A psalm by Asaph.

This is a psalm, not of praise or or prayer, but of instruction, reproof and correction.  Unlike most of the psalms, it is not addressed to God, but from God.  Of all the psalms, this one speaks most like an OT prophet (Goldingay).

‘The references to the covenant and to the laws suggest a setting around the Feast of Tabernacles.’ (EBC)

M. Henry says that ‘this psalm is intended,

  1. As a proof to the carnal Jews, both those that rested in the external performances of their religion, and were remiss in the more excellent duties of prayer and praise, and those that expounded the law to others, but lived wicked lives themselves.
  2. As a prediction of the abolishing of the ceremonial law, and of the introducing of a spiritual way of worship in and by the kingdom of the Messiah, Jn 4:23,24.
  3. As a representation of the day of judgment, in which God will call men to an account concerning their observance of those things which they have thus been taught; men shall be judged “according to what is written in the books;”‘

‘In the grandeur and solemnity of a divine judgment, God is introduced as instructing men in the nature of true worship, exposing hypocrisy, warning the wicked, and encouraging the pious.’ (JFB)

The court is called, v1; the Judge takes his seat, v2f; the parties are summoned, v4f; judgement begins, v6.

50:1 El, God, the LORD speaks,
and summons the earth to come from the east and west.

El, God, the Lord – lit. ‘El Elohim Yahweh’, an impressive array of divine titles, prefacing the case which God is to mount against ‘his people’ (v4).

God summons the earth (also v4), not in order to judge the heathen, but to have them witness his indictment against his covenant people.  They have been assembled ‘to witness the charge, not to answer it’ (Kidner).

From the east and west – ‘From the rising of the sun to the place where it sets’ (NIV).  Cf. Isa. 45:6.

50:2 From Zion, the most beautiful of all places,
God comes in splendor.
50:3 Our God approaches and is not silent;
consuming fire goes ahead of him
and all around him a storm rages.

From Zion – the location of the temple.

Fire…storm – inspiring ‘fear’ in his people (EBC).  He has come, not to console, but to judge.

‘‘God is like “a consuming fire” (cf. Dt. 4:24; 9:3; Isa. 66:16; Heb. 12:29) when he comes in judgment. In his anger he may storm like a “tempest” (cf. Isa 66:15)’ (VanGemeren).

As Broyles observes: ‘the thunderstorm theophany, which is associated with Mount Sinai in Exodus, is here applied to Mount Zion.’

50:4 He summons the heavens above,
as well as the earth, so that he might judge his people.

He summons the heavens above, and the earth – as witnesses. See Deut 4:26 30:19 Isa 1:2.

50:5 He says:
“Assemble my covenant people before me,
those who ratified a covenant with me by sacrifice!”

“Who made a covenant” – lit. ‘cut a covenant’; alluding to the way in which covenants were ratified by dividing the sacrificial victim, the two parties then passing between the divided portions. Cf. Gen 15:10, 18.

As Kidner remarks, ‘the Christian may reflect on the demanding implications of enjoying a still “better covenant” (Heb. 7:22; 10:22ff.).’

50:6 The heavens declare his fairness,
for God is judge.

The inhabitants of heaven well know God’s righteous character.

‘It was a great temptation of God’s covenant people to believe mistakenly that everything was in order between them and God. The proclamation of “righteousness” affirms that God, the Righteous Judge, will order everything on earth in accordance with his will. He does not tolerate anything that does not satisfactorily meet his requirements.’ (EBC)

50:7 He says:
“Listen my people! I am speaking!
Listen Israel! I am accusing you!
I am God, your God!

“I am God, your God” – Two reasons for worshiping God: they are twice his, his by creation and his by covenant.

50:8 I am not condemning you because of your sacrifices,
or because of your burnt sacrifices that you continually offer me.

Vv. 8-15 – However scrupulous their sacrifices may have been, they were offered in the spirit of providing God with something that he lacked, as though they were doing him a favour.

