1.Blessed is the man. The meaning of the Psalmist, as I have stated above, is, that it shall be always well with God’s devout servants, whose constant endeavor it is to make progress in the study of his law. The greater part of mankind being accustomed to deride the conduct of the saints as mere simplicity, and to regard their labor as entirely thrown away, it was of importance that the righteous should be confirmed in the way of holiness, by the consideration of the miserable condition of all men without the blessing of God, and the conviction that God is favorable to none but those who zealously devote themselves to the study of divine truth. Moreover, as corruption has always prevailed in the world, to such a degree, that the general character of men’s lives is nothing else but a continual departure from the law of God, the Psalmist, before asserting the blessedness of the students of the divine law, admonishes them to beware of being carried away by the ungodliness of the multitude around them. Commencing with a declaration of his abhorrence of the wicked, he teaches us how impossible it is for any one to apply his mind to meditation upon God’s laws who has not first withdrawn and separated himself from the society of the ungodly. A needful admonition surely; for we see how thoughtlessly men will throw themselves into the snares of Satan; at least, how few comparatively there are who guard against the enticements of sin. That we may be fully apprised of our danger, it is necessary to remember that the world is fraught with deadly corruption, and that the first step to living well is to renounce the company of the ungodly, otherwise it is sure to infect us with its own pollution.
As the prophet, in the first place, enjoins the godly to beware of temptations to evil, we shall follow the same order. His affirmation, that they are blessed who have no fellowship with the ungodly, is what the common feeling and opinion of mankind will scarcely admit; for while all men naturally desire and seek after happiness, we see how securely they can indulge themselves in their sins, yea, that those of them who have departed farthest from righteousness, in the gratification of their lusts, are accounted happy, because they obtain the desires of their heart. The prophet, on the contrary, here teaches that no man can be duly animated to the fear and service of God, and to the study of his law, until he is firmly persuaded that all the ungodly are miserable, and that they who do not withdraw from their company shall he involved in the same destruction with them. But as it is no easy matter to shun the ungodly with whom we are mingled in the world, so as to be wholly estranged from them, the Psalmist, in order to give the greater emphasis to his exhortation, employs a multiplicity of expressions.
In the first place, he forbids us to walk in their counsel; in the second place, to stand in their way; and, lastly, to sit in their seat
The sum of the whole is, that the servants of God must endeavor utterly to abhor the life of ungodly men. But as it is the policy of Satan to insinuate his deceits, in a very crafty way, the prophet, in order that none may be insensibly deceived, shows how by little and little men are ordinarily induced to turn aside from the right path. They do not, at the first step, advance so far as a proud contempt of God but having once begun to give ear to evil counsel, Satan leads them, step by step, farther astray, till they rush headlong into open transgression. The prophet, therefore, begins with counsel, by which term I understand the wickedness which does not as yet show itself openly. Then he speaks of the way, which is to be understood of the customary mode or manner of living. And he places at the top of the climax the seat, by which metaphorical expression he designates the obduracy produced by the habit of a sinful life. In the same way, also, ought the three phrases, to walk, to stand, and to sit, to be understood. When a person willingly walks after the gratification of his corrupt lusts, the practice of sinning so infatuates him, that, forgetful of himself, he grows hardened in wickedness; and this the prophet terms standing in the way of sinners. Then at length follows a desperate obstinacy, which he expresses by the figure of sitting. Whether there is the same gradation in the Hebrew words רשעים, reshaim, חטאים, chataim, and לצים, letsim, that is to say, a gradual increase of evil, I leave to the judgment of others. To me it does not appear that there is, unless perhaps in the last word. For those are called scorners who, having thrown off all fear of God, commit sin without restraint, in the hope of escaping unpunished, and without compunction or fear sport at the judgment of God, as if they would never be called to render up an account to him. The Hebrew word חטאים, chataim, as it signifies the openly wicked, is very properly joined with the term way, which signifies a professed and habitual manner of living. And if, in the time of the Psalmist, it was necessary for the devout worshippers of God to withdraw themselves from the company of the ungodly, in order to frame their life aright, how much more in the present day, when the world has become so much more corrupt, ought we carefully to avoid all dangerous society that we may be kept unstained by its impurities. The prophet, however, not only commands the faithful to keep at a distance from the ungodly, from the dread of being infected by them, but his admonition farther implies, that every one should be careful not to corrupt himself, nor abandon himself to impiety. A man may not have contracted defilement from evil examples, and yet come to resemble the wicked by spontaneously imitating their corrupt manners.
Blessed is the man – This Psalm has no title, and has been generally considered, but without especial reason, as a preface or introduction to the whole book.
The word אשרי ashrey, which we translate blessed, is properly in the plural form, blessednesses, or may be considered as an exclamation produced by contemplating the state of the man who has taken God for his portion; O the blessedness of the man! And the word האיש haish, is emphatic: That man; that one among a thousand who lives for the accomplishment of the end for which God created him.
