A Psalm of Asaph.
Psalm 50 is the first of twelve psalms credited to the man Asaph.
1. The Mighty One, God the LORD,
In Hebrew, this Psalm is introduced by three names of God: El, Elohim, and Jehovah. El is the singular name of God, and it emphasizes His might and strength, as the New King James has rendered it “The Mighty One.” Elohim is the plural name of God, as we would make it “Gods,” and yet it always takes a singular verb, as “Gods is.” There is always an ongoing argument as to whether this is merely the “plural of majesty,” as when kings speak using the royal “we,” or whether it is an indication of plurality within the Godhead. The plural name Elohim is particularly used of God as Creator, and yet the One Who created us is also the One Who has the right to judge us, so it speaks of God as Judge as well. Jehovah (or Yahweh) is used of God in relationship with His people. It is used when the relationship has developed, so that it is more than the relationship between the Creator and His creature, but between two, a person and God, who have established a closer relationship on another footing (as by a covenant, or by some other means).
Has spoken and called the earth
At the time this psalm speaks of, El Elohim Yahweh has spoken. The time in which we live is the time of God’s silence. God has said all He wishes to say in His word, and He has fallen silent towards this world, acting instead only in grace towards the undeserving. This is not to say that He is not still the true Light Who enlightens every man coming into the world, as John 1:9 declares. Yet His light shines directly into the hearts of men, and He uses no audible words. Men can know the basic truths about God’s power and goodness from the testimony of nature and their consciences. Yet if His Word is not brought to bear, then no specific revelation of God is going to come from anywhere else.
Yet this will not be the case when Psalm 50 is fulfilled. Then, God will speak and call the earth. The word “earth” here is the Hebrew word ‘erets, which can mean earth, land, or ground, depending on the context. Here, we believe that this call is going out at the very start of His premillennial kingdom on earth. From what we know of that time, we believe that this call will go out to all the earth, not just all the land.
From the rising of the sun to its going down.
Since the sun rises in the east and sets in the west, this poetic phrase means “from the east to the west.” It emphasizes the universal call, and that no person in any place is left out from receiving it.
2. Out of Zion, the perfection of beauty,
It is out of Zion, the city of David in Jerusalem, that the call has proceeded. The call goes forth to all, and yet it appears particularly to involve His people and His land. The city of Zion is here called “the perfection of beauty.” The temple in Jerusalem is called “the beauty of holiness,” and of course that is a significant part of the glory of the city in God’s sight.
God will shine forth.
It is from Zion, the perfection of beauty, that God will shine forth. He immediately makes it clear to all where His government of the world will be centered: in the chosen city of Jerusalem.
3. Our God shall come, and shall not keep silent;
Our God shall at this time come to the earth. He comes in the form of His word, for He comes by breaking His long period of silence and by remaining silent no longer. This does not mean that all this takes place at Christ’s second coming. No, this means that God will make His presence known by speaking. His Spirit will act, and by this action it will be made plain that God has come to the earth. John 16:7-11 tells us of this time.
7. Nevertheless I tell you the truth. It is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I depart, I will send Him to you. 8. And when He has come, He will convict the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment: 9. of sin, because they do not believe in Me; 10. of righteousness, because I go to My Father and you see Me no more; 11. of judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged.
This speaks of God coming and not keeping silent, and He does it through His Spirit.
A fire shall devour before Him,
A fire devours before God when He comes and does not keep silent. “Fire” in the Bible is often used as a symbol of God’s judgment. When it comes to the wicked, fire consumes, destroying them for their wickedness. When it comes to the righteous, fire purifies, removing the dross and leaving only the pure metal behind. God’s judgment fire will do both when He comes to earth in the form of His kingdom.
And it shall be very tempestuous all around Him.
A storm swirls about God at this time. He will truly be shaking things up on earth, and once He is done, nothing will ever be the same again! His judgment will change things in this world for the better.
4. He shall call to the heavens from above,
El Elohim Jehovah shall call to the heavens from above. There would be little point in calling to the stars, the planets, or the galaxies (for what would they have to do with anything?), or with calling to the place called “heaven.” It is fairly clear, therefore, that the word “heavens,” which means “that which is over and above,” or “that which is lifted up and exalted,” here speaks of those beings who are lifted up and exalted. In other words, He calls to the most exalted rulers above. That is why the word is plural here. Psalm 89:5 demonstrates to us this meaning of the word “heavens.”
