Psalm 50 Commentary: From the beginning of man’s relationship with God – after Adam sinned – sacrifices became commonplace among humans. The taking of an animal’s life in place of your own is a feature of many ancient religions. And it was certainly a feature of the one true religion revealed in Scripture.
But almost as common in the pages of Scripture is reference to the fact that God isn’t interested in sacrifices from a person who in all other ways is alienated from God.
And you can summarize that idea in a number of sayings – “God wants your heart and not just your hands” – or “God wants a relationship over external religious activities” – or as Jesus Christ said – quoting from the Old Testament, “I desire mercy and not a sacrifice.”
And the psalm that we’re going to study right now is just one more piece of testimony to the fact that God is after more than just sacrifices. So, let’s turn to Psalm 50 to see this.
And in Psalm 50, we’re given this theme: that “Praise and godly living is more important to God than external religious activity.”
Psalm 50 Commentary: 1-7 | God is Coming to Judge His People
And at the opening of this psalm, the psalmist pictures a time when God is going to come to judge the world and in particular his people Israel in verses 1-7.
<A Psalm of Asaph.>
KJV Psalm 50:1 The mighty God, even the LORD, [hath spoken/speaks],
and [called/summons] the earth from the [rising of the sun/east] unto the [going down thereof/west].
And so, God is calling the whole earth here. From east to west – the mighty God will summon everyone.
And God will do this judging from a specific place. Verses 2 and 3 tell us that he will judge from Zion – from Jerusalem.
2 Out of Zion, the [perfection of beauty/most beautiful of all places],
God [hath shined/comes in splendor].
3 Our God [shall come/approaches],
and shall not keep silence:
a fire shall devour before him,
and [it shall be very tempestuous/a storm rages] round about him.
And in verse 4 we finally get to the purpose for which God is going to summon the whole earth.
4 He [shall call to/summons] the heavens [from/which are] above,
and to the earth, that he may judge his people.
So, he’s going to gather those who identify as his people to judge them from heaven and earth.
And this is what God will say..
5 Gather my [saints/godly ones/covenant people] together unto me;
those that [have made/ratified] a covenant with me by sacrifice.
So, God first of all will call to him those who have shown their relationship to him by sacrifice.
Now, God makes it clear in the Old Testament – and even later in this psalm – that he’s not interested in sacrifice that is void of a holy lifestyle that reflects the relationship that the worshipper has with God. So, this is not teaching that a person’s attempt to sacrifice to God is the way to be accepted by him.
Rather, God will accept those who have made a covenant with him through sacrifice. Who have demonstrated that they are in a covenant – a relationship based upon a promise – with God by sacrificing.
And for us living after Christ has come and died and rose again – his sacrifice is what brings us into covenant with God. It’s through Jesus that we have a saving relationship with the mighty God who is coming to judge.
And – praise be to God – we who have accepted Jesus Christ’s sacrifice on our behalf are saved from the wrath to come – which this psalm is focused on thus far.
And that’s amazing that anyone will be accepted by God in the judgement. You might think that since God is so holy and man is so sinful, there’d be no way that anyone would be accepted. But God has found a way to be just and at the same time the justifier of those who have believed in Jesus’ sacrifice for their sins.
And so – because of this blessed reality – the following will be true in the judgement…
6 And the heavens shall declare his [righteousness/fairness]:
for God is judge himself.
God’s treatment of the righteous will be shown to be totally righteous and fair. How could it be otherwise?? God is the judge – you know things will be perfectly right.
So, that’s a happy fate for the righteous.
On the other hand, all the rest of humanity – and especially of those who identify themselves as part of “God’s people” – they’ll have a terrifying confrontation awaiting them, as God speaks again…
7 Hear, O my people,
and I will speak; O Israel,
and I [will testify against/am accusing] thee:
I am God,
even thy God.
So, some individuals – who have made a covenant with God by sacrifice – will experience God’s mercy. The rest will experience God’s testifying against them.
Psalm 50 Commentary: 8-13 | What God Doesn’t Want/Need
Now, the beginning of God’s testimony against his rebellious people is that he doesn’t really need anything from them. God’s existence doesn’t in any way depend upon his people.
8 I [will/do/am] not [reprove/condemning] thee [for/because of] thy sacrifices
or thy burnt offerings, [to have been/which are] continually [before/offered to] me.
So, if the people are wondering what God is going to say as he testifies against them – he wants to make it clear that it has nothing to do with sacrifices – whether they offered them or not.
Yes, the people whom God will receive at the judgement did make sacrifices. But that was showing something. It was showing that they had entered into a covenant with him. They had and have a personal relationship to God. Sacrifice demonstrated that reality – but it didn’t create that reality.
And so, God continues to emphasize that sacrifice isn’t the focus of his judgement of his people.
