Rev. Slopsema is pastor of Hope Protestant Reformed Church in Walker, Michigan.
For the Lord knoweth the way of the righteous: but the way of the ungodly shall perish.
What sharp contrasts we find here!
The psalmist speaks of the way of the righteous as well as the way of the ungodly. These two are the extreme opposites of each other. And these are the only two ways in life. Either you walk the way of the righteous, or your feet follow the way of the ungodly.
The Lord knows the way of the righteous. The clear implication is that the Lord does not know the way of the ungodly.
For that reason the way of the ungodly shall perish. Notice, not just the ungodly shall perish, but even their way. Such is not true, however, for the way of the righteous. The way of the righteous shall endure forever.
How important that we follow the way of the righteous!
The way of the righteous!
The righteous are those who conform to the law of God.
This law is mentioned in verse two of this Psalm, where the psalmist speaks of the blessedness of him whose “delight is in the law of the Lord; and in his law doth he meditate day and night.” The law mentioned by the psalmist is the Mosaic law, given to Israel at Mount Sinai.
At the heart of this law were the Ten Commandments. For these were written on tables of stone by the very finger of God, indicating that they are valid for all history.
These ten commandments reveal the will of God for every part of our life. They show us our responsibilities to God as well as what duties we owe our neighbor. They teach us how God will have us worship Him, use His name, keep the Sabbath day, treat those in authority, behave in marriage. . . .
To live according to these laws is to live in righteousness.
However, Israel soon found that she could not keep these laws. Again and again she transgressed the law of God in thought, word, and deed. She could not live righteously before God as she should.
Hence, it is important to turn to the other laws given to Israel at Mount Sinai, particularly the laws requiring the bloody sacrifices at the altar of the Tabernacle. These sacrifices pointed Israel ahead to the great Savior, the Lamb of God, who through one sacrifice of Himself would forever cover Israel’s sins. In Him God’s people would obtain the forgiveness of all their sins. In Him God would provide a righteousness not attainable through human effort.
And when the faithful of Israel brought their sacrifices to the altar, clinging in faith to the blood of atonement that was to come, they were accounted righteous by God, without spot or blemish, worthy of all blessings. Clinging to the atonement that was to come, they also were empowered to live righteously according to God’s law, thereby showing their gratitude to God for His great salvation.
These are the righteous of whom the psalmist speaks.
Now the psalmist speaks particularly of the way of the righteous.
One’s way is one’s manner of living, one’s life-style.
From what we have just observed, the way of the righteous is quite clear. The way of the righteous is the way of godly sorrow after sin. It is the way of clinging to the cross by faith, to find forgiveness and righteousness in the blood of Jesus Christ. It is the way of gratitude to God which leads one to strive for righteous living in the power of the cross of Jesus Christ.
Over against this is the way of the ungodly.
The very term “ungodly” describes those who rant and rave against God and their fellow men. The ungodly are further described in verse one of this Psalm as sinners and scornful. They are sinners in that they knowingly and deliberately miss the mark God has set for them in His law, the glory of His own name. They are scornful in that they are full of scorn, mockery, and ridicule of God and His law.
Hence, it is not at all difficult to describe the way of the ungodly. It is the way of mocking God and the holy things of God. It is the way of trampling under foot the commandments and salvation of God. It is also the way of opposition to God and His church.
The way of the ungodly is the way of the world. We observe it at work. We can see it on television. It is glorified in the songs of the world. It fills the pages of newspapers, magazines, and novels. As we make our way through this world, we are confronted with the way of the ungodly every day.
The Lord knows the way of the righteous.
He does not know the way of the ungodly.
The Lord knows the way of the righteous, first, in that He is well acquainted with their way.
To “know” is often used in the sense of being acquainted with, experiencing. Thus, for example, to know suffering is to know suffering by experiencing it. In similar manner, one may know joy, sadness, peace. . . .
In this same sense God knows the way of the righteous. He knows the way of the righteous in that He is well acquainted with it. For God Himself walks the way of righteousness.