1. God made man for happiness.
2. Every man feels a desire to be happy.
3. All human beings abhor misery.
4. Happiness is the grand object of pursuit among all men.
5. But so perverted is the human heart, that it seeks happiness where it cannot be found; and in things which are naturally and morally unfit to communicate it.
6. The true way of obtaining it is here laid down.
That walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly – There is a double Climax in this verse, which it will be proper to note: –
There are here three characters, each exceeding the other in sinfulness.
1. The Ungodly, רשעים reshaim from רשע rasha, to be unjust; rendering to none his due; withholding from God, society, and himself, what belongs to each. Ungodly – he who has not God in him; who is without God in the world.
2. Sinners, חטאים chattaim, from חטא chata, “to miss the mark,” “to pass over the prohibited limits,” “to transgress.” This man not only does no good, but he does evil. The former was without God, but not desperately wicked. The latter adds outward transgression to the sinfulness of his heart.
3. Scornful, לצים letsim, from לצה latsah, “to mock, deride.” He who has no religion; lives in the open breach of God’s laws, and turns revelation, the immortality of the soul, and the existence of an invisible world into ridicule. He is at least a deist, and endeavours to dissolve, as Much as he can, the bonds of moral obligation in civil society. As the sinner exceeds the ungodly, so the scornful exceeds both.
The second climax is found in the words,
Which mark three different degrees of evil in the conduct of those persons.
1. The ungodly man – one uninfluenced by God.
2. The sinner – he who adds to ungodliness transgression
3.The scornful – the deist, atheist, etc., who make a mock of every thing sacred.
The Ungodly man walks, the Sinner stands, and the Scornful man sits down in the way of iniquity.
Mark certain circumstances of their differing characters and conduct.
1. The ungodly man has his counsel;
2. The sinner has his way; and,
3. The scorner has his seat.
The ungodly man is unconcerned about religion; he is neither zealous for his own salvation, nor for that of others: and he counsels and advises those with whom he converses to adopt his plan, and not trouble themselves about praying, reading, repenting, etc., etc. there is no need for such things; live an honest life, make no fuss about religion, and you will fare well enough at last. Now, “blessed is the man who walks not in this man’s counsel;” who does not come into his measures, nor act according to his plan.
The sinner has his particular way of transgressing; one is a drunkard, another dishonest, another unclean. Few are given to every species of vice. There are many covetous men who abhor drunkenness; many drunkards who abhor covetousness; and so of others. Each has his easily besetting sin; therefore, says the prophet, let the wicked forsake His Way. Now, blessed is he who stands not in such a man’s Way.
The scorner has brought, in reference to himself, all religion and moral feeling to an end. He has sat down – is utterly confirmed in impiety, and makes a mock at sin. His conscience is seared; and he is a believer in all unbelief. Now, blessed is the man who sits not down in his Seat.
See the correspondent relations in this account.
1. He who walks according to the counsel of the ungodly will soon,
2. Stand to look on the wag of sinners; and thus, being off his guard, he will soon be a partaker in their evil deeds.
3. He who has abandoned himself to transgression will, in all probability, soon become hardened by the deceitfulness of sin; and sit down with the scorner, and endeavor to turn religion into ridicule.
The last correspondency we find is: –
1. The seat answers to the sitting of the scornful.
2. The way answers to the standing of the sinner; and
3. The counsel answers to the walking of the ungodly.
The great lesson to be learned from the whole is, sin is progressive; one evil propensity or act leads to another. He who acts by bad counsel may soon do evil deeds; and he who abandons himself to evil doings may end his life in total apostasy from God. “When lust has conceived, it brings forth sin; and when sin is finished, it brings forth death.” Solomon the son of David, adds a profitable advice to those words of his father: “Enter not into the path of the wicked, and go not in the way of evil men; avoid it, pass not by it, turn from it, and pass away;” Pro_4:14, Pro_4:15.
As the blessedness of the man is great who avoids the ways and the workers of iniquity, so his wretchedness is great who acts on the contrary: to him we must reverse the words of David: “Cursed is the man who walketh in the counsel of the ungodly; who standeth in the way of sinners; and who sitteth in the seat of the scornful.” Let him that readeth understand.
