A PROPHETIC GLIMPSE OF THE ETERNAL JUDGMENT
The superscription entitles this psalm as "A Psalm of Asaph." This is the very first of the twelve Asaph Psalms, the other eleven being Psalms 72--82 at the beginning of Book Three of the Psalter.
"In 1 Chr. 16:5, Asaph is described as the chief of sacred music, in the tent where the Ark was placed, who played the cymbals. He is often mentioned along with Heman and Ethan, but never first. Not only was Asaph a musician, but he was also a Psalm writer ... In 2 Chr. 29:30, Hezekiah is said to have brought the words of David and of Asaph the seer into use again in the service of the house of the Lord (The Temple)."F1 These words fully establish the inspiration of Asaph; but as Leupold wrote, "We could wish that we knew more about Asaph."F2
Several different titles have been suggested for this psalm, Leupold entitled it, "True Worship." Yates named it, "The Nature of True Worship." Addis has, "God Looks to Conduct Rather than Sacrifice." Delitzsch gave it this heading, "Concerning the True Sacrifice and Worship." "God Addresses His People" is the title used in Interpreter's Bible. Rhodes headed it, "Before the Judgment Bar of God"; McCaw named it, "Man Impeached in Heaven's Court"; Kidner labeled it, "The Judge breaks Silence"; and Baigent suggested, "God's Assessment of His People's Worship."
Just to read these titles gives a fair idea of what the psalm contains. However, our own title which we have assigned to this psalm is different from any cited above. We shall attempt to justify this.
Scholars have not generally named this psalm as a prophecy, although Rhodes did call it a "Prophetic Liturgy";F3 but there is one respect in which it surely is just that, a prophecy of the Eternal Judgment. The true Judge of All the Earth is not the Father but the Son (John 5:22); and the tremendous theophany of these first six verses, in which God is represented as convening Heaven's court, calling all the world to appear, and summonsing his people before his throne for judgment -all of this speaks eloquently of the Final Judgment.
Of course, when the psalm was written, Israel had no knowledge of the Son of God; and therefore the terminology of the entire psalm is that of the First Israel only; but when Christ came, he made it perfectly clear that the principles of judgment announced here would also be binding in that Great Assize before the Great White Throne.
There are a number of things that support a prophetic view here. (1) As a matter of history, God did not formally judge the Old Israel, as represented here. (2) In no sense did God "come" (Psalms 50:3) from heaven to earth for such a Court Scene as this during the days of the old Israel's history. Furthermore (3) "The grandeur and solemnity of the majestic appearance of God himself in these verses resembles that of his giving of the Law of Moses at Mount Sinai (Exo. 19:16; 20:18)." However, no such grand occasion as that ever took place in the subsequent history of Israel. Therefore, we are driven to the conclusion that we have here a prophetic glimpse of the Eternal Judgment that shall close this Dispensation of God's Grace. (4) There is the additional fact that a prophetic interpretation does no violence whatever to what is written here. This is true because every word spoken here certainly had its application to the Old Testament Israel. (5) Most convincing of all, however, is the simple truth stated in the Gospel of John, Neither doth the Father judge any man, but he hath given all judgment unto the Son (John 5:22).
Of course, this psalm speaks of "God's" judging his people, but the "God" here referred to is "God the Son," unto whom all judgment has been committed by the Father.
We shall follow the outline of the psalm that was proposed by the great Methodist scholar, Adam Clarke.
I. God Summons All Men Before His Throne of Judgment (Psalms 50:1-6).
II. God Expresses Disapproval of their Sacrifices (Psalms 50:7-13).
III. God Reveals What He Expects of Them (Psalms 50:14-15).
IV. God Speaks `To the Wicked' (Psalms 50:16-22).
V. Blessedness of the True Worshipper whose life Does not Negate it (Psalms 50:23).F4
God's Summons of All Nations to Judgment
The Mighty One, God, Jehovah hath spoken,
And called the earth from the rising of the sun unto the going down thereof.
