Revive Our Hearts Podcast

Chaff That the Wind Blows Away

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Leslie Basham: The year ahead could be full of purpose, or it could be a disappointment. Here’s Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth.

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth: Our lives have no weight, no worth, no intrinsic ongoing value apart from being in right relationship with God.

Leslie: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth, author of A 30-Day with God in the Psalms, for Wednesday, January 9, 2019.

The Psalms describes the wicked person as “chaff that blows away in the wind.” Nancy’s here to describe what this means, and why this concept is so important in making sure this new year counts. Nancy’s on day six of an eight-part series called "How to Have a Happy New Year."

Nancy: As we’ve been starting out the year with this series, we’ve been challenging you to read the Bible every day during this year. There’s nothing legalistic about that. I think you’re just realizing, as we get into this psalm, that we can’t live without the Word of God. It’s more necessary for our souls than food is for our bodies.

Most of us don’t tell ourselves every day, “You have to eat.” We just do eat, and we like to eat. We delight in eating. We meditate on eating, day and night, some of us. So, that’s not a chore. We want to come to the place where it’s not a chore to feed our souls, where we delight in it.

We’ve said that the more we delight in the Word of God, the more we will want to meditate on it, and the more we meditate on it, the more we will delight in it, and the more it will provide sustenance and nourishment and stability for our souls . . . so that we can be like that tree planted firmly by the streams of water—fruitful, flourishing.

As we continue in this psalm, we’re going to see a strong contrast between the first half of Psalm 1 and the second half of Psalm 1. The first half is about the righteous—and we looked at the way of the righteous, the characteristics of the righteous. Now we’re going turn in the psalm and see a lot about the character and the destiny of those that the Scripture calls “the wicked.”

This word wicked in the English Standard Version, the word is ungodly. The word is used four times in the six verses of this psalm. Let me remind you what we said earlier in this series. When we talk about this wicked person or this ungodly person, we’re not necessarily talking about a notoriously wicked sinner.

When you hear the word wicked you think of mass murderers or people who commit mass genocide or something. Certainly that would be included, but wicked people can look really good on the outside. The ungodly person, we’ve said, is a person “without worship.”

The Greek word that would have been used in the Greek translation of the Old Testament just means “without worship.” So it’s a person who has little or no time for God in his life. His life revolves around himself and his agenda, his priorities, his plans, his ideals, his desires, rather than God’s. The fruit of this life lived apart from God is wicked behavior that comes out in various ways in this person’s life.

So let me read this psalm and you’ll see these two divisions, and then we want to look at the description of the wicked person. Psalm 1:

Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers.”

The wicked are not so, but are like chaff that the wind drives away. Therefore the wicked shall not stand in judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous; for the Lord knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish.

I want to focus today just on verse 4. Then in the next couple of sessions we’ll pick up on the final verses of the chapter. After this great description of the righteous person—his characteristics, the outcome of his life, the reward of his life, the blessings of his life—verse 4 says, “The wicked are not so, but are like chaff that the wind drives away.”

“The wicked are not so”—that’s an emphatic term in the original language. It literally could be translated, “Not so, not so the wicked!” All these things we just read about righteous people, godly people—people who center their lives around the Word of God like a tree planted by waters—not so, not so the wicked!

There’s a sharp contrast here, even more sharp than you can pick up by just reading the English translation. It’s saying, this wicked person, this ungodly person, this “without worship” person, is nothing like the righteous. There is no gray area here in this psalm.

The wicked do what the righteous don’t do, and they don’t do what the righteous do. At every point they are poles apart because their core is different. They may have some outward similarities, but their hearts are very different; their livestyles are very different. The trajectory of their lives is very different. The control system of their lives is very different. Their choices are very different. We see this here. We see this contrast.

The righteous, we saw in verse 1, are abundantly blessed, happy, satisfied. Not so the wicked.

The righteous delight in the law of the Lord. Not so the wicked. The hearts of the wicked are bent, inclined, away from God and toward sin. They make light of sin. They enjoy it. They delight in it. The righteous delight in the law of God; the wicked delight in that which is contrary to the law of God.

We’ve seen that the righteous meditate on God’s law day and night. Not so the wicked. In the case of the wicked, their eyes and their hearts are fixed on the things of this earth. They’re earthly-minded, temporally-minded, rather than heavenly- and eternally-minded. They are self-centered rather than God-centered.

We saw that the righteous—like that tree by the streams of water—the righteous have been transplanted into an environment that’s conducive to spiritual growth. Not so the wicked. They remain in their natural, wild, graceless habitat—the one they were born into. They’ve not been transplanted into the kingdom of God.