Blessed is the man – That is, his condition is a happy or a desirable one. The word used here, אשׁר ‘esher means properly, “happiness” or “blessedness.” It is found, however, only in the plural form and in the construct state, and takes the nature and force of an interjection – “ O the happiness of the man!” or “O happy man!” Deu_33:29 : “happy art thou, O Israel!” 1Ki_10:8 : “happy are thy men, happy are these thy servants!” Job_5:17 : “happy is the man whom God correcteth!” Psa_2:12 : “blessed are all they that put their trust in him!” See also Psa_32:1-2; Psa_33:12; Psa_34:8; Psa_40:4; Psa_41:1; Psa_65:4; Psa_84:4-5, Psa_84:12, et al., where it is rendered “blessed.” The word is of the most general character, and, in itself, would embrace all that is supposed to constitute real happiness. The particular kind of blessedness referred to here, as explained in the subsequent part of the psalm, consists in the fact that he avoids the companionship of the wicked; that he has pleasure in the law of the Lord; that he will be prospered in this world; and that he will not perish at lasts. The word “man” here, also, is of the most general character, and is designed to include all people, of all times and of all conditions, who possess the character referred to. The term is applicable to the poor as well as to the rich; to the low as well as to the exalted; to the servant as well as to the master; alike to the aged, the middle-aged, and the young. All who have the character here described come under the general description of the happy man – the man whose condition is a happy and a desirable one.
That walketh not – Whose character is that he does not walk in the manner specified. Prof. Alexander renders this, “Who has not walked.” But it implies more than this; it refers to more than the past. It is the characteristic of the man, always and habitually, that he does not thus walk; it has not only been true in the past, but it is true in the present, and will be true in the future. It is that which distinguishes the man. The word “walk” is often used in the Scriptures to denote a way of life or conduct – since life is represented as a journey, and man as a traveler. Psa_15:2 : “who walketh uprightly.” Compare 1Ki_9:4; Deu_19:9; Deu_28:9; Psa_81:12-13; Isa_33:15.
In the counsel – After the manner, the principles, the plans of this class of men. He does not take counsel of them as to the way in which he should live, but from the law of the Lord, Psa_1:2. This would include such things as these: he does not follow the advice of sinners, 2Sa_16:20; 1Ki_1:12; he does not execute the purposes or plans of sinners, Isa_19:3; he does not frame his life according to their views and suggestions. In his plans and purposes of life he is independent of them, and looks to some other source for the rules to guide him.
Of the ungodly – The wicked. The word used here is general, and would embrace all kinds and degrees of the unrighteous. It is not so specific, and would, in itself, not indicate as definite, or as aggravated depravity, as the terms which follow. The general sentiment here is, that the man referred to is not the companion of wicked men.
Nor standeth – This indicates more deliberation; a character more fixed and decided.
In the way – The path where they are found, or where they usually go. His standing there would be as if he waited for them, or as if he desired to be associated with them. Instead of passing along in his own regular and proper employment, he stations himself in the path where sinners usually go, and lingers and loiters there. Thus, he indicates a desire to be with them. This is often, in fact, illustrated by men who place themselves, as if they had nothing to do, in the usual situation where the wicked pass along, or where they may be met with at the corners of the streets in a great city.
Of sinners – חטאים chatta’iym. This word means literally, those who miss the mark; then, those who err from the path of duty or rectitude. It is often used to denote any kind or degree of sin. It is more specific than the former word rendered “ungodly,” as denoting those who depart from the path of duty; who fail in regard to the great end of life; who violate positive and known obligations.
Nor sitteth – This implies still greater deliberation and determination of character than either of the other words employed. The man referred to here does not casually and accidentally walk along with them, nor put himself in their way by standing where they are ordinarily to be found; but he has become one of them by occupying a seat with them; thus deliberately associating with them. He has an established residence among the wicked; he is permanently one of their number.
In the seat – The seat which the scornful usually occupy; the place where such men converse and sit together – as in a ball-room, or in a “club,” where wicked men hold their meetings, or where infidels and scoffers are accustomed to assemble.
Of the scornful – לצים letsiym. This word properly means those who mock, deride, scoff; those who treat virtue and religion with contempt and scorn. Pro_1:22; Pro_3:34; Pro_9:7-8; Pro_13:1; Pro_15:12, et saepe. It denotes a higher and more determined grade of wickedness than either of the other words employed, and refers to the consummation of a depraved character, the last stage of wickedness, when God and sacred things are treated with contempt and derision. There is hope of a man as long as he will treat virtue and religion with some degree of respect; there is little or none when he has reached the point in his own character in which virtue and piety are regarded only as fit subjects for ridicule and scorn. We have here, then, a beautiful double gradation or climax, in the nouns and verbs of this verse, indicating successive stages of character. There is, first, casual walking with the wicked, or accidentally falling into their company; there is then a more deliberate inclination for their society, indicated by a voluntary putting of oneself in places where they usually congregate, and standing to wait for them; and then there is a deliberate and settled purpose of associating with them, or of becoming permanently one of them, by regularly sitting among them.
