Question from a Site Viewer
What is the historical background for the term “seat of mockers?” Where did it originate, and why?
If I understand your question correctly, you are asking for the historical context of the phrase “seat of mockers.” I take it that you are referencing Psalm 1:1, where the person is declared happy who does not walk in the advice of transgressors, does not stand in the way of those who miss the mark with God (sinners), and does not sit in the seat of mockers.
When we try to determine the historical context of a Biblical phrase, we begin and many times end with Scripture. This is because there is not a body of other literature we can use to shine light on the meaning of the phrase. When David wrote this Psalm, it was approximately 1000 years before the time of Christ. We have no other Jewish writings from that time to explore in order to determine the meaning of terms. We certainly have later writings, but later writings are of questionable use in determining what someone meant centuries earlier. And the pagan writings that we have are from different cultures and contexts. They are of no help in determining the meaning of the term.
We have archaeological evidence that sometimes helps us in interpretation. But often it is somewhat of a leap to state that a set of stones that are uncovered somehow link back to the Biblical text. Accordingly, most often, especially in Scriptures predating Jesus’ life on this earth, all we have is the Scriptures to use in determining the historical background. Such is true with the phrase “seat of mockers.” The only time this phrase appears in Scripture is in Psalm 1:1. We do not know if David is thinking about a group of reprobates sitting around and making fun of God’s priests and prophets, if David’s focus is more broadly those who mock all authority, or if the thought is more narrow, involving a specific situation. At least, that is, we do not know from the phrase itself.
However, we are not left without insight into the meaning of the phrase. The phrase itself is set in the rich context of Psalm 1. I believe that Psalm 1 is rightly viewed as the introductory Psalm to the entire Psalter. The theme of the Psalm is the blessing of the righteous and the end of the wicked. The contrast to sitting in the seat of mockers is to delight and meditate in the law of the LORD. The antonyms of sitting in the seat of mockers are to walk in the counsel of transgressors and to stand in the way of sinners (In the Hebrew, this is a poetic section as is all of the Psalms. Hebrew poetry is known most for its parallelism; that is, the writer will state the similar ideas in parallel lines using different language to emphasize and highlight the point. You will find this throughout the poetic sections of Scripture.). What God is saying is that we are truly blessed when we do not live our lives in the unfruitful works of darkness (using a phrase from Ephesians). We do not live life according to how the unsaved would counsel us to live life, we do not place ourselves in the situations where sinners constantly go, and we do not sit and join in with those who mock. Instead, we listen to God’s word and focus our minds there. The wrongness of mocking is repeatedly noted in the Proverbs (1:22; 3:34 [God mocks the mockers]; 13:1; 14:6; 15:12; 19:29; 21:24; 22:10; 24:9 (the mocker is an abomination to men).
There are certainly illustrations we can draw from Scripture to illustrate the end of those who do not follow the idea of Psalm 1:1. The first that comes to mind is Lot moving to Sodom. Peter tells us in 2 Peter 2 that Lot was grieved constantly over the wickedness of that city. He was not blessed. The young men mocked Elisha the prophet and perished because of it (2 Kings 2:23-24). Followers of Jesus are taught not to mock others, but to let our speech be always with grace, seasoned with salt (Colossians 4:6). Our speech should be a blessing to others (1 Peter 3:8-12). We should honor those in authority, even when we disagree. Unlike the world, we should not make fun of our political or religious adversaries. “Do not let any unwholesome word proceed out of our mouth,” God tells us in Ephesians 4:29. And we should not join with those who do. We should not be known as mockers.
This, I believe, is the thrust of the passage and the thrust of the phrase. To the extent possible, stay away from mockers. Bad companions corrupt good morals (1 Corinthians 15:33). David’s son, Solomon, picked up this same idea in Proverbs 1, when he instructed his son not to consent to the enticement of sinners (Proverbs 1:10). He tells his son not to walk in the way with them (Proverbs 1:15). It, of course, is necessary in this world to have relationships with those who oppose God. God understands this and the Apostle Paul tells us not to completely avoid such people (1 Corinthians 5:10), but the thrust of Scripture is that our heart and mind and will should not be with them, but should be with God. He is our life and joy and our thought. Think on such things that are good and wholesome (Phillipians 4:8). Set our minds on heaven (Colossians 3:1-3).
I hope this is helpful. If you have any other thoughts about the context of the phrase “seat of mockers,” I would be happy to interact with you on this subject. May the Lord Jesus and His Spirit guide you in your love for Him.