We saw that the righteous are firmly planted like a tree by a source of spiritual nourishment and life. They’re deeply rooted in the Word and in the ways of God. Not so the wicked. They’re not rooted at all. They’re empty—they’re vulnerable to disaster. They’re not stable, they’re not secure. They’re like that tumbleweed that we talked about that’s un-rooted, that just blows around with the wind.

We’ve seen that the righteous live productive, fruitful lives. Not so the wicked. They’re spiritually barren. They don’t produce godly fruit.

We’ve seen that the righteous are stable and they’re able to endure and persevere through times of adversity and testing. Not so the wicked. The wicked are unstable, they’re transient, they’re not planted, they’re not enduring.

We’ve seen that the righteous are spiritually prosperous, they flourish, they fulfill their God-created purpose. Not so the wicked.

We’ve seen that the righteous will be rewarded. They’re given life here, life abundant, life eternal. Not so the wicked.

As we’re going to see in the last couple of verses in this chapter, the wicked will be eternally condemned. They will perish.

Isaiah chapter 57, verse 20 describes the wicked this way, and it’s such a contrast to the righteous that we’ve been looking at over the past few days. The verse says, “The wicked are like the tossing sea, for it cannot be quiet, and its waters toss up mire and dirt. There is no peace, says my God, for the wicked.”

So you see how that’s different from this tree that’s planted by the rivers of water, that’s fruitful, that’s flourishing, that’s stable, that’s rooted. God says the wicked are like the tossing sea. There’s a restlessness; there’s a disquiet; the waters toss up mire and dirt. Out of the abundance of what’s in their hearts, they toss up muck and mire. Not only are they disquieted themselves, they cause that dysfunction and that discord and confusion to those around them.

Now let me just say, in the context of this entire passage, “the wicked” here is talking primarily about unbelievers. But I think there’s an application in all of this to believers as well. If we’re not rooted and grounded in the Word of God, not delighting in it, not meditating on it day and night, we begin to take on characteristics of unbelievers. Sometimes the difference gets pretty hard to tell between those who really are righteous and those who aren’t.

Not only do the righteous and the wicked have entirely different lifestyles and hearts and attitudes and foundations for their lives—they’re different at the core—but the ultimate outcome of their paths could not be any more different. That’s what we’re going to focus on today and in the next session.

Today I want to look at that phrase in verse four, “Not so the wicked; they are like chaff that the wind drives away.” You know what chaff is? It’s the dry, scaly, husk of the grain. It’s inedible; it’s not good for anything; it’s worthless. After the harvest the husks have to be removed. Once they’re removed, that’s when it’s called chaff. It’s just rubbish; it’s useless.

Through the process of threshing—which involves pounding—and  winnowing—which involves throwing the grain up in the air, particularly in the biblical era—the wind blows the chaff away. It’s light, it’s airy, it’s worthless, it’s useless. Whatever chaff is left that hasn’t been blown away is burned. It has no use. It's done away with; it perishes. That chaff is a picture of something that is worthless. It's useless.

Now, compare it to the tree we saw, that’s like the life of the righteous, that is firmly planted by the rivers of water. It’s fruitful, it’s productive, it’s flourishing. Chaff is just the opposite: it has no substance, it’s empty, it’s like a hollow shell, it has no root. The wind blows it away, or it’s taken away to be burned.

I was talking with some friends this week whose children are now grown. They were telling me that when their kids were little, they were studying Psalm 1 with their kids. In fact, I see the mom here, Sue. Sue and Byron were telling me how they took their kids outside one day for an object lesson. They stood them out next to a tree—a walnut tree or an oak tree—in their back yard and said to the kids, “Now, blow the tree down. Blow, blow.” Little kids trying to blow the tree down. There’s no way they’re going to blow it down, right?

Then they took them over to the picnic table out on the lawn where they had some sawdust—chaff,  if you will. They said, “Now, blow that away.” And, of course, it could be easily blown away. It was weightless; it was worthless; it perished easily. I asked Sue’s son last night, who’s a dad himself now, if he remembers this story. He said, “I have some vague recollection of doing that.”

It’s a good illustration, and we see it here in this psalm. The man or woman who has no room for God in his or her life, even if that person is impressive in the world’s eyes, their life is worthless.

Not that it’s not of value to God, because they’re created in the image of God, but the outcome of their life, there’s nothing to it. It’s a wasted life because they don’t fulfill the purpose for which God put them here, which is to bring glory to God. So they’re like chaff.

Our lives have no weight, no worth, no intrinsic ongoing value apart from being in right relationship with God. I was thinking about this passage this morning as I was getting ready to come to this recording. For some reason I had three ink pens today that all ran out of ink one after another. This was early this morning.

