How to Live a Happy Life
Psalm 1:1-2 says, “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stands in the path of sinners, nor sits in the seat of the scornful; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and in His law he meditates day and night.” These words have been a source of encouragement and instruction for many people over the years. They are not only at the beginning of a Psalm but at the beginning of the very first Psalm. They, along with the next four verses, reveal how to live a happy life. In these verses, we learn the life of a righteous person will be one of blessedness, while the life of an ungodly person will result in sorrow and ruin. It is saying, “If you want to please God, here is what you should be doing, and if you want to displease God, here is how you should be acting.”
Psalm 1 can be broken down in the following way. Spoken of in verses 1-3 are the righteous. Within this section, verse 1 speaks negatively, as it states what a righteous person is not to do, verse 2 speaks positively, stating how a righteous person is to be. Verse 3 continues the description of the righteous by comparing them to a tree located by an abundant source of water. In contrast, verses 4-5 compare the condition of the ungodly to chaff. Then verse 6 concludes by summarizing the consequences for the unrighteous. It is not surprising that the Psalm starts with the word “blessed” and ends with the word “perish,” due to the sharp contrast presented between the godly and the ungodly.
HOW TO OBTAIN BLESSEDNESS (Vs. 1-2)
Verse 1 begins with the word “blessed.” This verse is characterized as a beatitude. Typically, when we think of beatitudes, we think of those presented by Jesus in the “Sermon on the Mount” (Mt. 5:1-12). However, they occur elsewhere, especially in the book of Psalms, e.g. 2:12, 40:4, and 84:5. In fact, Psalm 32 starts with two beatitudes, and many link it to Psalm 1 as it describes the cause of blessedness, and Psalm 32 describes the results of blessedness.
Consider the meaning of the Hebrew word (ashre) which is translated “blessed” in the text. It is defined as, “A masculine noun meaning a person’s state of bliss. This Hebrew word is always used to refer to people and is never used of God. It is almost exclusively poetic and usually exclamatory, ‘O the bliss of. . .’” (The Complete Word Study Dictionary).
Consider some misconceptions about the meaning of the word “blessed.”
1. First, many have the misconception that being “blessed” implies an ideal life, forever bestowed and emotion-based. However, this is not accurate. For example, consider how Eliphaz used the word in Job 5:17 when he said, “Behold, happy is the man whom God corrects; therefore do not despise the chastening of the Almighty.” Eliphaz was wrong in his application, but if God were chastening Job, it would not be pleasant. Parents, for example, may discipline their children. This discipline may cause them to become upset, yet most would agree they are “blessed” to have parents who care enough about them to teach them how to act. Further, the Apostle Paul was a blessed man, but he obviously did not live a painless, carefree life (2 Cor. 6:4-10, 6:10).
2. Second, receiving God’s blessings is conditional. Beatitudes pronounce blessings upon a particular group of people. They are saying, “how blessed is the person who…,” and then there is a specification of certain actions which must be performed. For instance, a person must show mercy to receive mercy (Mt. 5:7). Even in our text, the one who is blessed must avoid certain behaviors and actions (v. 1) and must do something else (v. 2).
3. Third, being blessed by God does not just simply involve an emotion— it goes far beyond that. People who serve God will live a blessed and fulfilled life (vs. 2-3) and will have fellowship with God because they will live a life based on the Word of God. We sometimes say of a person, “he’s got it made.” The person blessed by God, in a sense, has it made, not in a material sense, but on a much higher plane— in a spiritual sense.
God is willing and able to bless us. Ephesians 1:3-4 points out, God has “… “blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ.” (Note also Phil. 4:19.)
From verse 1, we also see how the blessed person does not “walk in the council of the ungodly.” To “walk” means to conduct one’s self, to follow a particular course of action. (Note also Ps. 15:2, 81:12-13.) It is not surprising to see the word “walk” used because life on earth can be referred to as a journey (Gen. 47:9). What is the “council of the ungodly”? It involves the advice of people who will typically have different philosophies, goals, values, and outlooks than those taught in the Scriptures. When godly people need advice, they should not go to ungodly people for it— they must not walk in their council. The word translated “council” means “advice; by implication, plan; also prudence” (Strong). It can involve “specific advice,” but the term may be used in a broader sense to refer to a philosophy or outlook, which determines the advice given.
