Psalm 1:5-6

Psalm 1:5-6 (For the first two installments on this psalm, click here and here)

First Impressions

In wrapping up the first Psalm, we take a look at the summary statement that is verse five and six.  Verse five begins with the word “therefore”, and as many of us have heard in the past, it’s good to see what the “therefore” is there for.

The first four verses have given us a description of both the ungodly and the godly, of the wicked and the righteous.  We have seen the increasing comfort the ungodly have with sin, and the increasing strength the righteous have from being planted by streams of water.  We have observed how it is the behavior of the wicked that is what condemns them, and it is entirely the activity of God that blesses the righteous.

Therefore, in light of all this, a summary judgment is given: “The wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous.”  At first glance, this verse seems to be saying that at the coming of eternity, on the Day of Judgment, the wicked will not be able to stand before God because they are left with nothing but their actions which will most certainly condemn them.

Luther makes an interesting observation on the Hebrew word that is translated “stand”.  He notes that the meaning of the word is “they will rise.”  A quick glance at the Enhanced Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon confirms this.  Luther applies this meaning in his interpretation of the passage.  “This is the meaning: The ungodly will never rise up to the point where they become judges and masters of the believers, and they will never be in their council, that is, their congregation. They will belong neither to the leaders nor even to the lowly of the righteous. Therefore, more clearly: The ungodly shall not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous; they will absolutely not be reckoned among the servants of God.”[1]

What this means, and Luther goes on to say as much, is that believers have nothing to fear from wicked rulers.  While it may appear that they rule over us and have authority, the truth of the matter is their power is nothing more than a farce.  In the end, it is God who actually holds the power and as believers we rest on that.

Verse six is a profound statement.  “The LORD knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish.”  The Lord knows the way of the righteous because it is His righteousness that covers them.  We’ll get to the final statement about the wicked in the Law and Gospel section.

Insights from the Septuagint

 5Therefore, the ungodly will not rise up in judgment,

            nor the sinful in the counsel of the righteous.

 6Because the Lord knows the way of the righteous,

            but the way of the ungodly will perish.

The Septuagint seems to support Luther’s interpretation of the verb “to stand”.  The verb also can mean “to stand up”, but it seems to imply more action than merely “waiting to be judged” like I originally anticipated.

Another thing to point out is that verse six in the LXX[2] seems to make verse five a result.  The wicked will not rise up in judgment because the Lord knows the way of the righteous.  There are no imposters in the Kingdom of God.  While we may not always be able to discern who is and who isn’t a child of God, He always knows, and to that end we can remain confident that righteousness will prevail.

Law & Gospel

Verse five reminds us that living a life of sin will never pay off. Num. 32:23 states, “You have sinned against the LORD, and be sure your sin will find you out.”  Any life lived apart from the righteousness of Jesus Christ will only end in eternal punishment (as seen in verse six – note the word “perish”), even if it seems to be reaping some benefits in the present.  This is because even if we consider ourselves to be a good person, righteousness doesn’t come from our behavior, but only from Jesus Christ.  “And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved,” (Acts 4:12).  This includes our own names.

At the same time, we hold to the promise in verse six, “the LORD knows the way of the righteous.”  If the Lord knows everything, why is this such a promise?  The Lord knows the way of the righteous because He is righteous.  This is what makes Rom. 3:21-22 so beautiful.  “But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it – the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe.”

God is righteous.  He knows what righteousness is.  And for those who have faith in Jesus Christ, He declares us to be righteous!  We are covered by the righteousness of Jesus Christ, who is God Himself.  When God looks at us, He doesn’t see all of our failures, our shortcomings, or all of the times we’ve provoked Him to anger by breaking His laws.  Instead, He sees the righteousness of Jesus Christ, His only Son, who lived a perfectly sinless life 2,000 years ago and stepped into our shoes when He died on the cross.  We deserved that punishment.  He took it for us.

Now, as God’s children, we no longer have to fear that those opposed to our faith, the wicked, will rule over us.  We know that righteousness will prevail.  But what’s more important is that God not only promises victory over our enemies and their wickedness, but promises victory over our own wicked, sinful natures.

“Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ!”[3]


[1] Martin Luther, vol. 14, Luther’s Works, Vol. 14 : Selected Psalms III, ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald and Helmut T. Lehmann, Luther’s Works (Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1999),Ps 1:5.

[2] LXX is the accepted abbreviation of Septuagint.  I’m going to start using that now, because I’m getting sick of typing it out.

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  1. Responding to Psalm 1 « ophelimos
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