Three Men in the Book of Psalms
Pastor Cornelius R. Stam
The Book of Psalms concerns just three men: The Good Man, The Bad Man and The Forgiven Man. Or, we might call them The Perfect Man, The Ungodly Man and The Forgiven Man. The very first Psalm strikes a contrast between the good man and the bad man, and Paul, in Romans 4:6-8, cites Psalm 32 as a classic description of the forgiven man.
Many Bible commentators believe that Solomon wrote Psalm 1 as an introduction to the Psalms of his father, David. We tend toward this view for the following reasons: (1) Psalm 1, especially in Verses 1 and 2, employs the kind of language so often used by Solomon in his Proverbs. (2) The word “scornful,” or “scorner,” occurs only here in the Book of Psalms, but often in the Proverbs. (3) It would be very natural that Solomon should write an introduction to the Psalms, most of which were composed by his illustrious father. (4) In Acts 13:33 some old MSS quote Psalm 2 as Psalm 1, because they considered Psalm 1 to be only an introduction to what was really the first Psalm. We believe they were mistaken, for not all the Psalms were written by David and, indeed, the introduction to the Psalms, though written by Solomon, is itself also a Psalm. Thus we believe the Authorized Version is correct in rendering Acts 13:33, “as it is also written in the second Psalm.” The above fact, however, indicates that the belief that Psalm 1 was written by Solomon is by no means new.
THE PERFECT MAN
The writer of Psalm 1 first shows us the negative side of the good man; he tells us what the good man will not do:
“Blessed is the man that
“walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly,
“nor standeth in the way of sinners,
“nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful” (Ver. 1).
Note how sin has a tendency to deter one from making moral and spiritual progress. The Psalmist shows how the blessed man is not influenced by this deterrent. He does not walk in the counsel of the ungodly and then, as a result, stand in the way of sinners, so that soon he is found sitting in the seat of the scornful. He seeks his counsel from God and continues to make progress, morally and spiritually. This, the positive side, is found in Verse 2.
“But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and in His law doth he meditate day and night” (Ver. 2).
Mark well, he does not merely submit to the law of God; he delights in it, meditating in it day and night so as to understand it more perfectly—with a view to carrying out its instructions more acceptably. David and Solomon, of course, were under the Mosaic Law, but the principle applies equally to the man who, under any dispensation, sincerely seeks to do the will of God. Such a man, says the Psalmist,
“Shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth his fruit in his season; his leaf also shall not wither, and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper” (Ver. 3).
The man who desires and seeks to do God’s will is indeed like a tree planted by the riverside, where its roots can run deep and be assured of abundant nourishment, so that its leaves may remain green and its fruit may be depended upon. Jeremiah 17:7,8 confirms this principle:
“Blessed is the man that trusteth in the Lord, and whose hope the Lord is.
“For he shall be as a tree planted by the waters, and that spreadeth out her roots by the river, and shall not see when heat cometh, but her leaf shall be green; and shall not be careful in the year of drought, neither shall cease from yielding fruit.”
Yet, in the final analysis we must ask ourselves how many of us have consistently avoided even listening to the advice of the ungodly, and have rather delighted in the revealed will of God, meditating in His Word day and night? How many of us have consistently borne fruit to God’s glory? The answer is: Only one, the Lord Jesus Christ, the perfect Man. In Psalm 40, a Messianic Psalm, we have the words of our Lord:
“I delight to do Thy will, O My God: yea Thy law is within My heart” (Ver. 8).
And while He was on earth, He said:
“…I do always those things that please Him” (John 8:29).
Thus the “blessed man” of Psalm 1 is the perfect Man, the God Man, our Lord Jesus Christ.
THE UNGODLY MAN
Now, by contrast, the Psalmist writes of the ungodly man, but just what is an ungodly man? An ungodly man is simply a man who is not godly. Many people equate ungodliness with immorality, blasphemy and evil deeds, but these are merely the fruits of ungodliness.
If I should introduce an unsaved but self-righteous friend to another and say, “He is an ungodly man,” he might well be offended. Yet, if I should introduce him as “a godly man,” would he not be embarrassed? Well, if he is not godly, is he not ungodly?
Psalm 14 speaks of the ungodly man. He is “the fool,” who “says in his heart…no God.” He keeps God out of his business (“Business is business.”). He keeps God out of his politics (“One should not mix politics and religion.”). He keeps God out of his social relationships (“One has to have some fun.”). He keeps God out of his educational systems (“The mind is the highest court of appeal.”).