“I am not condemning you because of your sacrifices” – They are doing the right things for the wrong reasons.  Their situation is similar to that of a later generation of religious people, to whom our Lord said: “you have neglected the more important matters of the law–justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former.” (Mt 23:23)

50:9 I do not need to take a bull from your household
or goats from your sheepfolds.

There seems to be a note of sarcasm in the references to ‘your household’ and ‘your sheepfolds’.  It is as if God has heard people boasting about ‘my bulls’ and ‘my goats’, little realising that God claims them all as ‘mine’ (v10f).

50:10 For every wild animal in the forest belongs to me,
as well as the cattle that graze on a thousand hills.
50:11 I keep track of every bird in the hills,
and the insects of the field are mine.

What are the relatively few animals in the Israelites fields and stalls compared with the multitude that roam the forests, graze on the hills, fly in the sky, and flit from leaf to leaf in the fields?

50:12 Even if I were hungry, I would not tell you,
for the world and all it contains belong to me.

Unlike the pagan gods, the Lord needs nothing from his worshipers.  He can look after himself.

‘In the Ancient Near East, the gods depended on the people’s sacrifices for food. When the flood stopped the giving of sacrifices, the gods nearly starved (Tablet XI of the Gilgamesh Epic). But the God of Israel is different. He does not eat food like human beings, and if he did, he could have supplied his own food, since every living creature belongs to him.’ (Tremper Longman)

We should imagine that we are doing God a favour, or supplying some lack in him, when we offer our worship to him, or give to worthy causes, or engage in apologetics.

On God’s aseity, see Acts 17:25.

50:13 Do I eat the flesh of bulls?
Do I drink the blood of goats?

‘God is pleased with a sacrifice that comes from true love and obedience. God’s perfect moral nature demands that the penalty for sin be death. Under the old covenant, a person could offer an animal to God as a substitute for himself, symbolizing the person’s faith in the merciful, forgiving God. But, the people were offering sacrifices as part of their worship ritual and forgetting their significance! The very act of sacrifice showed that they had once agreed to follow God wholeheartedly. But at this time their hearts were not in it, so their sacrifices were not pleasing to God, and thus were worthless. We may fall into the same pattern when we participate in religious activities, tithe, or attend church out of habit or conformity rather than out of heartfelt love and obedience. God wants righteousness, not empty ritual.’ (HBA)

50:14 Present to God a thank-offering!
Repay your vows to the sovereign One!

Thank-offering…vows – These belong to the category of voluntary offerings.  The worship God looks for is that which flows freely from a humble, thankful heart.

‘The point of offering “thank offerings” is that such sacrifices acknowledge the offerer’s absolute dependence on Yahweh’s grace and mercy.’ (Wilson)

50:15 Pray to me when you are in trouble!
I will deliver you, and you will honor me!”

‘The Lord will graciously move his people to gratitude if they humble themselves and call on him in their need. When the spirit of pride is broken and their trust in God restored, they will again enjoy the benefits of answered prayer and experience the Lord’s deliverance of those who call on him.’ (EBC)

50:16 God says this to the evildoer:
“How can you declare my commands,
and talk about my covenant?
50:17 For you hate instruction
and reject my words.

‘Their wickedness is that they lack the inner commitment to Yahweh that would give their ritual sacrifice meaning. In reality, their actions show that they “hate [God’s] instruction and cast [Yahweh’s] words behind [them]” (50:17).’ (Wilson)

50:18 When you see a thief, you join him;
you associate with men who are unfaithful to their wives.
50:19 You do damage with words,
and use your tongue to deceive.
50:20 You plot against your brother;
you slander your own brother.

The wicked are unworthy even to utter the words of Gods law. Their hypocrisy is exposed by illustrations from sins against the seventh, eighth, and ninth commandments.

50:21 When you did these things, I was silent,
so you thought I was exactly like you.
But now I will condemn you
and state my case against you!

