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Bible Commentaries

Hengstenberg on John, Revelation, Ecclesiastes, Ezekiel & Psalms

Psalms 50

Psalms 50

THE Psalm contains a rebuke to the hypocrites, who though to satisfy God by going through the round of outward services, and keeping the law on their lips. As formerly, at the giving of the law on Sinai, so now God appears on Zion for the explanation of it, and for judgment against its transgressors, Psalms 50:1-6. He discovers first, after an introduction in Psalms 50:7, in Psalms 50:8-15, the reigning errors in reference to the first table of the law, and shows wherein the true service of God consists. We have not to do with him about the external sacrifices as such. For were he to be served with these, since he is the Lord of all that lives, they are at his command in infinite fulness, so that he does not need to apply to men for them, Psalms 50:8-12; and how, indeed, could he be served therewith, since he is a spirit? Psalms 50:13. Because it is spirit, it is only spiritual sacrifices that could be acceptable to him, a heart full of gratitude and love: whoever offers these may depend upon his help in all troubles, Psalms 50:14-15. From the first table of the law, the discourse turns in Psalms 50:16-21, to the second. It reproves those who have the law of God constantly in their mouth, and, at the same time, wickedly transgress it in their behaviour towards their neighbour. In an impressive conclusion, Psalms 50:22 and Psalms 50:23, the subject of God’s discourse is briefly resumed.

Asaph is named in the superscription as author. The most natural supposition, that this Asaph is identical with him, who in 1 Chronicles 15:17, 1 Chronicles 15:19, is named as one of the first master-musicians of David, and in 2 Chronicles 29:30, (comp. 1 Chronicles 25:1) along with David as a composer of Psalms, has nothing against it in the contents. The fundamental thought, that the sacrifice of the heart is alone well-pleasing to God, is also declared in the following Psalm composed by David, which, on account of this very agreement, has been placed immediately after it. The times of David presented very peculiar occasion for giving emphatic announcement to this thought—comp. the introd. to Psalms 15 and to Psalms 24. It is remarkable, that the voice against the false estimate of the external worship of God, proceeded from the quarter which was expressly charged with its administration. Asaph, according to 1 Chronicles 6:24, was of the tribe of Levi.

We have still some remarks to make on the doctrinal matter of the Psalm. The less that sinful man is able to conceal from himself, that God has demands to make upon him, the more important does he feel it to have God for a friend, and also the more difficult to present what alone is truly well-pleasing to him. Hence, in order to silence the voice of conscience, he makes all sorts of efforts to be quit of him on easier terms through something external. Now, under the Old Covenant, this feeling ran out upon the sacrifices and the other holy services. The opposition between the moral and the ceremonial law is not properly that of the internal and the external; it is rather of the naked, and of the veiled internal. Every ceremonial law is moral; the external action is always commanded simply for the sake of the internal, which it expresses, represents. There is never body without spirit. But the fleshly sense savours not the spirit, and cleaves simply to the body, which thus isolated becomes a corpse. Now, if the revelation under the Old Covenant had been confined to the law of Moses, there had been room for the complaint, that in it this error had not been more decidedly testified against. It contains in this respect only some scattered indications, comp. for example, Genesis 4:3-5, where, with an external similarity, the sacrifices of Cain and Abel are quite different in their results with God, and this difference is carried back to the diversities belonging to their personal state, which amounts to an explicit declaration, that sacrifice derived its importance from being an expression of the internal condition Leviticus 26:31. But Moses himself points to the continuation of the revelation, when he announces the sending of the prophets as divinely called expositors of the law. And these executed their commission in this respect, in so powerful a manner, that only the most settled waywardness could continue in error, comp. for example Isaiah 1, Isaiah 66; Jeremiah 7:22; Micah 4:7. With them the Psalmists also unite, especially the author of this Psalm, who, with the view of again disclosing the misapprehended import of the law, makes God appear in the same majesty on Zion, in which he formerly appeared at the first giving of the law on Mount Sinai.