I was trying to make some notes, and one after the other my pens ran out of ink. So I was just tossing them in the trash. “This pen is worthless! It’s not fulfilling the function for which it exists. In the trash you go!” Chaff! You can’t use it for a fork or a piano or a table. It’s got no use because it’s not fulfilling its designed purpose.

So what do you do? You don’t just keep those empty pens hanging around to look beautiful. You throw them in the trash, right? It’s a picture here. If we’re not rooted in the Word of God, then our lives are going to be subject to the external forces of this world as chaff is subject to the wind—the wind’s going to tell you what to do—rather than that tree that is firmly planted and is able to withstand the storms and the wind.

So we see in the first part of the chapter that the righteous prosper in all that they do. The contrast here is to the chaff, which perishes. It's useless; it's worthless, and it is disposed of.

I’ll be quick to say that it doesn’t always seem to be the case that the righteous prosper and the wicked perish. In fact, it often seems to be just the opposite, here and now, right? You think about those who have no place for God in their lives—those that would be the wicked—they’re not centered on Christ.

Sometimes their actions and their thinking and their lives can seem to be pretty weighty and powerful, and that can be confusing. That can trip us up, it can be disillusioning if you don’t take that thinking to where it needs to go. This is what the Psalmist wrestled with in Psalm 73. He said, “I was envious of the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.” You’re thinking, It’s not supposed to be this way!

For they have no pangs until death; their bodies are fat and sleek. They are not in trouble as others are; they are not stricken like the rest of mankind. Therefore pride is their necklace; violence covers them as a garment. Their eyes swell out through fatness; their hearts overflow with follies. They scoff and speak with violence; loftily they threaten oppression. They set their mouths against the heavens, and their tongues stretch through the earth. Behold these are the wicked. Always at ease, they increase in riches (Ps. 73:4–9, 12).

It sounds like they’re the ones flourishing, doesn’t it? They’re fat, wealthy, happy, successful. It doesn’t seem like weightless, blowing chaff.

And what happens is, when we see that, we’re tempted to compare our own lot—suffering and hardship and difficulty. We can feel like, “Where has being righteous gotten us?” And that’s what the psalmist goes on to say in Psalm 73:13: “All in vain have I kept my heart clean and washed my hands in innocence. For all the day long I have been stricken and rebuked every morning.”

“Why am I struggling financially when they’ve got money in the bank? Why do I have a child with a health issue when I try to honor the Lord? They’ve got it made; I’m the one struggling.” A friend was telling me last week about a friend of hers who has struggled with infertility. She is serving in a pregnancy care center where she sees these girls come in with multiple pregnancies, multiple abortions, but she can’t get pregnant and is struggling.

“Why isn’t God giving me a good thing? I’m trying to make right choices, but it doesn’t seem like I’m being blessed for it.” In the short term, here and now, it can seem like those who are “without worship,” the ungodly, the wicked, are the ones who are prospering and flourishing, and that can be disheartening.

That’s why we have to look at the big picture. We have to look at the final chapter and the ultimate outcome of the lives of those who are without God and without worship. That’s what the Psalmist goes on to say in Psalm 73: “When I thought how to understand this, it seemed to me a wearisome task, until I went into the sanctuary of God; then [in the presence of God] I discerned their end.”

It’s not just what they’re experiencing right now—it’s the path they’re on; it’s the trajectory they’re on. It’s where that path is taking them and where it will end up. He says, “Truly you set them in slippery places; you make them fall to ruin. How they are destroyed in a moment, swept away utterly by terrors!” (v. 19). They are like chaff that the wind drives away.

The wicked—those whose lives are not ordered around God, those who have not been made righteous through faith in Christ—whatever success or prosperity they may seem to have, it’s short-lived. It’s delusive, it’s illusory, it’s not going to last.

You see the same thought in Psalm 37. "I see a wicked, ruthless man, spreading himself like a green laurel tree." Flourishing, properous. "But he passed away and behold he was no more; though I sought him, he could not be found" (vv. 35–36). 

The way of the wicked will perish. That's what Psalm 1 tells us. That’s true of ungodly, without worship, wicked individuals. It’s also true of ungodly, without worship, wicked systems, cultures, enterprises, nations.

We see that in the book of Genesis. The tower of Babel, man’s “without worship” attempt to be in control of his life. In a moment God brings it all to naught. Then you go to the other end of the Bible, the book of Revelation. In chapter 18 you see this amazing description of Babylon the great.

