The wicked in judgment will not stand. The reference is to the judgment phase of a trial. במשפט in the judgment = in judicial proceedings is a securely attested idiom: Pr 18:5; Lev 19:15, 35; Deut 1:17 – the last passage is telling:
לֹא־תַכִּירוּ פָנִים בַּמִּשְׁפָּט
כַּקָּטֹן כַּגָּדֹל תִּשְׁמָעוּן
לֹא תָגוּרוּ מִפְּנֵי־אִישׁ
כִּי־הַמִּשְׁפָּט לֵאלֹהִים הוּא
וְהַדָּבָר אֲשֶׁר־יִקְשֶׁה מִכֶּם
תַּקְרִבוּן אֵלַי וּשְׁמַעְתִּיו׃
You shall be no respecter of persons in judgment.
Small and the great alike you will hear.
You shall be terrified of no man,
for judgment belongs to God.
The case that is too hard for you
you shall bring to me, and I will hear it.
In judgment is not a reference to judgment in the sense of the wind driving away the wicked in whatever circumstance, but to the determination of judgment in judicial proceedings. The thought of the psalm transits from the general to the particular. In the context of law grounded in sought communion with the Giver and Guarantor of law, the promise is that God will ensure that those committed to breaking the law do not prevail in judgment. In the end, such individuals must be cut off from the number or assembly of the faithful.
The non-success of the wicked in judicial proceedings and their excommunication from polite society are necessary if the ones the wicked prey on are to be protected. In a legal system worth its salt, commitment to justice involves ensuring that (1) the wicked do not prevail in the very place the innocent seek redress, a court of law, and (2) those who prey on others are segregated from actual and potential victims. Law and order that is devoid of such practical consequences is not law and order at all.
According to Psalm 1, יהוה stands behind commitment to justice in the above sense, and actively pursues it in ways that befit deity.
When God’s commitment to justice in the above proactive sense is not shared by a society, the future of that society is put at risk. According to the teaching of the prophets, intervention on the historical plane will follow. The situation will be forced, through a cataclysm of the kind that zeroes out the known world, and ushers in a new one. Zeph 3:11b-12:
כִּי־אָז אָסִיר מִקִּרְבֵּךְ
וְלֹא־תוֹסִפִי לְגָבְהָה עוֹד
עַם עָנִי וָדָל
וְחָסוּ בְּשֵׁם יְהוָה׃
For then I will rid from your midst
your proudly arrogant.
You shall no longer be high and mighty
on my holy mountain.
I will leave a remnant in your midst,
a poor and humble people,
who will take refuge in יהוה’s name.
For יהוה takes note of the way of the righteous, and the way of the wicked will perish. The conceptualization of the moral imperative as a choice between two options is a prominent trope of ethical instruction. Prov 4:14-15.18-19:
בְּאֹרַח רְשָׁעִים אַל־תָּבֹא
וְאַל־תְּאַשֵּׁר בְּדֶרֶךְ רָעִים׃
שְׂטֵה מֵעָלָיו וַעֲבוֹר . . .
וְאֹרַח צַדִּיקִים כְּאוֹר־נֹגַהּ
הוֹלֵךְ וָאוֹר עַד־נְכוֹן הַיּוֹם׃
דֶּרֶךְ רְשָׁעִים כָּאֲפֵלָה
לֹא־יָדְעוּ בַּמֶּה יִכָּשֵׁלוּ׃
Do not take the path of the wicked,
in the way of evil men do not set foot.
Let it go, do not traverse it,
veer away from it, pass it by. . . .
The path of
the righteous is like the light of dawn,
ever lighter until the break of day.
The way of the wicked is like murk,
they do not know what trips them up.1
1 Lit., what they trip on.
The horns of conflict a passage like this take for granted will sound trite unless they are filled with specific content found elsewhere in ethical instruction of the same milieu. The combat a צדיק engages in is laid out in Job 29:12.15-17. Job remembers his past, before he lost his estate, his children, and his health:
אֲמַלֵּט עָנִי מְשַׁוֵּעַ
וְיָתוֹם וְלֹא־עֹזֵר לו . . .ֹ
עֵינַיִם הָיִיתִי לַעִוֵּר
וְרַגְלַיִם לַפִּסֵּחַ אָנִי׃
אָב אָנֹכִי לָאֶבְיוֹנִים
וְרִב לֹא־יָדַעְתִּי אֶחְקְרֵהוּ׃
וָאֲשַׁבְּרָה מְתַלְּעוֹת עַוָּל
וּמִשִּׁנָּיו אַשְׁלִיךְ טָרֶף׃
rescue the poor man who cried out,
the orphan, the one with no one to help him. . . .
I became eyes to the blind,
feet to the lame.
I was a
father to the needy,
the dispute I was unfamiliar with, I would investigate.
I broke the jaws of the wrongdoer,
I would wrest prey from his teeth.
It is the path of the righteous in this sense that is, or should be, like the light of dawn, ever lighter till the break of day. Furthermore, whoever is not thus engaged has no right to call herself or himself a צדיק; the promise of Psalm 1, the vision of a tree transplanted by channels of water, whose foliage never fades, does not apply.
Many people like to think of themselves as followers of a more excellent way compared to that laid out in the understanding of ethics God gave to Israel of old.
That would be the case if they followed the blueprint of the Sermon on the Mount or that of the rabbis evoked in Pirkei Avot, blueprints that embrace all of the above, and up the ante further.
Observation suggests that few follow either way, or consider them models. In place of a way of life that is an expression of a proactive commitment to justice and that involves table-fellowship with the poor and hands-on advocacy on their behalf, one person at a time, most prefer a "virtual" form of ethics which consists of adjusting one's thought life to whatever is considered politically correct in one's milieu. This provides ideological cover for a concomitant, single-minded pursuit of personal peace and prosperity.