Consider some statements often made today which reflect a philosophy foreign to God’s Word.
1. “It depends on the situation.” A person who says this believes in an approach called “Situation Ethics” or “Situationalism.” These people say right and wrong are determined by the situation. They may say, in one situation an action may be wrong, but the same action may be right in another situation. This position may even lead to saying adultery is acceptable at times. The Bible certainly does not teach this viewpoint as sin is sin no matter what the situation.
2. “God would not want you to be unhappy.” A person might say, “After all, God has given us the capacity to feel pleasure.” This often occurs to justify unscriptural divorce. A person may have no right to remarry according to the Scriptures (Mt. 19:9, 5:32). However, as a single person, he may be very lonely and unhappy. An advisor might say to him, “God would not want you to be unhappy, so it is acceptable for you to remarry.”
3. “If it feels good, do it.” (Sometimes added is, “unless following the course of action hurts someone else.”) This attitude, in more recent times, emerged in the 1960’s and 1970’s.
Consider the case of Esau in the Old Testament (Gen. 25:29-34). He sold his birthright for a bowl of stew. At the time, he did what felt good, but the consequences were devastating for him in the end.
It is important to remember that something may feel good, hurt no one else, and yet be a sin, and it can still have bad, immediate consequences and then, most importantly, eternal consequences. Eternity must always be taken into consideration.
4. “Look how much good it does.” Sometimes, this might be said when a person is unable to defend a particular endeavor from a Scriptural standpoint. This person is saying the end justifies the means. King Saul made this mistake when he did not obey God’s instructions to completely destroy the Amalekites (1 Sam. 15:19-23). Not obeying, he tried to justify his actions by appealing to this viewpoint, i.e. he said, “The animals spared can be used for sacrifice.” Today, the good we may think is being accomplished is not the basis for determining whether a particular practice is Scriptural. All that matters is what the Bible says.
5. “The Bible doesn’t say not to.” In the religious world, it is common for a person to say this when asked for Bible authority for a particular belief, practice, or action. For example, people might respond this way when asked for the authority for instrumental music in worship. (The Bible specifies we are to “sing” in passages such as Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:16.) They say, “Well, the Bible doesn’t say you can’t use a piano.” People who say this are not respecting God’s Silence (Heb. 7:14, Rev. 22:18-19). It is important to understand that all else is eliminated when God specifies.
6. “We do a lot of things we don’t have authority for.” For example, we might ask someone where the authority is for a church to provide recreational activities and facilities. They might say, “We do a lot of things we don’t have authority for. Where is the authority for a water fountain? The Bible doesn’t say anything about it.” Sadly, this response indicates the person does not even think one has to have authority. Biblical authority is essential (Col. 3:17, I Pet. 4:11, Gal. 1:6-10). Generic authority authorizes a building to assemble which necessities a furnished facility with such items as lights, pews, and water fountains. There is no authority, generic or specific, for the church to provide recreation. Thus, the water fountain is not parallel to the fellowship hall.
7. “The majority must be right.” Some think the number of people who believe a particular doctrine has a bearing on whether it is right or wrong. A person might say, “Surely so many people can’t be wrong.” Actually, the Bible teaches us most will be lost and few will be saved (Mt. 7:13-14). The number of people who believe or practice something does not determine truth. If so, truth would change as we change locations as the views of people vary from place to place.
Consider Proverbs 12:15, which says, “The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, But he who heeds counsel is wise.” Proverbs 19:20 points out, “Listen to counsel and receive instruction, that you may be wise in your latter days.” It is important to seek council from others, but we must be careful about whose advice we listen to and follow. A righteous person will not go to the ungodly for advice, as they ignore Scriptural teaching. Even denominational people have a different approach to the Scriptures and to biblical authority. Thus, go to the godly for council, but, even then, we must make sure their advice is biblically based.
Further, the Psalmist writes that the godly “do not stand in the path of sinners.” Standing implies a more fixed position than walking, conveying the idea that the godly will not wait for or linger with sinners. The godly will continue moving to avoid associating with them. The “path” involves places where they are found or usually go. The person who stands in the path of sinners is looking for trouble.
