George Booker
Psalms Studies - Book 2

Psalm 50

1. Structure

1-7         The call of God

8-13         Sacrifices will avail nothing

14,15         A more worthy sacrifice

16-21         The hypocritical actions of the wicked

22,23         The call of God renewed

2. Title

Asaph was a prominent Levite appointed by David to supervise the praise of the sanctuary (1 Chron. 16:4,5). “The sons of Asaph” were still represented in the temple organization in the time of Hezekiah (2 Chron. 29:13). And there was actually another Asaph in that reign, the father of Hezekiah’s secretary of state (2 Kings 18:18,26). It will be seen from the commentary that all twelve of the Asaph psalms belong to the time of Hezekiah. But it remains an unsolved problem why this one should be separated from the rest (73-83) by a large block of psalms of David. That there should be twelve of these is appropriate to Hezekiah’s splendid attempt to reunify the twelve tribes of the northern and southern kingdoms. In particular, this Psalm 50 reads very readily as an appeal to the northern tribes to resume their loyalty to Jehovah and His temple in Jerusalem.

3. The call of God: vv. 1-7

Here, by all means, give attention to 2 Chronicles 30, especially vv. 1-14.

The mighty God, the Lord. Hebrew: El Elohim Jehovah. This remarkable title of God comes in only one other passage: Josh. 22:22, where it occurs twice. It can hardly be doubted that the allusion is deliberate and significant, for that chapter is all about an earlier possible rift in the unity of the twelve tribes. Verses 23 and 26-29 there are especially important. The issue both there and here (i.e. in Hezekiah’s day) was loyalty to the central sanctuary of the Lord, particularly in the matter of sacrifice. This principle is developed below in vv. 8-13.
Out of Zion. Not from Dan or Bethel, the former of which was now in ruins.

The perfection of beauty. Zion is so called in Psa. 48:2. Also see Acts 3:2, and the very sad quotation in Lam. 2:15.

God hath shined. An allusion to Deut. 33:2, where the “saints” are mentioned again (cp. v. 5 here). But that is the old covenant at Sinai; this is the new covenant in Christ (see Par. 7).
Our God shall come, and shall not keep silence: a fire shall devour before him, and it shall be very tempestuous round about him. A promise of a violent divine intervention on behalf of a shattered land. It came in the destruction of Sennacherib’s army: Isa. 30:30,31.
He shall call to the heavens (the angels: Isa. 37:36), and to the earth (the Land), that he may judge (on behalf of) his people.
Gather my saints (holy people). In this verse is the divine sanction behind the great attempt of Hezekiah to unify all Israel: 2 Chron. 30.

Those that have made a covenant with me by sacrifice, i.e. the covenant of Exod. 24:3-8, which — apostasy notwithstanding — had not yet been disannulled.
The heavens (angels again) shall declare his righteousness in the judgment on the Assyrians.
Hear... O Israel. The reference to the Shema (Deut. 6:4), is unmistakable, and perfectly appropriate with reference to a people which had brought in Baal and other gods alongside Jehovah.

I am God — and there is none else.

4. The first exhortation: vv. 8-15: Duty to God

In these paragraphs, God is not rejecting sacrifices as such. Such a sweeping conclusion is impossible in the light of the abundant details in 2 Chronicles 29 and 30. What is being rejected is the way in which Israel in its self-appointed sanctuaries went on blithely offering sacrifices (“Your burnt offerings are continually before me”: v. 8, RSV), while being in spirit completely estranged from Zion and Zion’s God. None of these sacrifices were worth anything in terms of real devotion; did not all these animals belong to Jehovah in the first place? (See the related exhortations in Psa. 51:16,17; Prov. 21:3; Mic. 6:6-8; Isa. 1:11-13; Jer. 6:20; 7:22,23; 1 Sam. 15:22.)

God is Spirit, and they that worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth (John 4:24). Services of a mechanical sort, as to outward form (whether it be Mosaic ritual and offering — or Sunday School, memorial meeting, and daily readings) will avail nothing, and are in fact abominations, if not accompanied by sincere devotion of the heart.

