How to Have a Happy New Year (Ps. 1)Avoiding the Seat of the Scoffers
Nancy Leigh DeMoss: “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I took the one less traveled by. And that has made all the difference.”
Well, you’re no doubt familiar with that poem by Robert Frost. It is true that the road we choose can make all the difference in our lives.
Fernando Ortega Song:
Blessed is the one who follows the way of the Lord. Blessed is the one.
Leslie Basham: At the beginning of 2013, Nancy Leigh DeMoss isn’t just quoting poetry but taking us through a very helpful series called, How to Have a Happy New Year. This is Revive Our Hearts for Thursday, January 3.
Nancy: We’re looking at Psalm 1 over the course of these next days as we start out this new year. We’re seeing in this psalm two roads that go very different directions. In this psalm we have God’s prescription for happiness—for blessedness. Verses 1–3 we see the description of the righteous person, the person who is blessed. So let’s read Psalm 1 beginning in verse 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.
Now, verse 1 tells us what this righteous person does not do. He does not walk in the counsel of the wicked. He does not stand in the way of sinners. He does not sit in the seat of scoffers. And I want to focus today on those thoughts—what the righteous does not do.
Now, Hebrew poetry is known not so much for rhyming sounds as English poetry is, but for what is called parallelism—that is similar thoughts that build on or explain each other. So we have that kind of device, the parallelism in this verse 1.
We have the person who does not walk, stand, or sit in the counsel, the way, or the seat of wicked, sinners, or scoffers. You see those parallel ideas? There are actually three parallel tracks in that verse. But I think what’s even more significant is what seems to be a progression in this verse of departure from God and His ways. It looks like there were degrees of association or engagement with wickedness. We’ll see that as we expand on this verse today.
Oh Lord, I thank You for Your Word. I thank You that You’ve given us the pathway to blessedness. I pray now as we open Your Word that You’d open our hearts, that You would show us Your ways, that by Your Holy Spirit You would speak to us. Give us ears to hear and hearts to receive what You would have us say. I pray in Jesus name, amen.
The Scripture says that the man or woman who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked will be blessed. We’re talking about how to have a happy new year. That word blessed means "happy." The person who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked will be happy, or as another translation says, the person who does not follow the advice of the wicked.
Now, I want to talk for a moment about that word wicked. In the translation that I memorized this psalm in as a child, the King James, the word is “ungodly”—the person who does not walk in the way of the ungodly. In the Greek translation of the Old Testament, that word wicked or ungodly is a word that means “without worship.”
Now the ungodly or the wicked person can be what you think of when you first hear the word—that is people who are openly, flagrantly, morally wicked. They violate God’s laws, and they do it with gusto. That’s a wicked person. Maybe some famous or notorious sinners come to mind when you hear that word wicked.
But the wicked person, the ungodly person, the person without worship is also the person who lives his or her life independently of God. They don’t take God into account in their lives. Their lives are centered on self rather than being centered on God. They have no covenant relationship with God.
They may look like good people. They may be law abiding, upstanding citizens, but their lives are driven by their own passions, their own agenda. These are what the Scripture calls wicked people. Even if they do good things, they are without worship. They are ungodly. They are wicked.
So what does it mean to “walk in the counsel of the wicked”? Walking in the counsel has to do with your way of thinking, with your mindset, with your worldview. It means you take in the counsel, the perspectives, the advice, the worldview of those who are without worship, those whose lives are not centered in God. And when you take in that counsel, when you follow the advice of those people, it affects the way that you live because belief always determines behavior.
That’s why the psalm starts here. This progression away from God starts with what you believe, what you listen to, the counsel that you take in to your mind. This is the first step in the direction of ungodly living. That counsel may not always seem wicked. It fact, it can actually seem appealing, attractive, sensible. And the problem is, if you listen to the world’s counsel, it’s perspectives, and you don’t apply discernment, then what happens is you start to accept it. It makes sense. Everybody else thinks this way. Everybody else believes this way.
What you start to accept you will ultimately start to walk in. And then we make little decisions—many of them all day long, based on things what we’ve heard or imbibed from worldly wisdom. So the person who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked is blessed. Walking in the counsel of the wicked is the first step in the progression away from God and godliness.
Now, what’s the next step in the progression? Not just walking in the counsel of the wicked, but secondly, “standing in the way of sinners.” Sinners are those who transgress the law of God. They’re the ones who refuse to stay in the lines of what God has ordained.
