A psalm of Asaph.
The Mighty One, God, the Lord,
speaks and summons the earth
from the rising of the sun to where it sets.
From Zion, perfect in beauty,
God shines forth.
Our God comes
and will not be silent;
a fire devours before him,
and around him a tempest rages.
He summons the heavens above,
and the earth, that he may judge his people:
‘Gather to me this consecrated people,
who made a covenant with me by sacrifice.’
And the heavens proclaim his righteousness,
for he is a God of justice.
‘Listen, my people, and I will speak;
I will testify against you, Israel:
I am God, your God.
I bring no charges against you concerning your sacrifices
or concerning your burnt offerings, which are ever before me.
I have no need of a bull from your stall
or of goats from your pens,
for every animal of the forest is mine,
and the cattle on a thousand hills.
I know every bird in the mountains,
and the insects in the fields are mine.
If I were hungry I would not tell you,
for the world is mine, and all that is in it.
Do I eat the flesh of bulls
or drink the blood of goats?
‘Sacrifice thank-offerings to God,
fulfil your vows to the Most High,
and call on me in the day of trouble;
I will deliver you, and you will honour me.’
But to the wicked person, God says:
‘What right have you to recite my laws
or take my covenant on your lips?
You hate my instruction
and cast my words behind you.
When you see a thief, you join with him;
you throw in your lot with adulterers.
You use your mouth for evil
and harness your tongue to deceit.
You sit and testify against your brother
and slander your own mother’s son.
When you did these things and I kept silent,
you thought I was exactly like you.
But I now arraign you
and set my accusations before you.
‘Consider this, you who forget God,(Ps. 50:1-23 NIV)
or I will tear you to pieces, with no one to rescue you:
those who sacrifice thank-offerings honour me,
and to the blameless I will show my salvation.’
The Psalmist uses three titles for God – The Mighty One (El), God (Elohim) and LORD (Yahweh). God Himself summons everyone on earth to appear before Him for judgement. The whole earth is poetically described as ‘from the rising of the sun to the place where it sets’. God is upon the throne in the Temple and He provides the beauty of the place, and the beauty and glory of the Lord radiates from the Temple to the ends of the earth. The greatness of the holiness of the Lord is described as a devouring fire, and round the Lord a tempest rages. The scene is reminiscent of Exodus 19 when the ten commandments were given to Moses. The people were not permitted to approach the mountain because the presence of the Lord made it holy.
On the morning of the third day there was thunder and lightning, with a thick cloud over the mountain, and a very loud trumpet blast. Everyone in the camp trembled. Then Moses led the people out of the camp to meet with God, and they stood at the foot of the mountain. Mount Sinai was covered with smoke, because the Lord descended on it in fire. The smoke billowed up from it like smoke from a furnace, and the whole mountain trembled violently. As the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder, Moses spoke and the voice of God answered him.
The Lord descended to the top of Mount Sinai and called Moses to the top of the mountain. So Moses went up and the Lord said to him, ‘Go down and warn the people so they do not force their way through to see the Lord and many of them perish. Even the priests, who approach the Lord, must consecrate themselves, or the Lord will break out against them.’
Moses said to the Lord, ‘The people cannot come up Mount Sinai, because you yourself warned us, “Put limits around the mountain and set it apart as holy.”’(Exod. 19:16-23 NIV)
The phenomena surrounding the Temple suggests that this is theophany. It is important that we understand the ‘dreadfulness’ of the presence of the Lord. For any of us to appear before Him would kill us, yet God invites us into His presence. It is vital that we understand that our appearance before God is through our mediator the Lord Jesus Christ. Throughout eternity Christ will be our mediator. We should reverence the name of God, and never be casual in our approach to God.
God calls the heavenly beings to appear and all the earth as witnesses of the covenant that God had made with His people. The people are gathered to hear the Lord’s judgement. At this point it is helpful to anticipate the penitential Psalm 51. The merciful God provides these outlined pathways in the Psalms to help us find our way back to Him. The people of God are going to need this.
The people of God are described as the consecrated people. They dedicated themselves to the Lord by covenant, and they ratified that covenant by the shed blood of a sacrifice. To understand what was promised in that covenant we need to read the book of Deuteronomy. We also can read there about the blessings for keeping the covenant and the curses for breaking the covenant. Every honest witness in the heavens and the earth will proclaim the righteousness of God and acknowledge that God is a God of justice.
The Lord speaks against His people. The great covenantal message that is frequently repeated across the OT and the NT is that God promises to be our God and He acknowledges that we are His people. It is an awesome thing to have God as our God.
God speaks about the offerings and he does not have to rebuke them for the offerings that they brought to the temple, but God reminds His people that He is not in need of these offerings. It is important that we realise that the Lord does not need our service, or worship. God is not dependent on us for anything, but we are dependent on God for everything. There was a danger that the people of God would get the wrong idea about the sacrifices, because many of their pagan neighbours would offer sacrifices to their pagan gods to appease and satisfy their cravings. So God reminds His people that He owns the whole world. He had no need of their animals because he owns every animal in the forest and the cattle on a thousand hills. God knows every bird in the mountains and all the creatures of the field belong to Him. If God was hungry He wouldn’t need to let them know, as if He was dependent on them. A useful word to learn when we are looking at the Psalms is ‘anthropomorphism’. You are probably more familiar with the word anthropology which means the study of man. When we speak of God’s hands, face, arm we are using anthropomorphisms to help us understand what God is doing. We attribute the features of a man to God to speak about say His arm of salvation. God doesn’t have an arm but in order to communicate with us about the nature and works of God it helps us grasp what God is doing. So, when the text speaks of God being hungry, He is never going to be hungry. God is sharing with His people that He has no needs. God is not dependent on their offerings. The people of God had become quite mechanical in the way they brought their offerings. God provides for His people, and God insists on genuine thanksgiving offerings where the people really are thankful and the thanksgiving offerings are a genuine expression of their gratitude. God calls upon His people to honour the vows they made and to show how much they need God by calling upon Him in the day of trouble, and God will come to their aid.
Now God addresses the wicked. This particular group of wicked people had a form of religion but their hearts were not right with God. They recited the laws of God and would have used covenant language, so God asks what right they have to do that. They hated the Lord’s instructions and were happy to throw their lot in with thieves and adulterers. They spoke evil and employed their tongues for words of deceit. They spoke against their brothers and slandered them at every opportunity. Note the number of the ten commandments that have been broken. Because the Lord did not speak out against them, they thought the Lord was on their side. But now the Lord takes them to task and rebukes them to their face.
The Lord is patient and long suffering so he warns the wicked that, if they do not change their ways and repent, they will be torn asunder with no possibility of rescue. Those who show gratitude to God and honour the Lord, the Lord will turn to them and bring them salvation.
Lord we may be satisfied with the style of our worship and may feel it is the way of order and reverence that complies with all that Your word requires of those that worship. The songs we sing, the prayers we pray, and the focus upon Your word may satisfy us, but Lord deliver us from having a mere form of worship, where we come to You just with our lips and not our hearts. Lord we know that You do not need us, we’re not needed to preserve the church, we’re not needed to worship or serve You, yet in mercy and grace You call us to worship, to serve and to witness. Lord help us to preserve a proper humble attitude towards You and towards Your people because we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.