Psalm 1
May 20, 2009
David Cloud, Way of Life Literature, P.O. Box 610368, Port Huron, MI 48061

The following is excerpted from the Way of Life Advanced Bible Studies Series title on PSALMS.

Forming as it does the introduction to the entire Psaltery, Psalm 1 is very important. It describes the two ways man can take, the way of blessing or the way of cursing. And it describes the way of spiritual victory through separation from sin and wrong associations and devotion to God’s Word. “This Psalm may be regarded as THE PREFACE PSALM, having in it a notification of the contents of the entire Book. It is the psalmist’s desire to teach us the way to blessedness, and to warn us of the sure destruction of sinners. This, then, is the matter of the first Psalm, which may be looked upon, in some respects, as the text upon which the whole of the Psalms make up a divine sermon” (Spurgeon, Treasury of David).


1. The blessing of the godly (Psa. 1:1-3)

a. He is blessed because he rejects sin and error and wrong associations (Psa. 1:1). This is a necessary part of spiritual victory.

Note the detailed description of the blessed man’s separation:

He does not walk in
THE COUNSEL of the ungodly. Counsel refers to instruction, learning, philosophy, teaching, doctrine, advice. The godly man has only one authority, and that is God’s Word, and he rejects all instruction that is contrary to it. He knows that he lives in a dark world full of lies and errors, and he therefore diligently tests everything by God’s Word (Acts 17:11; 1 Thess. 5:21; 1 John 4:1). He is not gullible or careless (Prov. 14:15; Eph. 4:14). He knows that it is wise to seek counsel, but that counsel must be first from God’s Word and second from saved people who are walking in the fear of God (Prov. 20:18; 24:6).

He does not stand in
THE WAY of sinners. The way of sinners refers to their lifestyle, the way sinners live, the actions and habits that are peculiar to sinners. The way of sinners is summarized in 1 John 2:16 as “the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life.” It encompasses everything that is sinful and contrary to the will of God. To refuse to stand in the way of sinners requires separating from the world’s immodest and unisex fashions and from its sensual music and its depraved dancing and its lascivious movies and television programs and its dissolute parties and anything else that is characterized by sin. “And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them” (Eph. 5:11).

He does not sit in
THE SEAT of the scornful. Not only does the blessed man not occupy himself in scorning the things of God, he refuses even to sit in the seats of those that do. A seat is a position of authority and influence, and the seat of the scornful is a position of authority and influence that is owned or controlled by the scornful who openly mock the things of God. The scornful are on every hand in these last days. They attack the authority of the Bible. They ridicule Jesus Christ. They use God’s name in vain. They despise godliness and rejoice in debauchery. They appear under the names of humanists and evolutionists and modernists. To refuse to sit in the seat of the scornful requires that the godly man reject and avoid any position or station or employment that is associated with scorning and blatant unbelief. This includes sitting on councils with the scornful, occupying chairs of the scornful in the field of education, accepting the employ of scornful institutions, etc. “Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness? And what concord hath Christ with Belial? or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel? And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols?” (2 Cor. 6:14-16).

There is a parallel progression here:

There is a progress in the verbs. First there is
walk, then stand, then sit. If you WALK with the wrong people, you will soon STAND with them and eventually you will SIT with them. Peter is an example. He sat down and warmed himself at the fire with the unbelievers and it wasn’t long before he was blaspheming along with them and denying Christ and cursing (Lk. 22:54-60). Lot is another example. First he cast his eyes toward Sodom, then he pitched his tent toward Sodom (Gen. 13:10-12). Soon he dwelt in Sodom (Gen. 14:12), and finally he sat in the gate of Sodom as one of its leaders (Gen. 19:1). Because he walked with the Sodomonites, he eventually stood with them, and then sat down in a settled manner with them.

There is a progress in the nouns. First there is the
ungodly, then sinners, then the scornful. The UNGODLY are those who simply do not know the God of the Bible. They might be moral and productive, upstanding citizens, but they are unsaved. “Who are the ungodly? They are the people who just leave God out. There is no fear of God before their eyes. They live as though God does not exist. Around us today are multitudes of people like this. They get up in the morning, never turn to God in prayer, never thank Him for the food they eat or for life or health” (J. Vernon McGee). The SINNERS are the ungodly who walk in more active sin. They make no pretence at religion and morality. Their lives are characterized by sin. The SCORNFUL are those that aggressively deride the truth. They are the atheists and the moral perverts that mock the things of God and boldly oppose the Bible.

