Psalm 1:6. Not So Simple Reflections on Psalm 1

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Psalm 1:6. Not So Simple Reflections on Psalm 1

Copyright © October 19,2014 Douglas W. Jerving.
All Rights Reserved.

Psalm 1:6

Not So Simple Reflections on Psalm 1

Verse 6 "For the Lord knows the way of the righteous, But the way of the ungodly shall perish." sums up the whole of this first psalm. God "knows" both the ways of the righteous and the wicked in the sense that He controls and directs them both toward their final outcomes. The righteous are blessed because God directs their lives to final and ultimate goodness. The ungodly perish because God does not direct their way (a contradiction?), allowing their own hearts to steer them into their own doom.

Before we go further, I must clarify something that appears to be a contradiction. I stated that God directs the lives of both the godly and the ungodly, and by this I mean only that He watches over both to see that His perfect will is performed. This implies that God alone is sovereignly controlling all aspects of human life. In soteriology (the Christian doctrine of salvation) we learn that God’s will is both decretive and permissive. His decretive will cannot be adjourned. It is inevitable. His permissive will operates within the framework of His decretive will, so that a man may decide to do something, and God permits it, but it ultimately results in a perfect attenuation to his decretive will.

Thus it is perfectly within proper understanding to say that while God directs the outcomes of all mens’ lives because he decrees their outcomes, it is also true to say that He does not direct their lives if they choose to disobey Him. He allows them to go their own way. In other words, it is part of God’s decretive will that He permit man to choose the life he will lead. God allows, as a part of His greater will, for man to go his own way if he so chooses. But He is actively engaged in the lives of those who choose to serve Him, so as to direct their lives further toward salvation.

It is no real contradiction to say that God directs the lives of all men (by decree) and yet he does not direct the lives of the ungodly (because He permits them to go their own way). In his permissive will, He has allowed all of us to go our own way, and choose to disobey Him. In His permissive will, He allows many (most?) to go their own way to their own destruction. In His decretive will, He chooses to actively engage His will in the lives of those He chooses in His good pleasure so that they choose to serve Him. In Biblical theology these are the Elect – those upon whom God has specifically chosen to bestow His grace that leads to their salvation.

Now a question arises from an unbelieving acquaintance of mine, and I want to address it below.

“It seems” she wrote in response to the first paragraph of this post before it was developed into this full treatise “that everyone will perish because everyone is either ‘ungodly’ or a hypocrite.”

That is a genuine concern on her part. It acknowledges an implication on the part of the writer of Psalm 1 that no one can possibly be saved since all persons from Adam to the present are sinners. The question is valid despite the fact that the psalmist seems to miss this point altogether; i.e., that all are sinners and therefore none can be saved. David (the most likely author) assumes that some will be saved and others lost. He does not entertain the idea that all will be lost because all have sinned.

So the argument is (however convoluted this may seem) that David implies that all are sinners and under God’s judgment but that for some unexplained reason God’s judgment of certain ones is suspended and instead He directs them to salvation.

To the author of that statement, I must say, you are correct.

You are right! All mankind is under the judgment and condemnation of God. We are all on our way to hell (or whatever else “perishing” may mean) without exception, unless God Himself does something exceptional to change that fact.

One of the first principles of Biblical theology is exactly what the challenger above referenced: that everyone will perish without exception and without excuse because all have sinned and fall short of the perfect law of God.

That principle leads directly into the next most prominent concept in Biblical theology: that no one can be saved unless a sinless substitute takes his or her place in God's judgment on sin. In the Old Testament that substitute was a continual sacrifice of ceremonially "clean" animals. In Christian theology that became the sacrifice of Jesus, who was without sin because he was God manifested in the flesh. In later (post-Christian) Judaism that sacrifice was the martyrdom of the Jewish people themselves.

The latter concept fails to recognize that only a sinless substitute can stand in the place of the sinner. The substitution of animals (or even human sacrifice in other religious systems) fails as well, and so the Old Testament sacrificial system is an apparent failure. It was only capable of reaffirming to the sinner that he was continually under God's judgment and utterly dependent upon God's grace. A dumb and unwilling animal cannot do anything more than remind the sinner that he is ultimately under the penalty of death. That is the premise of the New Testament book of Hebrews (to whom it was written - Christians from a Jewish [Hebrew] background). Man's only hope was that God in His grace would eventually provide a perfect, sinless substitute who's willing death would be sufficient for the substitution of all mankind.

The only possible substitute could be a perfect man who was the incarnation of God (God in the flesh). I fully understand the reticence of the opponents of Christian thought in being asked to believe such a magnificent concept. Still, that is the foundational structure of real Christianity. God became a man and willingly gave His life as the perfect sacrifice to save man, because otherwise, all mankind would ultimately perish.

And that is the key to understanding David the great poet king of Judah. He understands, if merely by implication, that all men are under God’s decree of death. That is implied. But he understands beyond this that there is a hope in serving God that God would provide the necessary sacrifice that would ultimately deliver the god-fearing man from the sentence of death that was against him. It was only important that men walk in faithfulness to God, despite the judgment against them, trusting that God Himself would provide the Deliverer.

And that He has done!

His name is Jesus.


Doug Jerving is the publisher of the You may contact him at


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