Psalm 14 does not refer to the atheist, as some have supposed. The words “there is,” in Verse 1, appear in italics in our King James Version, indicating that they are not contained in the original. Also, it does not say that “the fool” does not believe there is a God. He says in his heart, “No God.” Finally, Verses 2,3 make it clear that all men are included in this category.
“The Lord looked down from heaven upon the children of men, to see if there were any that did understand, and seek God.
“They are all gone aside, they are all together become filthy: there is none that doeth good, no, not one.”
Thus the Psalmist proceeds in Psalm 1:
“The ungodly,” he says, “are not so” (Ver. 4). They are not like trees planted by the waterside, bearing luscious fruit consistently and in abundance. They are rather like the Roman believers once had been. Of these Paul later asked:
“What fruit had ye then in those things whereof ye are now ashamed?” (Rom. 6:21).
“The ungodly,” the Psalmist continues, “are like the chaff which the wind driveth away” (Ibid).
If immature believers tend to be “tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine” (Eph. 4:14), how much more is this so of the ungodly! They are indeed as “the chaff which the wind driveth away.” As the wheat is flailed on the thrashing floor, the grain remains, but the slightest breeze blows the chaff away.
This contrast is further drawn for us in the words of John the Baptist in Matthew 3:12 where, speaking of Christ, John says:
“Whose fan is in His hand, and He will thoroughly purge His floor, and gather His wheat into the garner [barn]; but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.”
From all this it is clear that ungodliness is itself sin, the root from which other evils grow. Indeed, this is also evident from the words with which the Psalmist closes this meditation:
“Therefore the ungodly shall not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous.
“For the Lord knoweth the way of the righteous, but the way of the ungodly shall perish” (Vers. 5,6).
Thus the ungodly are not only useless, carried away like the chaff with the faintest breeze; they are also guilty and will, like chaff, be burned with the unquenchable fire of God’s judgment.
THE FORGIVEN MAN
Ah, but the forgiven man! He, like the Perfect Man, is also called blessed. David well knew the forgiven man. He himself was one, and his vivid and exquisite description of the forgiven man is cited by Paul in Romans 4:6-8.
In addition to being the inspired Word of God, Psalm 32 is a classic in literature. It is a poem (in the Hebrew) containing an introduction (Vers. 1,2), four stanzas on the conviction, the confession, the forgiveness of sins, and the new relationship to God (Vers. 3-9), and finally a conclusion, or summation (Vers. 10,11).
It is the introduction to Psalm 32 that Paul cites in Romans 4:6-8, as David’s description of those to whom God imputes righteousness without, or apart from, works.
It must not be concluded from this that David understood, as Paul later did—and as we should—the finished work of Christ as the basis for such imputation. Nor should it be supposed that he believed that works, in his day, were not required for salvation. He rather saw that works did not, in themselves, save from sin, but only the mercy of God. David lived under the dispensation of the Law, and had he said, “We are not under the Law,” as Paul did in Romans 6:14, or had he, like Paul, forbade the offering of blood sacrifices for sins, he would have been stoned to death (Deut. 27:26; Lev. 24:16).
David did, however, see that the works of the Law, as such, could not save, but only the mercy of God, and he, as a sinner, had experienced this mercy. Thus he wrote, with a glad and grateful heart:
“Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered.1
“Blessed is the man unto whom the LORD imputeth not iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no guile” (Psa. 32:1,2).
Note, he says, “in whose spirit there is no guile.” The Psalm concerns an honest dealing with sin.
In Stanza 1 of this Psalm, we find David under intense conviction of sin. Though physically strong and well, he feels and acts like an old man. This is because he is hiding his sin, or seeking to hide it, from God:
“When I kept silence, my bones waxed old through my roaring2 all the day long” (Ver. 3).
But, king or no king, he is no match for God! He goes on to testify:
“For day and night Thy hand was heavy upon me: my moisture is turned into the drought of summer. Selah” (Ver. 4).
As long as the king continued in rebellion and pride he felt the heavy hand of God upon him by day and night. That hand, he knew, could crush him. This is doubtless why Peter wrote by inspiration, centuries later:
“God resisteth the proud, and giveth grace to the humble.
“Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God” (I Pet. 5:5,6).