So also it is in regard to the persons with whom they associate. They are, first, irreligious men in general; then, those who have so far advanced in depravity as to disregard known duty, and to violate known obligations; and then, those who become confirmed in infidelity, and who openly mock at virtue, and scoff at the claims of religion. It is unnecessary to say that, in both these respects, this is an accurate description of what actually occurs in the world. He who casually and accidentally walks with the wicked, listening to their counsel, will soon learn to place himself in their way, and to wait for them, desiring their society, and will ultimately be likely to be feared identified with open scoffers; and he who indulges in one form of depravity, or in the neglect of religion in any way, will, unless restrained and converted, be likely to run through every grade of wickedness, until he becomes a confirmed scoffer at all religion. The sentiment in this verse is, that the man who is truly blessed is a man who does none of these things. His associations and preferences are found elsewhere, as is stated in the next verse.
In the second verse, the Psalmist does not simply pronounce those happy who fear God, as in other places, but designates godliness by the study of the law,teaching us that God is only rightly served when had law is obeyed. It is not left to every man to frame a system of religion according to his own judgment, but the standard of godliness is to be taken from the Word of God. When David here speaks of the law,it ought not to be understood as if the other parts of Scripture should be excluded, but rather, since the whole of Scripture is nothing else than an exposition of the law, under it as the head is comprehended the whole body. The prophet, therefore, in commending the law, includes all the rest of the inspired writings. He must, therefore, be understood as meaning to exhort the faithful to the reading of the Psalms also. From his characterising the godly as delighting in the law of the Lord, we may learn that forced or servile obedience is not at all acceptable to God, and that those only are worthy students of the law who come to it with a cheerful mind, and are so delighted with its instructions, as to account nothing more desirable or delicious than to make progress therein. From this love of the law proceeds constant meditation upon it, which the prophet mentions on the last clause of the verse; for all who are truly actuated by love to the law must feel pleasure in the diligent study of it.
But his delight – His pleasure; his happiness. Instead of finding his happiness in the society and the occupations of the wicked, he finds it in the truth of God. The law or truth of God is not distasteful to him, but he so delights in it as to desire to become more and more acquainted with it, and to have its truths impressed more and more on his heart.
In the law of the Lord – The law of Yahweh – the small capitals in the translation indicating here as elsewhere that the original word is Yahweh. The word law in the Scriptures is used in a considerable variety of significations. The Hebrew word תורה tôrâh, properly means instruction, precept; and then, an injunction, command, law, in the usual sense of the word. It was applied particularly to the Pentateuch, or law of Moses (compare the notes at Luk_24:44), as containing the first written and recorded laws of God; and then the word came, in a more general sense, to be applied to all the books of the Old Testament, as being an exposition and application of the law. Here the word undoubtedly refers to the written revelation of the will of God as far as it was then made known. On the same principle, however, the declaration here made would apply to any part of a divine revelation; and hence, the sentiment is, that a truly pious man finds his highest delight in the revealed truths of God. This is often referred to as characteristic of true piety. Compare Psa_19:10; Psa_119:97, Psa_119:99.
And in his law – On his law, or his truth. “He doth meditate.” The word used here, הגה hâgâh, means properly to complain, to mutter; then, to speak; then, to utter in a low complaining voice, as is often done by a person in deep meditation; hence, in the usual sense, to meditate on anything; to think of it. So Jos_1:8 : “Thou shalt meditate therein (the law) day and night.” Psa_77:12 : “I meditate on all thy work.” Pro_15:28 : “the heart of the righteous meditateth what to answer.” The meaning here is, he thinks of it; he endeavors to understand its meaning; he has pleasure in reflecting on it. It is not a subject which he puts away from him, or in respect to which he is indifferent, but he keeps it before his mind, and has satisfaction in doing it.
Day and night – That is, continually – as day and night constitute the whole of time. The meaning is:
(a) he does this habitually, or he intentionally forms the habit of meditating on divine truth, by disciplining his mind in order that he may do it;
(b) he takes time to do it – designedly setting apart suitable portions of each day, that, withdrawn from the cares of life, he may refresh his spirit by contemplating divine truth, or may become better acquainted with God, and with his duty to him, and may bring to bear upon his own soul more directly the truths pertaining to eternal realities;
(c) he does this in the intervals of business, the moments of leisure which he may have during the day – having thus an unfailing subject of reflection to which his mind readily reverts, and in which, amid the cares and toils of life, he finds relaxation and comfort; and
(d) he does it in the wakeful hours of night, when sick and tossed upon his bed, or when, for any other reason, his “eyes are held waking.” Psa_63:5-6 : “my soul shall be upon my bed, and meditate on thee in the night-watches.” Psa_119:54 : “Thy statutes have been my songs in the house of my pilgrimage.” Compare Psa_119:23, Psa_119:43; Psa_143:5. It is probable that the psalmist had the injunction in his mind which is contained in Jos_1:8.