Out of Zion, the perfection of beauty,
God hath shined forth.
Our God cometh, and doth not keep silence:
A fire devoureth before him,
And it is very tempestuous round about him.
He calleth to the heavens above,
And to the earth that he may judge his people:
Gather together my saints unto me,
Those that have made a covenant with me by sacrifice.
And the heavens shall declare his righteousness;
For God is judge himself. (Selah)"
"The first six verses here seem to contain a description of the Great Judgment. It seems impossible to assign them to any minor consideration."F5
The Mighty One, God, Jehovah, hath spoken, And called the earth from the rising of the sun unto the going down thereof. Out of Zion, the perfection of beauty, God hath shined forth. Our God cometh, and doth not keep silence: A fire devoureth before him, And it is very tempestuous round about him. He calleth to the heavens above, And to the earth, that he may judge his people: Gather my saints together unto me, Those that have made a covenant with me by sacrifice. And the heavens shall declare his righteousness; For God is judge himself. [Selah
(Psalms 50:1). This impressive array of titles, includes two general names for God, and the special covenant name, Jehovah. The three names are, `[~'El],' `[~'Elohiym]', and `Jehovah.'F6
Mighty One, God, Jehovah
(Psalms 50:1), The Hebrews used many names for God, often using them synonymously as here. Of all the critical nonsense which this writer has read in a lifetime of study, nothing is any more ridiculous than the so-called documentary hypothesis regarding the writing of the Book of Moses (called the Pentateuch), in which different names of God are alleged to indicate different writers. Can anyone believe that three different writers composed Ps. 50:1? or that five different authors wrote Gen. 49:24-25? This combination of names for God is also found in Josh. 22:22. The evidence is overwhelming that the Jews customarily used multiple names for God, very frequently using them as synonyms, with no indication whatever that they indicated multiple authorships of passages where they were thus used.
Out of Zion
(Psalms 50:2). Jewish pride no doubt considered that all the world would be summonsed to Jerusalem, in order to receive the sentence of their final destiny; but what is meant here was accurately discerned by Jones, This means that the great principles that are to determine the destiny of mankind in the Final Judgement are, those very principles which have been taught in the word of God that went forth from Jerusalem.F7
Called the earth
(Psalms 50:1,4). In Ps. 50:3, the gathering of the `covenant people' are mentioned; but there is no such limitation here. All men, from the rising of the sun till the going down thereof, are here summoned to stand before the throne of God. Rhodes thought that the whole world was called for witnesses rather than as subjects of this judgment scene;F8 but our view is that the righteous and the wicked alike, the covenant people, and those who are not, will be judged simultaneously (See Matt. 25). As an apostle said, We must all appear before the Judgment Seat of Christ.
As for the notion that the whole world of Gentile nations were here called "as witnesses" of the judgment, several things forbid such an interpretation. (1) The godless Gentiles of the whole earth can never, in any sense, be considered competent witnesses. (2) Besides that, Almighty God does not need any witnesses; he already knows all the facts. (3) They are certainly not so designated in this passage. (4) One scholar thought the Gentile nations might have been summonsed as "judges";F9 but this is just as unreasonable and impossible as the idea of their being "witnesses." As Leupold said of such persons, "They are not to do any `judging'; God does that"!F10
Those who cannot see the Final Judgment here are hard pressed to find anything else either in the history of Israel or of the whole world that fits what is here written.
Some try to explain it by calling it, "Poetic fancy, `teaching that if God came, thus he would speak and act'; but there is more to the matter than that."F11
Still others can find nothing here except God's rejecting the very sacrifices that he commanded Israel to offer. God did no such thing. What is depicted here, prophetically, is the worship of the New Covenant and the total abolition of all animal and typical sacrifices.
"Actually, the kind of sacrifices condemned here were those which were not offered in spirit and in truth,"F12 but the language is also applicable to the more spiritual worship of the New Covenant.