9 I [will/do not need to] take no bullock out of thy house,
nor he goats out of thy folds.
So, God doesn’t need these things from the houses or fields of the Israelites because he has plenty of such animals…
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.
So, if God needs an animal, he’s more than capable of fetching one for himself. He created them all and ultimately owns them all!
And so, God continues to express his self-sufficiency and total lack of dependence upon anyone…
12 If I were hungry,
I would not tell thee:
for the world is mine,
and the fulness thereof.
And when it comes down to it, do the sacrifices of God’s people really do anything to sustain and provide for God? God’s answer: No…
13 Will I eat the flesh of bulls,
or drink the blood of goats?
So, God makes the point that it’s not even as if he gets any nourishment from these sacrifices. He doesn’t eat and drink what his people offer in their religious ceremonies – even the ones that God himself commanded them to participate in.
Psalm 50 Commentary: 14-15 | What God Really Wants
Now, that last statement – that God commanded his people to offer sacrifices to him – along with the fact that God already mentioned in this very psalm that one aspect of the people that he’ll receive at the judgement is that they sacrifice to him – all of that points to the fact that God really did want sacrifice.
But God through the psalmist goes on to assert that there is something far greater in God’s mind that he’s looking for. And in comparison to that, sacrifices by themselves when not offered from the right heart – are worse than worthless – both to God and to those who participate in such activities.
And so, God now is going to point to two things that he wants his people engaged in that will trump outward religious activities.
The first thing that God prefers over sacrificing animals is actually itself a sacrifice. It’s the offering of a sacrifice of thanksgiving.
14 Offer unto God [thanksgiving/a sacrifice of thanksgiving/a thank-offering];
and pay thy vows unto the most High:
So, I’ll just say this – as Christians – as God’s people – if we enter our church building and meet with God’s people and sing songs and give money and do all of the things that are expected of church-goers – and yet our hearts are not full of thanks to God – you have God’s word right here telling you that that’s not what he’s looking for.
And the second activity that God wants us to be engaged in is to genuinely call on God when we’re in need and then glorify him when he answers and delivers us…
15 And [call upon/pray to] me [in the day of/when you are in] trouble:
I will deliver thee,
and thou shalt [glorify/honor] me.
Now, we might tend to think that this would be boring for God at best. At worst, maybe calling on God when we’re in trouble is irritating to him.
And yet, God would rather have you humbly call out to him for help and then glorify him once he answers – than to have your sacrifice.
And this sounds so selfish and counterintuitive – perhaps so hedonistic and even maybe ungodly! But we have God’s word here urging us to not think of what we can do for God – but what he can do for us.
I know – I’m almost shocked to be saying this. But this is exactly what this psalm is saying.
God started by testifying that he doesn’t need a thing from his people. He basically heaps scorn and ridicule on the thought that his people can do anything to sustain him in any way. He’s emphatically declaring to us that he needs nothing that we can give him.
Oh – except thanksgiving. That one thing is what he wants.
And beyond that, what God really desires is that we would pray to him when we’re in trouble. And then when he mercifully answers and gives us what we so desperately need – he simply wants us to glorify him.
So, those are the two activities that God wants from us – thanking him and glorifying him for answered prayer.
Psalm 50 Commentary: 16-20 | God’s Message to the Wicked
So, now we all know God’s will – he wants thanks and glory from his people instead of their carrying out wrote religious duties.
But now God is going to turn to the wicked and give them a message. In the context, these are God’s wicked people – rebellious Israelites. And God has a message for them.
16 But unto the [wicked/evildoer] God saith,
[What hast thou to do to/How can you] declare my [statutes/commands],
[or that thou shouldest take my covenant in thy mouth/and talk about my covenant]?
So, God is addressing his people who are wicked and yet they declare God’s statutes and commands. They talk about his covenant with duplicity.
The righteous enter into a covenant with God through the sacrifice of his Son. The wicked merely talk about God’s covenant. And God doesn’t want them to do even that.
And here’s why it makes no sense to God for the wicked to speak of him and his commands and covenant…
17 Seeing thou hatest instruction,
and castest my words behind thee.
And it seems really strange that some of God’s people who take it upon themselves to declare God’s commands – themselves hate God’s instruction and words.
But the reality is that any town in this country is full of such ministers. When it comes down to it, if they’re not truly born-again – having entered into the New Covenant through Christ’s sacrifice – they are as Paul the apostle said enemies of the cross of Christ.
They hate God’s word. And yet, that’s what they work with all the time. It doesn’t make sense. And that’s why God is rebuking such people.
And yet, this message is to God’s people – not just to those who would identify as God’s people outside of our church. It’s not just for the Catholics and the Lutherans and the Charismatics. It’s for us, too.
We need to really examine our hearts.