The Psalmist here illustrates, and, at the same time, confirms by a metaphor the statement made in the preceding verse; for he shows in what respect those who fear God are to be accounted happy, namely, not because they enjoy an evanescent and empty gladness, but because they are in a desirable condition. There is in the words an implied contrast between the vigor of a tree planted in a situation well watered, and the decayed appearance of one which, although it may flourish beautifully for a time, yet soon withers on account of the barrenness of the soil in which it is placed. With respect to the ungodly, as we shall afterwards see, (Psa_37:35 ) they are sometimes like “the cedars of Lebanon.” They have such an overflowing abundance of wealth and honors, that nothing seems wanting to their present happiness. But however high they may be raised, and however far and wide they may spread their branches, yet having no root in the ground, nor even a sufficiency of moisture from which they may derive nourishment, the whole of their beauty by and by disappears, and withers away. It is, therefore, the blessing of God alone which preserves any in a prosperous condition. Those who explain the figure of the faithful bringing forth their fruit in season, as meaning that they wisely discern when a thing ought to be done so as to be done well, in my opinion, show more acuteness than judgment, by putting a meaning upon the words of the prophet which he never intended. He obviously meant nothing more than that the children of God constantly flourish, and are always watered with the secret influences of divine grace, so that whatever may befall them is conducive to their salvation; while, on the other hand, the ungodly are carried away by the sudden tempest, or consumed by the scorching heat. And when he says, he bringeth forth his fruit in season, he expresses the full maturity of the fruit produced, whereas, although the ungodly may present the appearance of precocious fruitfulness, yet they produce nothing that comes to perfection.
Like a tree planted – Not like one growing wild, however strong or luxuriant it may appear; but one that has been carefully cultivated, and for the proper growth of which all the advantages of soil and situation have been chosen. If a child be brought up in the discipline and admonition of the Lord, we have both reason and revelation to encourage us to expect a godly and useful life. Where religious education is neglected, alas! what fruits of righteousness can be expected? An uncultivated soul is like an uncultivated field, all overgrown with briers, thorns, and thistles.
By the rivers of water – פלגי מים palgey mayim, the streams or divisions of the waters. Alluding to the custom of irrigation in the eastern countries, where streams are conducted from a canal or river to different parts of the ground, and turned off or on at pleasure; the person having no more to do than by his foot to turn a sod from the side of one stream, to cause it to share its waters with the other parts to which he wishes to direct his course. This is called “watering the land with the foot,” Deu_11:10 (note), where see the note.
His fruit in his season – In such a case expectation is never disappointed. Fruit is expected, fruit is borne; and it comes also in the time in which it should come. A godly education, under the influences of the Divine Spirit, which can never be withheld where they are earnestly sought, is sure to produce the fruits of righteousness; and he who reads, prays, and meditates, will ever see the work which God has given him to do; the power by which he is to perform it; and the times, places and opporttmities for doing those things by which God can obtain most glory, his own soul most good, and his neighbor most edification.
His leaf also shall not wither – His profession of true religion shall always be regular and unsullied; and his faith be ever shown by his works. As the leaves and the fruit are the evidences of the vegetative perfection of the tree; so a zealous religious profession, accompanied with good works, are the evidences of the soundness of faith in the Christian man. Rabbi Solomon Jarchi gives a curious turn to this expression: he considers the leaves as expressing those matters of the law that seem to be of no real use, to be quite unimportant, and that apparently neither add nor diminish. But even these things are parts of the Divine revelation, and all have their use, so even the apparently indifferent actions or sayings of a truly holy man have their use; and from the manner and spirit in which they are done or said, have the tendency to bear the observer to something great and good.
Whatsoever he doeth shall prosper – It is always healthy; it is extending its roots, increasing its woody fibres, circulating its nutritive juices, putting forth fruitbuds, blossoms, leaves, or fruit; and all these operations go on in a healthy tree, in their proper seasons. So the godly man; he is ever taking deeper root growing stronger in the grace he has already received, increasing in heavenly desires, and under the continual influence of the Divine Spirit, forming those purposes from which much fruit to the glory and praise of God shall be produced.
And he shall be like a tree – A description of the happiness or prosperity of the man who thus avoids the way of sinners, and who delights in the law of God, now follows. This is presented in the form of a very beautiful image – a tree planted where its roots would have abundance of water.