So here is a person who has not just been walking in the counsel of the ungodly or those who are without worship, but now he’s standing in the way of sinners. He’s participating in their ways—more firmly linked to those ungodly ways.
What happens is as you think, then you start to act. You get used to these without worship ways, these ungodly ways. And it becomes increasingly normal to see things through the grid of those who are without God, the ungodly. This becomes the new normal, and you start to get comfortable in the realm of sinful things, ungodly ways of thinking and living.
So first you walk in the counsel of the wicked. Then you stand in the way of sinners; that’s your new normal. And finally you get to the place where you are sitting in the seat of scoffers. If you have the NIV translation it has there the word mockers—sitting in the seat of scoffers or mockers. That’s from a word that means “to deride.”
Here we’re reading about hard-hearted sinners. They are confirmed. They are entrenched. They are set in their defiance against God and His law. They maybe didn’t start out that way. They probably didn’t start out that way overtly, but they’ve walked in the counsel of the wicked, they’ve stood in the way of sinners, they’ve got accustomed to that way of thinking and living, and now the whole inclination and disposition of their lives is opposed to God. It’s opposed to righteousness.
You can think of people in our culture who do just that. If you can’t think of any, then turn on some talk shows. There are some notorious blasphemers who are popular icons in the culture today, who make their living off of blaspheming the truth and the ways of God. They are doing it with a smile and doing it winsomely and selling gazillions of books and getting lots of big audiences while they do it. Some of them do it by being funny. But it’s not funny. They have become scoffers and mockers of God’s ways.
You see in these first couple of verses of Psalm 1 two ways—two pathways—two choices. Then when we get to verse 3, which we will next week, you have the metaphor of the tree, the person who walks in the way of righteousness is like a tree planted by rivers of water. Does that remind you of another tree, actually many trees throughout Scripture, but in the Garden of Eden?
Remember, there were two trees to choose from. Eve listened to and considered the counsel that was contrary to God’s Word. Instead of choosing the Tree of Life, she chose the forbidden tree. As a result, as God had promised, her choice, that way, that pathway that led to death.
Now, the fact is, you and I are born walking in the counsel of the wicked. We’re born on the path to destruction. That’s our natural condition. But Psalm 1 is describing the character and the blessedness and the future of a heart that has been transformed by grace through faith instead of the person who is still in his natural, fallen condition.
We’re all born walking on the wrong path. But God in His mercy and His grace and His kindness has picked us up and made Himself known to us. He’s provided Christ as a redeemer and an atoning sacrifice for our sin and has allowed us to enter onto the path of life.
So we see the redeemed person and the not redeemed person; the person who is walking in the path of righteousness and the person who is walking in the path of wickedness—that’s the path that we were actually born walking on.
So I ask, as we will throughout this series, which of these two types of people describes you? Which pathway are you on—the path of righteousness and life and blessedness or the path of death and destruction and wickedness and ungodliness? Well, you say, "I’m kind of on a middle path." I don’t see anything about a middle path in this passage. We’re on one path or the other.
Now this passage says to me that becoming a scoffer or ending up in a backslidden position doesn’t usually happen overnight. Instead, it tends to happen incrementally. Now as we said, we’re born into sin, we’re born estranged from God, we’re born aliens from God. But actually becoming a scoffer against the ways of God usually that happens incrementally, gradually, one progressive choice at a time—starting with what we believe that impacts how we live and that impacts the direction of our lives.
Let me give you three examples in Scripture where you can see this progressive heading into the pathway of ungodliness or wickedness. The first one we find in Genesis chapter 13. And if you have your Bible, you may want to turn there so you can see this for yourself. It’s the account of Lot, who was the nephew of Abraham.
You remember that Lot and Abraham, who was then called Abram, there was strife between them, and the land wasn’t sufficient to support both of them. So Abram takes the high road and he says, "Look there are two places here. You pick one. I’ll take the other. You get first choice," he says to Lot.