5. And the heavens will praise Your wonders, O LORD;
Your faithfulness also in the assembly of the saints.
Here, we see that “heavens” and “the assembly of the saints” are made to be synonyms. Therefore, we would take the “heavens” to be the very highest rulers, either in the governments of this earth or in the government(s) of the heavenly beings. All the most exalted rulers are to be involved in this calling.
And to the earth, that He may judge His people:
He calls to the earth as well. The point of His call is that He intends to judge His people. As we said, that is the point of the “fire” in verse 3: He is going to judge. We think of “judging” sometimes as if it meant “punishing,” but that is not the case. When a judge in court “judges” in a trial, he is deciding what is right regarding that trial, not merely “punishing.” No judge would be a good judge if he were merely a “punisher,” for he should acquit the innocent just as much as he should condemn the guilty. The idea of judging in the Bible is to first determine what is right, and then to set things right according to that determination. When God does this, His judgment will be completely right, and everything will be set in order the way it should be at last.
5. “Gather My saints together to Me,
God’s call is to gather His saints together to Him. The word “saints” in Hebrew is chaciyd, and has to do with God’s set apart people, those who are good, Godly, and upright. In Psalm 85:8, it is used as a synonym for His people.
8. I will hear what God the LORD will speak,
For He will speak peace
To His people and to His saints;
But let them not turn back to folly.
Thus those whom God is calling for here are His people of Israel to be gathered together to Him. This is confirmed by verse 7, where He calls them “My people” and “Israel.” The reason He is calling them together is to plead His case to them and testify against them. There will be a great gathering together of God’s people of Israel that will be one of the first events at the start of the premillennial Kingdom of God. This is presented in the prophecy in Ezekiel 20.
33. “As I live,” says the Lord GOD, “surely with a mighty hand, with an outstretched arm, and with fury poured out, I will rule over you. 34. I will bring you out from the peoples and gather you out of the countries where you are scattered, with a mighty hand, with an outstretched arm, and with fury poured out. 35. And I will bring you into the wilderness of the peoples, and there I will plead My case with you face to face. 36. Just as I pleaded My case with your fathers in the wilderness of the land of Egypt, so I will plead My case with you,” says the Lord GOD.
37. “I will make you pass under the rod, and I will bring you into the bond of the covenant; 38. I will purge the rebels from among you, and those who transgress against Me; I will bring them out of the country where they dwell, but they shall not enter the land of Israel. Then you will know that I am the LORD.
This chapter in Ezekiel prophesies something very similar to what we are reading about here in Psalm 50: a time when God will gather together His people, plead with them, and bring them into the bond of His covenant with them. Psalm 50 is describing a very similar situation, and indeed may be describing the very same one.
Those who have made a covenant with Me by sacrifice.”
His people of Israel are also described as “those who have made a covenant with Me by sacrifice.” Some will try to make out as if we too are under such a covenant, since Jesus Christ is our sacrifice, and they believe us to be under the “new covenant.” Yet those who suggest such things ignore that the new covenant itself is “with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah” (Hebrews 8:8), and not with believing Gentiles of today. We have no covenant or agreement with God upon which our blessings are based. We are merely sinners who have believed in Jesus Christ, the Savior of sinners. If we have any good expectation from Him, it is because we are “in Christ,” not because we are in a covenant. No, whether in the past or the future, those who have made a covenant with El Elohim Jehovah are His people Israel.
6. Let the heavens declare His righteousness,
The psalmist calls upon the heavens to declare His righteousness. As we stated above, the word “heavens” means the exalted rulers. It is often sadly the case in our day that those who rule over us, even the most exalted of our rulers, do not declare what is right or urge their people to do it. Many times, our rulers would tell us that we should do things that are wrong. Even for those of us who care about God and Godliness, it is not always easy to say exactly what is right and exactly what is wrong in every situation, and sometimes we spend much time arguing about the rightness or wrongness of some idea, and whether or not certain things are righteousness. Yet when God’s kingdom comes, such confusion over righteousness will no longer exist. All God’s appointed rulers, His heavens, will declare unanimously His righteousness, and so all people on earth will know accurately what is right and what is just in the sight of the Lord.