Planted by the rivers of water – It is not a tree that springs up spontaneously, but one that is set out in a favorable place, and that is cultivated with care. The word “rivers” does not here quite express the sense of the original. The Hebrew word פלג peleg, from פלג pâlag, to cleave, to split, to divide), properly means divisions; and then, channels, canals, trenches, branching-cuts, brooks. The allusion is to the Oriental method of irrigating their lands by making artificial rivulets to convey the water from a larger stream, or from a lake. In this way, the water was distributed in all directions. The whole land of Egypt was anciently sluiced in this manner, and it was in this way that its extraordinary fertility was secured. An illustration of the passage may be derived from the account by Maundrell of the method of watering the gardens and orchards in the vicinity of Damascus. “The gardens are thick set with fruit trees of all kinds, kept fresh and verdant by the waters of the Barady …. This river, as soon as it issues out of the cleft of the mountain before mentioned, into the plain, is immediately divided into three streams, of which the middlemost and largest runs directly to Damascus, and is distributed to all the cisterns and fountains of the ciy. The other two, which I take to be the work of art, are drawn round, the one to the right, and the other to the left, on the borders of the gardens, into which they are let out, as they pass, by little rivulets, and so dispersed over all the vast wood, insomuch that there is not a garden but has a fine, quick stream running through it.” Trav., p. 122.
A striking allusion to trees cultivated in this manner occurs in Eze_31:3-4 : “Behold, the Assyrian was a cedar in Lebanon, with fair branches, and with a shadowing shroud, and of a high stature, and his top was among the thick boughs. The waters made him great, the deep set him up on high, with his rivers running round about his plants, and sent out his little rivers unto all the trees of the field.” So Ecc_2:4 : “I made me pools of water, to water therewith the wood that bringeth forth trees.” No particular kind of tree is referred to in the passage before us, but there are abundant illustrations of the passage in the rows of willow, oranges, etc., that stand on the banks of these artificial streams in the East. The image is that of a tree abundantly watered, and that was flourishing.
That bringeth forth his fruit in his season – Whose fruit does not fall by the lack of nutriment. The idea is that of a tree which, at the proper season of the year, is loaded with fruit. Compare Psa_92:14. The image is one of great beauty. The fruit is not untimely. It does not ripen and fall too soon, or fall before it is mature; and the crop is abundant.
His leaf also shall not wither – By drought and heat. Compare Job_8:16, note; Job_15:32, note. It is green and flourishing – a striking image of a happy and a prosperous man.
And whatsoever he doeth shall prosper – This is a literal statement of what had just been put in a figurative or poetic form. It contains a general truth, or contains an affirmation as to the natural and proper effect of religion, or of a life of piety, and is similar to that which occurs in 1Ti_4:8 : “Godliness is profitable unto all things, having promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come.” This idea of the effect of a life of piety is one that is common in the Scriptures, and is sustained by the regular course of events. If a man desires permanent prosperity and happiness, it is to be found only in the ways of virtue and religion. The word “whatsoever” here is to be taken in a general sense, and the proper laws of interpretation do not require that we should explain it as universally true. It is conceivable that a righteous man – a man profoundly and sincerely fearing God – may sometimes form plans that will not be wise; it is conceivable that he may lose his wealth, or that he may be involved in the calamities that come upon a people in times of commercial distress, in seasons of war, of famine, and pestilence; it is conceivable that he may be made to suffer loss by the fraud and dishonesty of other men; but still as a general and as a most important truth, a life of piety will be followed by prosperity, and will constantly impart happiness. It is this great and important truth which it is the main design of the Book of Psalms to illustrate.
The Psalmist might, with propriety, have compared the ungodly to a tree that speedily withers, as Jeremiah likens them to the heath which grows in the wilderness, (Jer_17:6 ) But not reckoning this figure sufficiently strong, he debases them by employing another, which represents them in a light still more contemptible: and the reason is, that he does not keep his eye on the prosperous condition of which they boast for a short time, but his mind is seriously pondering on the destruction which awaits them, and will at length overtake them. The meaning, therefore, is, although the ungodly now live prosperously, yet by and by they shall be like chaff; for when the Lord has brought them low, he shall drive them hither and thither with the blast of his wrath. Besides, by this form of speech, the Holy Spirit teaches us to contemplate with the eye of faith, what might otherwise seem incredible; for although the ungodly man rise high, and appear to great advantage, like a stately tree, we may rest assured that he will be even as chaff or refuse, whenever God chooses to cast him down from his high estate, with the breath of his mouth.
The ungodly are not so – The Vulgate and Septuagint, and the versions made from them, such as the Ethiopic and Arabic, double the last negation, and add a clause to the end of the verse, “Not so the ungodly, not so; they shall be like the dust which the wind scatters away from the face of the earth.” There is nothing solid in the men; there is nothing good in their ways. They are not of God’s planting; they are not good grain; they are only chaff, and a chaff that shall be separated from the good grain when the fan or shovel of God’s power throws them up to the wind of his judgments. The manner of winnowing in the eastern countries is nearly the same with that practiced in various parts of these kingdoms before the invention of winnowing machines. They either throw it up in a place out of doors by a large wooden shovel against the wind; or with their weights or winnowing fans shake it down leisurely in the wind. The grain falls down nearly perpendicularly; and the chaff, through its lightness, is blown away to a distance from the grain.
