Psalm 50 is written by Asaph. This is the first psalm we have encountered that is written by Asaph. The rest of Asaph’s psalms are found in Psalms 73-83. Asaph is the chief of the Levitical singers mentioned in 1 Chronicles 6:39. He was in charge of the song service in the temple at Jerusalem and was appointed to serve before the ark of the Lord, make petition, give thanks, and praise the Lord (1 Chronicles 16:4). This psalm is a psalm about God’s judgment on the peoples.
I. God Convenes the Courtroom (50:1-6)
A. God the judge comes
- The first six verses describe the convening of the court for judgment. God, the Lord, God, speaks as he summons all the earth from the east and from the west. Out of Zion comes the Lord, shining forth in splendor, perfect in beauty.
- Notice the description of how the Lord comes: a devouring fire precedes him and a storm rages around him. This would call to the Jewish mind the coming of the Lord to Mount Sinai, as a great storm of fire, smoke, and noise shook the earth.
B. God the judge summons
- Further, God has summoned all the people of the earth, from east and west, in order to execute judgment. Judgment time has come against all the peoples. God will not be silent. Therefore, God begins with his faithful ones, which are those who are in a covenant relationship with the Lord.
- We must remember that God has promised for judgments to begin with his own people first. “For the time has come for judgment to begin with God’s household, and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who disobey the gospel of God?” (1 Peter 4:17). We often think of judgment strictly against the wicked. But judgment must be reached against all peoples. So God comes forth as the righteous judge, summoning the world to the courtroom, where God will begin judgment upon his faithful ones.
II. God’s First Judgment (50:7-15)
A. Proper worship
- God begins in verse 8 by telling his covenant people that they are not judged for their sacrifices. The burnt offerings remained before the Lord. The sacrifices did not cease. But within the sacrifices we see that there was a problem. Though not explicitly stated, the Lord begins to correct a false view that the covenant people had regarding their sacrifices and worship. It seems the people believed that God needed them to perform these acts for him.
- God says he does not need the animal sacrifices because every animal of the forest, the cattle on a thousand hills, every bird of the mountains, and all the creatures of the field are his. It is not as if God is hungry. And even if God were hungry, he would not tell us since all of the world is his and all that is in the world is his. What we may not realize is that the other gods of Mesopotamia required humans to provide them meals three times a day. God says he is not like the gods that man makes up in their minds where the god needs man to do things for him. Our God has no need at all. Does God need to eat and drink? Not at all!
- Man’s duty is to offer thanks to God. Since God does not need us, how true are the words, “what is man that you are mindful of him?” (Psalm 8:4). God is not like what man conjures in his own mind. The duties of worship are not about performing an act because God needs it for his existence. We need to worship God for our own sakes. The sacrifices were acts that caused Israel to acknowledge and repent of their sins, give thanks for deliverance, and celebrate fellowship with God.
- Therefore, when we worship God, we must not think that these things are done because God needs these things done. God prescribed the various acts of worship because we need them so that we will acknowledge and repent of our sins. God gave us worship so that we would be thankful people who would be encouraged and motivated to remain in fellowship with God. God is pleased when our worship strikes the chords of our hearts. The act itself does not sustain the Lord.
- Therefore, God commands the people to offer their sacrifices of thanks with this knowledge. By doing so, God promises to be there for his people in the day of trouble. How we treat God is important to what kind of relationship we have with God.
III. God’s Second Judgment (50:16-23)
- In verse 16 we see a shift in the audience as the Lord now addresses the wicked rather than those in a covenant relationship with the Lord. As we read verse 16 we clearly see that these people believe they are in a covenant relationship with God, since they recite the statutes of the Lord and recite God’s covenant with their lips.
- The hypocrisy was evident to the Lord. These people hated the instruction of the Lord and turn their backs on God’s words. This is a very deep problem that God identifies. How can God’s people not want to be instructed by God? How can God’s people turn their backs on God’s word? Yet we must examine ourselves to be sure that do not fall into the same trap of hypocrisy. We may have the law of God on our lips, but are we desiring to be instructed by the Lord? God wants hearts that will transform to his teachings.
- But the hypocrisy went further. These people consent to the evil deeds of others. When they saw a thief, they consented with him. They joined in with the adulterers. Their mouths were full of evil and their tongues were full of deceit. These hypocrites even continually speak against their own families, slandering every person they know. It is amazing to read these words that these were the actions of those who claimed to be in a covenant relationship with God. But even still, this is also true today. While we may not have the known problem of sexual sins and may not give our consent to thieves, we certainly find ourselves falling into the trap of slandering others. God defines those who speak words against another person as a wicked person. Our tongues are no small matter and we need to be so careful concerning the words we say about others.
- “You have done these things, and I kept silent; you thought I was just like you.” What a strong warning that God gives against these wicked hypocrites. These people thought they were getting away with what they were doing. They assumed by the silence of God that they were still acceptable to God. God does not strike lightning upon us when we error and sin. God remains silent and watches our response. The problem is that we have the tendency to think that God is just like us. We like bringing God down to our level, assuming that what we deem to be acceptable is acceptable to God. But we are fooling ourselves. Therefore we are warned to not assume that God accepts our ways.
- “But I will rebuke you and lay out the case before you.” But now God is ready to bring judgment against the actions of the hypocrites. The Lord returns to using litigation language as God speaks of laying out the case against them. God is pictured as prosecuting the hypocrites based upon their own deeds and the evidence is mounting. God is aware of our actions and the evidence builds against us when we are not repentant and confessing our sins.
- ” I will tear you apart.” It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. Forgetting God has severe consequences. The image used for divine judgment is that of a lion or similar beast tearing its helpless prey. Further, there will be no one to rescue these people from this judgment. We must never allow our worship to simply become an external action that lacks zeal and love for God. When we are merely going through the routine of having God on our lips, yet our lives do not conform to the standards of God, the Lord says he will tear us apart in judgment. We cannot think that we are God’s covenant people when we are exercising such obvious disobedience.
- Salvation of God will come to those who offerings praise and glorify God. Salvation of God will come for those who order the conduct of their lives in the ways of righteousness. We cannot and will not fool God with hypocritical lives. The Hebrew word in Psalm 50:23 that is translated “orders” is a word that depicts the imagery of the athlete’s determined fixation on the goal or finish line. God is calling for a focused concentration that will not allow the runner to deviate to the left or to the right. The athlete’s path is fixed. So the call is for us to run the race, fix our eyes on the goal, and not deviate from the path of God to receive the salvation of God.