50 The mighty God, even the Lord, hath spoken, and called the earth from the rising of the sun unto the going down thereof.
2 Out of Zion, the perfection of beauty, God hath shined.
3 Our God shall come, and shall not keep silence: a fire shall devour before him, and it shall be very tempestuous round about him.
4 He shall call to the heavens from above, and to the earth, that he may judge his people.
5 Gather my saints together unto me; those that have made a covenant with me by sacrifice.
6 And the heavens shall declare his righteousness: for God is judge himself. Selah.
7 Hear, O my people, and I will speak; O Israel, and I will testify against thee: I am God, even thy God.
8 I will not reprove thee for thy sacrifices or thy burnt offerings, to have been continually before me.
9 I will take no bullock out of thy house, nor he goats out of thy folds.
10 For every beast of the forest is mine, and the cattle upon a thousand hills.
11 I know all the fowls of the mountains: and the wild beasts of the field are mine.
12 If I were hungry, I would not tell thee: for the world is mine, and the fulness thereof.
13 Will I eat the flesh of bulls, or drink the blood of goats?
14 Offer unto God thanksgiving; and pay thy vows unto the most High:
15 And call upon me in the day of trouble: I will deliver thee, and thou shalt glorify me.
16 But unto the wicked God saith, What hast thou to do to declare my statutes, or that thou shouldest take my covenant in thy mouth?
17 Seeing thou hatest instruction, and casteth my words behind thee.
18 When thou sawest a thief, then thou consentedst with him, and hast been partaker with adulterers.
19 Thou givest thy mouth to evil, and thy tongue frameth deceit.
20 Thou sittest and speakest against thy brother; thou slanderest thine own mother’s son.
21 These things hast thou done, and I kept silence; thou thoughtest that I was altogether such an one as thyself: but I will reprove thee, and set them in order before thine eyes.
22 Now consider this, ye that forget God, lest I tear you in pieces, and there be none to deliver.
23 Whoso offereth praise glorifieth me: and to him that ordereth his conversation aright will I shew the salvation of God.
The fool says in his heart, “There is no God (Ps 14:1),” but the bigger fool knows God and lives like He does not exist (the practical atheist). Psalm 50 is a covenant lawsuit brought by YHWH against Israel. It is a prophetic liturgy warning of God’s coming judgment against His people for their covenant infractions. They honor God with their lips but not with their lives or worship. Israel forgot God, and it produced gross errors in their theology.
Asaph, the seer is the author/songwriter (1 Chron 23:2–5; 25:1; 2 Chron 29:30). He and his descendants were Levitical priests given the task of being Israel’s song leaders in Temple worship at Zion. Asaph appears to be a contemporary of David, but the dating of this Psalm ranges from that era (1000 B.C.) right up to Josiah (609 B.C.). The sons of Asaph returned from Babylonian exile to help lead post-exilic worship (Ezra 2:41; 3:10). Asaph has a total of twelve Psalms (Ps 50, 73–83). The audience is clearly Israel, especially two particular groups of estranged worshipers.
Psalm 50 has a temple liturgy setting. Every seventh year, the nation would gather at Jerusalem for covenant renewal. This Psalm may have been sung at dawn and in anticipation of sacrifices offered later in the day. The structure comes in four parts: I. (vv. 1–6) Introduction: God summons all to court; II. (vv. 7–15) An indictment against religious formalists; III. (vv. 16–21) An indictment against hardened hypocrites; IV. (vv. 22–23) Conclusion: A warning of judgment and a promise of salvation. The subject is the failure of God’s covenant people to honor Him with true worship. The message is direct, divine speech calling Israel to repentance in the issue of genuine worship.
The context of Psalm 50 is broad. In addition to be being one of the Psalms of Asaph (Ps 50, 73–83), it is one of the songs of Zion (Ps 46–53). It serves as a bridge between the first collection of Korah (Ps 42–49) and the second Davidic collection (Ps 51–70). It is in the midst of the Elohistic Psalter (Ps 42–83) in Book II (Exodus) of the Psalms (Ps 42–72).
The first Psalm of Asaph (Title). Asaph’s Psalms come with a number of characteristics. They are Elohistic in their frequent us of El/Elohim/El Elyon as titles for God. They are concerned with Israel’s enemies and the judgment of God against Israel for waywardness. Zion is also prominent.
Asaph recorded a global summons by Almighty God, YHWH, the God of Israel (v. 1). Three divine titles/names immediately warrant one’s attention: The Mighty One, God, and YHWH are complemented with the Most High (El Elyon) in v. 14. When God speaks all creation must be attentive. God has summoned the earth (and heaven in v. 4). From the rising of the sun to its setting means the entire scope of time (a day) and space (east to west). We learn the reason for this gathering in v. 4.