My saints that made a covenant with me by sacrifice
(Psalms 50:5). This verse nullifies the notion that God was here condemning the very sacrifices he had commanded Israel to offer. Taylor called this a favorable attitude toward sacrifice,F13 which it most certainly is. See more on this question under Ps. 50:8, below.
JUDGMENT BEGINS AT THE HOUSE OF GOD
Hear, O my people, and I will speak;
O Israel, and I will testify unto thee:
I am God, even thy God.
I will not reprove thee for thy sacrifices;
And thy burnt-offerings are continually before me.
I will take no bullock out of thy house,
Nor he-goats out of thy folds.
For every beast of the forest is mine,
And the cattle upon a thousand hills.
I know all the birds of the mountains;
And the wild beasts of the field are mine.
If I were hungry, I would not tell thee;
For the world is mine, and the fulness thereof.
Will I eat the flesh of bulls,
Or drink the blood of goats?
Offer unto God the sacrifice of thanksgiving;
And pay thy vows unto the Most High;
And call upon me in the day of trouble:
I will deliver thee, and thou shalt glorify me."
Hear, O my people, and I will speak; O Israel, and I will testify unto thee: I am God, [even] thy God. I will not reprove thee for thy sacrifices; And thy burnt-offerings are continually before me. I will take no bullock out of thy house, Nor he-goats out of thy folds. For every beast of the forest is mine, And the cattle upon a thousand hills. I know all the birds of the mountains; And the wild beasts of the field are mine. If I were hungry, I would not tell thee; For the world is mine, and the fulness thereof. Will I eat the flesh of bulls, Or drink the blood of goats? Offer unto God the sacrifice of thanksgiving; And pay thy vows unto the Most High: And call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver thee, and thou shalt glorify me.
(Psalms 50:7). All the world, from one end of the earth to the other, are present; but God's covenant people are the first to be judged. As an apostle said, Judgment must first begin at the house of God (1 Peter 4:17); and so it is here. What a disappointment awaited Israel. They, no doubt, were primed to hear God's Well done, thou good and faithful servant, but that is not what they heard.
It is unfair to call this a rebuke of "hypocrites," which is the standard approach to the passage. "The whole nation of Israel is here addressed."F14 There has been a departure of "all Israel" from what God truly desired.
I will not reprove thee for thy sacrifices.., thy burnt-offerings are continually before me
(Psalms 50:8). This means that God was aware of Israel's careful observance of the sacrifices commanded in the Law of Moses. This verse admits that they were indeed observing all such things. God does not here condemn Israel for the neglect of the outward sacrifices of religion.F15 These they certainly had honored by their obedience; and God's approval of that is here stated.
However, something was dreadfully wrong. There was such a deficiency in Israel's sacrificial offerings that God here declared that he would absolutely refuse all of their sacrifices. Why? Only two things are cited in this whole paragraph; and that is in Ps. 50:14, where "thanksgiving" and "paying one's vows" are mentioned, with the implication that it was deficiency in those things that rendered their sacrifices unacceptable to God.
The commentaries are full of allegations about the hypocrisy, the immorality, the violence, and the evil that Israel was perpetrating at the same time they were offering all those sacrifices; but there's not a word in this text about any of that! Men have simply let their imagination run wild on that subject.
What is actually said here? It is simply this, God will abolish animal sacrifices! There is twenty-times as much in these verses regarding the inadequacy of animal sacrifices as there is regarding any deficiency of God's people. All of this points squarely to the New Covenant.
Offer unto God the sacrifice of thanksgiving
(Psalms 50:14) . This was indeed an animal sacrifice commanded under Moses Law, called a Thank-offering; and why were God's people here commanded to bring such a sacrifice? It was because of the glorious good news that God would terminate animal sacrifices altogether. When? That was not revealed here; but the faithful would indeed receive it as a fact, despite the fact of the realization of such a promise being reserved for the indefinite future.