This was why it was necessary not only for the prodigal ten tribes to return, but to return in the right spirit. The positive exhortation is summed up in vv. 14, 15: Call upon me in the day of trouble, as happened time and again in the era of the Judges. The north had already suffered terrible ravages from the Assyrians, yet even from this (humanly) irresistible force they would be delivered, and would have more cause than ever to glorify their God.

5. The second exhortation: vv. 16-21: Duty to one’s neighbor

The “wicked” (“a larger class than is generally supposed”: Eureka, vol. 1, p. 16) have no business offering any sacrifice to the Lord. Sacrifices offered in the right spirit are necessary. But so also is a life of wholesome morality, of which the wicked know nothing. All this had been lost sight of in the northern kingdom: Thou... castest my Words (the Ten Commandments, quoted in vv. 18-20) behind thee; hence the divine reproof (v. 21) administered in current tribulation. (Is the “wicked” in v. 16 another reference to, and are the words of vv. 16-21 another reproof of, the vainglorious Shebna? See Psa. 49 again.)

6. The call of God renewed: vv. 22 and 23

There were only two options — to go on forgetting God, and be torn in pieces with none to deliver; or to turn to Him in a spirit of (anticipatory) thanksgiving and with strong resolution to amend one’s ways. This latter would guarantee the salvation of God.

In this last phrase Isaiah put his signature to the psalm. None was better qualified, either personally or by inspiration, to write this unusual psalm. Some scholars (e.g. Boutflower) think that Ahaz’s animosity drove Isaiah into temporary exile in the northern kingdom. What more appropriate visiting card could he leave than Psalm 50? A perusal of Isaiah 1:2-20 reveals marked similarities to Psalm 50, both in phrasing and theme — a further evidence that Isaiah wrote the psalm.

7. Messianic fulfillment

Both the Hezekiah prototype and the character of the language throughout calls for a further application to wayward Israel in the Last Days.

Out of Zion... God hath shined. This requires that Messiah be now established as King in Jerusalem; v. 3 fully confirms this. Here is the Old Testament anticipation of Matt. 24:29-31 and 13:49; and v. 1 is matched by Matt. 24:27. Compare also Psa. 80:1, where the Cherubim of Divine Glory “shine forth” in a great “theophany”.
Our God shall come, and shall not keep silence, in marked contrast with the silence of long centuries.

A fire shall devour before him, and it shall be very tempestuous round about him. Consider the fire in Ezek. 1:13, and the whirlwind in Ezek. 1:4. For Christ coming in divine manifestation, see also Isa. 66:15,16; Psa. 18:8,12,13; Jer. 25:30-33; 2 Thes. 1:7,8; Heb. 12:29; 2 Pet. 3:3,4,7,10,12.
He shall call to the heavens from above, and to the earth, that he may judge his people. This is the language of Deut. 30:19 and 31:28. Now is Israel’s final day of accountability. This verse is quoted in Heb. 10:30, and v. 5 here links with 10:14,16 there (saints, covenant). This is doubly appropriate, for the letter to the Hebrews is one long appeal to Jewish believers who were drifting away into disloyalty.
A covenant: “For this is my blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins” (Matt. 26:28).

