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Bible Commentaries

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible

Psalms 50

 

 

Introduction

Heading.

‘A Psalm of Asaph.’

The Songs of the Sons of Korah having come to an end as far as Book 2 is concerned (42-49), we now have a Psalm of Asaph which stands on its own, presumably because it was seen as forming a bridge between Psalms 49, 51. This Psalm will then be followed by a number of Psalms of David, and one of Solomon.

As we will see later there are a number of Psalms of Asaph, but the remainder are in Book 3 (73-83) where they are followed by more songs of the Sons of Korah. Asaph was one of David’s three chief musicians, and ‘the sons of Asaph’ continued throughout the generations to provide music for the Temple (2 Chronicles 20:14; 2 Chronicles 29:13; 2 Chronicles 35:15. See also Ezra 2:41; Ezra 3:10; Nehemiah 7:44; Nehemiah 11:22). For further information see the introduction to Book 3.

Like Psalms 49 this is a teaching Psalm, but more from a prophetic viewpoint. Note, for example, the importance of the divine utterance, the description of the theophany, the stress on spiritual worship as against sacrifice, and the denunciation of the wicked. Thus whereas Psalms 49 was addressed to ‘the peoples’, this Psalm is specifically concerning the people of YHWH. It contains a solemn picture of His judgment of them, as the mighty God YHWH calls on all the earth to witness as He sits to judge His people. It contains a firm warning that if they are to be able to depend on Him to answer them in the Day of Trouble, then they must walk rightly before Him and offer Him true worship.

It can be divided up as follows:

1) God is pictured as coming from Zion, surrounded by the symbols of His majesty described in terms of a tremendous storm. All are called on to witness His act of judgment on His covenant people whom He has caused to be gathered together (Psalms 50:1-6).

2) God speaks to the majority of His people who have not gone too badly astray and calls on them to recognise that what He requires of them is not sacrifices and offerings which are simply designed to ‘satisfy’ Him. What He requires from them is rather their true worship and obedience. Then they can be sure that He will respond to them in the day of trouble (Psalms 50:7-15).

3) God speaks to the ‘wicked’, the more overt covenant breakers, whom he sees as blatantly hypocritical, and outlines the activities that cut them off from His mercy. He points out that He is coming in order to ‘reprove’ them and put things right (Psalms 50:16-21).

4) God calls on all who have forgotten Him to consider, lest they finally discover that there is none to deliver, and promises that to those who truly praise Him and live rightly before Him, He will show the salvation of God (Psalms 50:22-23).


Verses 1-6

God Calls On The Whole Earth To Witness His Coming To Judge His People (Psalms 50:1-6).

This section can be divided up as follows:

· Who it is Who is coming (Psalms 50:1).

· Where He is coming from and how He is coming (Psalms 50:2).

· The glory in which He is coming (Psalms 50:3).

· The purpose of His coming (Psalms 50:4-6).

Who It Is Who Is Coming (Psalms 50:1).

Psalms 50:1

‘The Mighty One, God, YHWH,

He has spoken and called the earth,

From the rising of the sun,

To its going down.’

The One Who is coming is El Elohim YHWH, the mighty God of Gods, YHWH. This unusual combination of divine names is found nowhere else in this particular formation. But the three names do appear together in Joshua 22:22, which speaks of YHWH El Elohim in a most solemn oath; Deuteronomy 4:31, where His people are told ‘YHWH your Elohim is a merciful El’; Deuteronomy 5:9, where God declares, ‘I YHWH your Elohim am a jealous El’, (compare Deuteronomy 6:15); and Deuteronomy 7:9 where His people are told, ‘YHWH your Elohim, He is Elohim, El the faithful.’

The three names bring out three aspects of God. As El He reveals Himself as the Mighty One. As Elohim He reveals Himself as the Creator of Heaven and earth, the One Who is manifest through creation (Psalms 19:1-6; Genesis 1:1). As YHWH He reveals Himself as Israel’s covenant God, the Self-revealing One (Exodus 3:14-15; Exodus 6:3; Exodus 20:2). And finally His universality is revealed in that He speaks to the whole known earth, and those who dwell in it, from where the sun rises in the east to where it sets in the west. All are under His sway and are to be interested in His verdict.

