The Worship Acceptable to God
1 A psalm of Asaph.[b]
[c]The Lord, the God of gods,[d]
has spoken and summoned the earth
from the rising of the sun to its setting.
2 From Zion, perfect in beauty,
God shines forth.
3 Our God is coming, and he will not be silent;
he is preceded by a devouring fire,
and a raging tempest surrounds him.[e]
4 He summons the heavens above
and the earth to judge his people:
5 “Gather before me my faithful servants
who made a covenant with me by sacrifice.”[f]
6 The heavens proclaim his saving justice,
for God himself is the judge.[g] Selah
7 [h]“Listen, my people, and I will speak.
O Israel, I will testify against you.
I am God, your God.
8 I do not rebuke you for your sacrifices,
for your burnt offerings are constantly before me.
9 “I will not accept a young bull from your homes
or goats from your folds.
10 For all the living creatures of the forest are mine,
animals by the thousands on my hills.
11 I know every bird of the air,
and whatever moves in the fields belongs to me.
12 “If I were hungry, I would not tell you,
for the world is mine, and all that it holds.
13 Do I eat the flesh of bulls
or drink the blood of goats?
14 “Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving
and fulfill your vows to the Most High.
15 Then if you cry out to me in time of trouble,
I will rescue you, and you will honor me.”
16 [i]But to the wicked God says:
“How can you recite my statutes
or profess my covenant on your lips?
17 For you loathe my instruction
and cast my words behind you.
18 “When you meet a thief, you join him;
you revel in the company of adulterers.
19 You employ your mouth for evil,
and your tongue frames deceit.
20 “You willingly speak against your brother
and slander the child of your own mother.
21 When you do such things, can I remain silent?
Do you think that I am[j] like you?
I will correct you
and set the charge before your face.
22 “Remember this, you who forget God,[k]
lest I tear you to pieces
and there be no one to rescue you.
23 He who offers a sacrifice of thanksgiving honors me;
to him who follows my way
I will show the salvation of God.”
- Psalm 50:1 This psalm takes the form of an indictment against God’s people for the formalistic practice of their religion and a request for sacrifices of praise accompanied by obedience. It is divided into three parts: (1) the announcement of the Lord’s arrival and the convening of the court (vv. 1-6); (2) the Lord’s words of correction (vv. 7-15); (3) his rebuke for the wicked and promise of reward or punishment (vv. 16-23). The psalm itself may have been composed for a temple liturgy for reaffirming commitment to the covenant.
In praying this psalm, we should recall that Jesus also condemned formalism. Christ does not reproach us for our external worship, our beautiful liturgical celebrations, vows, oblations, or sacrifices. However, all these must truly reflect sentiments of profound religion—“a living sacrifice that is holy and acceptable to God” (Rom 12:1).
- Psalm 50:1 Asaph: probably a choral leader in the Jerusalem temple (see notes on Pss 73–89).
- Psalm 50:1 The author knows how to conjure up the whole apparatus of a divine manifestation. God himself solemnly appears to challenge those who dishonor worship and the law and to recall for them the great demands of the covenant. Israel must realize that the God of Zion is the God of Sinai (see Ex 19:16-20). It is a picture of the Last Judgment.
- Psalm 50:1 The Lord, the God of gods: in Hebrew, a threefold formula for the divine name that can also be translated as: “The Mighty One, God, the Lord.” It is found elsewhere only in Jos 22:22 (also see Deut 10:17). This psalm is notable for the seven names or other titles it uses for God (v. 1: the God of gods [or: The Mighty One], “God,” “Lord”; v. 6: “judge”; v. 14: “Most High”; v. 21: “I am”; v. 22: “God”—alternative word, Eloah).
- Psalm 50:3 The Lord is the Ruler of the universe and his appearance is attended by phenomena calculated to create awe in his subjects: fire and a tempest. When he comes in judgment, he is like a consuming fire (see Deut 4:24; 9:3; Isa 66:16; Heb 12:29); in his anger, he may also storm like a tempest (see Isa 66:15).
- Psalm 50:5 Those consecrated to the Lord had made a covenant with him that was sealed by sacrifices (see Ex 24:4-8).
- Psalm 50:6 Judge: a title for God (see Ps 94:2; Gen 18:25; Jdg 11:27).
- Psalm 50:7 Pagans might have imagined that they owed food subsidies to their gods; the Lord has no need of our earthly goods, for everything belongs to him. This diatribe against purely external worship occurs often in the Bible, notably in the Prophets (see 1 Sam 15:22; 1 Chr 29:16-19; Isa 1:10-16; 29:13f; 58:1-8; Jer 6:20; 7:21; Hos 6:6; Joel 2:12; Mic 6:5-8; Zec 7:4-6; Mal 1:10) and is also found elsewhere in the Psalter (see Pss 40:7-9; 51:18f, etc.). The passages do not condemn sacrifices or worship in general, but only the formalism that is satisfied with performing external rites. We cannot bribe God; we can only acknowledge him by prayer and thanksgiving: this was the constant attitude of Jesus toward his Father. Truly religious persons are aware of their limitations; they await everything from God and realize that they owe him everything. The Gospel will lay a heavy emphasis on this teaching (see Mt 5:23; 12:7; Mk 12:33), and Paul will in turn repeat it in his instruction on worship in spirit (Rom 12:1; Phil 2:17; 3:3).
- Psalm 50:16 Another type of formalism is to have religion or the law on one’s lips more than in one’s heart and life. There is no authentic faith unless it includes a moral commitment and notably that of justice and respect toward others: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my heavenly Father” (Mt 7:21).
- Psalm 50:21 I am: the formula that reveals the name of the Lord in the Old Testament (see Ex 3:14; Isa 41:4, 10, 14; 43:1-3, 10, 13). See notes on Mk 4:26; 6:50.
- Psalm 50:22 God: here the Hebrew is a relatively rare poetic word, Eloah, found frequently in Job (see also Pss 18:33; 139:19; Deut 32:15, 17; Hab 3:3).