God is a righteous God. That means very simply that all of God’s works are completely in harmony with the goodness of His divine being. God never acts contrary to the perfections of His being. Every thought, word, and deed of the Lord God is pure and undefiled. Eternally the way of God is the way of righteousness.
When we, by the power of the cross, conform our lives to the law, we walk in the same way of righteousness as does God. For the goodness of God is reflected in the law that God has set over us.
Hence, the Lord knows the way of the righteous . . . for it is the way He lives and walks.
However, the Lord does not know the way of the ungodly. He has never set His feet upon their way. He has never experienced what it is to walk this way. He is not acquainted with their way at all.
Secondly, the Lord knows the way of the righteous in that He loves that way.
To “know” is often used in the sense of knowing in love. Those with whom we are well acquainted we often love. The way that is well known to us is often the way we cherish. To know is to love.
In like manner does God know the way of the righteous. Since it is His own way, He loves the way of the righteous. It is the way dear to His heart.
However, the Lord does not in this sense know the way of the ungodly. Their way is not His way. He hates their way with all His being.
Finally, the Lord knows the way of the righteous in that He has eternally determined this way for His people.
The psalmist speaks of the LORD. In the original Hebrew this is the name “Jehovah.” Jehovah is a name rich in meaning and significance. It is God’s covenant name. It emphasizes especially God’s faithfulness to His covenant.
The covenant was conceived by God in eternity. Eternally God has chosen a people for Himself. God also determined to establish His covenant with them. It is God’s eternal good pleasure that this covenant be a covenant of friendship in which He lives and dwells with His people in intimate fellowship.
That this covenant may exist and flourish, God also determined eternally that His people should walk in righteousness. For God cannot live in close covenant friendship with a people who are ungodly. They must be righteous as He is righteous. Their way must be His way. Hence, God ordained that His people should be righteous before Him. He also ordained that they should live righteously. To that end He also ordained that His Son should come into the flesh to provide them with this righteousness.
Certainly, therefore, the Lord knows the way of the righteous. For He has eternally ordained it.
The way of the ungodly shall perish.
Although not stated, it is understood that the ungodly themselves shall perish.
Often the ungodly have prospered throughout history. A recurring theme throughout the Psalms is that generally the ungodly prosper in this world while the righteous are despised, impoverished, downtrodden.
One day, however, the ungodly shall perish. They will fall from their high and lofty position of power and wealth and be brought low. Sometimes that happens already in this life. But it certainly takes place at death, when the ungodly are cast into the eternal torments of hell. The ungodly, every one of them, will some day perish.
But even their wicked way will perish. God does not know the way of the ungodly. He hates their way with His whole being. He will not allow them to continue in the way that brings dishonor to Him. To that end God casts them into hell and pours out upon them the fullness of His wrath. So great is the wrath of God upon the ungodly that they no longer are able to give expression to the evil that controls their heart and soul. The wrath of God so dominates the ungodly in hell that they no longer are able to continue their evil ways. Their very way perishes.
For God does not know the way of the ungodly.
What a foolish thing, to walk in the way of the ungodly!
Over against this, the way of the righteous endures forever.
Again, although not stated, it is understood that the righteous themselves shall live forever.
Although the righteous are generally downtrodden throughout history, they shall endure forever. The Lord will preserve them on the earth from evil hands that would destroy them. At the moment of death God will bring them to heavenly glory to live with Him forever.
And their righteous way shall continue forever.
So long as the righteous live on the earth the Lord will preserve them in the way of righteousness which He has ordained for them. The powers of darkness may seek to lead them away from their proper way. But the Lord will preserve them in that way. For this is the way known to Him.
This way will also endure for all eternity. In heaven, however, the way of the righteous shall be made perfect. The righteous will no longer need to struggle against sin. No longer will they fall into sin, know the sorrow of sin, or need to flee to the cross for forgiveness. With great joy and triumph they shall serve God perfectly in the power of the cross. They will also enjoy the sweetness of God’s covenant fellowship in all its fullness forever and ever!
Let us by all means follow the way of righteousness.
For it is the way of eternal joy.