Where He Is Coming From And How He Is Coming (Psalms 50:2 a).

Psalms 50:2

‘Out of Zion,

The perfection of beauty,

God has shone forth.

In the ancient days God shone forth from the Tabernacle (Exodus 40:34; Exodus 40:38). He also shone forth from Sinai and Mount Paran on behalf of His people (Deuteronomy 33:2). Now He is revealing Himself from Mount Zion. It is an open question whether ‘the perfection of beauty’ refers to Zion, or to God. (Do we read as ‘Zion which is the perfection of beauty’ (compare Psalms 48:2; Lamentations 2:15) or as ‘As the perfection of beauty God has shone forth’ - compare Psalms 29:2). Israel may well have seen Zion, where God dwelt, as the perfection of beauty because of the fact that He dwelt there, something confirmed in Lamentations 2:15, but the fulsome description might be seen as favouring the idea that it refers to God Himself. Lamentations 2:15 may then have arisen from a later application of this description to Zion on the basis of this Psalm. It is not really important. Under either interpretation the perfection of beauty is finally God’s.

Israel did not believe that God was limited to Mount Zion, any more than they saw Him as limited to the Tabernacle or to Sinai. The point was rather that these were places where God had been pleased to manifest Himself on behalf of His people. They knew, however, that, in the words of Solomon, ‘even the Heaven of Heavens cannot contain you, how much less this house that I have built’ (1 Kings 8:27).

The Glory In Which He Is Coming (Psalms 50:3 b).

Psalms 50:3

Our God comes,

And does not keep silence,

Fire devours before him,

And it is very tempestuous round about him.

God is not coming in silence. He is coming to speak openly to His people, whether out of the splendour of Zion as indwelt by Him, or out of His own glorious splendour. And His glory is revealed as being like a mighty storm, with lightning devouring before Him, and a raging tempest swirling around Him. Compare Psalms 19:1-6. There also He was to be worshipped in ‘the beauty of holiness’.

The vision of God as coming in a raging and violent storm is a regular one in Scripture. E.g. Psalms 18:7-14; Psalms 19:1-6; Psalms 97:2-5; Exodus 19:16-18; Isaiah 29:6. For God as a consuming fire see Deuteronomy 4:24; Deuteronomy 9:3; Hebrews 12:29.

The Purpose Of His Coming Is To Judge His People (Psalms 50:4-6).

Psalms 50:4-6

He calls to the heavens above,

And to the earth, that he may judge his people,

Gather my saints together to me,

Those who have made a covenant with me by sacrifice.

And the heavens will declare his righteousness,

For God is judge himself. [Selah

It is stressed that He has come to pass judgment on His people. The call to Heaven and earth concerning His judgment of His people is paralleled in Deuteronomy 4:26; Deuteronomy 4:32; Deuteronomy 31:28; Deuteronomy 32:1; Isaiah 1:2-3. Compare Micah 1:2; Micah 6:1-2. They, including their inhabitants, are solemn witnesses who have seen all that has happened since creation.

He desires that His people be gathered together, ‘Those who have made a covenant with me by sacrifice’. It is they who made a covenant with Him at Sinai through the blood of the sacrifices (Exodus 24), and are sealed by the blood of the covenant, something which they have ratified since then by continuing sacrifices, and it is they who are being called on to fulfil their responsibilities towards Him. Then the Heavens will declare His righteous judgments, because it is God Himself Who is judging.

