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Superscription. “A Psalm of Asaph.” Asaph was “a Levite, son of Berachiah, one of the leaders of David’s choir (1 Chronicles 6:39). Psalms 50, 73-83 are attributed to him, but probably all these, except 50, 73, and 77, are of later origin. He was in after times celebrated as a Seer as well as a musical composer, and was put on a par with David (2 Chronicles 29:30; Nehemiah 12:46). The office appears to have remained hereditary in his family, unless he was the founder of a school of poets and musical composers, who were called after him ‘the sons of Asaph’ ” (1 Chronicles 25:1; 2 Chronicles 20:14; Ezra 2:41).—Smith’s Dict. of the Bible.
The occasion on which the psalm was composed is unknown. “The object of the psalm,” says Barnes, “seems to be to set forth the value and importance of spiritual religion as compared with a mere religion of forms.”
A SCENE OF JUDGMENT
In these verses we have a poetical representation of the appearance of the Most High to judge His people as to their conduct in respect to His worship. Though the judgment spoken of in this psalm is a particular one, yet most of the features of this scene are elsewhere represented as characterising the general and final judgment. We have here set before us—
I. The Judge. “The mighty God, even the Lord, hath spoken.… God is Judge Himself.” Professor Alexander translates: “The Almighty, God, Jehovah, speaks;” and he points out that El is not an adjective agreeing with Elohim, but a substantive in apposition with it. Hengstenberg takes the same view, and says: “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.” He who summons the world to judgment has the right to do so, and the power to enforce His right. As Judge God is perfect. Two things are essential to a just judgment.
1. Competent knowledge of the case to be tried. In this respect God is perfect as the Judge of man. He is fully acquainted with
(1) all spoken words and overt actions;
(2) all unuttered thoughts and unwrought purposes;
(3) all motives by which we have been actuated; and
(4) all the circumstances and influences, both good and evil, by which we have been affected (Psalms 139:1-16).
2. Perfect justice in trying the case. “Is God unrighteous who taketh vengeance? God forbid: for how then shall God judge the world?” “A God of truth and without iniquity, just and right is He.” His judgment-throne is “a great white throne,” i.e., a throne whose judgments are characterised by perfect purity and righteousness. God is the Judge; and He is perfect in all things.
II. The principles upon which judgment will be administered. “Out of Zion, the perfection of beauty, God hath shined.” On “Zion, the perfection of beauty,” see remarks on Psalms 48:2. “The meaning here is, that the great principles which are to determine the destiny of mankind in the final judgment are those which proceed from Zion; or those which are taught in the religion of Zion; they are those which are inculcated through the Church of God. God has there made known His law; He has stated the principles on which He governs, and on which He will judge the world.”—Barnes. To the Church God has clearly revealed His will, and made known the principles upon which He will administer the final judgment. (See Ecclesiastes 12:14; Matthew 25:14-46. Acts 17:31; Romans 14:10; Romans 14:12.; et al.)
III. The certainty of the judgment. “God shall come,” &c. Here is no peradventure, but an unmistakable affirmation. Evidence is not wanting of the certainty of future judgment.
1. Conscience foreshadows it. “The consciousness of obligation,” says R. W. Hamilton,” would lead us to believe that God would bring us into judgment with Him. “
2. Moral government requires it. “Even-handed justice” is not administered here and now. As Dr. R. W. Dale points out, “the physical penalties of certain forms of sin torture and destroy an inhabitant of Fiji; while they are alleviated and almost wholly averted by the resources which science and wealth place at the disposal of a European; one merchant who is guilty of gross fraud escapes detection, while another who is guilty of precisely the same crime is accidentally discovered, and expiates his offence by long years of disgrace and misery; a lad who has no friends is ruined for life by a single act of folly and sin, while another, who may have been his confederate in wrong-doing, is rescued by the energy and constancy of human affection, recovers his reputation, and after long years of prosperity and honour leaves behind him a name which his children are proud to bear.” Many other inequalities of retribution as administered in this life might be pointed out. These demand a “judgment to come.”
