“Blessed is the man who does not walk in the council of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers.” (Psalm 1:1, NIV)
It seems as if the world is looking for wisdom in all the wrong places. Many skip over the Bible, calling it superstitious, irrelevant, bigoted or worse. They read, “Blessed is the man” and launch into a rant about those sexist Christians and Jews. Today it is fashionable to take offense, accusing the Bible of sexism by addressing men, while ignoring women. Some have attempted to infuse more “inclusive” language in recent translations to address this perceived sexism. But the truth is that for millennia the masculine form was used as a convention in most languages to inclusively represent everyone. Prior to the current politically correct gender-neutral convention, which can be traced back to the late 1960s, the word “man”, as it is used in Psalm 1:1, was clearly understood in its context to be representational of all humanity, male or female. It isn’t sexist.
Language conventions that stem from political correctness have served to obfuscate the plain meaning of speech. I, for one, do not agree to adhere to gender-neutral conventions, particularly when they become burdensome, rather than clarifying meaning. Point in fact is the use of the term, “foreperson” (the head of a jury). For a woman, who does not wish to bear the title, “foreMAN”, foreperson is a useful alternative, just as forewoman would be. However, if the foreperson is a male, then calling him a foreperson is not allowing his gender to even be acknowledged. He is to be referred to as a person, in his official capacity, and not a man, because the title “foreMAN” is offensive to women who are sensitive to perceived “sexism”.
The problem with this kind of thinking — keeping pronouns gender-neutral in order to avoid the offense of “male chauvinism” — is that there is a fundamental difference between sexism and gender identity. With the rare exception of those few individuals who suffer from biological anomalies, men self-identify as men and women self-identify as women. One may confidently and easily identify anyone’s gender in public. In fact, in many settings, gender difference is quite clearly pointed out, even proudly so. There are men’s shops and women’s shops. There are men’s teams and there are women’s teams. Women’s health issues, men’s health issues. Women voters. Men voters. You get the picture. Yet for some irrational reason, you can’t have a foreman and a forewoman. You have to have a foreperson. I guess some insecure or offended women feel better when a male’s title doesn’t identify him as a male.
I liked it better when everyone understood when the Bible says, “Blessed is the man who …”, it can mean anyone, regardless of gender. People knew that without having to rewrite the Bible. But gender-neutral fanatics have done just that. But while their gender-neutral, “inclusive” translation may satisfy them, they are treading in deep water theologically. Scholarly integrity begins to suffer when “the Father” is replaced with “the Parent”. I suppose they will rewrite Shakespeare, too — and any other classical literature they may choose to target. Nevertheless, Psalm 1 is addressing all people, everywhere, should they choose to heed the message.
Blessed is the man who does not walk in the council of the wicked. When someone is walking, he is going somewhere. It may be a slow walk, a fast walk, a purposeful walk or an aimless walk. But in every case, that person is on a journey. It may not dawn on him that he is moving from point A to point B until something gives him pause to look back and realize how far away he is from where he started. In the same way, our lives are journeys. Along the way we share the journey with other individuals, and even groups. Much of who we are is an expression of who we choose to share our journey with. The journey of life may lead us to those who are wicked, but we can choose whether or not to walk with them.
This verse teaches that we will be blessed by not walking in the council of the wicked. If you know the difference between right and wrong, you don’t need me to define wicked for you. There are lots of stories in the news about the wicked. We all know they exist. We may even have personally known wicked individuals. But this verse refers to the council of the wicked. Council means a group of people with whom one may identify. A council is an assembly of persons who deliberates and consults, usually reaching agreements on issues. The council of the wicked also refers to the aggregate “wisdom”, attitudes or philosophies that typify wicked people. The idea of walking in such council implies associating with or going along with their ways of thinking and being open to their ways of living. It’s all about what group we associate with and what standards we hold ourselves to.
Sometimes we tend to think that if our own group of people says something, it must be right, just because it’s our group. But this verse tells us how good it is not to get caught up in wickedness through peer pressure. When we identify closely with any group, we must make sure that we are not being seduced by wickedness. As we walk, we must guard our steps carefully, because in the end, they will bring us to our destination.
“…or stand in the way of sinners”. This doesn’t mean get out of the way. The original text was not written in American vernacular. The phrase, “in the way” means “like” or “after the fashion of”. In other words, this verse is telling us we will be blessed if we don’t stand the way sinners do. Also, stand has a very specific meaning in this verse. It doesn’t mean we are standing, as if we are waiting for a bus. In fact, our life journey is still continuing, so we are still “walking”. But stand, in this verse, means to endure, to persist, to win, as in “the last man standing”. “Blessed is the man who does not … stand in the way of sinners” refers to someone who does not stoop to cheating, breaking the law, harming others or otherwise committing immoral acts to achieve his goals.
Popular acceptance of the idea that the “ends justify the means” has grown in recent times. The most common incarnation of this maxim is “Win at all costs”. And because winning is important to us, many accept such sayings as words to live by. Some may relate such sentiment to the old saying, “All’s fair in love and war”, ignoring that it was always a wistful hyperbole. We really don’t mean it. If we did, then we would see nothing wrong with a lover murdering his competition and drugging the object of his affections so that she couldn’t say “no”. The fact remains that society holds us to moral and legal standards. Truly implementing the “ends justify the means” philosophy produces anarchy, which is why it has been espoused by tyrants and totalitarians as a means of destroying established institutions.
Standing in the way of sinners is letting the ends justify the means. Rather, the Bible teaches us to endure every hardship while holding fast to that which is good and right; persisting toward our goals in a morally principled manner; and winning not just what our efforts have earned, but the reward of righteousness from God.
“…or sit in the seat of mockers.” The meaning of “sit” is influenced by the connotation that where one chooses to sit is based on comfort. We sit where we can relax, rest and be comfortable. We don’t just sit anywhere. Here, there is an association with “the seat of mockers”, meaning if you sit in the seat of the mockers, you are comfortable associating with them. While in one sense this is a theoretical seat, it brings to mind the significance of seating found elsewhere in Scripture. For instance, there were seats of honor reserved for special persons at weddings, and respected leaders had “seats” at the city gates, from where their wisdom was sought. The “seat” therefore indicates a relative position in society that identifies the person who sits in it.
A wise person will sit (feel comfortable, be at ease) in the seat of wisdom. A fool will sit in the seat of fools. The way a person comports himself, both individually and in his associations, is what determines his seating. And that seating isn’t just dependent upon where a person wants to sit. Everyone pretty much agrees where everyone else sits. If not, a struggle will ensue until all questions are settled. For instance, only the King can sit on the throne. That spot is reserved. During the Civil Rights struggle of the sixties, blacks were told to sit in the back of the bus, and not in “white only” businesses. It took a lot of effort to change that, but now society doesn’t restrict where a person sits because of his race. My point is that where I sit is a function of where others think I should sit.
The seat of mockers is a throne of sorts that identifies the seated person as someone associated with mockery. Again, as standing means to persist in a certain manner, sitting means to be comfortable in a perceived role. The role of mockery is destruction and estrangement rather than solution and involvement, accusation in stead of resolution, ridiculing for the purpose of tearing down, rather than criticizing for the purpose of building up. Mockery alienates people. Mockers think of themselves as removed from those they mock. They act as if they are superior, yet never do a thing to help. They only spew derisive poison.
The Bible offers much wisdom to help us walk, stand, sit and everything else. Related reading: Psalm 26:1-5; Proverbs 4:14-19; Jeremiah 17:7-10 (and of course the rest of Psalm 1)