The Psalm has been in many ways misunderstood. The entire rejection of the Mosaic sacrificial worship has been supposed to lie here. Hence the older expositors refer it to the times of the New Testament, and to the abolition of the Mosaic worship through Christ ; while the later would find traces of an opposition between the Mosaic law and an enlightened, that is, naturalistic manner of thinking, comp. the refutation of the latter view in the Ev. K. Z. A. D. 1835, p. 641, ss. As well might one conclude from the words of H. Müller, in his Epistolical Schlusskette, p. 858: “Also has existing Christianity four dumb church-idols, after which it follows, the baptismal font, the pulpit, the confessional, the altar,” that he wished to abolish baptism, preaching, confession, and the communion.

Verses 1-6

Ver. 1. God, the almighty, the Lord speaks, and calls the earth, from the rising of the sun even unto its going down. Ver. 2. From Zion, the perfection of beauty, God shines forth. Ver. 3. Our God shall come, and he keeps not silence, fire devours before him, and round about him it is very tempestuous. Ver. 4. He calls to the heavens above, and the earth, that he judges his people. Ver. 5. “ Gather to me my saints, who close with my covenant on sacrifice.” Ver. 6. And then the heavens declare his righteousness, for God judgeth. Selah. The whole appearance is first brought out in Psalms 50:1, in brief outline: and is afterwards delineated at length. The expression, “bespeaks,” occurring as it does in the very outline, indicates that what God does speak, as given in Psalms 50:7-23, is the principal matter in the whole Psalm. The three names of God stand in apposition according to the accents, the parallel passage, Joshua 22:22, and other reasons, comp. against the exposition: of the God of gods, my Beitr. P. II. p. 261. The heaping up of names must fill the hypocrites with terror, as these bring before their eyes the majesty of him, whose judgment they underlie. In the relation of these designations there is a gradation. Elohim is more than El., to which its singular Eloah is equivalent. The plural marks the fulness and the richness of the divine nature. Jehovah is the highest name according to its derivation—it marks God as the only real being—and, according to the usage also, which ascribes to Jehovah the most glorious manifestations of God to and in behalf of his people, comp. Beitr. as above. That the earth is called upon not properly to be itself judged, but only to be present at the judgment upon the covenant-people, is expressly declared in Psalms 50:4, and is abundantly apparent from the whole contents of the Psalm. That the earth and the heavens ( Psalms 50:4) come into view not properly as instruments and servants of God in judgment, (Stier) but only as witnesses—that they are merely called upon to be present in order to make the scene more solemn, in order to shew, that the transaction which is here taking place, and the discourse that sets it forth, is of the greatest moment, worthy of being handled by the highest of all authorities, and of being heard by him, appears from the comp. of all the parallel passages of the Old Testament. Particularly decisive is here Deuteronomy 4:26, “I take to witness against you this day heaven and earth, that ye shall soon utterly perish,” where the calling upon heaven and earth cannot possibly have any other signification, than that of giving solemnity to the scene. Comp. besides Deuteronomy 32:1, which is properly to be regarded as the original passage, Isaiah 1:2.