3. The word of God affirms it. (See passages cited above, et al.) That last great Assize is certain as the throne of God.
IV. The terrible majesty of the judge at His appearing. “A fire shall devour before Him, and it shall be very tempestuous round about Him.” There is doubtless a reference here to the sublime and terror-inspiring phenomena which accompanied the giving of the law on Sinai (Exodus 19:16; Exodus 19:18). In the last judgment Christ the Judge will come in “the clouds of heaven” and with “flaming fire,” and attended by “mighty angels” (Mark 13:26; 2 Thessalonians 1:7-10; Revelation 1:7). Such descriptions are not designed simply to represent God as clothed with appropriate majesty when appearing to judge the world. The flaming fire, the stormy tempest, the cloudy gloom, the flashings of His glory, are emblematical of the purity and the power and the consuming wrath of the Judge. And they are in keeping with the vast and important transactions and results of the solemn occasion, and the Divine dignity of the Judge. Such an appearance should fill the hearts of saints with holy fear, and sinners with unutterable terror.
V. The persons to be judged. “Judge His people.… My saints, … those that have made a covenant with Me by sacrifice.” The people of God are here represented as having entered into a solemn covenant-relation to Him. They have taken God to be their God, and given themselves up to Him and to His service, and the Jews in doing this presented solemn sacrifices to Him. The Christian covenants with God through Christ the great sacrifice, through whom alone we come to God. The Jews were the professed people of God,—His covenanted people (Exodus 19:3-9). But how often and how sadly did they break the covenant! “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.” Let not the professed people of God deceive themselves by imagining that if they sin God will not judge them for it; for He certainly will do so. The greater the privileges and profession of any people, the more deserving of punishment will they be found if they dishonour God and walk not in His statutes. But at the last judgment all men, without any exception whatever, must appear and be judged (Romans 14:10; Romans 14:12; 2 Corinthians 5:10; et al.)
VI. The witnesses of the judgment. “He shall call to the heavens from above, and to the earth, that He may judge His people.” The universe is called upon to be present as witness to the solemn transactions of the judgment. Such appeals to the heaven and earth to witness, in Scripture, always indicate the importance and solemnity of the scenes and transactions to which they are called. Thus Moses warned the children of Israel of the danger of provoking God to anger,—“I call heaven and earth to witness against you this day, that ye shall soon utterly perish,” &c. (Deuteronomy 4:26; see also Micah 6:2.) “All His holy angels” will attend the Judge, and witness the proceedings, and testify to their righteousness.
VII. The righteousness of the judgment. “And the heavens shall declare His righteousness; for God is Judge Himself.” The perfections of God, especially His holiness and knowledge, guarantee the righteousness of His judgment. (See previous remarks on the perfection of God as a Judge.) The angelic witnesses of the judgment will declare its justice, saying, “True and righteous are His judgments.” The redeemed will praise the generosity of His dealings with them. The consciences even of the condemned will acknowledge the righteousness of their doom. The whole universe will subscribe to the justice of His judgments.
1. Here is solemn warning to the people of God. If you depart from Him, He will summon you to meet Him for judgment.
2. Here is a solemn inquiry for all. How shall we meet Him in judgment? Only through Christ Jesus can we do so (see Romans 8:1; Romans 8:33).
THE FORMAL AND THE SPIRITUAL IN DIVINE SERVICE
The poet represents the judgment of the chosen people as commencing with God’s address to them: “Hear, O My people, and I will speak,” &c. He testifies against them because of the formality of their services; and calls upon them to offer to Him spiritual sacrifices.
I. The worthlessness of merely formal and material sacrifices in the Divine service. “I will not reprove thee for thy sacrifices or thy burnt-offerings continually before Me. I will take no bullock out of thy house, nor he-goats out of thy folds.” Such sacrifices are shown to be worthless.