It is impossible to completely avoid people of the world (1 Cor. 5:10), but worldly people are not to be our constant social companions. 1 Corinthians 15:33 says, “Do not be deceived: ‘Evil company corrupts good habits.’” (Note also Pb. 1:15, 13:20, 22:24-25.) Christians are in the world, but they are not to be of the world (Jn. 17:11-17). A righteous person does not stand “in the path of sinners” because of the dangers of becoming like them.
Next, the godly person does not “sit in the seat of the scornful.” Previously, he is referred to as “walking,” then “standing,” and now the godly person is spoken of as not “sitting” which suggests even more resolve and determination to engage in sin. The three words can be viewed as three degrees of conduct. As he sits, he has now “strapped himself down” with these people.
Who are the scornful? They are people who mock, deride, and scoff at religion. They may be atheists, agnostics, deists, or the irreligious. These may scoff at the Bible and various concepts found therein, such as heaven, hell, an afterlife, and the Judgment. They may even treat with contempt righteous people who are trying to do right.
We may typically think of the scornful as being abrasive, but there are more subtle ways to be scornful. One way, for example, is by indifference towards spiritual matters. One like this may simply not care what God says. A second way involves people substituting their own ideas, opinions, feelings, and emotions for the principles of God’s Word. A third way is by listening to the Word of God and then ignoring it (James 1:21-25).
Various passages speak of the scoffer. Proverbs 1:22 says, “How long, you simple ones, will you love simplicity? For scorners delight in their scorning, and fools hate knowledge.” (Note also Pb.13:1, 15:12, 24:9; 1 Pet. 4:4; 2 Pet. 3:1-3.)
Verse 2 now describes a righteous person in a positive way, showing what he does instead of what he does not do. We are told, “But his delight is in the law of the Lord.” Instead of taking delight in the views and opinions of the scornful, he delights in the Law of God. What we delight in will typically be the center of our thoughts; it will occupy our time and will be what we talk about often. Many people spend time talking about becoming wealthy, their favorite sports team, or a hobby they enjoy. Why do they do this? It is because they delight in these. In contrast, the godly, the blessed person, takes delight in God’s Law, which is the primary focus of his life.
The concept of delighting in God’s Law is also alluded to in Psalm 19:9-10, which says, “…The judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether. More to be desired are they than gold, yea, than much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb. (The NASB says, “drippings of the honeycomb.”) People desire gold, and many will do almost anything to obtain it. In addition, people typically like honey or at least something sweet. (We sometimes hear people say they have a sweet tooth.) In a similar way, the Law of God must be desired like people desire gold and honey! We are to crave it. In Job 23:12, Job said, “I have not departed from the commandment of His lips; I have treasured the words of His mouth more than my necessary food.”
We further see (2b) it is in God’s Law, “he meditates day and night.” To meditate means to think about, ponder over, focus on, and diligently seek to understand the meaning of something. The blessed person takes advantage of every opportunity available, day and night, to spend time with God’s Law. When Moses died, as Joshua took over the leadership of the nation of Israel, God told him, “This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate in it day and night, that you may observe to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success” (Josh. 1:8). In Ps 119:15, the Psalmist says, “I will meditate on Your precepts, and contemplate Your ways.” (Please note also Ps. 119:23 and 143:5-6.)
Do we delight in the law of the Lord? Do we take great pleasure in it? Do we meditate on it day and night? If not, we should!
THE BLESSED MAN REWARDED (V. 3)
Verse 3 says, “He shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that brings forth its fruit in its season, whose leaf also shall not wither; and whatever he does shall prosper.” Not doing what verse 1 identifies and doing what verse 2 says leads to the results given in verse 3. Here we see the blessed person compared to a beautiful tree planted by the “rivers of water,” making it healthy and fruitful. Since the tree always has a ready supply of water, it will not wither, and when it comes time for fruit, it will be bountiful.
Various passages compare the righteous to a healthy and productive tree. Jeremiah 17:8 points out the person who trusts in the Lord, “…shall be like a tree planted by the waters, which spreads out its roots by the river, and will not fear when heat comes; but its leaf will be green, and will not be anxious in the year of drought, nor will cease from yielding fruit.” Psalm 92:12 says, “The righteous shall flourish like a palm tree, he shall grow like a cedar in Lebanon.”