An ungodly man is never steady; his purposes are abortive; his conversation light, trifling, and foolish; his professions, friendships, etc., frothy, hollow, and insincere; and both he and his works are carried away to destruction by the wind of God’s judgments.
The ungodly are not so – literally, “Not thus the wicked.” For the word ungodly, see the notes at Psa_1:1. The statement that the “wicked are not so,” is a general statement applicable alike to their character and destiny, though the mind of the author of the psalm is fixed immediately and particularly on the difference in their destiny, without specifying anything particularly respecting their character. It is as true, however, that the ungodly do walk in the counsel of the wicked, and stand in the way of sinners, and sit in the seat of the scornful, as it is that the righteous do not; as true that they do not delight in the law of the Lord, as it is that the righteous do; as true that the wicked are not like a tree planted by the channels of water, as it is that the righteous are. This passage, therefore, may be employed to show what is the character of the ungodly, and in so applying it, what was before negative in regard to the righteous, becomes positive in regard to the wicked; what was positive, becomes negative. Thus it is true:
(a) that the wicked do walk in the counsel of the ungodly; do stand in the way of sinners; do sit in the seat of the scornful;
(b) that they do not delight in the law of the Lord, or meditate on his word; and
(c) that they are not like a tree planted by the waters, that is green and beautiful and fruitful.
Both in character and in destiny the ungodly differ from the righteous. The subsequent part of the verse shows that, while the general truth was in the mind of the writer, the particular thing on which his attention was fixed was, his condition in life – his destiny – as that which could not be compared with a green and fruitful tree, but which suggested quite another image.
But are like the chaff which the wind driveth away – When the wheat was winnowed. This, in Oriental countries, was commonly performed in the open field, and usually on an eminence, and where there was a strong wind. The operation was performed, as it is now in our country, when a fan or fanning-mill cannot he procured, by throwing up the grain as it is threshed with a shovel, and the wind scatters the chaff, while the grain falls to the ground. See the notes at Mat_3:12.
This very naturally and appropriately furnished an illustration of the destiny of the wicked. Compared with the righteous, they were like the worthless chaff driven away by the wind. The image is often found in the Scriptures. See Job_21:18, note; Isa_17:13, note. Compare also Psa_35:5; Isa_29:5; Isa_41:15; Dan_2:35; Hos_13:3. The idea here is, that the wicked are in no respect like the green and fruitful tree referred to in Psa_1:3. They are not like a tree in any respect. They are not even like a decaying tree, a barren tree, a dead tree, for either of these would suggest some idea of stability or permanency. They are like dry and worthless chaff driven off by the wind, as of no value to the farmer – a substance which he is anxious only to separate wholly from his grain, and to get out of his way. The idea thus suggested, therefore, is that of intrinsic worthlessness. It will be among other things, on this account that the wicked will be driven away – that they are worthless in the universe of God – worthless to all the purposes for which man was made. At the same time, however, there may be an implied contrast between that chaff and the useful grain which it is the object of the farmer to secure.
In the fifth verse, the prophet teaches that a happy life depends on a good conscience, and that, therefore, it is not wonderful, if the ungodly suddenly fall from the happiness of which they fancied themselves in possession. And there is implied in the words a kind of concession; the prophet tacitly acknowledges that the ungodly please and enjoy themselves, and triumph during the reign of moral disorder in the world; just as robbers revel in the woods and caves, when beyond the reach of justice. But he assures us, that things will not always remain in their present state of confusion, and that when they shall have been reduced to proper order, these ungodly persons shall be entirely deprived of their pleasures, and feel that they were infatuated when they thought themselves happy. We now see how the Psalmist pronounces the ungodly to be miserable, because happiness is the inward blessing of a good conscience. He does not deny, that before they are driven to judgment, all things succeed well with them; but he denies that they are happy unless they have substantial and steadfast integrity of character to sustain them: for the true integrity of the righteous manifests itself when it comes at length to be tried. It is indeed true, that the Lord daily executes judgment, by making a distinction between the righteous and the wicked, but because this is done only partially in this life, we must look higher if we desire to behold the assembly of the righteous,of which mention is here made.
Therefore – Because they are thus worthless.
The ungodly – See the notes at Psa_1:1. The wicked in general; the wicked of any kind or degree.
Shall not stand – Compare the notes at Psa_1:1. The idea is, that they will not be found among those who are acquitted by the Judge, and approved by him. The idea seems to be derived from the act of standing up to be tried, or to receive a sentence.
