The Mighty God
Psalms 50:1-6 NASB A Psalm of Asaph. The Mighty One, God, the LORD, has spoken, And summoned the earth from the rising of the sun to its setting. (2) Out of Zion, the perfection of beauty, God has shone forth. (3) May our God come and not keep silence; Fire devours before Him, And it is very tempestuous around Him. (4) He summons the heavens above, And the earth, to judge His people: (5) "Gather My godly ones to Me, Those who have made a covenant with Me by sacrifice." (6) And the heavens declare His righteousness, For God Himself is judge. Selah.
The Names of God
It is a common fact of the Old Testament: names are not just labels stuck on people. In this time, people expected that your name meant something — and that it described you in some sense. This is true for the names of God in this passage as well. There are three such names here:
· El — this comes from the root word meaning "mighty." Sometimes translated as "Almighty," it carries with it the idea of great power.
· Elohim — this is the plural of the previous word. It is something like to use in the English language of a royal plural; as Queen Victoria once said, "we are not amused." The fact that both the singular and plural versions are used is curious until you read the New Testament. The doctrine of the Trinity is hinted at in the Old Testament, but never really explicitly stated.
· Jehovah — this is the Hebrew for "I am." It proclaims God as the self existent one, the one who is not contingent on any other being. It is the personal name by which God identified himself to Moses.
The use of all three names is an unusual combination. We may infer that the psalmist meant to impress us.
Out of Zion
The interpretation of poetry is never an exact science. Sometimes we are reduced to speculation concerning what the poet really meant. Particularly difficult phrase in this one is the second verse. The clause, "the perfection of beauty," is the particularly difficult one. It has some interesting implications:
· It associates beauty with God. An artist would see this simply as a matter of perfection. Therefore we must conclude that perfection itself exists. This has enormous implications. For example it implies there is a perfect standard of behavior.
· Such beauty is said to shine forth. In other words, such perfection is visible to us in some way.
· Note please that this is not necessarily referring to natural beauty in God's creation. This beauty is associated with God.
In the third verse the poet uses the unusual phrasing, "may our God come." If you read the rest of this section, you cannot help but come to the conclusion that the poet wants God to come in a way most of us would not appreciate. We are all for the gentle Jesus; we appreciate the comfort he brings. But do we really want the God before whom fire devours? Indeed, the poet here gives us three characteristics of this God which might describe the second coming of Christ just as well as a visitation in the Old Testament.
· First, he is not silent. God has no intention of sneaking up on us. This will be an event quite visible and heard.
· May I point out the next important word: fire? The New Testament mind leaps immediately to the fires of hell.
· In a curious phrasing, the psalmist declares that it is "very tempestuous around Him." The modern airplane traveler might think of the word turbulence; think of the most difficult flight you've ever had.
This would be very difficult to interpret without the concept of Judgment Day.
Gather My Godly Ones
This passage probably made only dark sense to the ancient Jew. We can interpret it in the light of the New Testament. Simply put, there will come a day when God arrives in visible power, accompanied by the resurrection of the dead, resulting in a new heaven and a new earth after he has passed judgment upon all of mankind. This particular passage speaks only of the resurrection of the godly; we are assured in Revelation that those who are in Christ rise first.
Here we find a hidden meaning: the covenant of sacrifice. This would mean the sacrifices he made at the altar in the Tabernacle (when this Psalm was written) and later the Temple. That would be the Old Testament interpretation. But we also know that Christ is our sacrificial lamb, and therefore we are bound to God by a covenant of sacrifice as well. The reason we take communion each week is so that we will remember that sacrifice. Given such a memorial, it must be important.
The last key fact emerge from this section is that God himself will judge. This tells us that the judgment will be righteous; those who have earned the reward will receive it. God is both righteous and abundant. The reader will recall that God himself will use the standard by which we judge others (or refrain from judging others) in judging us. This too is justice.
Psalms 50:7-15 NASB "Hear, O My people, and I will speak; O Israel, I will testify against you; I am God, your God. (8) "I do not reprove you for your sacrifices, And your burnt offerings are continually before Me. (9) "I shall take no young bull out of your house Nor male goats out of your folds. (10) "For every beast of the forest is Mine, The cattle on a thousand hills. (11) "I know every bird of the mountains, And everything that moves in the field is Mine. (12) "If I were hungry I would not tell you, For the world is Mine, and all it contains. (13) "Shall I eat the flesh of bulls Or drink the blood of male goats? (14) "Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving And pay your vows to the Most High; (15) Call upon Me in the day of trouble; I shall rescue you, and you will honor Me."
Does God Approve?
