scoff at others within our own faith.

I can’t help but think of evangelical pastors who talk openly about disgusting, ungodly things in their pulpits, they seek to look like the world and talk like the world and, before they know it, they are railing against other Christians. They call them religious people. They deride them for not being as worldly as they are, something these pastors apparently think to be more noble, something they think makes their evangelistic ministries more effective. Let us take heed lest we journey down the same path, by walking in the counsel of the wicked, standing in the path of sinners, and ultimately sitting in the seat of scoffers.

The Positive Characteristics

2But his delight is in the law of the Lord,

And in His law he meditates day and night.

Now, you would expect, in a chiastic structure, that the psalmist would contrast this walking, standing, and sitting with a more direct correlation. Perhaps, he might follow this negative description of the blessed man with the positive: but rather he walks in the counsel of the godly, stands in the path of the holy, and sits in the seat of the humble. He doesn’t do that, though, does he?

Delighting in Torah. That’s because this is not a contrast between one group of associations and another, but one authority and another. In verse one, the blessed man is said to have shunned the worldly authority of the wicked around him. In verse two, we see the authority he accepts.. No! We see the authority in which he delights. For the blessed man, the law of God is not some burdensome set of rules and injunctions he has had imposed on him from outside. Rather, it is his delight.

The law mentioned here is the word torah. Many of you will recognized that as the designation most commonly used by Jews to refer to the first five books of the Bible. At the time that the psalmist wrote this psalm (most likely David), it is likely that few other books had been written. Outside of the first five, by the time of David, the Israelites may have already accepted Job, Joshua, and perhaps even Judges as canonical. Regardless, torah was the term which, at that time, was used to designate all of the books of the Bible. Thus, when we see this term being used in the first psalm, we shouldn’t merely relegate it to speaking of the first five books of the Bible. Notice how David sings in Psalm 40:8, “I delight to do Your will, O my God; Your Law is within my heart” (NASB). In much of the Psalms God’s law, His torah, is closely related to His revealed will. So, we should understand this term as speaking of the entire revealed will of God: the Bible.

Biblical Meditation. What then is the sign that a man delights in this law? The sign that he delights in God’s law is that he meditates on it day and night. Now, this idea of meditation is far different than what we usually think when we think of meditation. Usually, when we think of meditation, we get visions in our head of people sitting with their legs folded, their hands turned upward on their knees in the form of gang signs, and strange noises coming from their throats. In this type of meditation, Eastern meditation, the goal is to clear one’s mind and think of nothing. This is not the notion we’re presented with in Psalm One.

Biblical meditation is a filling of the mind, not an emptying of it. We are to fill our minds with the word of God. We are to chew on it. We are to mutter it. That’s what the word for meditate literally means in the Hebrew. It means to mutter. So throughout the day, our delight is to be found in those times when we can mull over the Scriptures we’ve been reading, studying, and memorizing. As you can see, meditation of Scripture assumes prior work in Scripture. If we are going to digest our food and thus nourish our bodies, we must have first taken in that food through our mouths. In like manner, if we are going to digest Scripture and thus nourish our souls, we must have first taken it in through reading it, studying it, and memorizing it.

Now, the psalmist doesn’t say that the blessed man does this to somehow be justified before God. If we are in Christ, we have our justification secured. However, if we have been washed by the blood of Christ, if we have received justification, if we have been called by the Spirit, regenerated and indwelt by the Spirit, if we have been reconciled to God the Father, a characteristic that will pervade our lives will be a delight in His law. Our delight will be in reading, studying, memorizing, and meditating on the word of God, so that we might know His precepts and do them.

The Result

3He will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water,

Which yields its fruit in its season

And its leaf does not wither;

And in whatever he does, he prospers.

The Planted Tree. We’ve looked at the authorities the blessed man denies, and we’ve looked at the authority in which he delights. Now let’s take a look at the type of man he is as a result. The psalmist says that the blessed man is like a tree firmly planted. Notice, he doesn’t say that he is like a wild tree. This tree has been taken from one place and planted in another. This demonstrates that where the tree is, it is not its natural environment. Rather it is an environment which is much more conducive for the tree’s health and vitality.

In the same way, the blessed man has not come to his place of status before God on account of anything within himself. He has been planted. He is what he is by sovereign grace. There is nothing he can claim on the basis of his own merit, but rather he stands on the merits of Christ. He is righteous, but it is not an intrinsic righteousness, but rather it is a righteousness that he has received (2Cor. 5:21).

Roots and Fruit. The streams of water by which this tree is planted point back to the law in which he delights. We as Christians are strengthened and nourished by the law, much like a tree that is planted by streams of water extends its roots toward the waters in order that it might strengthened and nourished by them. As Christians, we too are to be rooted in the Scriptures. We are not only to delight in them, but we are to see them as being as essential to our strength and vitality as water is to a tree.

We are also told that it yields its fruit in its season. Every tree bears different fruit. And every fruit is born in a different season. We are not meant to bear the same fruit in the same season as everyone else. We are not all equal in maturity; we are all different. Some of us need to learn patience. Some of us need to learn gentleness. Some of us need to learn peace and love. These are all fruits of the Spirit, but they don’t all come to us at the same time or in the same way. Rather, we each bear these fruits in our own seasons. As such, we need to bear with one another in our weaknesses, and point one another to the sources of our strength, the word of God, from which flow life-giving water.

