The Psalms are rich spiritual food for the Christian life. I have recently returned afresh to the wellspring of deep renewal found in the book of Psalms, and certainly numerous others have found the same sweet rewards in these Spirit-inspired poems of old. From the homilies of early church Fathers, to the intoned prayers of medieval monks, and even modern praise choruses, the Psalms have formed a 2,000-year-old liturgical backbone shaping the Christian response to God. However, I find that actually dealing with the Psalms is a bit more challenging for Christian readers. As with many things in life, talking about enjoying the Psalms can only be done on the backside of first wrestling with them.

One such struggle is how we as Christians understand “the righteous” in the Psalms. At first glance our encounters might actually be more disheartening than uplifting. We read glorious promises for the righteous: “For you bless the righteous” (5:12, all references taken from the ESV); “God is with the generation of the righteous” (14:5); “The eyes of the Lord are toward the righteous” (34:15); “The salvation of the righteous is from the Lord” (37:39). But our first inclination as Christians is to say “I’m not righteous. No one is.” Indeed, Psalm 143:2 reads, “No one is righteous before you.” So, how do we recite, pray, and reconcile these blessed truths knowing we are not righteous before God? How do we engage these passages of the Psalter as Christian Scripture? In response, I want to offer three important concepts to keep close by as we read with the righteous in Psalms.

1. The Righteous Live a Godward Life

Psalm 1 opens with a depiction of the stark contrast between the life of the righteous and that of the wicked; we often come to know these two ways of life through their comparison. For example, “the LORD knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish”(1:6); “let the evil of the wicked come to an end, and may you establish the righteous” (7:9); and “the arms of the wicked shall be broken, but the LORD upholds the righteous” (37:17). Similar to the categories of the wise person and the fool in Proverbs, Psalms promotes a way of life that conforms to God’s moral and covenantal expectations for his people. Indeed, “The mouth of the righteous utters wisdom” (37:30).

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