The righteous man avoids the wicked ways of the ungodly, and the ultimate end of each is as different as a fruitful tree and chaff. The tree produces much fruit and is tended to, while chaff produces nothing and is blown away. Chaff in the wind is a frequent image in the Old Testament. Futato explains, “This is a prevalent image of divine judgment (see Isa 17:13; 29:5; 40:23–24; Jer 13:24; Hos 13:3). Zephaniah 2:2 makes explicit what is implicit elsewhere: The image of chaff driven before the wind is an image associated with the day of the Lord.”[1] The Psalmist takes this idea of the wicked being like chaff and says in Psalm 1:5, “Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous.”

It may look like the wicked prosper in this life, but their “prosperity” is blown away like chaff when it’s all said and done. We want to classify the wicked as those that do bad things. They are, but there is more to it than that. The righteous are those that do good things, and they are, but there is more to it than that. Sometimes , it’s hard to tell the righteous from the wicked if we base our judgment on appearances in this life. Are the prosperous really righteous? Are the poor really wicked? Very often, it’s just the opposite. Only God knows, and only God can judge. God has entrusted that to Jesus. John 5:22 tells us, “ For the Father judges no one, but has given all judgment to the Son.” John the Baptist pointed at Jesus and said, “Behold, the lamb of God that takes away the sins of the world.” But notice that In Matthew 3:12, John the Baptist prophecies that the Messiah is at hand and “His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”

The truth is evident to all that will see it. We are all sinners and are numbered with the wicked. There is nothing anyone can do to become “righteous” through his own efforts. Faith is the only thing that matters: Faith in Jesus Christ. Jesus told the crowds in John 6:29 that the only work that matters is to believe in the one whom God has sent. Both the wicked and the godly man sin. The one who is righteous in God’s estimation is the one who lives by faith in His son, Jesus Christ. Paul says in Galatians 2:16, “We know that a person is not justified by works of the law, but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified.” It is Christ’s righteousness that saves us, and the only way to receive that gift is to trust in Him. “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life” (John 3:36). In the third century, Rabbi Simla noted that Moses gave 365 prohibitions and 248 positive commands. David reduced them to eleven commands in Psalm 15; Isaiah made them six (33:14-15); Micah bound them into three (6:8); and Habakkuk condensed them all to one, namely—“The righteous shall live by faith.”

[1] Futato, Mark D. 2009. “The Book of Psalms.” In Cornerstone Biblical Commentary, Vol 7: The Book of Psalms, The Book of Proverbs, 32. Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers.