Blessed is the man
who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,
nor stands in the way of sinners,
nor sits in the seat of scoffers;
2 but his delight is in the law of the Lord,
and on his law he meditates day and night.
3 He is like a tree
planted by streams of water
that yields its fruit in its season,
and its leaf does not wither.
In all that he does, he prospers.
4 The wicked are not so,
but are like chaff that the wind drives away.
5 Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous;
6 for the Lord knows the way of the righteous,
but the way of the wicked will perish.
There are two progressions in this psalm. Both are dangerous and evil. One has to do with the person’s way of life and the way he or she embraces evil influences. Walking, standing, and sitting: these represent a progression of greater and greater opportunities to be influenced for evil. The second progression is the people encountered in each of these postures. Wicked people, sinners, and scoffers: These are not mere poetic expressions of evil. They are increasingly dangerous manifestations of evil to be avoided by righteous people.
Although it is quite possible that wicked and sinner are nearly equivalent, a scoffer is a greater evil. The warning here is to avoid the counsel of the wicked (another translation for wicked is ungodly). According to Jesus, even his followers were evil (cf. Luke 11:13). And remember Jesus even called Peter Satan (cf. Matthew 16:23). Peter and all repentant sinners do not stand with the wicked. We battle against those impulses that war against the will of God. It’s a lifelong battle, and it is only lost if we give up the fight. We don’t stay with the wicked or seek their counsel.
We all sin. We do so because we are sinners. A sinner is one who wanders off the path of righteousness. A sinner is one who misses the mark of God’s will. And although we are sinners, that’s not the final word we claim. We are repentant sinners. We may step out of bounds – in fact we all do. But we do not make excuses for our behavior. We repent. To walk in the path of sinners is to refuse to repent.
But let us beware of a greater evil: taking a seat with the scoffers. These dismiss God and his ways. The scoffer denies God’s word and promises. Scoffers belittle Christians, the Christian Church, godly and decent behavior, and Jesus himself. They sit in judgment of God. They deride everything good. They reject the truth of their sin, which M. Scott Peck describes as the essence of evil. He says that evil people lack “awareness of their own evil” (click this link for the full quote).
A repentant sinner is still a sinner, but not only a sinner, also a saint. So it stands to reason that we will sometimes experience difficulty: withering leaves so to speak. But because we are also new creations in Christ we also produce delightful fruit. The key is to be united to Jesus (cf. John 15).
So how is it that Jesus who lived a perfect life in every possible way did not experience total outward success? Why does his life on earth not look like a tree planted beside the waters? He died a cruel and unjust death. How does that square with the psalm?
First of all Jesus went through the valley of the shadow of death for us, carrying our sin to the cross. He took on the consequences of our wickedness, sin, and scoffing. But God raised him from the dead, and exalted him above all. The ultimate fulfillment of this Psalm is connected to Jesus. Through faith in him we will be exalted in glory with him forever. I’ll have more to say about all this tomorrow.