“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.”
blessed: esher – This particular noun is found only in plural constructs, with the force of an interjection (or exclamation) used to get a reader’s attention (like saying “Hey!” before beginning a conversation). It means to be happy, fortunate, prosperous, and enviable, and can be read as “O happy man!” At its root, the word means “to go straight.”
[is] the man: ish – A common noun speaking generically, ish speaks of an individual male person as well as a human being (in direct contrast to God).
[that] walketh : halak – When a person is halak-walking, they are walking with and living in the counsel of the wicked, following in their footsteps and imitating them in both life and manners.
not: lo – This auxiliary word doesn’t fit neatly into any specific grammatical category, but when paired with a verb, it means absolute prohibition.
in the counsel: etsah – counsel, advice, purpose, or wisdom.
of the ungodly: rasha – The ungodly are guilty of sin against either God or man. They are morally in the wrong and actively unrighteous in a way that can be seen and felt.
nor: lo – see above.
standeth: amad – The verb describes standing still before a king to serve or minister to him like Joseph did before Pharaoh in Genesis 41.
in the way: derek – a well-traveled, often-frequented path a person takes and also a way of living or acting.
of sinners: chatta – An intensive version of its root word, chata, which describes an archer who makes a false step or stumbles and misses the target mark, chatta is one who bears blame and is counted culpable.
nor: lo’ – see above.
sitteth: yasab – Elsewhere in scripture, yasab means dwelling, remaining, inhabiting, and abiding. In Psalm 1:1, the Amplified Bible, Classic Edition translates it as doing so to relax and rest.
in the seat: moshab – Sitting in a mosab seat is to sit among company or in the attendance of many people.
of the scornful: luts – Generically described as a mocker or scoffer, luts also means a frivolous and imprudent person who despises the most sacred doctrines of religion, piety, and morals.
The psalms begin in a surprisingly subtle way that mostly goes unnoticed in our English translations. But when you know it’s there, that opening sets the pace for the rest of the psalms, which are full of emotional poems of both praise and prayer. Most commentators begin their discussion of this Psalm with the characteristics and conduct of the person who habitually delights in God by continually dwelling inside His Word. But I want to slow down and focus in on the very first detail of the very first verse of this entire book. Because, here? The Psalmist begins with an emotional interruption.
Where the English translation of verse one reads as a complete sentence, the Hebrew indicates it to be more of an interjection to his thoughts – a mindful and abrupt thought break displayed in an exclamation of intense emotion. It’s as if he is interrupting himself mid-sentence, blurting it out because he just can’t help it.
Isn’t that how the rest of the Psalms tend to be? They often serve as an intensely emotional interruption to yourself, your thoughts, your day, and your life – an intentional decision to lay it all out honestly before God and then shift your heart back towards praise. It’s the living, breathing embodiment of Psalms 42 and 43 and the all-too-familiar occasion of a believer “struggling with doubts and fears, but yet holding his ground by faith in the living God.”1
My husband tends to begin a conversation in the middle of a thought process – continuing to speak aloud a dialogue that began in his head, often leaving me scrambling to catch up to what, exactly, he is talking about. What leads up to this first verse of Psalm 1? We don’t know. But we do know that the Psalmist describes the happy, prosperous, and enviable straight-walking person as actively avoiding these three faith-interrupting traps:
Walking in ungodly counsel, which can be like living perpetually in the wind with the constant noise and burning ears and not seeing clearly for the hair forever in your face. Instead, God calls us to walk before Him in David’s signature gait – with uprightness and integrity. It’s standing tall and proud in His calling on your life (1 Kings 9:4). Because the only wind here? It’s the John 3:8 Spirit of God.
Stand in the sinners’ path, which opposes the walking in the previous phrase. The stance here is standing still, stopping. It’s remaining in the same place, setting up shop and settling in for a while, right there in the well-traveled path of ungodly people who are all intensively, thoroughly, and vigorously missing the mark because they are moving about in the wrong direction. And they don’t just miss it by an inch – they miss the mark so dramatically that they aren’t even close to hitting it.
Sit in the mockers’ seat, where the walking and the standing are now a dwelling place. Forward the mail and file a change of address with the post office because this place is now home, and those ungodly are your people now. And the worst part of it all? They mock and deride and scoff at lovers of God (like those soldiers did to Jesus in Luke 22:63-65).
Did you notice the active progression of movement in those three phrases? At first, it’s just leisurely walking by, then standing, then sitting down and getting comfortable. And it just might be one of the most precise cycle-of-sin illustrations in the Bible.
Want to see the process played out by someone who never thought it would happen to them? Take a look at Peter’s story at the end of Luke 22. First, he walked behind Jesus, following at a distance (Luke 22:54). Then, John 18 gives a similar account, describing how Peter then stood still and warmed himself by the fire with the people who were mocking Jesus (John 18:18). And then, back in Luke 22, Peter sat down among them there at the fire. By the end of the chapter, after the walking, the standing, and the sitting, Peter had effectively denied knowing Jesus three times. Situations like this can sneak up on you if you aren’t careful, and they can happen to anyone – even someone like Peter. So it’s wise to heed Paul’s warning in Romans 12:3, think of yourself with sober judgment and don’t think for a second that you will never get tripped up here.
While looking at the sinners’ path, it’s important to note that Proverbs 4:14-15 provides the can’t-miss-it warning sign posted at the path’s entrance: Don’t enter it. Don’t walk on it. Don’t think about entering it to walk on it. Avoid it. Turn away from it. And pass on.
If you are curious about the why behind the “do not,” you can find it in Psalm 119:101 – you restrain your feet from walking that path that you may keep His Word. And, if you want to dig a little bit deeper, take the Amplified Version Classic Edition’s translation into consideration: “I have restrained my feet from every evil way, that I might keep Your word [hearing, receiving, loving, and obeying it].” Walking, standing, and sitting in the path of sinners who (at the deepest root of them) drastically miss the mark is the very thing that stands in the way of your relationship with God and hearing, receiving, and loving His Word.