The הופיע in Psalms 50:2, prop, to make, to glitter, or shine, then to appear shining, to shine, is here, as in Psalms 80:1, borrowed from Deuteronomy 32:2. That the Lord appears not from heaven, but from Zion, shows that the judgment to be held is a theocratic one. Even from this it is evident, that the Psalmist, throughout, proceeds on theocratic ground, and that his design cannot be to abolish the sacrificial worship, which stood in closest connection with the theocracy, and especially with the presence of the Lord on Mount Zion. In what sense Zion is named the perfection of beauty, (which Luther, after the LXX. falsely refers to God,) is clear from what has been remarked on Psalms 48:2. The greater the spiritual glory of Zion is, resting as it does upon the manifestations of her God in her, so much the more deserving of punishment are her inhabitants, who have not honoured, by truly keeping his commandments, the God who has made himself known in her, in his church. The expression: our God, in Psalms 50:3, points to the ground of the appearance of the Lord. As Israel’s God, who having given much, also requires much, he could no longer overlook the great misapprehension of his law. Instead of: be does not keep silence, some have: he shall not keep silence. But there is no ground for this ungrammatical rendering, (the אל always denies subjectively.) That he does not keep silence, has for its foundation: he shall not keep silence; and, besides, implies, that what God is going to do, is in accordance with the wishes of the Psalmist. This indication of being well pleased with the doing of the Lord is very common with the prophets and the Psalmists. The speaking in the proper sense, comp. Psalms 50:1, as it follows in Psalms 50:7-23, forms primarily the contrast to the keeping silence. But on that immediately follows, if this first step in the way of chastisement has no effect, the matter-of-fact discourse, comp. Psalms 50:21. On the words: fire devours before him, comp. Psalms 18:8. נשערה storms, comp. fire and storm, as symbols of the anger of God, his punitive righteousness, are as here, combined in the often misunderstood passage 1 Kings 19:11-12. The fire alone already meets us in this quality in the pillar of fire and cloud, comp. especially Exodus 24:17. In Deuteronomy 32:22, the divine indignation, by which Israel is consumed, appears under the image of a great fire, comp. 2 Thessalonians 1:8. In Deuteronomy 4:24, Deuteronomy 9:3, Hebrews 12:29, God himself is described as consuming fire, on account of his punitive righteousness, his indignation against sin. In reference to the winds and storms as symbols of the divine judgments compare the author’s Commentary on Revelation 7:1. The Psalmist manifestly alludes here to the frightful manifestations at the giving of the law, Exodus 19:16, Exodus 20:15. The appearances mentioned here have, in common with those there, the object spoken of it in Exodus 20:17, “that his fear may be upon you, that you sin not.” They ought to fill the heart with holy fear before the heavenly judge, while they place behind the foreground of chastising words, a background of avenging deeds.

The judging mentioned in Psalms 50:4, is according to the remarks made on Psalms 50:1, not to be explained of others: that they judge, but that he judges, for behoof of the judgment to be held by him upon his people. After the Lord has appeared in the place of judgment, and all the witnesses are already assembled there, he gives in Psalms 50:5 the command to bring the accused before him. The call is addressed to the (ideal) servants of the divine judgment. If the Psalmist had designed to speak more definitely, he would have named the angels, comp. Matthew 24:31. It is at first sight strange, that those, whom the Lord will judge as transgressors of his covenant, should be described as his saints. But the allusion to the height of their standing and destiny is particularly fitted to cause shame, on account of their present actual condition. Quite analogous is Deuteronomy 32:15, where Israel, in the very midst of the representation of his shameful revolt, is called Jeshurun—comp. the Jesharim of the whole people, in Numbers 23:10; analogous is Isaiah 42:19, “Who is blind, if not my servant, and deaf as the messenger, whom I send ? who is blind as the devotee of God, and blind as the servant of the Lord ?” עלי זבח is commonly expounded: under sacrifices, q. d. under sanction by sacrifices, comp. Exodus 24:4-8. But as the words, when so understood, are almost unnecessary, and as justice is scarcely done thereby even to the participle, it is better to explain: who make my covenant, upon sacrifice, upon the foundation, or under the condition of the sacrifice presented by them. Comp. על of the foundation, upon which any thing rests Genesis 27:40, Deuteronomy 8:3. The misunderstanding of the stipulated sacrifice, in the presentation of which, when it is spiritually considered, (comp. Psalms 50:14 and Psalms 50:23, and the Beitr. P. iii. p. 137,) the whole obligation of the people of God consisted, is set forth and censured in what follows, so that the words, thus understood, very fitly designate the theme of the succeeding context. Now, when beside the witnesses, the accused are also gathered, the judgment begins: “ and then the heavens declare,” etc., Psalms 50:6. The heavens declare the righteousness of God, in so far as the judicial voice of God, manifesting his righteousness, sounds forth from thence, comp. Exodus 20:19, to which the expression, “for God judges,” of course with words, makes express allusion. Through the partic. שפט “the action is treated as a fixed, abiding image before the eyes,” q. d. he is in the judging, comp. Ew. § 350. הוא is the copula.