This passage is somewhat unusual in the Old Testament for the fact that it does not condemn meaningless sacrifices. Remember that Asaph was a contemporary of King David. Worship in his days was honest and sincere, we may assume. Therefore God approves. We may make the same extension today about our own worship services. Supposing that they meet the standard of sincerity and some attempt to worship in the fashion which God would approve, it would seem reasonable to think that he does approve. This would also apply to our tithes and offerings, which parallel the sacrifices of the Old Testament time. Note, please, the measurement is not how many decibels the guitar player can crank out his amplifier — but the honest sincerity of the congregation singing along.
Does God Need?
Note the phrasing here: it implies that God has no need or desire to reach down into the land of Israel and scoop up a few more goats or bulls to be sacrificed to him. In other words, Israel was doing just fine with this. More to the point, God here proclaims his ownership of all things created. As such, we are simply returning to him what he has given to us. Logically, therefore, he has no real need to grasp at anything we have.
The expression here stresses the abundance of what God has. The phrase, "the cattle on a 1000 hills," has passed into the English language as a sign of riches. Even more, God makes it very clear that if he wanted more the last place He would go to get it would be from us. It makes sense if you view everything you have as a gift from God.
So What Does God Want?
Okay, what is it that God wants — if it's not another bull on the altar? The psalmist gives us three things:
· First, offer him your thanksgiving. Be thankful for the things that he has given you; be vocal about it.
· Keep your promises to God. If you have made a declaration to him that you will do this, that or the other than follow through. You prefer to deal with an honest man; so does God.
· Call upon him when you are in trouble. Why? Because he will come to your rescue and give you reason to praise him – as he so richly deserves.
What Right Do You Have?
Psalms 50:16-21 NASB But to the wicked God says, "What right have you to tell of My statutes And to take My covenant in your mouth? (17) "For you hate discipline, And you cast My words behind you. (18) "When you see a thief, you are pleased with him, And you associate with adulterers. (19) "You let your mouth loose in evil And your tongue frames deceit. (20) "You sit and speak against your brother; You slander your own mother's son. (21) "These things you have done and I kept silence; You thought that I was just like you; I will reprove you and state the case in order before your eyes.
The Implied Problem
Americans as a rule are quite familiar with the thought that our justice system may be used to protect the guilty. The price we pay for having a system which is intended to be impartial is that we sometimes acquit the guilty. The wicked are entitled to use the laws of our country to escape punishment, if they can. Often enough, this bothers the honest citizen. It appears that the Almighty has the same opinion.
The problem extends to the church as well. In any particular church, particularly in our age, there will be those who are minimal believers. The wicked look at such people and make them their standard of comparison. They criticize such believers. Often enough, so do the serious Christians. The serious Christian challenges this with an eye to correcting it.
The wicked have a different purpose. They look at such people and use them to justify themselves. I suspect this is the primary use of hypocrites — to make other sinners feel good.
Please note that there is no logical sense to this. It amounts to saying, "you are bad. I am worse. Therefore I am justified in being evil." It makes no sense – but it is a common opinion. This in no way fools the Almighty.
Who Is He Talking about?
It helps us here to see who the wicked really are. There are three criteria:
· These people accept neither God's word nor God's discipline. Their own pride substitutes for these things.
· These are people who are pleased with evil. Adultery is "enhancing your marriage." Theft is "redistribution of assets."
· Most telling of all, these people speak evil. They are quick to defend what is vile.
It does seem that this makes it rather cut and dried, doesn't it?
God Kept Silent
There is always a temptation in Christian prayer to give advice to the Almighty. One of the most common bits of advice is this: wouldn't this be a good time to smite the evil? How about a lightning bolt directly in the head of some notable, anti-Christian leader? While we can sense the frustration, we must admit that God has a different point of view. He wants that all men should be saved, that none should perish. Hitting somebody with a lightning bolt is tantamount to saying it is impossible for them to repent. It may be very difficult, but nothing is impossible with God.
That's now. The day is coming when God's patience will run out, and he will return to judge the living and the dead.
No Fence to Sit on
Psalms 50:22-23 NASB "Now consider this, you who forget God, Or I will tear you in pieces, and there will be none to deliver. (23) "He who offers a sacrifice of thanksgiving honors Me; And to him who orders his way aright I shall show the salvation of God."
The choice is quite simple:
· Either you are one of those who forget God completely, and for you there is no deliverer; you will be torn to pieces, thrown in the outer darkness where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth.
· Or you are one who thanks God, orders your ways as he would desire — and is therefore shown salvation.
As the days approach the end of the age, the fence you want to sit on has sharper and sharper pickets. In the end, you must decide. If you fail to decide, you have decided.