This psalm is concerned with the blessedness of the righteous person. He is described in verse 1, then several blessings are mentioned in verses 2-9, before the psalm closes in verse 10 with a brief description of the wicked person. In verse one, we have the character of the righteous person, in verses 2-9 we have his comforts, and in verse 10 we have a contrast between him and the wicked person.
According to the psalmist, a person who fears the Lord will greatly delight in God’s commandments (v. 1). Sometimes the impression is given that the fear of God is a dismal attitude accompanied by repression of all forms of joy. The reality is far different. Those who have discovered that the Lord is gracious also find that his commandments are enjoyable and liberating; they are God–given guidelines and requirements for how to live a fulfilled life inwardly and outwardly. Such a person is truly balanced because his outward behaviour flows from his renewed heart.
The psalmist then begins to list some of the blessings enjoyed by a righteous person. It is important for us to remember that the blessings listed are those connected to the Mosaic Covenant between God and Israel and some of them no longer apply in the period of the new covenant. There is no guarantee today that the children of believers will be powerful in a political sense and wealthy in a material sense (vv. 2-3), although such was an indication in Old Testament times of God’s approval. Instead the righteous today are guaranteed spiritual blessings, and they contain greater riches than material things.
Although there is a difference between the some of the blessings enjoyed today and those in Old Testament times, God still expects his people to have a godly character, which is expressed in the psalm as gracious, merciful and righteous. The clearest way in which these features are revealed is through acts of kindness and uprightness (vv. 5, 9) towards others. Such actions, when done for God, will be remembered by him forever and will be rewarded by him at the judgment seat of Christ (vv. 6, 8, 9).
The righteous person is not exempt from bad news (v. 7). What distinguishes him from others is how he reacts to it. When troubles come along, he continues to trust in the Lord. The righteous person has discovered the secret of how not to let outward circumstances affect his faith in God, which is that he continues to depend on the Lord through the trials.
Spurgeon comments on this attitude: ‘His love to God is deep and true, his confidence in God is firm and unmoved; his courage has a firm foundation, and is supported by Omnipotence. He has become settled by experience, and confirmed by years. He is not a rolling stone, but a pillar in the house of the Lord. He shall not be afraid. He is ready to face any adversary – a holy heart gives a brave face. Until he see his desire upon his enemies. All through the conflict, even till he seizes the victory, he is devoid of fear. When the battle wavers, and the result seems doubtful, he nevertheless believes in God, and is a stranger to dismay. Grace makes him desire his enemies’ good: though nature leads him to wish to see justice done to his cause, he does not desire for those who injure him anything by way of private revenge.’
Although the wicked are annoyed by the lifestyle of the righteous and dislike it intensely, they will sadly discover that their chosen way of life will produce no long-term benefits (v. 10). This psalm reminds us that the righteous man has much grace in this life and great glory in the next. It also reminds us that in reality the wicked man has very little contentment in this life and nothing from God in the next.