Psalm 50 (NIV)
1 The Mighty One, God, the Lord,
speaks and summons the earth
from the rising of the sun to where it sets.
2 From Zion, perfect in beauty,
God shines forth.
3 Our God comes
and will not be silent;
a fire devours before him,
and around him a tempest rages.
4 He summons the heavens above,
and the earth, that he may judge his people:
5 “Gather to me this consecrated people,
who made a covenant with me by sacrifice.”
6 And the heavens proclaim his righteousness,
for he is a God of justice.
7 “Listen, my people, and I will speak;
I will testify against you, Israel:
I am God, your God.
8 I bring no charges against you concerning your sacrifices
or concerning your burnt offerings, which are ever before me.
9 I have no need of a bull from your stall
or of goats from your pens,
10 for every animal of the forest is mine,
and the cattle on a thousand hills.
11 I know every bird in the mountains,
and the insects in the fields are mine.
12 If I were hungry I would not tell you,
for the world is mine, and all that is in it.
13 Do I eat the flesh of bulls
or drink the blood of goats?
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Psalm 50 carries many of the themes of the prophet Isaiah into a song of worship. We see God summoning his people to a court judgment scene, God clarifying the point of sacrifices that avail nothing if they are but empty religion and rote activity, and finally, God rebuking those who dare to pose as religious followers of the covenant when their lives are far from righteous. This is another common theme in the psalms of Asaph, of which this is one. Their family had been judged for this very problem, so the sons of Asaph want to help others avoid this error.
This psalm brings to task those who have the outward appearance of following God, and take the covenant on their lips, but who will not submit to his instruction (vv. 16–17). The Lord says, “You hate my instruction and cast my words behind you” (v. 17). They join in the work of thieves, adulterers, and slanderers (vv. 18–20). Worst of all, they think that because God kept silent, he must be just like them (v. 21). We all have a tendency to try to refashion God in an image of our own making. The ancient world thought God was just man writ large, like a kind of Superman. The atheists turn God into a straw man that they can easily knock down and create the impression that faith in God is foolish. Protestant liberalism tries to project a God without wrath or judgment. Evangelicalism tries to recast God as a casual friend, and on and on it goes. But the God of biblical revelation is the God whom we will someday face.
Jesus had similar words of rebuke to say in his day, echoing both the prophets and the psalms. The warning of this psalm calls us to consider these things, to make sure our hearts are right, and that our words are congruent with our actions. We want to make sure that we are worshipping the true and living God, and not some god of our own making. Then, when we call upon him, he will rescue us; then he will show us the salvation of God. May the light of Christ shine upon our hearts, revealing all that needs to be purged and set right so that we may be ready to see and embrace the salvation of the true and living God.