In the judgment – The Aramaic Paraphrase renders this, “in the great day” – understanding it of the day of judgment. The Septuagint and Vulgate render it, “the wicked shall not rise – αναστήσονται anastesontai – resurgent – in judgment.” Most of the Jewish interpreters, following the Aramaic Paraphrase, understand this as referring to the last judgment. Rosenmuller, in loc. The truth stated, however, seems to be more general than that, though that is probably included. The meaning is, that they would not share the lot of the righteous: in all places, and at all times, where character is determined, and where the divine estimate of human character is manifested, it would be found that they could not stand the trial, or abide the result, so as to have a place with the righteous. Their true character would in all such cases be shown, and they would be treated like the chaff that is driven away. This would be true alike in those situations of trial in the present life when character is determined, and at the last judgment, when the sentence will be pronounced which will determine the final doom of mankind.
Nor sinners – See the notes at Psa_1:1.
In the congregation of the righteous – Be reckoned or regarded as belonging to the righteous. That is, in all the places where the righteous, as such, are assembled, they will have no place: where they assemble to worship God; where they meet as his friends; where they unitedly participate in his favor; when, in the last day, they shall be gathered together to receive their reward, and when they shall be assembled together in heaven. The sinner has no place in the congregations of the people of God.
Even in this world the prosperity of the ungodly begins to pass away as often as God manifests the tokens of his judgment; (for then, being awakened out of sleep, they are constrained to acknowledge, whether they will or no, that they have no part with the assembly of the righteous;) but because this is not accomplished always, nor with respect to all men, in the present state, we must patiently wait for the day of final revelation, in which Christ will separate the sheep from the goats. At the same time, we must maintain it as a general truth, that the ungodly are devoted to misery; for their own consciences condemn them for their wickedness; and, as often as they are summoned to give an account of their life, their sleep is broken, and they perceive that they were merely dreaming when they imagined themselves to be happy, without looking inward to the true state of their hearts.
Moreover, as things appear to be here driven about at the mercy of chance, and as it is not easy for us, in the midst of the prevailing confusion, to acknowledge the truth of what the Psalmist had said, he therefore presents to our consideration the grand principle, that God is the Judge of the world. Granting this, it follows that it cannot but be well with the upright and the just, while, on the other hand, the most terrible destruction must impend over the ungodly. According to all outward appearance, the servants of God may derive no advantage from their uprightness; but as it is the peculiar office of God to defend them and take care of their safety, they must be happy under his protection. And from this we may also conclude that, as he is the certain avenger of wickedness, although, for a time, he may seem to take no notice of the ungodly, yet at length he will visit them with destruction. Instead, therefore, of allowing ourselves to be deceived with their imaginary felicity, let us, in circumstances of distress, have ever before our eyes the providence of God, to whom it belongs to settle the affairs of the world, and to bring order out of confusion.
The Lord knoweth – יודע yodea approveth the way, “aloweth the way”, Coverdale, of the righteous, צדיקים tsaddikim, from צדק tsadak, to give even weight; the men who give to all their due; opposed to רשעים reshaim, Psa_1:1, they who withhold right from all; see above. Such holy men are under the continual eye of God’s providence; he knows the way that they take; approves of their motives, purposes, and works, because they are all wrought through himself. He provides for them in all exigencies, and defends them both in body and soul.
The way of the ungodly shall perish – Their projects, designs and operations, shall perish; God’s curse shall be on all that they have, do, and are. And in the day of judgment they shall be condemned to everlasting fire in the perdition of ungodly men. The wicked shall perish at the presence of the Lord. Reader take warning!
For the Lord knoweth the way of the righteous – This is given as a reason why the wicked would not stand in the judgment with the righteous. The reason is, that the Lord, the great Judge, fully understands the character of those who are his friends, and can discriminate between them and all others, whatever pretences others may make to that character. Only those whom God approves, and loves, as his friends, will be able to stand in the day when the great decision shall be made. No one can impose on him by any mere pretensions to piety; no one can force his way to his favor, or to the rewards of the just, by power; no one can claim this in virtue of rank and station. No one can be admitted to the favor of God, and to the rewards of heaven, whose character is not such that it will bear the scrutiny of the Omniscient eve. Compare the notes at 2Ti_2:19. Man may be deceived in judging character, but God is not. When it is said that “the Lord knoweth the way of the righteous,” the word “way” seems to be used to denote the whole of life – the manner of living (Notes, Psa_1:1), and hence, the whole character. Perhaps there is included also the idea that the Lord knows the result of their manner of life – the issue to which it leads – and that, therefore, he can properly judge the righteous and assign them to that place in the future world, to wit, heaven, to which their actions tend.
But the way of the ungodly shall perish – The way or manner in which the ungodly live shall tend to ruin; their plans, and purposes, and hopes, shall come to nought. Their course, in fact, tends to destruction. None of their plans shall prosper in regard to religion: none of their hopes shall be fulfilled. In this, as in all other respects, they stand in strong contrast with the righteous, alike in this world and the world to come.