First seen in the tower of Babel in Genesis, now in Revelation Babylon the great which is this vast, commercial, cultural, and religious system. It's fabulously wealthy. They are world renown for their commercial instincts and for their influence around the world. They controlled other nations. It's a picture of the whole world system without God. What happens in Revelation 18?

After this I saw another angel coming down from heaven, having great authority, and the earth was made bright with his glory. And he called out with a mighty voice, "Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great! . . . Her plagues will come in a single day. . . Alas! Alas! You great city, you mighty city, Babylon! For in a single hour your judgment has come” (vv. 1–2, 8, 10).

For millennia this culture, a system that has dominated the world and thought, I am great—nothing can ever take me down. In an hour God brings down this whole world system—chaff that the wind has driven away.

The fruit for which your soul longed has gone from you, and all your delicacies and your splendors are lost to you, never to be found again! . . . Alas, alas, but the great city that was clothed in fine linen, in purple and scarlet, adorned with gold and jewels and with pearls! [Everybody thought Babylon was prosperous.] In a single hour, all this wealth has been laid waste. . . . [An hour!]

And they threw dust on their heads as they wept and mourned, crying out, “Alas, alas, for the great city where all who had ships at sea grew rich by her wealth! For in a single hour she has been laid waste” (vv. 14, 16–17, 19).

That repetition is significant. God’s saying, “For all these years you thought you were prospering here on earth—the time comes when you have to prepare to meet your God.” And if you are not walking in the pathway of righteousness, by the grace of God and through faith in Jesus Christ, in a moment it will be gone—decimated, chaff that the wind blows away or is given up to be burned.

Then a mighty angel took up a stone like a great millstone and threw it into the sea, saying, "So will Babylon the great city be thrown down with violence, and will be found no more (v. 21).

Like chaff that the wind drives away.

If you’re walking by God’s grace on the pathway of righteousness, you’re going against the crowd. You’re not going with the crowd. Sometimes it can feel overwhelming to us, whether it’s you as an individual or a family or a church, as the people of God in a broken, fallen, pagan, without-worship culture.

It can feel overwhelming to stand up against the tide of evil and to stay right and to keep seeking the Lord, but all that stuff is nothing for God to deal with. All that overwhelming pressure of godlessness and paganism and filth and immorality and promiscuity and godlessness in this country and in our world, it’s no more weighty to God than the chaff that the wind blows away effortlessly.

So as a believer, as a Christian community, sometimes it looks as though in the world around us that the wicked are triumphing, and for the moment they are. It looks like the righteous are not being exalted; they're not propering; they're not flourishing. They are being put down. They are being denigrated. They are being spoken ill of.  That’s why, in days like these, we need to go back to the big picture, the ultimate end. We have to remind ourselves that these two paths lead to two very different outcomes.

When it comes down to it, for those who are on the pathway of the wicked, it’s all a mirage—all that seeming, apparent prosperity and flourishing. Their thinking is worthless. It has no substance, no stability. They have no roots in the Word of God; therefore, their lives are like a tumbleweed in the desert that we’ve talked about.

The righteous are planted, they live profitable lives, they live fruitful lives. They prosper in their souls and in the long term. They’re able to endure the adversity and to endure the winds because their lives are planted in Christ and His Word.

Leslie: I want this new year to count, so I’m thankful for the biblical perspective we’ve been getting from Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth. Today’s teaching is part of a series called, "How to Have a Happy New Year." One way to help make this year really count is to spend time every day reading some portion of the Bible. Throughout this series, Nancy’s been challenging you to do that.

To encourage you to go further in your study of God’s Word, we want to send you a new Bible study based on the teaching of Nancy. It’s called Elizabeth: Dealing with Disappointment. It will show you how to find hope in the Savior by examining the life of Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist. We’d like to send you this new study as our gift to you when you support the ministry of Revive Our Hearts.

Your gift goes a long way in making it possible for us to produce more helpful resources like the Elizabeth study for women everywhere. And it helps launch new projects like the “Women of the Bible” podcast. We’re getting ready to launch it in February, and the first podcast season matches the content in this Elizabeth study. That means in February, you can go through the study and then listen to a discussion on a chapter each week.

Ask for the Elizabeth study when you give any amount to Revive Our Hearts. Visit ReviveOurHearts.com for details, or give us a call at 1–800–569–5959. Make sure to request a copy of Elizabeth when you call with your gift. 

The God who created everything wants to know you personally. Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth will show you why this is so amazing and so life changing, tomorrow on Revive Our Hearts.

Revive Our Hearts with Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth is helping you make this year count. The program is an outreach of Life Action Ministries.

All Scripture is taken from the ESV.

*Offers available only during the broadcast of the podcast season.

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