Verses 7-15

Ver. 7. Hear, my people, and let me speak, Israel let me conjure thee: I am God, thy God. Ver. 8. Not on account of thy sacrifices will 1 reprove thee, and thy burnt-offerings are continually before me. Ver. 9. 1 will not take out of thy house bullocks, nor he-goats out of thy flocks. Ver. 10. For mine are all the beasts of the forest, the cattle upon the hills, where they go by thousands. Ver. 11. I know all the fowls of the mountains, and what moves upon the field is known to me. Ver. 12. Were I hungry, I would not tell thee, for mine is the world and what fills it. Ver. 13. Will I eat the flesh of bulls, and drink the blood of goats? Ver. 14. Offer to God praise, and THUS pay to the highest thy vows. Ver. 15. Then call on me in the day of trouble, and I will deliver thee, and thou wilt praise me. With Psalms 50:7 begins the speech of God as judge introduced in the preceding verse. Upon the imperative with the vau of sequence, comp. Ew. § 618. העיד with ב signifies here, as not rarely, to protest, to warn, imploringly and with the solemnity of an oath. The commencement: I am God, thy God, serves the same purpose, as the preface at the giving of the law in Exodus 20:2. It is intended to prepare the way for the following discourse. The same design is served also by the descriptions of the persons addressed. On the one side, my people and Israel, the people of God and of the covenant, on the other side God, the God of heaven and of earth, thy God, the God, who has bound Israel to himself by so many benefits, has purchased his obedience so dearly. The sense of Psalms 50:8 is: not the outward sacrifices, which ye regularly bring, but some thing much greater is the object of my accusation. In this verse it is clear, that if the outward sacrifices had not been offered, this also would have been a ground of complaint.

There follow in Psalms 50:9, ss. the grounds on account of which, God concerned himself so little about the outward sacrifices as such—first, in Psalms 50:9-12, if he needed the sacrifices, he would not require to seek them from men, as his whole creation stands at his command ; then in Psalms 50:13 his spirituality, from which the outward sacrifices, as such, can yield him no satisfaction. On the ו in היתו , Psalms 50:10, borrowed from Genesis 1:24, see Ew. § 211, b. The hills of the thousand, the hills where thousands of beasts are found.

As the expression: I know, so also the with me in Psalms 50:11 is to be referred to the knowledge. Knowledge and possession are here inseparable from one another, just as omniscience cannot exist without omnipotence, and universal dominion.

In Psalms 50:14 and Psalms 50:15, the true sacrifices are set forth in the place of the false, and a rich blessing promised to their presentation, the obligation in Psalms 50:14, the reward in Psalms 50:15. Praise (תודה has only this meaning) is here mentioned merely for the sake of individualizing, as one species of the inward worship, performed by the heart, in opposition to the purely external. But much account is made of thanksgiving. John Arnd : “The giving of thanks comprehends many virtues in itself—acknowledgment of God, as the fountain of all good; fear of God, namely, the childlike fear, which receives all benefits from God as a child from the father; humility, confessing that we have nothing of ourselves, but obtain all from God,” etc. The expression: And pay, is q. d. so shalt thou pay. Vows consisted in great part of thank-offerings, comp. Leviticus 7:11, Leviticus 7:16, Psalms 116:17-18. He only who has rendered the substance of this thank-offering, thanks, has truly paid his vow. The common import put upon: and pay, as conveying an admonition, is inadmissible, because it takes the expression, of paying the vows without farther explanation, in a spiritual sense.