When you did these things, I was silent – there was no speedy judgement upon the sinner; there was no thunder of threatening, and no bolt of punishment. But God’s silence should not be interpreted as ignorance, still less of benign approval. God is present at every moment, and observes every action. He never slumbers. He may seem to wink at things, but he never closes his eyes. God cannot be deceived, as we can.

‘The wicked foolishly think they have God as confused about their true motives as their human contemporaries. Because God has done nothing to strike them down, they assume he is unconcerned, or even worse, that he is “altogether like” them (v21).’ (Wilson)

2 Pet gives the great reason why God does not unleash his terrible judgment: he is patient.

You thought I was exactly like you – What an indictment!  And yet, what a common failing among religious people!  Created in God’s image, they have turned the tables, and created a god in their own image.

God has been patient, and the inference drawn is that he is like us: fickle, fallible, inconsistent, indulgent. There is in the unregenerate a practical atheism: they may acknowledge God, but they deny his power, his presence and his justice, and reduce him to their own proportions. We do this when we plead that our sins are little, and not worth taking notice of; we do it when we clamber onto God’s throne and make ourselves the sole arbiters of truth and goodness. This attitude began with Adam, who would not depend on the will of God as revealed to him, but made himself like God.

‘Today, vast stress is laid on the thought that God is personal, but this truth is so stated as to leave the impression that God is a person of the same sort as we are-weak, inadequate, ineffective, a little pathetic. But this is not the God of the Bible! Our personal life is a finite thing: it is limited in every direction, in space, in time, in knowledge, in power. But God is not so limited. He is eternal, infinite and almighty. He has us in his hands; we never have him in ours. Like us, he is personal; but unlike us, he is great. In all its constant stress on the reality of God’s personal concern for his people, and on the gentleness, tenderness, sympathy, patience and yearning compassion that he shows toward them, the Bible never lets us lose sight of his majesty and his unlimited dominion over all his creatures.’ (Packer, Knowing God)

Accuse you to your face – AV ‘set them in order before thine eyes’: a military picture, of sins paraded in rank and file, or a forensic picture, of sins listed as so many indictments. The sins of the wicked seem to be scattered, buried, forgotten, but they will rise up against them as an army. How can we contend against such a host as this: ‘here a regiment of oaths, there a regiment of lies, there a third of ralse dealings, here a troop of filthy actions, and there a legion of unclean or profane thoughts, all at one fighting against thy life and everlasting peace’ (Joseph Caryl).

I will rebuke you and accuse you to your face – God will leave the seat of mercy for his throne of judgement, and then he will demonstrate his inflexible opposition to all sin and wickedness.

50:22 Carefully consider this, you who reject God!
Otherwise I will rip you to shreds
and no one will be able to rescue you.

“You who forget God” – To forget God is not necessarily to fail to call him to mind, but to be neglectful of his true character.

Wilson remarks that these people are probably not pagans, but members of the covenant community, and, as the context shows, are not beyond redemption.

Let us not neglect God’s warnings.  They are offered in love.

50:23 Whoever presents a thank-offering honors me.
To whoever obeys my commands, I will reveal my power to deliver.”

Christian too may fall into empty ritualism, thinking that they are doing God a favour by their worship, offering, and good works.  But God, who does not need these things at all, looks at our attitude our heart, and delights in our willing obedience and loyal service.

Wilson@ summary: ‘It is this failure of understanding regarding the true nature of sacrifice that dominates Psalm 50. Israel is condemned not because they fail to offer sacrifices and offerings (50:8), but because they seek to exploit in their abundant sacrifices a supposed need of God. Because she believes God needs her sacrifices, Israel believes he can be manipulated by abundant gifts with no regard for the spiritual condition or intent of the offerer. Not so, rejoins God. Sacrifice fills no lack in the creator of the world, to whom all belongs. Sacrifice is for the benefit of the offerer. It is a reflection of the attitude of the offerer and, rightly given, “honors” God (50:23a) while opening the door for God’s gift of salvation.’