The poet employed the imagery of Zion as the setting (v. 2). Out of Zion can refer to the heavenly city or the earthly. Zion is the chosen dwelling place of YHWH on the earth. From Jerusalem, His governance of the world will be known to the whole world during the reign before His return (Rev. 20). The perfection of beauty suggests His heavenly abode. Regardless of geography, the point is that God has shone forth. Light illumines the darkness, and Jesus is the Light of the world. He shines into the world but the world does not comprehend Him (Jn 1:5). Light exposes evil by the standard of truth from the center of the earth (Jerusalem) to the ends of the earth.
Israel is expectant of God’s coming, but His holiness impresses the imagery of a consuming fire (v. 3). May our God come and not keep silence suggests Israel has requested His appearing. YHWH revealed His holiness on Mt. Sinai at the giving of the Law and the establishment of the Mosaic covenant. Our God is a consuming fire (ie. burning bush — Heb 12:29) and fire devours before Him with purifying power. The danger of His presence is made worse because it is very tempestuous around Him. Violent wind and fire accompany His visitation; and although Israel sought His coming, there is a surprise awaiting them in His purpose.
YHWH has convened His court with heaven and earth as the jury and Israel as the defendant (v. 4). He summons the heavens above to bear witness to the courtroom proceedings. The earth also serves on the jury in the case against Israel, for YHWH has come to judge His people. The world and even some the church is uncomfortable with YHWH as judge; and He has given all judgment to the Son, in order that all may honor the Son, even as they honor the Father. He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent Him (Jn 5:22–23). God’s judgment is anticipated at Christ’s second advent (Tribulation).
Israel was identified in two ways in the prophetic indictment (v. 5). Gather My godly ones to Me is the first identification. YHWH has summoned the heavens and the earth, and now He is gathering His people. It was customary for Israel to go up to Jerusalem three times a year for the high feast holidays. There is an affection for His people, but this identification will also be ironic because the covenant lawsuit will expose their ungodliness (Rom 1:18). Those who have made a covenant with Me by sacrifice is the second identification for Israel. Sacrifice at the tabernacle/temple was in response to the revelation of God’s holiness, especially in giving His Law. Israel fell short of the glory of God. Jesus is the better sacrifice (Heb 7:22), offered in a better covenant (Heb 10), bringing in a better hope for a better country (heaven).
At the close of the introduction, YHWH was acknowledged as the righteous Judge (v. 6). And the heavens declare His righteousness is the reason for their summons for jury duty. Who is right and just but God alone? For God Himself is judge, which proves Jesus is God because judgment has been given to Him (Jn 5:22). Christ, our righteousness, was suspended between heaven and earth on the cross, where He offered Himself as the perfect sacrifice for sins. In the courtroom of the perfect Judge, the knowledge of good and evil is perfectly prosecuted. Israel wanted justice to come into the world, but judgment begins with the house of God (1 Pet 4:17). The courtroom is now filled from the irresistible summons. With divine speech, the summons now invites the opening comments of Israel’s prosecutor.
In the first principle section, Israel was addressed by her covenant partner, who was prosecuting the case (v. 7). Hear, O My people is covenant language (Dt 6:4). God is asking for the attention of His people. The silence they had grown accustomed to was broken for I will speak. O Israel comes with Fatherly remorse. I will testify against you is the revealed reason for this court date at Zion. I am God, your God seems obvious but this is the crux of the problem. The erosion of the covenant partnership has unveiled ignorance in Israel. They have forgotten YHWH. To forget God means liberal theology has emerged with man forming his own opinion of God devoid of the Scriptures. They have remembered their religion, but they have forgotten their relationship.
Although covenant and sacrifice are the issues in the lawsuit, the prosecution recognizes sacrificial custom was being employed (v. 8). I do not reprove you for your sacrifices because YHWH had established this means of worship for Israel to honor His holiness. Formal religion prevailed, but meaning was lost in the exercise. Paul warned the Romans of this error of Israel (Rom. 2:17–24). And your burnt offerings are continually before Me night and day, every day. The sacrifice for sins was not exclusive. Sacrifices of thanksgiving and for communion were also part of the program. God had requested the presence of His people and they came. Their minds were not clear, nor were their hearts right before God in worship. Israel was regularly attending worship services, but it was rote.