The call goes out to gather His ‘saints’ together. Note the use of ‘saints’ (chasid, who are those on whom He has set His covenant love (chesed)), to signify the true people of God. The call may be addressed to the leaders of the people who normally summoned the assembly, or to the angels in Heaven (compare Matthew 24:31), or to Heaven and earth as a whole, or may simply be a general request indicating His desire that they might be gathered together. Whichever is true what matters is that His true people are to be brought together. They were to some extent brought together during the time of Ezra and Nehemiah, and in the inter-testamental period, when Israel were once again established as a believing people, and it has been most gloriously fulfilled in establishing the believing remnant of Israel who formed the people of the Messiah, who have gradually become known as ‘the church (ekklesia)’, having incorporated within them believers in the Messiah from among the Gentiles. They are now the true Israel.

‘And the heavens will declare his righteousness.’ This may be stressing that because God is the judge, it is the Heavens and not earth who will declare His righteous judgment, or it may be indicating that the Heavens will confirm the righteousness of the Judge, because the Judge is God Himself. Either way the judgment can be seen as just and righteous.


Verses 7-15

God Addresses His People As Defendants And Reveals That He Is Not Judging Them Because Of The Inadequacy of Their Physical Sacrifices, Which In Fact Are Not Needed By Him, But Because Of The Inadequacy Of Their Thanksgiving And Faithfulness To Their Vows (Psalms 50:7-15).

God assures them that He is not judging them because of the inadequacy of their sacrifices. Indeed they were not necessary for His sustenance, because had He required sustenance the whole of nature was His, the world and all its fullness was available to Him. No what He rather requires is their offerings of thanksgiving, and their obedience to their vows. Then they can be sure that when they call on Him He will respond.

We are reminded here of Samuel’s words to Saul in 1 Samuel 15:22, ‘has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold to obey is better than sacrifice, and to listen and respond than the fat of rams.’

Psalms 50:7

‘Hear, O my people, and I will speak,

O Israel, and I will testify to you,

God, even your God am I.

God now calls on Israel to listen to Him in what He says to them, for He wants to testify to them. And He reminds them of Who He is. He stresses that He is God, even their own God. That is why they should hear what He has to say.

Psalms 50:8-10

‘I will not reprove you for your sacrifices,

And your burnt-offerings are continually before me.

I will take no bullock out of your house,

Nor he-goats out of your folds.

For every beast of the forest is mine,

And the cattle on a thousand hills.’

He assures them that He is not reproving them for the quality and number of their sacrifices. Indeed their burnt offerings are continually before Him. Thus it is not their ritual observance that is at fault.

In fact He stresses that He wants nothing more from them in that regard. He will not take any bullock from their house, or he-goats from their fold, for He has no need of them. After all, every beast of the forest is His. He possesses the cattle on a thousand hills. (We have here a typical use of ‘a thousand’ to simply mean a large number. Israelites were not on the whole very numerate, and large numbers tended to be used in this way).

Psalms 50:11-12

‘I know all the birds of the mountains,

And the wild beasts of the field are mine.

If I were hungry, I would not tell you,

For the world is mine, and its fullness.’

Continuing the same theme He stresses that He knows all the birds of the mountains, and the wild beasts of the countryside. Thus if He had been hungry He would not have needed to tell them, because the whole world was His, and all its fullness.

In many polytheistic religions the belief was that their gods fed on sacrifices, and needed such sacrifices in order to maintain their welfare. But they are assured that this is not true of the God of Israel. He requires no sustenance from sacrifices. Thus they should recognise that their offerings and sacrifices are for their benefit, not His.

Psalms 50:13-15

‘Will I eat the flesh of bulls,

Or drink the blood of goats?

Offer to God the sacrifice of thanksgiving,

And pay your vows to the Most High,

And call on me in the day of trouble,

I will deliver you, and you will glorify me.’

To suggest therefore that God would eat the flesh of bulls or would drink the blood of goats when they were offered in sacrifice was ludicrous. No. The truth was that what God required of them was the sacrifice of thanksgiving, and the performance of their vows to serve and worship Him faithfully. In other words He sought their spiritual worship and gratitude, and their fulfilling of their promises. As long as they offered these things they could then be sure that when they called on Him in the day of trouble, He would deliver them, so that they could give glory to God, and give Him glory by their testimony. He is not here speaking of the ‘thanksgiving sacrifice’ of Leviticus 7:12, but of genuine thanksgiving as being itself the ‘sacrifice’ that is pleasing to Him.