1. Because of the infinite resources of God. “For every beast of the forest is mine,” &c. (Psalms 50:10-12). He is the absolute proprietor of all things. We are but stewards of our possessions. We hold them under Him and for Him. “What hast thou that thou didst not receive” from Him? The devout and godly soul recognises this fact, and blesses God, as David did, because He has given to us wherewith we may offer to Him. “Blessed be Thou, Lord God of Israel our father, for ever and ever. Thine, O Lord, is the greatness,” &c. (1 Chronicles 29:10-16). Only of His own can we give unto Him. This is true of the man of temporal wealth, the man of genius, the man of piety and spiritual power, &c. Utterly worthless, therefore, are all our offerings in His sight, unless they are spiritually and heartily given (Acts 17:25).
2. Because of the spirituality of God. “Will I eat the flesh of bulls, or drink the blood of goats?” Did they suppose that the Infinite Spirit needed meat and drink for His support as our bodies do? Being a spirit, the mere outward sacrifices could afford no satisfaction to Him. “Among the heathen the opinion prevailed that the gods ate and drank what was offered to them in sacrifice; whereas the truth was, that these things were consumed by the priests who attended on heathen altars, and conducted the devotions of heathen temples, and who found that it contributed much to their own support, and did much to secure the liberality of the people, to keep up the impression that what was thus offered was consumed by the gods.” The Divine appeal implies that they to whom it was addressed knew better. “God is a Spirit: and they that worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth.” Therefore, in His sight the mere material offering was worthless. But let us not suppose that God rejects all outward offerings and sacrifices. He rather requires them. It is quite clear from the eighth verse, “that if the outward sacrifices had not been offered, this also would have been a ground of complaint.” But when they are offered as substitutes for the loving reverence of the heart, and the loyal obedience of the life, He rejects them as abominations. When they are the expressions of the soul’s prayerful penitence or thankful praise, He accepts them with delight. (See the remarks on Psalms 40:6.)
II. The worth of spiritual sacrifices in the Divine service. “Offer,” or sacrifice, “unto God thanksgiving,” &c. (Psalms 50:14-15). The worth of spiritual offerings is shown here in several respects:
1. They are enjoined by God. He commands us to present them unto Him. Notice
(1) The ground of this requirement. “Hear, O My people, and I will speak: I am God, thy God.” “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, who has bound Israel to Himself by so many benefits, has purchased his obedience so dearly.”—Hengstenberg. He demands the spiritual worship of His people on the twofold ground of His own Divine perfections and sovereignty, and His covenant relation to them.
(2) The inclusiveness of this requirement. These spiritual offerings include praise, payment of vows, and prayer. “The giving of thanks,” says John Arnd, “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 the child from the father: humility, confessing that we have nothing of ourselves, but obtain all from God,” &c. Hengstenberg translates: “Offer to God praise, and THUS pay to the Highest thy vows.” He explains: “He only who has rendered the substance of this thank-offering, thanks, has truly paid his vow.” Lives of penitence, prayer, gratitude, praise, affection, obedience, and trust, constitute the acceptable sacrifices.
2. They secure His blessing. “The whole fifteenth 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.”—Hengstenberg.
3. They are a means by which we glorify God. “Thou shalt glorify Me.” God is glorified not by our outward professions or material offerings, but by grateful and trustful hearts expressed in holy and earnest lives.
CONCLUSION.—Are we thus honouring Him? Our material offerings and formal services He will not accept unless we give Him our heart and life. Be it ours, through the atonement of Christ Jesus, and in imitation of His example, to devote ourselves unreservedly and for ever to God.
