Americans celebrated Thanksgiving last Thursday. Between sitting at a table bowed from the weight of turkey, cranberries, and pumpkin pie and sitting in front of a TV with a bloated belly, many Americans paused to consider the things for which they’re thankful.
The psalm begins by extolling God as the sovereign ruler who shines over all creation from perfection of beauty.
The Mighty One, God the Lord,
speaks and summons the earth
from the rising of the sun to its setting.
Out of Zion, the perfection of beauty,
God shines forth (Psalm 50:1-2, ESV).
These verses show how God sustains all the earth, but they also recall the first day of creation. God spoke and there was light. Here we see the Creator and Sustainer calling all the earth, from east to west, to come before his light and listen to his word.
In the Bible, Zion often refers to the church. While it’s often impossible to see our fellow believers as “the perfection of beauty,” we will see the church as a spotless bride at Christ’s return.
The next verses sound apocalyptic, like many in the book of Revelation.
Our God comes; he does not keep silence;
before him is a devouring fire,
around him a mighty tempest.
He calls to the heavens above
and to the earth, that he may judge his people:
“Gather to me my faithful ones,
who made a covenant with me by sacrifice!”
The heavens declare his righteousness,
for God himself is judge! Selah (3-6, ESV)
In our broken world, filled with pain and evil, it may sometimes seem as if God is silent. But he is not. He hears and answers our prayers now. Someday Christ will come in judgment and all people will hear his voice. He will gather to himself the faithful who lived in covenant with him.
The heavens above declare God’s righteousness. God calls all the stars by name (Psalm 147:4). The eyes of faith can see biblical truths in constellations, the waxing and waning of the moon, and the rising and setting of the sun.
God speaks most clearly in his written word. In Psalm 50, he speaks to believers (7-15, ESV):
“Hear, O my people, and I will speak;
O Israel, I will testify against you.
I am God, your God.
Not for your sacrifices do I rebuke you;
your burnt offerings are continually before me.
I will not accept a bull from your house
or goats from your folds.
For every beast of the forest is mine,
the cattle on a thousand hills.
I know all the birds of the hills,
and all that moves in the field is mine.
“If I were hungry, I would not tell you,
for the world and its fullness are mine.
Do I eat the flesh of bulls
or drink the blood of goats?
Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving,
and perform your vows to the Most High,
and call upon me in the day of trouble;
I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me.”
God does not delight in a merely external practice of religion. Everything in the world is his, why should we think we are doing a good thing when we tithe our money or donate food? It all belongs to God, and he doesn’t need any of the things we can give him.
Yet he wants us to offer a sacrifice to him, not of bulls or goats, but of thanksgiving and prayer. We are called to glorify him in everything we do.
God does not want hypocritical practices. He sees the inner motives of the heart, and he will not despise a heart that breaks over personal sin and repents from it (Psalm 51:17).
In the next part of Psalm 50, God vividly warns those who profess to be righteous but whose words and actions are wicked (16-22, ESV):
But to the wicked God says:
“What right have you to recite my statutes
or take my covenant on your lips?
For you hate discipline,
and you cast my words behind you.
If you see a thief, you are pleased with him,
and you keep company with adulterers.
“You give your mouth free rein for evil,
and your tongue frames deceit.
You sit and speak against your brother;
you slander your own mother’s son.
These things you have done, and I have been silent;
you thought that I was one like yourself.
But now I rebuke you and lay the charge before you.
“Mark this, then, you who forget God,
lest I tear you apart, and there be none to deliver!
These are people who recite the Apostles Creed or teach about God’s covenant, but they ignore God’s truth when it comes to biblical discipline, their business practices, or their social life. They resist God’s correction and ignore his directives. They rejoice to see thieves succeed and they support people who are unfaithful to their spouses. They freely use gifts of articulation for evil purposes and deceptive practices. They talk about members of their own family or church family, spreading rumors and creating discord.
Because they got away with these things, they thought they were living within God’s will. But now God rebukes them, laying a charge before them in a terrifying warning. Do not forget God!
Who has not fallen into these sins at some point? We need to remember that God sees and hears all. If we whisper gossip in a corner of church, we shouldn’t worry about other people overhearing us as much as we should be aware that God hears every word. He knows our thoughts and the desires hidden deeply in our hearts. So we all must take God’s warning seriously.
But he doesn’t end Psalm 50 on that warning note. He concludes with this promise (23, ESV):
The one who offers thanksgiving as his sacrifice glorifies me;
to one who orders his way rightly
I will show the salvation of God!”
We glorify God by offering a sacrifice of thanksgiving, not only one day a year, but also the other 364 days. God warns those who put on a pretense of righteousness while failing to apply his word to their lives. But he promises to show salvation to his people who love him and live for him in true righteousness.