For God Himself is Judge. Selah
The reason the heavens will know righteousness and will declare it is because God Himself will be the Judge. He will set things in order as He sees fit, and His rulers will all be taught in His righteousness. It will be His perfect work of judging that will both teach His heavens righteousness and which will see to it that that is what is declared on earth.
The word “Selah” occurs here, a word which we believe indicates a connection between what has come before and what comes after. In this case, God’s call to gather His people in order that He may judge them is connected with His words to them once they are in this way gathered, which we start to read in verse 7.
7. “Hear, O My people, and I will speak,
Having gathered all His people together, El Elohim Jehovah now calls on them to hear what He has to say, for He is about to speak.
O Israel, and I will testify against you;
We are not left in the dark as to whom His people are, for those who in the previous line were called “My people” are here called “Israel.” They are to listen, for He is about to testify against them. Clearly, He is not pleased about something in their actions.
I am God, your God!
His first plea is that He is God, their God. While a few may not have known this, probably for the most part the problem has not been not knowing it, but rather not acknowledging it as they should.
8. I will not rebuke you for your sacrifices
His rebuke is not about some breach of the law which they had committed. He is not going to rebuke them for their sacrifices, as if they had not made them enough, or not done them properly enough, or missed out some little point of the law which God had wanted them to follow. No, that is not what His complaint against them is all about. Of course, in our day with the temple destroyed, Israel has not offered these things at all, yet the restoration of these is not His plea to them.
Or your burnt offerings,
His complaint is not about their burnt offerings either, for these were not their problem.
Which are continually before Me.
Their burnt offerings, which were continually before Him while the temple existed in Jerusalem in the past, were not His desire. The lack of these was not His complaint against them.
9. I will not take a bull from your house,
In saying He desires better service from them, it is not that He wants them to offer Him sacrifices. He is not going to take a bull from their house in order to satisfy His desire for offerings, for that is not the problem.
Nor goats out of your folds.
Neither is He going to take goats out of their folds in a desire for animal offerings.
10. For every beast of the forest is Mine,
While these sacrifices and offerings to God were good, since He had commanded them to make them, the reality is that they were not really giving Him anything when they made them, for every beast of the forest is His anyway. How could they give Him anything when in reality He owns it all?
And the cattle on a thousand hills.
He owns the cattle on a thousand hills. How then could sacrifices and offerings benefit Him in any way? How could He possibly gain from such things? Therefore it was the heart and faith of the offerer, not the reception of the offering, that really mattered to God all along. If they made the offerings because He said to make the offerings, this was good and pleasing in His sight. Yet they should not imagine that they are benefitting God or enriching Him in any way when making them. The benefit was really all on their end, not on His.
11. I know all the birds of the mountains,
God testifies that He knows all the birds of the mountains. If they bring a bird to Him as an offering, then, it is not as though they are giving Him a creature He was not aware of.
And the wild beasts of the field are Mine.
The wild beasts of the field are also His. God is basically saying here, “Wherever you look, it is all Mine, Mine, Mine.” This is true. There is nothing that does not belong to God, for He is the Creator of it all. What then can we as men possibly give to the God Who owns everything anyway?
12. “If I were hungry, I would not tell you;
God testifies that if He were hungry, He would not tell us, as if we could provide for His need. Would you tell an infant that you were hungry, and hope it could offer you help? Infants need the help of adults, and they can give no help in return. The same is true of God: He is so far above us that if He did need anything, we would be entirely powerless to provide it for Him. He would never look to us to provide His needs.
This basically goes contrary to what was the common thought among pagans regarding their gods in that day. They thought that their service really did benefit their gods. Their gods hungered for the sacrifices they offered. They demanded service from men because they needed that service. Yes they were powerful, but they also needed things from men which men could provide for them. El Elohim Yahweh assures His people that this is not so of Him. Even if He was hungry, He would not look to us to fulfill that hunger.
For the world is Mine, and all its fullness.