RESOURCE AND COMFORT IN TROUBLE
I. The period described. “The day of trouble.” We are often called to pass through trouble in the present world. We sometimes are troubled with opposition from the world (2 Timothy 3:12), sometimes with painful family discord (Proverbs 17:1), sometimes with great bodily infirmities (Isaiah 38:14-15), sometimes with inward conflicts (Romans 7:22-24), sometimes with perplexities in business, sometimes with worldly disappointments, sometimes with the unfaithfulness of friends (2 Timothy 4:10; 2 Timothy 4:16), sometimes with the weight of declining years, sometimes with slanderous reports (Psalms 41:5-8), sometimes with pecuniary losses, sometimes with afflictive bereavements (Psalms 88:18), and sometimes with tormenting fears (2 Corinthians 7:5).
II. The direction given. “Call upon Me.” We should do this—in the language of deprecation (Psalms 143:2); in the language of petition (Psalms 69:14); in the language of confession (Psalms 51:2, 1 John 1:9); in the language of humility (Genesis 18:27; Genesis 32:10); and in the language of submission (Matthew 26:42).
III. The consolation introduced. “I will deliver thee.” This He will do at the fittest time, by the fittest instruments, through the fittest mediums, and in the fittest manner.
IV. The consequence anticipated. “Thou shalt glorify Me.” In the memory, by lively recollections of My kindness; in the conscience, by fearing to prove ungrateful; in the affections, by loving Me supremely; in the life, by devotedness to My service.—W. Sleigh.
GOD’S CHALLENGE TO RELIGIOUS HYPOCRITES
We have here—
I. Religious hypocrites proclaiming God’s law. “What hast thou to do to declare My statutes, or that thou shouldest take My covenant in thy mouth?” It is a great evil when private professors of religion are untrue to their profession. In them hypocrisy is an evil and pernicious thing. But for hypocrites to declare and teach God’s law to others, and set it at nought themselves, is an outrageous evil. He who preaches the law to others should endeavour to keep the law himself. A man who is not himself sincerely religious has no Divine authority to preach the Word of God to others. Neither has he the ability to do so aright. To represent the power and beauty of truth and grace faithfully, we must know their beauty and power for ourselves. “Be ye clean that bear the vessels of the Lord.” (See Romans 2:17-24.)
II. Religious hypocrites despising God’s Word. “Thou hatest instruction, and castest My words behind thee.” A teacher of others, yet unwilling to learn himself. A preacher of the Word of God to others, yet contemptuously disregarding that Word himself. It is to be feared that there are still teachers of religion who themselves refuse to be taught of God; and who, by neglecting its study or disobeying its precepts, despise the Word of God. Such persons occupy and profane the sacred position of religious teachers for the gratification of their ambition, or for the emoluments of the office, &c. But whatever may be their motive, their sin is most heinous and mischievous.
III. Religious hypocrites breaking God’s laws. “When thou sawest a thief, then thou consentedst with him,” &c. (Psalms 50:18-20). These teachers of the law are here charged by God with breaking its seventh, eighth, and ninth commandments. He accuses them of adultery, theft, and false witness. They approved the practices of thieves and shared in their plunder. Adultery was “very common among the Jews, for even the Talmud accuses some of the most celebrated Rabbis of this vice.”—M. Stuart. The charge of evil speaking is very strong. It was not an occasional thing with them; they were addicted to it. Mouth and tongue were devoted to wickedness and deceit. “The expression in Psalms 50:20, ‘thou sittest,’ is a delineation to the life of babbling companies.” In the enjoyment of social intercourse they employed themselves in backbiting and slandering. Even the nearest relations were not exempt from their venomous tongues. Their “brother,” their “own mother’s son,” they would assail. “It is to be remembered that where polygamy prevailed there would be many children in the same family who had the same father, but not the same mother. The nearest relationship, therefore, was where there was the same mother as well as the same father. To speak of a brother, in the strictest sense, and as implying the nearest relationship, it would be natural to speak of one as having the same mother.”—Barnes. Now these sine—slander, even of the nearest relations, adultery, and complicity with thieves—are charged against not merely professors of religion, but teachers of the law. The effect of such sins in persons holding such a position and making such a profession is most baneful. These effects are—