David’s sin was finding him out. Acting like a man old long before his time, complaining and grumbling as he felt the pressure of the hand of God upon him, his “silence” began taking a heavier toll. His body began to be dehydrated, his “moisture was turned into the drought of summer.” He found it hard to converse. His throat and lips were parched and dry.
How typical of the experiences of those who have been brought, sometimes quite suddenly, under the conviction of sin!
The word “Selah,” in the Psalms, indicates simply a pause in the music—a time to meditate. Dr. Wm. L. Pettingill, when coming upon the word “Selah” in the Psalms, would read simply, “Think of that!” As we read Psalm 32:3,4 we indeed do well to “think of that,” to meditate on the grave consequences of “keeping silent” about our sins when they ought to be confessed to God.
This dreadful sense of guilt, this conviction of sin and its consequences, however, finally had its effect—a salutory effect—upon David. Hear his testimony:
“I acknowledged my sin unto Thee, and mine iniquity have I not hid. I said, I will confess my transgressions unto the Lord; and Thou forgavest the iniquity of my sin. Selah” (Ver. 5).
How blessed! Sin no sooner confessed than forgiven! Thus God waits only for the sinner to come to the end of himself, to stop defending himself. He does not ask us to be anything or do anything to be saved. He asks us only to acknowledge our lost and sinful condition, and to “call upon the name of the Lord” (Rom. 10:13).
When this writer was a young man the console of a pipe organ included among its “stops” a “relief stop.”
As we come to Verses 6 and 7 of Psalm 32, it seems that a forgiven David has indeed pulled out the “relief stop.” Hear him sing!
“For this shall every one that is godly pray unto Thee in a time when Thou mayest be found: surely in the floods of great waters they shall not come nigh unto him.
“Thou art my hiding place; Thou shalt preserve me from trouble; Thou shalt compass me about with songs of deliverance. Selah” (Vers. 6,7).
For what shall the godly man pray? Obviously for a contrite heart and the forgiveness that follows. David had learned by experience that the moment He sought the Lord, confessing his sin, in that moment he was forgiven. For this shall godly men pray, and doing so they will find that the floods of sin and guilt will not overwhelm them.
Now, rather than David hiding sin, we find God hiding David from the consequences of sin, so that he is preserved from trouble and compassed about with songs of deliverance. What relief confession brings! How it turns groaning into a song!
Stanza 4 of this Psalm has God speaking in the first person:
“I will instruct thee and teach thee in the way which thou shalt go: I will guide thee with Mine eye” (Ver. 8).
He does not say, “I will command thee and compel thee.” He says, “I will instruct thee and teach thee.” This is how God deals with the forgiven sinner. He assumes that the sinner, so graciously forgiven, will now look to Him for guidance. As he does this just a glance will suffice: “I will guide Thee with Mine eye”; a sign which only those in close communication with God can interpret.
Sad to say, all redeemed sinners do not have their eyes fixed on God for guidance. Hence the closing words of this stanza:
“Be ye not as the horse, or as the mule, which have no understanding: whose mouth must be held in with bit and bridle, lest they come near unto thee” (Ver. 9).
Those who are not in close communication with God must be led by the painful “bit and bridle.”
Finally, the great climax:
“Many sorrows shall be to the wicked: but he that trusteth in the Lord, mercy shall compass him about” (Ver. 10).
Let us not conclude from the above that the redeemed do not experience many sorrows. The point is that those who trust in the Lord are “compassed about,” or protected, by God’s mercy. They are not—surely need not be—overwhelmed by outward circumstances, or by the guilt of sin. God has forgiven them and will not impute iniquity to them.
Little wonder the Psalmist closes with the glad refrain:
“Be glad in the Lord, and rejoice, ye righteous: and shout for joy, all ye that are upright in heart” (Ver. 11).
To David, of course, the “righteous” were those who sought to do right, and the “upright in heart,” those who sincerely strove for such righteousness.
The believer today, however, can rejoice in the greater blessings of Romans 3:
“But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets” (Rom. 3:21).
“Being justified freely by His grace, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus:
“Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in His blood, to declare His righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God;
“To declare, I say, at this time His righteousness: that He might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus.
“Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? of works? Nay, but by the law of faith” (Rom. 3:24-27).
- David did not yet know the blessed truth of II Corinthians 5:21 and Ephesians 1:7.
- Beautiful rendering! It describes not merely the groaning of one oppressed, but the ill temper of a rebellious king, hiding a serious secret sin.