Then we see in verse 10 of Genesis 13, “Lot lifted up his eyes and saw that the Jordan Valley was well watered everywhere like the garden of the Lord, like the land of Egypt, in the direction of Zoar. (This was before the Lord destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah.) So Lot chose for himself all the Jordan Valley, and Lot journeyed east.” He saw something, he chose it, and then he moved in that direction. “Abram settled in the land of Canaan, while Lot settled among the cities of the valley and moved his tent as far as Sodom.” (vv. 10–12)
You see the progression here? First he sees the land, he’s attracted to it. Then he chooses it. Then he moves toward it. Then he settles among the cities in the valley, and he moves his tent right up to the outskirts of Sodom. You say, what’s the big deal about that? Well look at verse 13: "Now the men of Sodom were wicked, great sinners against the Lord.”
Now move to chapter 14 and in this chapter there’s a confederation of kings that make war against Sodom and Gomorrah, and end up capturing Sodom and Gomorrah. Verse 12 of chapter 14 tells us “They also took Lot, the son of Abram’s brother, who was dwelling in Sodom." See the progression here? It’s incremental.
First he just saw it, then he was attracted to it, then he chose it, then he journeyed in that direction, then he moved his tent as far as Sodom. And now we see he’s actually living in Sodom. No more tent dwelling for him. He’s now got a condo or a house or something in Sodom. He’s living in Sodom.
Well, it goes further than that. In chapter 18, God sends angels to tell Abram about his plan to overthrow Sodom and Gomorrah because they are such wicked cities. Then look at chapter 19 verse 1. “The two angels came to Sodom in the evening, and Lot was sitting in the gate of Sodom.” Now what does that mean?
He had been living in Sodom. Now he’s sitting in the gate of Sodom. Well, the gate, the city gate was where the politics took place. That’s where the city council would meet. That’s where the city fathers would meet and discuss things. Apparently, Lot had become part of the establishment, part of the leadership of Sodom. He’d become maybe a respected business man in Sodom. That’s where business deals were made. He’s now with the movers and the shakers and the leaders and the decision-makers of Sodom.
You know what he’s doing? He’s sitting in the seat of scoffers. The men of Sodom were wicked. They were great sinners against the Lord. So what in the world is Lot doing sitting in the gate of Sodom. And you see how it had been a progression in that direction? One thing led to another.
Now as you read that progression, you can’t help but wonder why the New Testament calls Lot a “righteous man.” It’s a mystery in a way, in the same way that it’s a mystery that some people who genuinely have faith in Christ make some very unwise and foolish choices. But 2 Peter 2 tells us that “as that righteous man [Lot] lived among them day after day, he was tormenting his righteous soul over their lawless deeds that he saw and heard” (2 Pet 2:8). So here’s a man who had a battle going on inside of him as many of you may have going on inside of you.
So the Scripture says he was righteous and how was he righteous? Well, the only way any of us can ever be righteous, by the gracious gift of God working through his faith, weak as that faith may have been. But even as a follower of God, Lot did not diligently guard his heart. He fueled the thirst and appetite for things of this world. He tried living with one foot in the kingdom of God and the other inside the corrupt culture. And as a result he led his family into a sordid love affair with the world.
His daughters married men who were disdainful of Lot’s spiritual beliefs and who rejected his pleas for them to escape the coming judgment. And then after fleeing Sodom, his daughters schemed to get their father drunk, then took turns sleeping with him so they wouldn’t be childless. You see Lot paying a high price for walking in the counsel of the ungodly, standing in the way of sinners, and sitting in the seat of scoffers. And by the way, just the notice here that when you walk in that pathway of the ungodly, you don’t walk alone. You take others with you.
Well, here’s another illustration from the Old Testament, one I just saw in my quiet time over the last couple of weeks here. In the book of 1 Kings it talks about Solomon, the second king of Israel. First Kings chapter 3 tells us in verse 1 that Solomon “made a marriage alliance with Pharaoh king of Egypt. He took Pharaoh’s daughter and brought her into the city of David.”
Now, strictly speaking, the law of God did not forbid the Israelites from marrying an Egyptian woman. They were forbidden to marry Canaanite women, and there are reasons for all of that. So by the letter of the law, Solomon was not forbidden from marrying Pharaoh’s daughter. But you see here the beginning of a pattern of thinking and a pattern of behavior that would ultimately lead to his spiritual downfall and destruction.
