The main theme of Psalm 1, which is placed at the head of the entire Psalter, has to do with a very basic human desire: the pursuit of happiness. Psalm 1 plainly affirms that true joy is found in godliness, while the apparent happiness of the ungodly ends only in destruction.
The opening statement about happiness is phrased by way of negation. The first step to living well is to renounce the company of the ungodly. It’s impossible for anyone to delight in God’s law while under the influence of the attitude and actions of the wicked. Of course, this doesn’t mean we hide ourselves away from the world – the point is that if we are to wholeheartedly apply ourselves to the fear and service of God, we must be firmly convinced that the world has nothing to offer us but misery. We are not to engage in sin at any level, from casual experience to a set way of life.
In verse two we see the source of delight: God’s law, and by implication, obedience to it. Obedience unlocks happiness. It’s not a difficult concept, but it can be very difficult indeed to continually remember and believe. The blessed man therefore meditates on the law of God day and night.
The illustration of a well-watered tree shows us the difference between the lasting joy of the righteous and the fleeting gladness of the wicked. The righteous have a strategic advantage: they are planted in the source of life. Whether they experience happiness or sadness on a day-to-day experiential basis has no effect on their position next to the stream. The inevitable outcome is that they bear fruit in their season.
The wicked, on the other hand, are pictured as not even having the possibility of life. They aren’t simply rooted apart from the stream; they have no roots at all.
These last verses reveal the reason for the incredibly sharp distinction between the righteous and the wicked: the psalmist is looking ahead with eyes of faith to the final judgment of God. Meditating on God’s law not only instructs us in obedience, but also constantly points us to the faithfulness of the Lawgiver. He will indeed judge the world in perfect righteousness. This is the foundation for our hope, which fuels our patient endurance in obedience when happiness does not immediately result.
The message of Psalm 1 is clear, but how can sinful people ever hope to achieve this goal? As we sing this psalm, we must remember that Jesus has lived it for us. He is the true blessed man, the one who perfectly delighted in God’s law and paid the penalty for the sins of his people on the cross. Jesus offers his happiness to anyone who will trust in him. It is interesting to notice that the psalm ends by saying that the Lord knows “the way” of the righteous. Our righteousness is not based on our good works, but on the fact that we stand on the one who claimed to be “the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6).