To the blameless I will show my salvation Psalm 50

We have looked at Psalms which are prayers of praise and thanksgiving and adoration. We have seen others which are prayers of confession or intercession. Last week we looked at Psalm 49 which would not have looked out of place in the book of Proverbs, or among the Wisdom Literature of Ecclesiastes or Job. Psalm 50 is a different kind of Psalm again. It could so easily fit into one of the books of the Prophets, like Isaiah or Jeremiah or so many of the Minor Prophets like Amos. This Psalm contains the words of God himself to his chosen people Israel. It is ascribed to Asaph who was known as a prophet. And the Psalm brings words of challenge and warnings of judgment.

The Psalm is a message from God, the almighty, the Creator and Sustainer and Ruler of the whole earth, all the time and everywhere.
1 The Mighty One, God, the LORD, speaks and summons the earth
from the rising of the sun to where it sets. 2 From Zion, perfect in beauty, God shines forth.

At the same time God is the Holy and Righteous God who brings justice and judgment.

3 Our God comes and will not be silent;
a fire devours before him, and around him a tempest rages.
4 He summons the heavens above, and the earth, that he may judge his people:

The nation of Israel are God’s chosen people, set apart from the other nations out of all the earth. God rescued them from slavery in Egypt. And He made a covenant with them on Mount Sinai. He gave them the Tabernacle in the Wilderness and the Temple in Jerusalem so that they could offer sacrifices acceptable to Him. But now God is speaking words of judgment even on Israel.

5 ‘Gather to me this consecrated people, who made a covenant with me by sacrifice.’
6 And the heavens proclaim his righteousness, for he is a God of justice.,

Israel were God’s chosen people, set apart and belonging to Him. But they were failing to keep their side of the covenant. And this Psalm brings them solemn warnings.
7 ‘Listen, my people, and I will speak; I will testify against you, Israel:
I am God, your God.
Of all the nations of the earth, only Israel could call upon the one and only God as their God. But it is clear that at the time the Psalm was composed, God’s people were disobeying him in two specific ways. In the first place some Israelites had descended into ritualism.
8 I bring no charges against you concerning your sacrifices
or concerning your burnt offerings, which are ever before me.
9 I have no need of a bull from your stall or of goats from your pens,
10 for every animal of the forest is mine, and the cattle on a thousand hills.
11 I know every bird in the mountains, and the insects in the fields are mine.
12 If I were hungry I would not tell you, for the world is mine, and all that is in it.
13 Do I eat the flesh of bulls or drink the blood of goats?

So here was the sin of ritualism – putting their trust in rituals instead of in God. Some Israelites were thinking that all God cared about was that they offer the right sacrifices at the appointed times. That as long as they kept up the outward practices of their religion, nothing else in their lives mattered to God. They were making the ridiculous mistake of thinking that God needed their sacrifices in some way. That God needed their sacrifices to feed him and that he would go hungry if they didn’t offer the sacrifices. That God in some way needed to be worshipped.

We can make the same mistake if we think that God actually needs us to do his work in the world. That God is powerless to save the world without using his children the church. Of course God does not NEED us in any way at all. It is God’s good pleasure to allow Christians to play a part in his cosmic masterplan of salvation. God graciously allows us to share in his work by loving each other and loving our neighbours and proclaiming the gospel. But that is a very different thing.

The purpose of the Old Testament sacrifices, of course, was not to meet some need God has of being worshipped. The purpose of the sacrifices was to keep reminding the Israelites of their dependence on God. The sacrifices only had any meaning if they came from genuine heartfelt gratitude.
14 ‘Sacrifice thank-offerings to God, fulfil your vows to the Most High,
15 and call on me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you will honour me.’

The Israelites should have been offering thank-offerings as an expression of their gratitude to God. The ritual of sacrifice without heart-felt gratitude was empty and worthless. Sacrifices were a way of fulfilling their covenant obedience to God. If they were not recognising the covenant, the sacrifices themselves were meaningless. Sacrifices were a way for the people to call on God and acknowledge their need of him, in days of trouble and every day.

But the Israelites had descended into ritualism – they thought the sacrifices themselves were what mattered. They had forgotten gratitude and obedience and dependence. Without those things the rituals of sacrifice were not honouring to God in any way at all. And it is the same for us today. God does not need us to worship him or pray to him. Worship and prayer are not for God’s benefit but for our benefit. Reading our Bibles. Praying. Worshipping God. Even loving our neighbours and talking about Jesus are all just empty words if our hearts are not in them. Without attitudes of gratitude and obedience and a recognition of our total dependence on God for everything, the things we say and do have no meaning. They are not honouring to God at all. The risks of ritualism.

It is difficult to find a single word which sums up the second sin which God rebukes the Israelites for in Psalm 50. One commentator describes it as credal formalism, people who are careful to say all the right things but whose life contradicts their profession. Perhaps a simpler word would be hypocrisy.
16 But to the wicked person, God says:
‘What right have you to recite my laws or take my covenant on your lips?
17 You hate my instruction and cast my words behind you.
18 When you see a thief, you join with him; you throw in your lot with adulterers.
19 You use your mouth for evil and harness your tongue to deceit.
20 You sit and testify against your brother and slander your own mother’s son.

Some Israelites were being very careful about saying all the right things. Reciting the laws and professing their faith in the covenant of Moses. But then they were completely ignoring the laws and doing whatever they wanted. Breaking the eighth commandment by stealing and breaking the seventh by committing adultery. Breaking the ninth commandment by lying and bearing false witness. The people were thinking that as long as they knew what the Law of Moses commanded and said all the right things then they could do whatever they liked and live however they wanted. Again here is a challenge for all of us. It is not enough to know what the Bible says. We have to obey the Word of God! As James 1:22 says, we must be doers of the word, not hearers only.

James 1:22 22 Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. 23 Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror 24 and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like.

MESSAGE Don’t fool yourself into thinking that you are a listener when you are anything but, letting the Word go in one ear and out the other. Act on what you hear!

Be doers of the word – not hearers only. Although he is talking to the Israelites, his chosen people, God’s judgment is that anybody who says one thing and does the opposite is a wicked person. And for them there is a solemn warning of judgment coming.

21 When you did these things and I kept silent, you thought I was exactly like you.
But I now arraign you and set my accusations before you.

Many people make the same mistake as the Israelites were making. Because God had not intervened and brought punishment on them so far, they assumed he didn’t care about their sins. They were wrong. The warning is clear. Judgment is coming. But the Psalm keeps the door to salvation open. There is still hope.
22 ‘Consider this, you who forget God, or I will tear you to pieces, with no one to rescue you:
23 those who sacrifice thank-offerings honour me, and to the blameless I will show my salvation.’

Psalm 50 was calling the Israelites to make very important choices. Those who have fallen into empty ritualism have forgotten God. Hypocrites who keep the law on their lips but ignore it in their lives have forgotten God as well. And they will face the judgment of God. But even they can repent and find forgiveness and salvation.

23 those who sacrifice thank-offerings honour me, and to the blameless I will show my salvation.’

Everyone can repent. Everyone can bring thank-offerings which honour God when they come sincerely from the heart. Everyone can change their ways and find forgiveness and be made blameless and experience God’s wonderful salvation. The Israelites had a choice to make. And God’s people in every age have our own choices to make.

This entry was posted in Psalms.

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