The whole ( Psalms 50:15) 15th verse is of a promissory nature. It announces the reward which is appointed for the spiritual worship of God. Whoever thanks God in the right manner for deliverance obtained, may console himself in the time of distress with the assured hope of a new deliverance. Then call upon me, is q. d. if thou dost then call upon me. Thou shalt praise me, thou shalt have occasion to do this. The: call upon me, cannot be taken as a command to trust in God in the time of trouble. Even hypocrites call on God in their own way.

Verses 16-21

Ver. 16. And to the wicked God says: what hast thou to do to declare my laws, and to take my covenant into thy mouth? Ver. 17. Since thou still hatest correction, and easiest my words behind thee. Ver. 18. When thou seest a thief, then thou dost consent to him, and with adulterers is thy part. Ver. 19. Thou givest thy mouth to what is wicked, and thy tongue frameth deceit. Ver. 20. Thou sittest, speakest against thy brother, against the son of thy mother thou speakest calumny. Ver. 21. That didst thou, and I kept silence, then thoughtest thou, I was as thyself. But I will chastise thee, and will set it in order before thine eyes.— From the first table the Psalmist here turns to the second. רשע in Psalms 50:16 is, as very commonly, the wicked in the narrower sense, the evil-doer against his neighbour. The commonly understood contrast of the properly wicked against the erring members of God’s people, is an untenable one; and the Psalmist has here to do with the same individuals as in Psalms 50:7, ss. To offer to God outward, in place of spiritual sacrifices, is an error springing from heavy moral guilt; and they, who do it, always appear in scripture, as at the same time evil doers. In Isaiah 1:15, for example, the hands of the merely external worshippers are at the same time full of blood, comp. Isaiah 66:3-4. According to the parall. and the connection, by the covenant must be meant the law of God, especially in so far as it requires love toward our neighbour. This usage is found already in the law itself, comp. for example, Exodus 24:7, Exodus 34:28. The wicked takes the law into the mouth, prop, upon the mouth, for upon the lips, Exodus 23:13, 2 Samuel 13:32, in order to display his knowledge of the will of God, to teach others, and to judge others, Romans 2:18-24.

That such have no right to take the law of God into their mouth the Psalmist shows in Psalms 50:17, from the fact of their not endeavouring to reprove themselves by it, and not correcting their own deficiencies, for which the law was given to them, being there not for being spoken about, but for being done, comp. Romans 2:13. John Arnd: “Such a person was Ahab, who could appear so pious, but when Elias rebukes him, he curses, and persecutes the prophets to death, which shows he was a hypocrite, and would be taken for a pious man. But those are truly pious people, who are without hypocrisy, and to whom God’s word is a reality, who could suffer themselves to be reproved, and confess their sins, as David, when reproved by Nathan, was not indignant, but said: I have sinned against the Lord ; they who act so are no hypocrites.”

The Psalmist refers in Psalms 50:18-20, to the three commands of the decalogue: thou shalt not commit adultery, thou shalt not steal, thou shalt not speak false witness against thy neighbour. He shows the sinner how little right he had to take the commands of God into his mouth, since he violated them in succession. רצה with עם in Psalms 50:18, not: to have pleasure in any one, but to be satisfied with any one, to be of one mind with him, comp. Job 34:9, Romans 1:32, and what is related of the inhabitants of Sodom and Gibeah. Luther has, after the LXX. and Chald., derived the form falsely from רוץ . The שלח with ב in Psalms 50:19, immittere. Without foundation in the words themselves, some: thou lettest loose in thy mouth the reins to what is wicked. The expression in Psalms 50:20: thou sittest, is a delineation to the life of babbling companies, comp. on Psalms 1:1. The expression &נתן דפי דפי only here) from the general connection,—in Psalms 50:19 and Psalms 50:20 the discourse is only of sins of the tongue—from the parallelism, and from the obvious reference to the command, thou shalt not speak false witness against thy neighbour, can be understood only of evil backbitings and calumnies. נתן is best taken in the common sig. of giving, דפי in that of blow= words, through which he, or his honour, is struck down. Against the son of thy mother, is an ascending clause, since אח not rarely marks brother in a larger sense, q. d, even against thy dear brother.