There is also a progress in the objects of prepositions. First there is
counsel, then way, then seat. If you heed the wrong COUNSEL, you will go the wrong WAY and eventually you will sit down in the wrong SEAT. Eve listened to the Devil’s counsel, then ate of the forbidden tree, and sat down in the misery of a cursed world and brought forth children in sorrow.

Further lessons:

Separation from sin and error is mentioned as the very
first characteristic of the blessed man. This is in direct contrast to the popular New Evangelical philosophy of these last days. The lovely book of Psalms begins on a most forcefully “negative” note. It begins with separation from evil ways and evil philosophies. The founder of New Evangelicalism, Harold Ockenga, repudiated “separatism.” (See our book “New Evangelicalism: A Very Great Danger to the Churches” for documentation.) In repudiating separatism Ockenga repudiated the Word of God, and the influential movement that has followed his philosophy has also repudiated the Word of God. Hatred of and separation from evil is the very first principle of wisdom (Prov. 8:13). See Proverbs 4:14-16; Ephesians 5:11.

This Psalm teaches us the importance of right associations and the danger of wrong ones. The person who is blessed of God is the one who is careful about those with whom he walks, stands, and sits. See 1 Corinthians 15:33 -- “
Be not deceived: evil communications corrupt good manners.” The term “evil communications” refers to any type of communication that is evil, whether it be communicating by face to face relationships and associations with people or communicating via literature or movies or telephone or internet or whatever. If it is an evil communication or if it is communication with evil, it will doubtless corrupt good manners. This refers to a good manner of Christian living. See also Proverbs 9:6; 13:20; 2 Thessalonians 3:6; 2 Timothy 2:22. In the latter verse Timothy is exhorted to “flee youthful lusts,” which refers to separation from sin, and to follow righteousness “WITH THEM that call on the Lord out of a pure heart.” Thus Paul emphasized to Timothy the necessity of right associations.

Separation is a matter of protection. The blessed man does not separate from evil for separation’s sake or as a matter of pride. He separates from evil and error because this is the only way to protect his godly walk and it is the only way to know wisdom. This is why a shepherd separates his sheep from wolves and a gardener separates his flowers from weeds.

This passage refutes the contemporary Christian rock philosophy. It is impossible to delight in God’s Word acceptably without also refusing to walk in the counsel of the ungodly or to stand in the way of sinners. The attempt to intermingle the world with the things of Christ in order to “win the world” is confusion and gross error.

This passage contains important instruction about theological education. It is not possible to have effective Bible education without an accompanying strict separation from the world and from theological error. As soon as this separation breaks down the effectiveness and purity of the Bible teaching is corrupted. We see this at New Evangelical schools where the acceptance of worldly things such as rock music and sensual dancing go hand-in-hand with acceptance of theological errors such as form criticism of the Gospels and modern textual criticism.

This passage contains important instruction about the education of children. David Sorenson observes: “I know of no greater passage of Scripture dealing with the matter of Christian education than Psalm 1. There probably is no institution in this country that more embodies the counsel of the ungodly, the way of sinners, and the seat of the scornful than the national public education establishment. With its systemic teaching of evolution which mocks creation, it certainly occupies the seat of the scornful. With its institutionalized sex education (that is little more than sex encouragement), it certainly is in the way of sinners. As it tacitly ignores the things of God under the guise of separation of church and state, it certainly is the counsel of the ungodly. The outcome of Psalm 1:1 is to get our families out of the world and to get the world out of our families” (
Training Your Children to Turn Out Right, 1995, American Association of Christian Schools, pp. 92, 93).

This passage teaches three essential aspects of spiritual victory:
separation from sin, right associations, and devotion to the Bible. It is impossible to live a victorious Christian life apart from these essentials. Thinking about doing God’s will and being interested in doing God’s will does not get the job done. Only when the individual separates himself from evil and worldly things and maintains godly associations and develops an intimate relationship with the Bible will he have spiritual victory and find the will of Christ. Right associations reminds us of the importance of the New Testament church which is the house of God in this present age (1 Tim. 3:15). Right associations are found in a sound church and are developed through a committed, faithful relationship with the church (Heb. 10:25). There is no shortcut to spiritual victory, nor is it overly complicated. It is achieved when the born again child of God walks in fellowship with Christ and develops basic spiritual disciplines such as these and maintains them throughout one’s life.

b. He is blessed also because he delights in God’s Word (Psa. 1:2).