YHWH answered economic charges brought against Him by Israel (v. 9). I shall take no young bull out of your house refers to one sacrificial animal. When God requested animal sacrifice, He was not causing economic hardship for His people. God will provide for Himself a sacrifice (Gen 22:8). Nor male goats out of your folds brings one’s attention to the pronoun “your.” This will establish a contrast between “yours” and “Mine,” and the attentive reader will note a bit of sarcasm from YHWH. God does not need our sacrifices. He prefers obedience to sacrifice, but sacrifice granted access to His presence because obedience was not a reality for Israel. Jesus was impeccably obedient, and His sacrifice was perfect and accepted.
YHWH claimed His economic independence (v. 10). For every beast of the forest is Mine begins a travelogue of YHWH’s ownership over His creation. The cattle on a thousand hills is one way of saying there is no limit to God’s access to animals for sacrifice, if He actually needed them. The death of a sacrificial animal was to show the seriousness of the sins being atoned for in a life for a life. Sin is serious. The wages of sin is death, and redemption of the human soul is costly (Ps 49:8). The perfect sacrifice is the unblemished (sinless) Lamb of God. He, too, was a provision of YHWH, the Father.
YHWH claimed ownership of the entire animal kingdom (v. 11). I know every bird of the mountains shows a geographical progression (ie. forest, hills, mountains), and it shows a regression in the value of the sacrifice. And everything that moves in the field is Mine rounds out the inventory of God. Israel had forgotten the earth is the Lord’s and everything in it (Ps 24:1). The point is that God has an abundant provision of animals for sacrifice without Israel. The notion that God needed these things was a theological perversion adopted from pagan worship of false gods by the nations surrounding Israel. Both the Babylonian Enuma Elish and the Gilgamesh Epic reveal this distortion. In the same way, today, God does not need Christian to do something “for” Him. We are invited to participate in His ministry, not because we are needed, but because God blesses His people with privileged participation.
YHWH claimed independence from Israel and ownership of the entire earth (v. 12). If I were hungry, I would not tell you further exposed Israel’s bad theology. Was YHWH really eating and drinking their sacrifices? These religious formalists needed to remember that God is Spirit, not a man with deficient flesh issues. For the world is Mine, and all it contains is reflective of Psalm 24:1. God created the heavens and the earth, and by this fact He is the owner of all things. There is nothing that does not belong to the Lord. This is one reason Christians must not store up treasures on the earth. God can redistribute His wealth to His children for His purposes. We have at our disposal all we need for basic life and appointed ministry (2 Cor 9:8).
YHWH inquired about the false charge of His dependence on Israel’s sacrificial offerings (v. 13). Shall I eat the flesh of bulls is now pressing the point. Bad theology leads to degrading worship. Or drink the blood of male goats complements the argument. Sacrifices were not for God, but for His people.
YHWH reinforced the acceptability of Israel’s sacrificial worship from the heart (v. 14). Israel’s practice of sacrifice was reinforced in offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving. This third reference to sacrifice demonstrates this is one key theme in Psalm 50, but the emphasis on thanksgiving is important, too.
Thanksgiving is a heart response to benefits bestowed by the grace of someone greater. Give thanks with a grateful heart. Give thanks to the Holy One. Give thanks because He has given Jesus Christ. And pay your vows to the Most High highlighted a heart commitment needing outward expression. Most High is the name El Elyon, which carries significance, for even the Canaanites acknowledged the God above every other god. Israel knew His name. Echoes of covenant commitment are brought to remembrance, “We will do all that you have commanded.” Vows, or votive offerings, were sacrifices offered and then consumed by the worshipper. God knows we need communion with Him and with His people.
YHWH reinforced their respective roles for a right relationship (v. 15). And call upon Me in the day of trouble is a reminder of YHWH’s covenant faithfulness. You will be My people, and I will be your God. Jesus’ name means, “YHWH delivers.” The day of trouble is always looming. In the world you will have trouble was Jesus prophetic warning to His disciples. Whoever calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved (Joel 2:32).
Israel was in danger of not being saved because they were not calling on YHWH with a genuine heart of worship. With repentance from formalism and symbolism, I shall rescue you, and you will honor Me. Israel was in trouble. The court hearing served as a warning of coming judgment. YHWH was again presenting Himself to Israel, and if they received Him, they would honor Him.
Religiosity or temple reminiscent liturgical practices are not pleasing to God. The church has matured in faith because of the revelation of Jesus Christ. Israel needed the innumerable outward expressions because they lacked the fulfillment of the promise of God for salvation. Christ Jesus is the fulfillment. He is our sufficiency in the formal approach to God. With the sending of His Spirit, we are to worship God in spirit and truth. Learn from this lesson not to regress into immature legalism, formalism, or symbolism.