1. Ruin to the hypocrites themselves. (See 2 Peter 2:0.)
2. Paralysis and corruption to the Church.
3. Stumbling to the world. (Romans 2:24; 2 Peter 2:2.)
IV. Religious hypocrites deceiving themselves as to the Divine character and conduct. “These things thou hast done, and I kept silence; thou thoughtest that I was altogether such an one as thyself.” God had borne long with them in their evil ways. His forbearance and long suffering were exercised with a view to their repentance. But they misinterpreted His non-interference as an indication that He regarded sin even as they did. Sinners take God’s silence for consent, and His patience with them as palliation of their sins, and are thus encouraged in evil. But great is their mistake in this. “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.” Yet it surely will be executed.
V. Religious hypocrites interrogated by God. “What hast thou to do to declare My statutes?” &c. (Psalms 50:16). Thus God challenges their right and title to proclaim His statutes. What right had they to speak of His covenant when they were constantly and flagrantly violating it? This challenge implies—
1. The inconsistency of their conduct.
2. The enormity of their conduct. They were profaning the most sacred realities; endangering the most precious interests of human souls; dishonouring God.
3. The rejection by God of their professional duties. He rejects with utter abhorrence the professional services in His cause of those whose hearts and lives are profane and impure.
VI. Religions hypocrites convicted of their sins. “I will reprove thee, and set them in order before Mine eyes.” The word translated “reprove” means to demonstrate against, reprove, rebuke, chastise. We take it to mean here that God would thoroughly convince them of the charges which He brings against them, by setting their sins in order before their eyes. He would summon their sins from the graves of the past to rise and confront them, and so convince them. “He declares,” says Calvin, “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.” Unless our sins are blotted out by the blood of Christ, we must confront them all again to our utter confusion.
VII. Religious hypocrites warned by God. “Now consider this, ye that forget God, lest I tear you in pieces,” &c. “It is the doom of hypocrites to be cat asunder (Matthew 24:51). Note,—
1. Forgetfulness of God is at the bottom of all the wickedness of the wicked. Those that know God, and yet do not obey Him, do certainly forget Him.
2. Those that forget God forget themselves, and it will never be right with them till they consider, and so recover themselves. Consideration is the first step towards conversion.
3. Those that will not consider the warnings of God’s Word will certainly be torn in pieces by the execution of His wrath.
4. When God comes to tear sinners in pieces, there is no delivering them out of His hand. They cannot deliver themselves, nor can any friend they have in the world deliver them.”—M. Henry.
VIII. All men instructed by God. “Whoso offereth praise glorifieth Me,” &c. (Psalms 50:23): The first clause of this verse is a compend of Psalms 50:14-15. On the second, Matthew Henry remarks: “
1. It is not enough for us to offer praise, but we must withal order our conversation aright. Thanksgiving is good, but thanksliving is better.
2. Those that would have their conversation right must take care and pains to order it, to dispose it according to rule, to understand their way and to direct it.
3. Those that take care of their conversation make sure their salvation. The right ordering of the conversation is the only way, and it is a sure way, to obtain the great salvation.”
CONCLUSION.—Let professors of religion, and especially ministers thereof, examine themselves. To each of us who are ministers or teachers our Lord by His apostle says,—“Be thou an example of the believers, in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity.” Brethren, are we such an example? If there be any hypocrisy, any insincerity in us, let us take warning, and repent, and be saved while yet we may.
And let the sincere Christian, who sacrifices unto God thanksgiving, and orders his conversation aright, be encouraged, for his salvation is of the Lord, and faileth not.
AN AWFUL FALLACY
Psalms 50:21. “Thou thoughtest that I was altogether as thyself.”
There are certain features in which we are like God. “God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.” There are certain features of that likeness which sin has not destroyed. Our reason remains. Our moral sense, though injured, is not destroyed, &c. If we were not in some respects like God, we could receive no revelation of Him. But it is a sinful fallacy to suppose that God is altogether like us. Let us exhibit the fallaciousness and evil of such a supposition.