This is why it would not make sense for God to look to us for help if He were hungry. He owns the world itself, and all its fullness. The word “world” here is the Hebrew tebel, and indicates the inhabited world of men. Everything we have that we might think of giving Him is really His already. If He was hungry, He is more than capable of providing for His hunger Himself. He does not need us to mediate for Him to bring Him sustenance. It is foolish to suppose that you can aid God, or that He needs your help. He owns it all. All power is His. He needs no help from us.
13. Will I eat the flesh of bulls,
Will God really eat the flesh of bulls offered in sacrifice? No, that is not what happens when animals are offered. Parts are burned, parts are eaten by the one bringing the offering, and parts are eaten by the priests, all depending on what sort of offering it is. Yet none of it is eaten by God. It would be foolishness to think so.
Or drink the blood of goats?
God does not drink the blood of goats offered on His altar. The pagans might imagine that of their gods, but it was simply not true.
14. Offer to God thanksgiving,
So if sacrifices and offerings are no real benefit to Him, then what is it He does desire from His people? The answer is thanksgiving. Since the sacrifices were never really a benefit to Him, then it becomes clear that what He really desired was the attitude of the person bringing the offerings. He wants a heart that is thankful and faithful to Him first and foremost. Faithfully bringing the offerings He desired was an outgrowth of that attitude. Therefore what He calls on Israel to offer Him at this great gathering that He has not been receiving from them is thanksgiving. They have not been grateful to Him for all his many benefits. Now He is going to be benefiting them more than they would have ever imagined, and He wants them to be properly thankful to Him for it.
And pay your vows to the Most High.
The Most High also wants them to pay their vows to Him. I suppose if a wife asked her husband (or a husband asked his wife) what he really wants of her, he might say that he wants her to be thankful for being his wife and to keep her vows to him. I suppose all married people might wish these things of their partners. And these are the things that God wants from His people. Thus we can clearly see that what is really important to God is not the religious things they might do, but rather their relationship with Him.
What vows might these be? I suppose they might be Nazirite vows, as we read of them in Numbers 6. Those were the special vows the LORD set forth for His people to make to Him. Yet I suppose He also might have in mind just simply the vow to keep His covenant. As I discussed above, this might have to do with being faithful to their relationship with Him, just as a married person keeping his vows would mean being faithful to his relationship with his wife. God wants His people to be faithful to their relationship with Him. When they make Him a vow, when they make Him a promise, He wants them to keep it.
The name “Most High” here is the Hebrew Elyon. It is used in its first occurrence of God as the “possessor of heaven and earth.” We pay our vows to the God Who owns all things anyway.
15. Call upon Me in the day of trouble;
God also desires for them to call upon Him in the day of trouble. When we are in trouble, there might be many sources we could look to for help, yet what God wants of His people is that He be the first and primary One. If I relate it to a marriage relationship again, suppose a wife got in a bad situation where she was raped, and instead of telling her husband about it she hid it from him. Maybe he finds out a long time later, and he is upset, not just that such a terrible thing happened to his wife, but that she did not come to him with it. “Why didn’t you come to me when you were in trouble?” he might ask. If he really loves his wife, this would probably hurt him far more than if she had come to him immediately after the sad event happened. So God wants His people to look to Him in their own day of trouble, whatever that trouble might be. Why would they not look to Him? Why would they not trust Him? How hurtful it is if those we love are unwilling to come to us in their time of need! And God wants His people to realize this. He wants them to look to Him whenever they are in need.
I will deliver you, and you shall glorify Me.”
The result when His people come to God in their day of trouble will be that He will deliver them, and they shall glorify Him for it. This clearly takes place in a day when God is no longer silent. This is the way it will be in God’s kingdom: He will always deliver His people when they call upon Him to do it.
16. But to the wicked God says:
Now God speaks to the wicked among His people, for of course when He gathers them all together there will be all kinds of men among them, both Godly and wicked.
“What right have you to declare My statutes,
Israel’s privilege in the Kingdom of God will be to declare God’s statutes to the nations. Yet what right have these wicked men to do this? What right have they to represent God’s statutes by declaring them to another?
We cannot see it in modern English, but the word “you” here is singular, so, though God is speaking to many wicked people, He is speaking also personally and individually to each wicked person, accusing them of their own wicked actions and attitudes.