Beautiful and Prosperous. The tree is also said to have leaves that do not wither and to prosper in whatever it does. This speaks to the value of the tree to its planter. The tree is beautiful and prosperous. Likewise, we are to be as a fragrant aroma to our God. We are to be an object of beauty and value in His sight. As we grow in our knowledge of and endearment toward his word, we will begin to grow in godliness and Christ-likeness. I find that the analogy of the parent / child relationship is useful here.

I often ask Norah, “What must you do to be my daughter?” She says a wide variety of different things, before I correct her and say, “You don’t need to do anything to be my daughter; you simply are my daughter. Now, what must you do to be God’s daughter?” to which she will often say things like “Obey Him,” or “Be good.” To this, I say, “No. You simply need to be born into His family.”

Brothers and sisters, we have been born into the family of God. We don’t have to do anything more than that. However, just as Norah pleases me when she obeys me, we please God as we grow in Christ-likeness. We don’t grow in the area of justification or union with Christ, but we do grow in sweet communion with our heavenly Father. Yes, brothers and sisters, we can be pleasing to Him, and we should earnestly desire to be pleasing to Him as we grow in the image of Christ. In this sense, we are to be like a beautiful and prosperous tree.

The Wicked

4The wicked are not so,

But they are like chaff which the wind drives away.

5Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,

Nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous.

Dead, Worthless Chaff. Notice, the wicked are not so. Not so the wicked! This introduces a contrast. Now we are looking at a brief sketch of the character of the wicked. They are like chaff which the wind drives away. What is chaff? When farmers in the Old Testament would gather in wheat, it would be accompanied by chaff, a weed that was dead and useless. The wheat farmers would toss the wheat and chaff up into the air with a winnowing fork and the wind would carry away the dead useless chaff, leaving only the wheat which was of value to the farmer.

So we see the contrast. There are two groups of men. We are either like the beautiful, fruitful, prosperous tree, or we are like dead, useless chaff which the wind drives away. Of these wicked men, God says, they are useless. They are like dead men’s bones. They are fickle. They are frail. They will not stand in the day of judgment. On the day of judgment, there will be a great outpouring of the wrath of God upon the whole of mankind. The only think that will save any of us is if Christ has taken upon Himself the wrath that we deserve, and that is what He did on the cross.

The Necessity of the Cross. When Christ died on the cross, He who knew no sin became sin on our behalf. He took the very wrath of God. It is as though, on the day of judgment, God’s wrath will be poured out upon the vast sea of humanity, and only those who stand in the shadow of the cross where Jesus has taken God’s wrath on our behalf, will be shielded from the wrath of the only just and mighty God. We who stand in the righteousness of Christ will be able to stand on the day of judgment. The wicked will not.

On that day, there will be a great separation. There will be two assemblies. The sheep will be separated from the goats. The blessed, or righteous, man will be separated from the wicked man, and the wicked will not be able to stand in the assembly of the righteous. Jesus told a parable to illustrate this: the parable of the wedding feast. After all the guests had been brought into the feast, there was a man found who did not have on the proper wedding garments. Upon his discovery, this man was cast into the outer darkness (Mt. 22:1-14). Brothers and sisters, we must be clothed Christ if we hope to stand in the assembly of the righteous on judgment day.

The Special, Intimate Knowledge of God

6For the Lord knows the way of the righteous,

But the way of the wicked will perish

Now we return to this word “way,” and we are told that the Lord knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish. The emphasis here is on the knowledge of God. If God “knows” your way, apparently you are good. If He doesn’t know it, you will perish. What does this word “know” mean? Doesn’t God know all things? Can anything be hidden from God?

Special Knowledge

Well of course God knows all things and, as the catechism says, nothing can be hidden from God. The psalmist isn’t referring to God’s omnipotence. Rather, he is talking about God’s special, intimate knowledge. When Adam and Eve conceived and bore a child, it was said of them that Adam knew Eve. That means that he knew her intimately. In much the same way, God draws close to those whom He loves. There is a special love that God has for His people.

Non-Calvinists would say that God loves all people the same. They would prefer that God had a promiscuous, general type of love that extends to all mankind alike, but we know that this is not the way that God operates in the Bible. Yes, He loves all mankind generally in that He causes the rain to fall and the sun to shine on both the righteous and the wicked. However, there is a special way in which He loves His elect, His bride.

Just as I am called to love my enemy, but I am not called to love him in the same way that I love my wife and my kids, God loves His enemies, but not in the same way that He loves His bride. From heaven, He came and sought her, His elect bride. In this special, intimate way, God is said to know the way of the righteous.

We Are to Be Known

We ought to also recognize what is not being said here. The psalmist is not saying that the righteous are made righteous on account of their knowledge of God, but rather His knowledge of them. There are many who have a great knowledge about God and His word (e.g. Bart Ehrmann), but will not be able to stand in the judgment. What matters is, have you been known by God in this special, intimate way? Have you been sovereignly born from above? Let us here heed the warning of Jesus when He said:

Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness’” (Mt. 7:21-23; NASB).

We must be known by the Lord. Are you known by Him? Do you abstain from the counsel of the wicked, the path of sinners, and the seat of the scoffers? Do you delight in His law and meditate on it day and night? Are you like a beautiful, fruitful, and prosperous tree planted by streams of living water, or are you like dry, dead, and useless chaff? Will you stand in the day of judgment, Christ having taken upon Himself your sins and the wrath of God which you deserve? Have you been born again? Does God know you in a special, intimate way? These are the questions we ought to ask ourselves in response to our study today. I pray that God blesses each of you as you consider and apply these truths to your own lives.

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