It is similar to the worship that is required in the New Testament. ‘Through Him (Who sanctified us through His own blood) therefore let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that make confession to His Name. Do not neglect to do good, and to share what you have with others, for with such sacrifices God is well pleased’ (Hebrews 13:15-16). Man looks at ritual. God looks at the heart.


Verses 16-21

God Speaks To The ‘Wicked’, The More Overt Covenant Breakers, Whom He Sees As Blatantly Hypocritical, And Outlines The Activities That Cut Them Off From His Mercy. He Points Out That He Is Coming In Order To ‘Reprove’ Them And Put Things Right (Psalms 50:16-21).

Psalms 50:16-17

‘But to the wicked God says,

What have you to do to declare my statutes,

And that you have taken my covenant in your mouth,

Seeing you hate instruction,

And cast my words behind you?’

God challenges ‘the wicked’ for their hypocrisy in that they hate His instruction and cast His words behind them, and yet declare His statutes and take His covenant in their mouths. In Israelite society this was almost inevitable for any who wanted to demonstrate their respectability and yet had no wish really to obey God, but that gave them no excuse before God. Rather the opposite. In the same way today many pay lip service to God, but by their lives they deny Him.

The Psalmist then goes on to give examples of their disobedience to God’s instruction and statutes., demonstrating how they ‘cast His words behind them’.

Psalms 50:18-21

‘When you saw a thief, you consented with him,

And have been partaker with adulterers.

You give your mouth to evil,

And your tongue frames deceit.

You sit and speak against your brother,

You slander your own mother’s son.

These things have you done, and I kept silence,

You thought that I was altogether such a one as yourself,

But I will reprove you,

And set things in order before your eyes.’

Examples of their perfidy are now presented in detail. Instead of convicting thieves, they allow them to get away with it, and share with them in their ill-gotten gains. They have partaken in adultery and have not reproved it in others. They speak evil with their mouths, and deceive with their tongues, both by bearing false witness, and by general deception and lies. They even deliberately (they sit) and slanderously speak out wrongly and untruthfully about their own family. And foolishly they think that because God appears to do nothing about it, He is not concerned about it. They think that God is like themselves.

However, He assures them that He is not such a one as themselves. Let them recognise that He will reprove them severely and put things right in front of their eyes. Note the contrast with Psalms 50:8 where God did not reprove them in respect of their sacrifices. Now we know that He will, however, reprove them because of their sins. And we should recognise that God’s reproof can be severe and devastating, especially when He sets about putting things right. Large parts of the most painful parts of Israel’s history occurred because of His reproof, and because He was seeking to put things right.


Verse 22-23

A Final Plea To All His Covenant People (Psalms 50:22-23).

God now makes a final plea to them to consider their ways, and not forget Him. For if they do He will stand by when they are being torn in pieces and will not deliver them. For His salvation is only available to those who offer up to Him the ‘sacrifice’ of genuine thanksgiving, and order their ways aright.

Psalms 50:22-23

‘Now consider this,

You who forget God,

Lest I tear you in pieces,

And there be none to deliver,

Whoever offers the sacrifice of thanksgiving,

Glorifies me,

And to him who orders his way (aright) ,

Will I show the salvation of God.

God closes by calling on those who have ‘forgotten’ Him in their lives to consider what He says lest He tear them in pieces like a wild animal tears its prey, and there is no one to deliver them at the time of their distress.

Indeed He wants them to recognise that His deliverance is only available to those who glorify Him by offering to Him the sacrifice of thanksgiving, and who order their way aright. It is to such that He will show the salvation of God. (‘Aright’ is not in the text but clearly has to be read in. The point is that in ‘ordering their way’ rather than living loosely they are doing so in terms of God’s requirements). Those who want to experience YHWH’s salvation will only do so if they respond to Him from a true heart.

 


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Bibliography Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Psalms 50:4". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/pet/psalms-50.html. 2013.

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