The second principle section addressed a second group within the community of Israel, who were also familiar with the requirements of law and covenant (v. 16). But to the wicked God says presents an intensification of the collective judgment. The religious leaders appear to be in view here as they were with Jesus in Matthew 23. What right have you to tell of My statutes clearly references those who knew the Law of Moses.
The standard for teachers of the Scriptures is higher. The confrontation and conviction came with a parallel question, “And to take My covenant in your mouth?” Hardened hypocrisy is the second case against Israel, especially against the religious leaders. Spiritual leadership has been problematic throughout the history of Israel, and this is certainly true of liberal church leadership in the past two thousand years. We should learn the Word, know the Word, teach the Word and live it.
The divine speech continued with a series of six charges, including: neglect of God’s Word and discipline avoidance (v. 17). For you hate discipline points to the liberal nature of these leaders. Following the Law, even Christ, demands spiritual discipline. The obedience of faith comes with standards for thought and deed. And you cast My words behind you is imagery of neglect.
God’s Word employed is a blessing to the people of God. God’s Word despised by church leadership leads to opinionated theology and questionable practice. False gospels abound where the Word of God is left behind. The social gospel, prosperity gospel, liberation gospel, Mormon gospel, Jehovah’s Witness gospel, liberal gospel, liturgy/tradition gospel, etc. are all deviations born of uninspired interpretation of the Bible.
The charges revealed further non-compliance to the Ten Commandments (v. 18). YHWH offered examples in the breach of the above-stated principles. When you see a thief, you are pleased with him is opposition to Thou shalt not steal. And you associate with adulterers is in opposition to Thou shalt not commit adultery. Paul argued the same to the Church at Rome in Romans 1:32, “and although they know the ordinance of God, that those who practice such things are worthy of death, they not only do the same, but also give hearty approval to those who practice them.” True preachers must remain vigilant in preaching the whole counsel of God’s Word and to expose the sins prevailing in the church, today.
Sin with the tongue exposed hypocrisy (v. 19). You let your mouth loose in evil is one of the most frequent condemnations in Scripture. A daily reading of James 3 might do wonders for the church so easily prone to slander, gossip, false witness, and your tongue frames deceit.
The sin of slander within the covenant family was highlighted (v. 20). You sit and speak against your brother was particularly heinous in the Ancient Near East because it also dishonored one’s mother and father. You slander your own mother’s son gives us opportunity to reflect on the biblical accounts of sibling rivalry and warfare. Truly, he who would be perfect must bridle his tongue.
The prosecution’s closing remarks concluded that the error in worship was the result of bad theology, forged from neglect of the covenant partnership by Israel (v. 21). These things you have done and I kept silence is indicative of God’s work with His people. There is a time to be silent and a time to speak. Sin is easily multiplied because judgment is withheld for a time. We might benefit from quicker judgments, but God also grants us time for confession and repentance. If God is slow to anger, slow to wrath; then we are slow to confession, slow to repent. The ultimate problem for the whole of Psalm 50 is captured in the divine statement, “You thought that I was just like you.” When man makes God into his own image, then disobedience forms in life and service to God. God is holy, and we are not holy.
The conclusion came with a warning of judgment if repentance were not pursued (v. 22). Now consider this, you who forget God is the end result of biblical neglect. Forget God’s Word and proper worship is forgotten in the process of forgetting God. “Do this in remembrance of Me,” takes on a greater meaning when we realize Jesus was warning his disciples. Without communion, remembering His sacrificial death, He too, would be forgotten. Lest I tear you in pieces, and there be none to deliver is a forgotten aspect of God. When we preach “God is love, only,” the judging God of just wrath is neglected. Judgment comes to the unrepentant, savior-less, degenerates who practice godlessness. Be warned.
YHWH concluded with a promise of revealed salvation for those who employed acceptable worship (v. 23). He who offers a sacrifice of thanksgiving honors Me is the summary close. What does God require of you? The answer is acceptable worship. God knows the heart is deceitful and wicked above all else. Still, His work is to produce a sanctified heart filled with thanksgiving. And to him who orders his way aright is only possible with the imputed righteousness of Christ. We need the Spirit of God and the Word of God to guide us through the swamp of unrighteousness. I shall show the salvation of God is the key to reversing the tragedy of both religious formalism and hypocrisy. Save me and I will give thanks!
In sum, we have seen the summons of heaven and earth to the courtroom of YHWH for the covenant lawsuit prosecuted against His people, Israel. The case against religiosity and liberalism has been made. A warning of judgment and a promise of salvation either hardens or convicts the people of God. Let us honor God with the sacrifice of thanksgiving.
July 8, 2021