Are there any among us who just outright “hate” God’s instruction? You’re openly defiant when you hear what God wants about this or that thing. I mean, you might want to spin it as if “that’s not what God wants – that’s just what my parents say” or whatever else. And yet – despite this – you somehow manage to consider yourself a Christian.
Or maybe your response to God’s word isn’t quite that openly hostile. Maybe you’ve just simply become very skilled with ignoring God’s word – “casting them behind you.” I mean, you’ll keep speaking of God – his covenant and his word – but you’ve become skilled in ignoring what that word and covenant command you in terms of your actions and thoughts.
God help all of us to not be hypocrites. To not play-act as if we love God’s word when we really hate or ignore it practically…
Well, God gives the wicked some examples of how he knows that they hate his commands and throw his word behind their backs.
First, they love and accompany thieves and adulterers in their evildoing.
18 When thou sawest a thief, then thou [consentedst with/are pleased with/join] him,
and [hast been partaker/associate] with adulterers.
And so, we’d do well to search our hearts and consider whether any of us loves dishonest gain. Are there any of us who would steal?
Or are there any who commit adultery – even in your heart – as a common practice? Do we forget that even to look at a woman with lust is to commit adultery? Or maybe we don’t forget – but we just don’t care anymore…
But, God doesn’t stop the indictment there. He continues to furnish evidence that a person hates his word.
19 Thou givest thy mouth to evil,
and thy tongue frameth deceit.
So, consider whether or not your practice is to lie. Do you deceive intentionally as a habit?
We might be fooling our fellow-man. But God is not fooled and he’s ready to testify against us…
And, another sign that you hate or despise God’s word is the way that you use your tongue to speak of others.
20 Thou sittest and speakest against thy brother;
thou slanderest thine own mother's son.
So, how do you speak of others in your church? In your family? At the workplace?
Do you slander others – say what’s not true of them?
To the extent that we do any of these things – we are proving – despite all appearances to the contrary – despite our standing in front of an audience and giving God’s word – despite boldly proclaiming God’s word to lost neighbors and friends – our relationship to God’s word is in total disarray.
We find ourselves in the situation that God wants us in according to this psalm. He wants us to call on him when we’re in trouble. Are there any of us who are in trouble after reading this list of qualities that prove that you hate God’s word? We can call upon him in this trouble and glorify him for his mercy and life-changing power.
Psalm 50 Commentary: 21 | God’s Responds with Silence
Well, you know what can be so confusing to this kind of person – to one who is a supposed member of God’s people – but who hates God’s word and will be rebuked by God – what is so deceptive to these people is that oftentimes God doesn’t punish them immediately for their misdeeds.
21 These things hast thou done, [that’s what they did – what is God doing?] and I kept silence;
thou thoughtest that I was altogether such an one as thyself:
but I will reprove thee,
and set [them/the case/“these things”] in order before thine eyes.
And so, God set before perhaps several of us “these things” that demonstrate that we might speak well of God’s word but that truly we hate it. And if we continue in these practices we prove ourselves to be wicked and deserving of judgement – the likes of which this psalm has been speaking of.
But if this message from God has been bothering and upsetting to you, well – God has a follow-up that you will want to pay close attention to.
Psalm 50 Commentary: 22-23 | A Possibility to Change
Because God isn’t going to just leave you where you are. He’s giving you another chance.
22 Now consider this,
ye that forget God,
[lest/Or I will/Otherwise I will] I tear you in pieces,
and there be none to deliver.
And that will happen if you ignore what God’s saying here. He will judge you and tear you to pieces like a wild animal.
But here’s the blessed remedy to that dreadful outcome. Consider this…
23 Whoso [offereth praise/offers a sacrifice of thanksgiving/presents a thank-offering] [glorifieth/honors] me:
and to him that ordereth his conversation aright will I [shew/reveal] [the salvation of God/my power to deliver].
Now, the message here is not to be misunderstood. God is not saying that by living right you will be accepted by God in the judgement.
Because he already said back at the beginning of this psalm that those who will be accepted by God are those who have demonstrated that they have entered into a covenant – a relationship based upon a promise – with God through sacrifice. We enter that relationship with God through the sacrifice of his Son, Jesus Christ.
But then we do need to take very seriously God’s words here. What does God want from you now that you’re in a relationship with him?
Not merely external religious activities. He wants your thanksgiving. He wants your prayers and glorifying him when he answers those prayers. And he wants you and me to live right – to live in light of his word and covenant with us.
Because, the Judge is coming. He will come someday. But he is also merciful and is giving you a second chance.
So, let’s go to prayer full of thanksgiving and calling upon God in our troubles with every intention of glorifying him for answers.
And perhaps right now it would be an appropriate time to deal with the Lord. Has he convicted about some sin that you’re indulging in? Confess that to him. He promises to be faithful and just to forgive you every sin for Christ’s sake.