The keeping silence, in Psalms 50:21, forms the contrast to a matter-of-fact discourse. I kept silence, in my long-suffering, which should have led thee to repentance, Romans 2:4, but thou, falsely interpreting my silence, thoughtest that I was (the inf. constr.) wholly as thyself, equally well inclined towards sin. Since to this silence, the expression : I will chastise thee, and thereby give convincing proof of the opposite, forms the contrast, it must refer, not to the preceding rebuke of God in words, but only to his matter-of-fact speech, the actual chastisement, comp. Psalms 50:22. The words: I will set in order before thine eyes, (comp. on the עדךְ? on Psalms 5:4) is excellently expounded by Calvin: “He declares, that they will soon be drawn into open light, that they shall be compelled to see with their eyes the shameful deeds, which they had imagined they could conceal from the eyes of God. For so I understand the setting in order, that God will lay before them in exact order a full catalogue of their misdeeds, which they must read and own, whether they will or not.

Verses 22-23

Ver. 22, 23, contain the impressive conclusion of the speech of God. First, in Psalms 50:22, the threatening against stiff-necked sinners, then in Psalms 50:23, the promise to those, who suffer themselves to be led into the right way. Ver. 22. Mark now this, ye forgetters of God, lest I tear you in pieces without deliverer, Ver. 23. Whosoever of offers praise shall glorify me, and whosoever, prepares a way, to him will I show the salvation of God. This, every thing that has been said in the preceding context for the unmasking and terrifying of imaginary saints, but, in particular, the threatening at the close of the preceding verse. Under the name of the forgetters of God are thrown together the friends of the merely outward service, and the wicked. On the words: lest I tear thee, etc., Arnd: “Even as a ravenous beast permits no one to take his prey from him, so can no one deliver from the anger of God, when it burns; it is a frightful thing to fall into the hands of the living God, and to be dragged away to punishment.” The expression: he shall glorify me in Psalms 50:23, can, according to Psalms 50:15 and the parallel: I will show him my salvation, only mean, he shall have occasion to glorify me. שום דרךְ? occurs in Ezekiel 21:20, Isaiah 43:19, comp. Isaiah 49:11, in the sig. of making or preparing a way. Hence expositions such as: who considers upon the way, or: orders his way, etc., are to be set aside. Several of those, who correctly apprehend the nature of the expression, expound after the example of the LXX. and Vulgate: he treads the way, which I will cause him to see, agreeing as to the sense with Luther, who followed the false reading שׁ ם there. But in this case the second part of the speech of God in Psalms 50:16-21 would be allowed entirely to drop in the conclusion. We can arrive at a satisfactory sense only when we render: whosoever prepares a way, q. d. whosoever regulates his life by sure principles—the opposite in Psalms 125:5; “who turn aside upon their crooked way.” Thus have we in each of the two members a condition and. a consequence. The first is a compend of Psalms 50:14 and Psalms 50:15. To the promise of salvation for those, who truly fulfil the obligation toward God, there is added the promise of salvation for those who occupy a position toward their neighbour, the reverse of that condemned in Psalms 50:16, ss. The salvation of God is for my salvation, in order to indicate what it imports, to be partakers of the salvation of God.

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Bibliographical Information
Hengstenberg, Ernst. "Commentary on Psalms 50". Hengstenberg on John, Revelation, Ecclesiastes, Ezekiel & Psalms. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/heg/psalms-50.html.