Or take My covenant in your mouth,
What right have they to take God’s covenant, His agreement with His people Israel, in their mouths, as if it applied to them and they could take benefit from it?
17. Seeing you hate instruction
First of all they have no right to declare His statutes since they themselves hate instruction. God has no use for hypocrites, who love to instruct others but refuse to take instruction themselves!
And cast My words behind you?
Likewise these wicked men have cast God’s words behind them. What right have they, then, when the kingdom comes and His word is law, to take up His covenant in their mouths? If they hated it in the dark day, what right have they to take it up in the light?
This should provide a warning for all of us who claim to be believers in Jesus Christ today. How difficult a thing it is to really allow yourself to be instructed by God, and to be reproved by His words! Our pride wars against this, and many people who would loudly proclaim to love God and be Christians will in reality refuse to take instruction from God’s Word. When His truth is presented to them to change, reprove, or correct them, they choose not to yield to it, but rather cast it behind them. Certainly they will have no reward or commendation from God when they stand before Him in judgment for having an attitude like this.
18. When you saw a thief, you consented with him,
These wicked people consented with a thief when they saw him. There are all too many people willing to do this in our day. Leaving aside whether or not they are willing to steal themselves (which they no doubt are), if they hear anyone tell a story about how they got away with not paying for this or walked off without paying for that, they will congratulate and approve the thief for his cleverness in “ripping off” whatever he had stolen. If he boasts of getting money by false pretenses or by making untrue claims, they consent and approve. They envy the person his cleverness, and want to learn more in case they might have an opportunity to do the same thing. This is not the attitude of a righteous person, but of a wicked one.
And have been a partaker with adulterers.
These people partake with adulterers. This again is leaving aside whether or not they are adulterers themselves (which they might well be), but is speaking of those who aid and abet adulterers in their corrupt activities. If they want to commit adultery, these people will rent them a room. If they want to hide it from their legitimate partners, they will help them conceal it. If they need someone to confirm their alibis, these will confirm them. Such people go beyond being wicked themselves to approving and encouraging wickedness in others.
In the Bible, adultery can also often be used as a figure for worshipping idols. What God meant here may not strictly be that they aided adulterers in cheating on their wives, but could mean that when people were getting together to worship idols, they were right there partaking with them.
19. You give your mouth to evil,
They gave their mouths to evil. Of course, this means they used their mouths to say wicked things and to try to accomplish wicked purposes. “Evil” here is the Hebrew ra’a. We use the English “evil” as a synonym for “wickedness” or “sin,” but the idea of the Hebrew word is of calamity. A car accident is an “evil.” Getting cancer is an “evil.” Yet the word can be used almost figuratively for sin and wickedness, since such things bring calamity. Of course, both are in the context, for both stealing and adultery are wicked and bring calamity as well (on the one stolen from or cheated on, and on the thief or adulterer when caught).
And your tongue frames deceit.
They use their tongues to frame deceit. How often do wicked people deceive by their words! Yet our God is a God of truth, and as His people we should be people of the truth.
20. You sit and speak against your brother;
These will sit and speak against their own brothers. Family ties were important to them, and it was expected that brothers would stand up for each other, but these wicked men would actually take a settled position (sit) of speaking against their own brothers.
You slander your own mother’s son.
They would also slander their own mother’s son. This is more or less eliminating the idea of a half-brother. In their society, where polygamy and concubinage were common practices, there was a much greater propensity to half-siblings who shared the same father but different mothers that to half-siblings who shared the same mother but different fathers. Thus, to say that one was “your own mother’s son” is to say that these wicked were not speaking against one who was merely a half-brother (which might be more understandable), but rather were slandering their full siblings, their own mother’s son.
21. These things you have done, and I kept silent;
The wicked did all these things, and God kept silent. Surely this must bring to our minds the dispensation of the secret, in which God is working in secret and all His riches to the world are untraceable. We can read of this reality of God’s work today in Ephesians 3:8-9. This helps us locate the time God gathers His people to judge them here: He is doing it immediately after the dispensation of grace at the start of the Kingdom of God.
