The Righteous vs. the Ungodly
A useful method to explain a truth or message is to describe its opposite. In considering the contrast, the meaning of each becomes clearer. This is especially true when you use analogies to help one understand the nature of each concept being contrasted.
Reasoning by analogy is an essential part of legal thinking. A judge analogizes (looks for the similarities and differences) between the facts and law of the case before him and the facts and law applied in previous cases. The whole principle of stare decisis (to stand by that which is decided) is based upon the view that a current dispute should be resolved in a manner similar to previous cases with comparable facts and applicable law.
In Psalm 1, David uses analogies to help us understand the differences between the righteous and the ungodly. He analogizes the righteous to a “tree” (implying strength, stability, and longevity) that is planted by a river, a source of continuous water and nourishment. The continuous source of refreshment and strength for us is the “law of the Lord.” If we meditate on His law (ways) day and night, we will bear fruit and not wither.
The inference in Psalm 1 is that the ungodly do not focus on the things the righteous do. Instead, they are their own counsel, or they seek counsel from ungodly people. They associate with those who reject moral absolutes. They are proud, scornful, and view themselves as the final authority. They reject the law of God as being irrelevant to life and they delight in the material pleasures of this world.
By using analogies, David makes the contrast between the righteous and the ungodly very clear – both in terms of who they are and in terms of the consequences. The righteous will not only experience the blessing of God (being fully satisfied in a relationship with God) while living, but he or she will also “stand in the judgment.” The Lord “knoweth the way of the righteous” and they shall not “perish” for eternity.
“The ungodly are not so but are like chaff which the wind driveth [blows] away” because they are not “planted” or connected to the source of nourishment, the water of God’s Word. They have empty and meaningless lives. They will wither and die, and be condemned in the Day of Judgment because of their self-righteousness and pride. Because they reject (have no faith in) God, God will reject them and they “shall perish.”
I must hasten to say that our righteousness before God does not come from our “good works.” It comes by faith in the righteous one, Jesus the Christ, the “Word” who “was made flesh, and dwelt among us” (John 1:14). Unless a person becomes “righteous” by faith (which leads us and motivates us to do good works), he or she is still “ungodly” and shall “perish.” Jesus said, “He that believeth on Him is not condemned; but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God” (John 3:18).
Psalm 1 speaks of whom God blesses and whom He does not. The difference is active faith. The writer of the book of Hebrews tells us, “But without faith it is impossible to please Him; for he that cometh to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him” (Hebrews 11:6). The rewards are the relational blessing of God and His favor in what we do.