Psalm 1:4 – Roots of Death –

Our previous entries on Psalm 1 have dealt with warnings against following the doctrine of the ungodly, nature of blessedness and the blessed, the evidence of such blessedness, and the source of such blessedness. As this Psalm is one of very sharp contrasts (as most of the Psalms, if not all, are), we will now take a sharp drop in the Psalmist’s roller coaster; he has taken us to see from death to life and now, once more and in greater detail, from life to death.

Let’s now dive right into verse 4!

“The wicked [ungodly] are not so, but are like chaff that the wind drives away” (Psalm 1:4, ESV).

The Psalmist makes use of sharp contrast to establish a very important principle: righteousness does not equal unrighteousness, godliness does not equal ungodliness, death does not equal life, and life does not equal to death.

Who are the ungodly? I will quote from Dr. Martin Luther’s commentary on Psalm 1,

“When thou hearest the word “ungodly,” remember those things which we have said above concerning ungodliness, lest, like the ungodly, thou shouldst banish these words from thee as applying to the Jews only, and to heretics, and I know not what others who are far off; and lest perhaps laying aside the fear of God, thou shouldst not tremble at this word of his. But as he is an ungodly one who is without the faith of Christ, you should tremble at these words, lest you also should be found to be one of the ungodly.” 1

 Which reminds me of the words of the Apostle Paul in Romans 11:13,17-24 (NASB),

“But I am speaking to you who are Gentiles….if some of the branches were broken off, and you, being a wild olive, were grafted in among them and became partaker with them of the rich root of the olive tree, do not be arrogant toward the branches; but if you are arrogant, remember that it is not you who supports the root, but the root supports you. You will say then, “Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.” Quite right, they were broken off for their unbelief, but you stand by your faith. Do not be conceited, but fear; for if God did not spare the natural branches, He will not spare you, either. Behold then the kindness and severity of God; to those who fell, severity, but to you, God’s kindness, if you continue in His kindness; otherwise you also will be cut off. And they also, if they do not continue in their unbelief, will be grafted in, for God is able to graft them in again. For if you were cut off from what is by nature a wild olive tree, and were grafted contrary to nature into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these who are the natural branches be grafted into their own olive tree?”

Again, as we have previously seen, the Psalmist, in concluding the use of his metaphor, reminds us that it is one of grace. Just because the Father has lavished the riches of His mercy on us and predestined us for adoption (Ephesians 1), that does not automatically rule us out from the category of wickedness, or ungodliness. There is a reason why salvation is entirely “from the LORD” (Jonah 2:9, NASB). There is a reason why even after we are saved we cannot boast in anything in ourselves, because we are still wicked sinners (Ephesians 2:9). We will never be able to say “I am godly and I know nothing of ungodliness or unrighteousness.” As the Apostle John rightly says in 1 John 1:8 (NASB),

“If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us.”

“And the truth is not in us.” That truth of which we talked about in previous entries where we established that it is not our wicked “counsel…way…[or] seat” that contains truth, but “the law of the LORD” (Psalm 1:2). We have seen the root of life (the law of the LORD), and we have also touched upon the roots of death (the “counsel…way…seat” of the ungodly). We will now see the consequences of turning our backs on the law of the LORD.

“But the wicked….are like chaff that the wind drives away” (Psalm 1:4).

Martin Luther on Psalm 1:4,

“Therefore there is no prosperity to the wicked; they have a withering leaf, and are not planted by the rivers of water.” 1

That’s precisely what the Psalmist is trying to convey. The godly, the blessed, they are those who are firm luscious, robust trees who give fruit in their season and their leaves don’t fall or wither because they are planted firmly by the rivers of living water (Christ); On the other hand, the wicked, the ungodly, the cursed, they are those who have no foundation, who may look as firm, luscious, robust, prospering trees, but are really rotting, withering, dying, trees damned to eternal hell fire.

John the Baptist, that marvelous preacher of judgment, gives us insight into the destiny of the wicked,

His winnowing fork is in His hand to thoroughly clear His threshing floor, and to gather the wheat into His barn; but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” (Luke 3:17, NASB).

Job likewise said,

“How often is the lamp of the wicked put out, 
Or does their calamity fall on them? 
Does God apportion destruction in His anger
“Are they as straw before the wind
And like chaff which the storm carries away?” (Job 21:18, NASB). 

The wicked are not represented as simply chaff that sits there unharmed, it is “chaff that the wind drives away.” Firstly, since we have seen that they are not grounded in the law of the LORD, which is a solid, unshakable, objective, immutable (unchanging) foundation, the ungodly are, as the Apostle Paul says,

“….we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, [meaning] by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming.” (Ephesians 4:14, NASB).

What the Psalmist is saying in Psalm 1:4 is so huge! He is saying that the blessed are blessed because they are grounded upon the rock (Luke 6:48, Psalm 40:2); as opposed to the wicked who are driven everywhere by their own counsel and way (in Ephesians the counsel and way are spoken of as crafty, deceitful, wicked doctrine) and who will ultimately be burned up with “unquenchable fire” by the LORD himself (Luke 3:17).

Here, in Ephesians, we see how comparing ourselves to children can also be a damning thing. For as elsewhere we see the LORD encouraging us to “become like children” (Matthew 18:3, NASB), we see the Apostle Paul here exhorting us to move out of childhood into full manhood, which can be found in 1 Corinthians 13:11 (NASB),

When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child; when I became a man, I did away with childish things.”

What our Lord meant was that in our attitude we are to be like children: fully dependent on Him, always willing to grow and learn from Him. It is in complete harmony with the teaching of the Apostle Paul.

Ungodly, childish, wicked, deceitful, crafty, ignorant doctrine damns and it is like poison that feeds the roots of the trees of the wicked; objective, godly, righteous, Spirit-inspired doctrine is what feeds life into the roots of our trees.

John Calvin on Psalm 1:4,

“The meaning, therefore, is, although the ungodly now live prosperously, yet by and
by they shall be like chaff; for when the Lord has brought them low, he shall drive them
hither and  thither with  the blast of his wrath….although the ungodly man rise high, and appear to great advantage, like a stately tree,
we may rest assured that he will be even as chaff or refuse, whenever God chooses to cast
him down from his high estate, with the breath of his mouth” (Page 37). 2

In our next entry we will look into Psalm 1:5 where the condemnation and separation of the ungodly is expanded. Verses 5-6 consummate the Psalmist’s use of sharp contrast to show the eternal separation between the godly (blessed) and the ungodly (damned) in that they will not stand in “the congregation of the righteous” and will “perish” (v. 5).

Stay tuned!

1 Luther, Martin, 1483-1546; Lenker, John Nicholas, 1858-1929. Luther’s commentary on the first twenty-two Psalms : based on Dr. Henry Cole’s translation from the original Latin (Kindle Locations 1029-1034). Sunbury, Pa. : Lutheran’s in All Lands Co..

2 Calvin, John. “Psalm 1.” Commentary on Psalms. Vol. 1. Grand Rapids, MI: Christian Classics Ethereal Library. 32. Christian Classics Ethereal Library. Calvin College Computer Science. Web. 24 Nov. 2011. <;


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