You thought that I was altogether like you;
Since God did not speak, since He kept silent and did not state His opinion of their wicked actions, these people became empty in their imaginations (as in Romans 1:21) and their foolish hearts were darkened to misunderstand the reality of God and imagine that He was altogether like them. How easy it is for a thief to imagine that God is all about material gain, for an adulterer to imagine that God is unfaithful, for a cheat to imagine that God will break any rule to achieve His ends, and so forth! It is much more comfortable for us to imagine that God shares our faults than it is to admit that He is the high and holy One Who never does anything less than what is right.
There has never been anything more common for men when it comes to their thoughts of God than for them to make Him out in their minds in their own image. Many people imagine that God is just like them, only bigger. The thought many have of God is of an old man with a long, white beard as Michelangelo painted Him in the Sistine Chapel. Another common view of God many have is that He is like a bigger version of their own parents. If their parents were harsh, they imagine God is harsh; if their parents were untrustworthy, they imagine God is untrustworthy; and so forth. There is an old joke that an Englishman thinks that God is just a fellow Englishman ten feet tall. I think this kind of attitude is not unique to England, and I would guess that many in the United States would view God as practically an American ten feet tall. Since God does not actively speak and reveal Himself, most men will simply imagine Him to be altogether like them.
But I will rebuke you,
Yet when the day comes when God calls all His people together and sets them in order (to “judge” and to “set in order” are really the same thing), He will rebuke these wicked men who imagined that He was altogether like them. They might have thought that He was no better than they are, yet they will find out that this was not at all the case. God did not overlook their unrighteous actions.
And set them in order before your eyes.
What exactly God is setting in order before the eyes of these wicked people is unclear. Since the entire portion from verse 16 is speaking to the wicked among His people, it seems unlikely that He interrupts in just this one phrase to speak to the righteous and tell them He will set the wicked in order, though that is possible. More probably He is setting in order their thoughts of Him. Their imagined idea of Him as like them will be totally refuted, and they will see God deal with all their wicked works and set them in order according to His righteous judgment.
22. “Now consider this, you who forget God,
God calls upon all who forget Him to consider this. Men in that day will do well to heed His warning, for God will no longer allow men to live as if He did not exist and they were their own god. Men at that time will have no choice but to remember Him. Yet this was also a good warning to those living in Israel in Asaph’s day. They will be raised from the dead and will be part of this number who will be judged in that day. This is also a good warning for all who choose to forget God in our day as well. We may not be Israelites and so be a part of this gathering, but we can be sure that the day will come when God will judge us as well. We will see clearly at that time that He is not altogether as we are, and so it would be good for us not to forget Him or to live wickedly.
Lest I tear you in pieces,
If they do forget God, the danger to them is destruction. He may tear them in pieces when the day of judgment comes. Thus Asaph presents the same end to the wicked that is consistently presented throughout the Bible. The punishment of the wicked is destruction!
And there be none to deliver:
God is the Savior and the Deliverer. If He chooses to destroy you, then there will be none to deliver you.
23. Whoever offers praise glorifies Me;
God closes out this psalm with one last word about those who please Him. Whoever offers praise glorifies Him. This harkens back to verse 14, where God called upon His people to offer Him thanksgiving. Here, He wishes them to offer Him praise. This is true worship that glorifies Him. Indeed in all we do we should seek to glorify our God.
And to him who orders his conduct aright
This is also what He looks to His people to do: to order their conduct aright. God wants men to fear Him and work righteousness. He has no pleasure in wickedness, as the wicked vainly thought.
I will show the salvation of God.”
To the one who does act as God would desire him to act, He will show His salvation. This salvation includes both deliverance and safety or preservation. Those who act as He desires will see His great salvation of the world in His kingdom. That is the promise to all who will serve and obey Him among His people. We too need to fear God, but the most important thing for us to do to conduct ourselves aright is for us to believe the record God has given of His Son. That, our faith in Him, will be our righteousness.
To the Chief Musician.
This psalm is to the Chief Musician. Of course, it was written to be performed, and the Chief Musician was in charge of the music in the temple service. The psalms to the Chief Musicians were songs for public worship. Asaph himself was one of these Chief Musicians, so he may have conducted the performance of this song himself.