I. Men are able to hide their sins from each other, and the wicked act as though they could hide them from God. Wicked men do impose upon their fellow-men by means of religious professions and practices. The Jews addressed in this psalm imagined that their ritualistic observances would hide from God the enormity of their moral conduct. They thought that they could impose upon God by their religious forms. This is what men are doing now. If men realised the impossibility of hiding anything from God, sin would become an exceptional thing. And yet, how preposterous it is to think to hide anything from the All-Seeing! He has “set our secret sins in the light of His countenance.”
II. Men are apt to lose all concern for the insignificant when occupied with the important, and the wicked act as though this were the case with God. The statesman dealing with national problems and influencing the destinies of mighty empires may overlook the beggar-child that stands at his gate. The wicked argue, “God is great and occupied with concerns of unlimited extent and unspeakable importance; He upholds the entire universe; do you think He leaves these vast concerns to notice the sins of one man? I can understand His punishing the sins of a host of angels, or of a multitude of men, or of a nation; but the failings of one imperfect man He does not concern Himself about.” How foolish! Great and small are only the relative terms of imperfect beings. To God nothing is unimportant, &c.
III. Men become unmindful of an offence in course of time, and the wicked think that in this God is altogether as they are. We are indifferent now to an offence which we bitterly resented some years ago when it was offered to us. Time has wonderfully toned down our feeling. But God never forgets or becomes indifferent to any sin. He knows the dark history of every sin, sees all its awful relations and bearings, and so He never becomes indifferent as we do. Moreover, He knows that sin must either be pardoned or punished, and, therefore, His solicitude for the sinner’s good keeps the sin ever before Him. We may grow indifferent to a wrong, but God never can.
IV. Men regard sin with great leniency, and the wicked imagine that God does so. “Fools make a mock at sin.” Society says of the profligate that he is “somewhat gay,” or “a trifle fast.” Philosophers speak of sin as “misdirection,” or as a result of deficient education, or unfavourable circumstances and surroundings. These tolerant and false views of sin men are prone to transfer to God. But with Him sin is the “abominable thing which He hates.” He has proclaimed His hatred of it in the punishment of the angels who sinned, in the destruction of the ungodly world by the flood, in the overthrow of the cities of the plain, &c. The sufferings and death of Jesus His Son to put away sin are God’s great protest against evil. He is completely, unchangeably, eternally opposed to it.
V. Men treat sin and sinners in a very changeable manner, and the wicked think that God will do so. Man burns with anger against an offender, and threatens stern punishment; but the anger cools and the punishment is never inflicted. Or man threatens a punishment which he cannot inflict. Men are prone to think that God is as they are in this respect. “Because sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily,” &c. His threatenings, they think, are designed to deter men from evil; but if it is committed, He will not arise to punish for it. But this is a fatal mistake. He will fulfil His threatenings against the impenitent. Judgment is delayed, because in His mercy God waits for the wicked to turn penitently to Him. But if His forbearance do not result in their penitence, His judgment will be the more terrible. He will set their sins before them in all their multiplicity and enormity, and the sight will extinguish their hope, and call upon Despair henceforth to be their attendant angel.
Sin must be either cast behind God’s back, or it will cast the sinner into hell. There is forgiveness with God. He delighteth in mercy. He abundantly pardons. “The Son of Man hath power on earth to forgive sins.” Seek Him while He may be found.
Let us not imagine that God is altogether like unto us in His estimate of evil and evil-doers; but let us seek to view sin as He does, with implacable hatred, and to resist it with relentless vigour.
Others, imagining God to be like themselves, conclude that He regards sin with feelings of stormy passion and sinful revenge. They do greatly err. And others that He is partial in His redemptive purposes and sectarian in His sympathies. They also err. His love is far greater than the best of our conceptions of it.
Let us not think that God is altogether like unto us, but endeavour, through Jesus Christ, to become altogether like unto Him.
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Psalms 50". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Sixth Week after Easter