THE WICKED ARE THEN JUDGED
Just as Peter said, "Judgment began at the House of God; but the sinner and the ungodly came next. The following verses are an account of the judgment of the wicked, not of Israel, but of the wicked.
But unto the wicked God saith,
What hast thou to do to declare my statutes,
And that thou hast taken thy covenant in thy mouth,
Seeing that thou hatest instruction,
And castest my words behind thee?
When thou sawest a thief, thou consentedst with him.
And thou hast been partakers with adulterers.
Thou givest thy mouth to evil,
And thy tongue frameth deceit.
Thou sittest and speakest against thy brother;
Thou slanderest thine own mother's son.
These things hast thou done, and I kept silence;
Thou thoughtest that I was altogether such a one as thyself.
But I will reprove thee, and set them in order before thine eyes."
But unto the wicked God saith, What hast thou to do to declare my statutes, And that thou hast taken my covenant in thy mouth, Seeing thou hatest instruction, And castest my words behind thee? When thou sawest a thief, thou consentedst with him, And hast been partaker with adulterers. Thou givest thy mouth to evil, And thy tongue frameth deceit. Thou sittest and speakest against thy brother; Thou slanderest thine own mother's son. These things hast thou done, and I kept silence; Thou thoughtest that I was altogether such a one as thyself: [But] I will reprove thee, and set [them] in order before thine eyes.
(Psalms 50:16). The first thing to observe here is that God is definitely not judging his people, but the wicked. Oh yes, we are aware that many of the writers have a field day here tongue-lashing their favorite whipping-boy, the hypocrite'; but there's not a word here about `hypocrites.' The wicked here is definitely not a designation of hypocritical Israelites; but as DeHoff said, these words, Refer to people who had no intention of keeping God's word but sought to tread it under foot.F16
Declare my statutes. take my covenant in thy mouth
(Psalms 50:16). Oh yes, these wicked people did a lot of talking about God's word and about his covenant; but there is no indication here that they ever had any such thing in their hearts. Their `mouth' does not qualify them as citizens of God's kingdom. Did not the Devil himself take God's word in his mouth, etc., when he deceived Eve?
If we may state a purely personal opinion here, it is that the greatest enemies of God on earth today, are precisely those who are doing an incredible amount of writing about God's word, with one and only one design, namely, that of destroying all confidence in it as God's word. Thus, talking (or writing) about the word of God, and declaiming about `his covenant' is the `stock in trade' of the most wicked people of our generation.
We may further identify the "wicked" of this passage.
Thou hatest instruction. castest my words behind thee
(Psalms 50:17). These terms have no application to hypocrites but refer to arrogant sinners who hate God's word and belittle and deny it continually, casting it behind them as worthless.
Ps. 50:18-20 enumerate a number of sins including: thievery, adultery, evil speech, deceit and slander -- still not a word about hypocrites. Hypocrites these men are not; they are "the wicked" of Ps. 50:16.
The community of critics who love to apply this passage to "hypocrites" are aware that no mention whatever of them is in the passage and that the powerful identification that stands at the head of it, i.e., "the wicked," absolutely denies any such limited application. Some have even taken the critic's last resort of claiming that the words do not belong in the Bible. "`To the wicked' is probably a gloss."F17 But the words are not a gloss; they belong in the text as all trustworthy versions demonstrate.
This chapter concludes with a word to both classes who shall be featured in the Judgment of the Last Day, namely the good and the bad, the wheat and the chaff, the wise and the foolish, those on the right and those on the left, the wheat and the tares, the sheep and the goats, etc. Thus this view of the Eternal Judgment harmonizes with the view throughout the Bible, namely, that there are two classes, and only two classes, of God's human children, i.e., the saved and the lost. Both are addressed in the final two verses.
TO THE WICKED
Verses 22, 23
Now consider this, ye that forget God, Lest I tear you in pieces, and there be none to deliver: Whoso offereth the sacrifice of thanksgiving glorifieth me; And to him that ordereth his way [aright] Will I show the salvation of God.