The man of God is blessed when he separates from sin and error (v. 1), and he is also blessed when he develops an intimate relationship with the Bible.

The blessed man does not separate for separation’s sake or because he loves to be odd or because he has a “holier than thou” attitude. He separates because he loves God and His Word. He separates from sin and error because he does not want anything to crowd the truth out of his life or to corrupt its power in his life. In the Parable of the Sower Jesus warned that the cares of the world, and the deceitfulness of riches, and the lusts of other things can enter in and choke the word so that it becomes unfruitful (Mark 4:19).

The blessed man delights in God’s Word. His relationship with the Bible is not that of mere duty or fear. It is like eating and breathing to him. No one has to tell him to study God’s Word any more than someone has to tell him to eat food. He desires the sincere milk of God’s word because he has been born again (1 Pet. 2:2). No baby has to be taught to drink milk unless it is seriously ill. “I wish I could get the message over to folk that the Bible is a thrilling Book. It’s not a burden; it’s not boring. It is real delight to read and study the Word of God. ... Today the tragedy that has come to man--the tear, the sigh, the groaning, the heartache, the heartbreak, the broken homes, the ruined and wrecked lives--are the result of God’s broken laws. The Word of God makes it very clear. ‘
For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments: and his commandments are not grievous’ (I John 5:3)” (J. Vernon McGee).

The blessed man meditates in God’s Word day and night.

An effective relationship with the Bible begins with an effective daily quiet time of reading and study. We have given many tips for this in the Way of Life Advanced Bible Studies Course on “How to Study the Bible.” It is important to make Bible study time a priority in one’s life. You need a private place with no distractions. You need to develop the habit of both reading
and studying the Bible. It is important to get some good Bible study tools and to USE them. And it is essential not to let anything stop you. Reading and studying the Bible is an essential part of victorious Christian living.

The blessed man’s relationship with God’s Word does not end here, though. It is more than merely having a daily devotional; it is making the Bible the center of my life; it is focusing my thoughts upon it, thinking about its meaning throughout the day, judging everything by it, applying it to every aspect of my life. “The Word of God is powerful! However, it is the view of this writer that the weakness of modern Christians is the bite-sized absorption we have been led to think is acceptable. Only as we saturate our minds by going to the Word day and night (literally) will the Word of Christ dwell in us richly. It is only when we saturate our minds with the Word that it will soak down into our hearts and influence our will. Then, the moral and spiritual strength develop to say NO to any moral or ethical temptation” (David Sorenson,
Moral Failure: Its Cause, Its Prevention).

2. The fruit of the godly (Psa. 1:3)

a. The fruit comes naturally from a right relationship with Christ and His Word. Just as surely as a tree planted by the river brings forth fruit so does the child of God who walks in the light of the Scriptures and maintains his relationship with Christ.

b. The fruit is personal (“
his fruit in his season”). Each believer is an individual before the Lord. There are different abilities and gifts and callings and temperaments and backgrounds. There are different degrees of dedication. I must not compare myself with others. Assuming that I am serving the Lord diligently, my fruit will be exactly what God wants me to have and how much he wants me to have and when he wants me to have it.

c. The fruit is abiding (“
his leaf also shall not wither”). When the Lord gives spiritual growth and blessing in the Christian life, He does not take it away. He prunes us so that we will bear more fruit, and the pruning can be severe at times, but the pruning is not death (John 15:1-2). When tea plants are pruned, they are cut down almost to the ground and it appears afterwards as you look across the pruned fields that the plants are dead, but the plants soon put forth new growth and bear higher quality leaves because of the pruning. What God gives us He does not take away, except sometimes temporarily, so that He can give even more. Consider Job.