In 3b of our text, the Psalmist says, “Whatever he does shall prosper.” He has been speaking figuratively, but now he goes from the figure of the healthy tree to the person represented, i.e. godly people will prosper in whatever they do.
In what sense will the righteous prosper? It is common for righteous people to prosper materially, having been blessed by God, but Christians also face hardships (as noted earlier), and perhaps even financial difficulties. His prosperity is not intended to primarily be in a physical sense but, instead, in a spiritual sense. Consider I Timothy 4:8 which says, “For bodily exercise profits a little, but godliness is profitable for all things, having promise of the life that now is and of that which is to come.” He will spiritually prosper, living a fulfilled life, as God’s Word is the center of his existence (v. 2).
THE STATE OF THE UNGODLY (Vs. 4-5)
Verse 4 says, “The ungodly are not so, but are like the chaff which the wind drives away.” Instead of being like a fruitful tree by the water, the ungodly are like chaff driven by the wind. This marks a strong contrast (continuing in verse 5) between the blessedness of the righteous and the cursed state of the ungodly.
Chaff is, “the husk of corn or wheat which was separated from the grain by being thrown into the air, the wind blowing away the chaff, while the grain was saved” (Smith’s Bible Dictionary). In biblical times, a farmer would go out on a windy day, often on a hill, and throw grain into the air and the chaff would blow away. Chaff was of no value; it was something to be gotten rid of, unlike the living tree by the water which bore fruit. The chaff will not grow no matter how much it is watered.
The Bible uses the term “chaff” to refer to something worthless, and associates it with judgment (Mt. 3:10-12, Hos. 13:3, Dan. 2:35). Those represented by the chaff walk in the council of the ungodly; they stand in the path of sinners, and they sit in the seat of the scornful. They do not meditate constantly on the law. In fact, they may not even give it a casual glance. Instead, they may make fun of it, rejecting it as God’s divine revelation. Thus, those who reject God’s Word are like the chaff as they have no spiritual value, and they will continue in this state as long as they reject God’s Will.
Verse 5 continues, “Therefore the ungodly shall not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous,” contrasting what appears to be a description of God’s final judgment.
What does it mean when the Psalmist speaks of not standing in judgment? We sometimes say someone’s argument will not stand up. Similarly, the ungodly will not “stand up” in the sense they cannot justify themselves at the Judgment of God as no defense will be successful (Mt. 7:21-23, Mal. 4:1).
When the Judgment Day occurs, there will be a great separation. Various comparisons depict this, such as a separation between the wise and the foolish (Mt. 25:1-13, 7:24-27), the wheat and the tares (Mt. 13:24-30, 36-43), and the sheep and the goats (Mt. 25:31-46). In Matthew 25:46, in stating the fate of the righteous and the wicked, Jesus says, “And these will go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” Here he speaks of an eternal separation.
AN EXPLANATION (V. 6)
In summation, the Psalmist says in verse 6, “For the Lord knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the ungodly shall perish.” The verse is an antithetical parallelism emphasizing that God knows both the saved and the unsaved, the righteous and the ungodly.
This verse gives the reason the wicked will not stand on the Judgment Day. It is because God knows those who are His. Various passages make this clear. 2 Timothy 2:19 says, “Nevertheless the solid foundation of God stands, having this seal: ‘The Lord knows those who are His,’ and, ‘let everyone who names the name of Christ depart from iniquity.’” In John 10:14, Jesus says, “I am the good shepherd; and I know My sheep….” God knows the character of people and can easily discriminate between the righteous and the unrighteous. When the Judgment Day occurs, God will not make mistakes (2 Thess. 1:7-9).
In conclusion, the righteous are stable, fruitful, and they will receive a reward, while the wicked are unstable, unfruitful, and they will perish. The life of righteous people is one of blessedness with a bright prospect, while the life of the ungodly is followed by sorrow and gloom. This is because the godly will pursue a path of serving God, and the ungodly will not.
People have a choice about which path they will follow. Do you want to be blessed by God? We do this by doing the opposite of verse 1. We will not walk in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stand in the path of sinners, nor sit in the seat of the scornful. We do what verse 2 says. We will delight in the law of the Lord, and we will meditate on it day and night. The result will be what verse 3 says; we will be like a fruitful tree, which has access to an abundant supply of water. We will flourish!