A covenant with me by sacrifice. “We have... now to do with... the bema, or Supreme Court, the judicial bench, styled in Rom. 14:10, and 2 Cor. 5:10, ‘the Judgment Seat of Christ’. All who have made a covenant with Yahweh by sacrifice and are in any way related to ‘the Covenants of Promise’, will be gathered (Psa. 50:5) and stand before this” (Eureka, vol. 3, p. 585). That this great Judgment Seat will be in Zion is evident by a comparison of v. 5 with v. 2 (also see Isa. 66:22,23; Psa. 87:6; 133:3; Gal. 4:26; Matt. 25:31).
And the heavens shall declare his righteousness. “The new heavens and the new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness” (Isa. 66:22; 2 Pet. 3:13; cp. Psa. 19:1).
Hear, O my people. This is God’s invitation to wayward Israel in Psa. 81:8 — appropriate and necessary right up to the last.
Both paragraphs are just as appropriate to Israel today as ever they were. True, they have no literal animal sacrifices. But there is much the same mentality in most of the nation. And the need for a moral reformation is abundantly necessary.
Call upon me in the day of trouble: I will deliver thee. A specially important verse for Israel in the Last Days. For soon there will come such tribulation as they have never known (Jer. 30:7 and context). Only a widespread repentance in which they glorify God will save them.
These verses again present the alternatives — either torn in pieces; or glorifying God and experiencing the salvation of God.

8. Day of Atonement

Several indications suggest that this psalm was drafted for use on this very special Day:

Allusions to the shining forth of the Shekinah Glory (vv. 2,3).
The assembling of all God’s people at the sanctuary in Zion (v. 5).
A day of judgment (vv. 4,6). The Day of Atonement is universally regarded in Jewry as a day of judgment, as well as of forgiveness.
Vv. 8-13: All other sacrifices pale into insignificance compared with the great sin-offering on this Day.
Vv. 16-21 express the spirit of repentance which the Day calls for.
“The perfection of beauty” (v. 2) links with Acts 3:2 (the temple gate called “Beautiful”), where a highly important Day of Atonement is described: There Israel was called upon to “repent”, so that her “sins may be blotted out” when the great High Priest comes with a blessing “from the presence of the Lord” (Acts 3:19-21,26) — all Day of Atonement language!

9. Other details

Continually. This is the standard Hebrew word for the daily burnt offering.
The cattle upon a thousand hills. “How far a wandering herd of cattle can carry our thoughts — either to envy of the man who owns them and a lust for similar power, or to a realization of the supreme power of God and His all-pervading influence in our lives” (L.F. Cox).
If I were hungry. Five times in Lev. 21 the sacrifices are called “the bread of God”.

The world is mine. See notes, Psa. 24:1,4. Their deliverance from Egypt showed God’s power over all creation and over all false “gods” (Exod. 9:29). At His behest, the Israelites went into Sinai to offer “sacrifice”, and never returned. They had become themselves the “living sacrifices”!
Thanksgiving = Sacrifices of thanksgiving, and so also in v. 23. Heb. 13:15 refers to this, and borrows continually from v. 8 here. We can offer acceptable praise and thanksgiving only through Christ, who is our “altar” (Heb. 13:10). He is also the true sacrifice that no animal can ever be (vv. 8-11 here).
Paul makes the same reproach: Rom. 2:21,22.

Castest my words behind thee. A pointed allusion to 1 Kings 14:9, to Jeroboam, whose evil took Israel into apostasy.
And I kept silence: Compare Eccl. 8:11:

“Because sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil.”

Thou thoughtest that I was altogether such an one as thyself. In its various forms, this is perhaps the most universal condemnation by God of the folly of men. The most common mistake — made by almost every man, whether “religious” or libertine, philosophical or indifferent, logical or sensual — is to think that God is like himself, and therefore to presume that God will be pleased with (or at the very least will be complacent toward) behavior which He has by His word specifically condemned. This was the grievous error of Cain — in thinking that a “sacrifice” with which he himself was pleased would naturally please God also (Prov. 14:12). How many times since his day has such folly been repeated!
Whoso offereth praise glorifieth me: and to him that ordereth his conversation (life) aright will I shew the salvation of God. “ ‘Fill every part of me with praise, let all my being speak of Thee and Thy love, O Lord, poor though I be and weak.’ And then, as by some sub-lime alchemy, the praise is transmuted into personal sanctification ... and the command goes forth (v. 5) to gather unto God His sanctified ones... and we begin to realize that this heaven-sent sanctity can encircle us all our days” (N.P. Holt).

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