3. The prosperity of the godly (“
and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper,” Psa. 1:3b).

a. The blessed man is prosperous because he separates himself from sin and error and delights in Gods’ Word.

b. This is the only guarantee in life. One can work hard at other occupations and invest in other ventures, but there is no guarantee that he will prosper. But here God promises on His own authority and trustworthiness that the man who follows Psalm 1:1-2 will prosper in everything he does. I can vouch for this. Before the Lord saved me at age 23 I did many different things, but none of them prospered. In fact, just about everything I put my hand to failed, and I thank the Lord for it (Psa. 119:71). But after I was converted I made the Bible the Book of my life and have spent an average of probably four hours a day since then in reading and study. I separated from my old philosophies and counsels and ways. Psalm 1 was one of the first passages I memorized, and I determined to be a blessed man by God’s grace. Ever since then everything that I have done has prospered. My family has prospered. My missionary church planting has prospered. My writing has prospered. You name it! I have nothing to boast of; God’s Word is simply true and every man and woman, young and old, can prove it for himself.

c. The reason why he prospers is because he has the blessings of God upon his life and he has the wisdom of God to guide him and to help him make good decisions (Psalm 37:4).


The Psalmist says “
the ungodly are not so.” They are not blessed of God, do not bring forth acceptable fruit, and do not prosper. The difference between the godly and the ungodly is justification and redemption. Men are either saved or lost, blessed or cursed. The Bible says that all have sinned and come short of the glory of God. No man deserves God’s blessing; all deserve His curse because of sin. The reason that any sinner can be blessed of God is the cross of Jesus Christ. God loved the world and gave His only begotten Son to die in man’s place in order to purchase redemption and to make the believing sinner acceptable before God. God wants to save all men (1 Tim. 2:3-4) and offers salvation to all (John 3:16). “For God hath concluded them all in unbelief, that he might have mercy upon all” (Romans 11:32).

1. The ungodly in this life (Psa. 1:4-6)

The ungodly are like the chaff which the wind driveth away (Psa. 1:4). The unsaved man’s life is without ultimate meaning. It is merely chaff to be blown away by the wind of death. His life is vanity. Compare Ecclesiastes 1:2-11. The book of Ecclesiastes teaches us that life apart from God and His revelation in the Scripture is vanity. The key phrase in Ecclesiastes is “
under the sun,” which appears 32 times and refers to a life lived apart from the benefit of divine revelation; and the key word is “vanity,” which appears 37 times. No matter what the unsaved man achieves it is not acceptable to God, has no eternal value, and ends at the grave.

2. The ungodly in judgment (Psa. 1:5)

a. The ungodly shall not stand in the judgment (Psa. 1:5). To “stand in judgment” means to be found innocent, but the ungodly shall not stand in judgment because he dies in his sin and stands before a holy God without a Saviour. The ungodly will be condemned in judgment at the Great White Throne (Rev. 20:11-15).

b. The ungodly shall not stand in the congregation of the righteous (Psa. 1:5). The ungodly are not born again through faith in Christ, therefore they are not adopted members of God’s family (Gal. 3:26).

c. The way of the ungodly shall perish (Psa. 1:6). Not only will the ungodly himself perish, so will his way. “
For yet a little while, and the wicked shall not be: yea, thou shalt diligently consider his place, and it shall not be” (Psalm 37:10). The way of the ungodly is the way of sin and rebellion and stubbornness and self-centeredness and pride and following after the lusts of the flesh and the lusts of the eyes, but that wretched way will perish in the New Jerusalem. The former things will have passed away and God will make all things new (Rev. 21:4-5).

Excerpted from the Way of Life Advanced Bible Studies Series title on PSALMS. ISBN 978-1-58318-108-9. The book of Psalms is a most amazing and wonderful portion of Scripture. It is a devotional book, providing comfort, hope, compassion, encouragement, conviction, and spiritual zeal. It is a prayer book which teaches us how to pray. It’s a song book, a divinely-inspired hymnal for the child of God who walks through this present dark and pain-filled world. It’s a praise book, teaching us the acceptable way to worship a thrice holy God. It is a poetry book that far surpasses anything that the pens of the most acclaimed men have produced apart from divine inspiration. (And the King James Bible captures the exquisite poetry of the Psalms in peerless English, as we show in this course.) This course contains an extensive introduction to the Psalms that deals with its title, splendor, authorship, inspiration, inscriptions, division, interpretation, and New Testament quotations thereof. It then looks at ten major themes of the Psalms (the blessing of the righteous, the importance of the Word of God, the judgment of the ungodly, the afflictions of the saints, prophecy, God as protector and help, praise and worship, righteousness, God as great and holy, and imprecations). Finally there are expository studies on many of the individual psalms, including Psalm 1, 2, 12, 19, 22, 23, 37, 51, 72, 73, 90, 103, 119, 127, and 139.

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