How should one visualize the righteous and the wicked? What images should be ascribed to each? Psalm 1 takes on this artistic task by employing unique and creative language in order to make visible not only the embodied presence of both the righteous and the wicked respectively, but also the chronology of their physical movements.
The writer accomplishes this largely through antithetical constructs. Beginning in Psalm 1:1 he compares the actions of the blessed by first describing those who are not blessed. The blessed person’s antithesis – the wicked – are on a descent. They move from seeking out bad counsel, to engaging in habitual sin and, finally, to scoffing; and our writer likens this movement to a chronological regression from walking, to standing, and finally sitting. Do you see this? It is a powerful connection in that one can see quite literally the futility in the ways of the wicked. They are passive, stagnant, decaying. The blessed person, in contrast, finds stability and indeed life in God’s law; and verse 2 intensifies this reality by showing how those who meditate on Scripture also delight in the God-driven life that they live.
The imagery in the poem then shifts to the metaphorical. In Psalm 1:3, the writer creates a natural comparison between the blessed person’s actions and a thriving oasis. This is a beautiful description and one in which the writer encourages us to use all of our senses to experience. This haven in the desert is a sight to behold in its embodiment of shelter and refuge; for the water gives life and the tree provides both shade and sustenance. Despite its harsh environment, the tree by the water will not wither, it will not die, it always bears fruit. That, the writer says, is the best description he can create for the stability and joy in the life of the righteous, for the one who is rooted in God’s Word.
Verse 4 then provides the antithesis to this scene as the wicked experience a very different plight. What is their natural comparison? Unlike the planted tree, they are like chaff blown away in the wind. This metaphor is also an intensification of the wicked’s literal actions. For it shows that if you are in constant movement, like the wicked are in verses 1 and 2, your fate will be similar. You will never find rest. Verse 5 heightens this reality further by showing how the wicked will never know true, everlasting rest. Like chaff, they will be destroyed for all eternity.
Psalm 1:6 concludes the poem, while reiterating the message above. Here again the writer uses antithesis for the blessed and wicked person. For the LORD “knows” the way of the righteous, He has an intimate knowledge of them, whereas the wicked aren’t even afforded the verb “to know”.
There is a lot to learn from Psalm 1, but what is ultimately at stake in the divided imagery between the righteous and wicked is nothing less than a saving relationship with God Himself. Two images are set before you. The first is lost in the dizzying ways of this world and is steadily regressing toward its own death. The second is rooted, growing and thriving, even in the midst of an unkind environment. Which image reflects your own life? Consider: Do you hold fast to His Word? Are you compelled to commune with and meditate on Him daily? Do you seek out His counsel in all things? Most importantly, do these activities chronologically lead you to Christ? For if, in the end, you still do not know Him, He will not know you. Believers, may we stay still, quiet ourselves and humbly submit ourselves before our Creator. Only then will we find true stability, true joy and true life.