So in chapter 3, verse 1, he made a marriage alliance with this Egyptian woman, the daughter of Pharaoh. Now look at 1 Kings chapter 11, verse 1 and see the progression here in Solomon’s life. “Now King Solomon loved many foreign women, along with the daughter of Pharaoh.” One wasn’t enough. Now he needed many, and look who they were. “Moabite, Ammonite, Edomite, Sidonian, and Hittite women, from the nations concerning which the Lord had said to the people of Israel, ‘You shall not enter into marriage with them, neither shall they with you, for surely they will turn away your heart after their gods.’ Solomon clung to these in love.” (vv. 1–2)
It started with one woman who was not walking in the pathway of righteousness, now, eight chapters later, 1 Kings 11, he’s loving many foreign women, including those who were forbidden by God for them to marry. And in verse 3 it says: “He had 700 wives, princesses, and 300 concubines. And his wives turned away his heart after other gods.” That’s exactly what God had said would happen, right?
So he started into the counsel of the ungodly. He moved more into the way of sinners, and finally ends up with a life that while wise in many respects, was very foolish in other respects. God said, “Don’t marry these women. They will turn your heart. You will follow after their gods.” And what happened? His wives turned away his heart after other gods. There’s this progression, incrementally into the pathway of the ungodly.
Well, one more, Psalm 106. I’ll just read this passage to you. Just listen to the progression here beginning in verse 35 where it says that the Israelites “mixed with the nations and learned to do as they did. They served their idols, which became a snare to them. They sacrificed their sons and their daughters to the demons; they poured out innocent blood, the blood of their sons and daughters, whom they sacrificed to the idols of Canaan, and the land was polluted with blood” (vv. 35–38).
See the progression there? First, they just mixed with the nations—got assimilated into the culture. Then they learned to do as they did. And then they served the idols of the nations which became a snare to them. By the time you get to the end, the Israelites, the people of God, are sacrificing their sons and their daughters to demons.
They didn’t start out doing that—they just started out by being more culturally savvy, more culturally relevant, but that led them on a pathway into wickedness. So you see here this progression, this downward spiral as you start into the counsel of the wicked how you can ultimately end up sitting in the seat of scoffers.
Maybe you’re in that progression at some point today. Maybe you’re not down the road into scoffing. You probably wouldn’t be if you’re listening to this program. But maybe you’ve been listening to the counsel of the ungodly. We’ll talk tomorrow about what some of that counsel of the ungodly may look like. Well, the appeal of Psalm 1 is to reject the counsel of the ungodly and instead to delight ourselves in the law of the Lord.
That’s why we’re challenging our listeners right here at the beginning of this new year to take the Daily Bible Reading Challenge, to walk in the law of the Lord, to delight in it, to meditate on it day and night.
I hope that you will take that Daily Bible Reading Challenge. It’s very simple—just that every day during 2013 you will take some time each day to open God’s Word, to read it, to get it into your heart. That doesn’t mean that you have to set aside hours every day to do it, but that you’ll take some time through the course of each day to open God’s Word and get into it. And if you will, I promise that this will be a blessed and a happy new year.
Now, we’re offering a personal Bible reading journal to help you take that challenge. It’s available through our resource center here at Revive Our Hearts. Just call us at 1-800-569-5959, or go online to ReviveOurHearts.com and let us know that you’re taking the challenge and you want a copy of this Bible reading journal. We’ll be glad to send it to you for a donation of any amount to the ministry of Revive Our Hearts.
It’s a very simple journal. It just gives you space each day through the course of the year to jot down a few thoughts about what you’re reading and how God is speaking to you through His Word. As you take that challenge, that’s the way that you can counter in your life that progression toward the counsel of the ungodly. Instead, you’ll be walking progressively deeper and further into the pathway of the righteous.
Oh, Lord, thank You for Your Word. I pray that You would penetrate and pierce our hearts with Your thinking and Your ways and that we would choose the path of the righteous by Your grace. I pray it in Jesus’ name, amen.
Leslie: That’s Nancy Leigh DeMoss in a series called, How to Have a Happy New Year. We don’t have time to air all of Nancy’s message today. When you get today’s program as part of the CD set, you’ll get several more minutes we couldn’t include on the broadcast. For more details on the CD set, visit ReviveOurHearts.com.
So whether you realize it or not, you are receiving counsel all the time. The people you spend time with and the media you consume are influencing your thinking. Learn how to say “no” to ungodly counsel tomorrow on Revive Our Hearts.
Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss is an outreach of Life Action Ministries.Offers available only during the broadcast of the radio series.