a Bible passage

Click a verse to see commentary
Select a resource above

Psalm 50

The Acceptable Sacrifice

A Psalm of Asaph.


The mighty one, God the L ord,

speaks and summons the earth

from the rising of the sun to its setting.


Out of Zion, the perfection of beauty,

God shines forth.



Our God comes and does not keep silence,

before him is a devouring fire,

and a mighty tempest all around him.


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



“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 wild animal of the forest is mine,

the cattle on a thousand hills.


I know all the birds of the air,

and all that moves in the field is mine.



“If I were hungry, I would not tell you,

for the world and all that is in it is mine.


Do I eat the flesh of bulls,

or drink the blood of goats?


Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving,

and pay your vows to the Most High.


Call on me in the day of trouble;

I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me.”



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.


You make friends with a thief when you see one,

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 kin;

you slander your own mother’s child.


These things you have done and I have been silent;

you thought that I was one just like yourself.

But now I rebuke you, and lay the charge before you.



“Mark this, then, you who forget God,

or I will tear you apart, and there will be no one to deliver.


Those who bring thanksgiving as their sacrifice honor me;

to those who go the right way

I will show the salvation of God.”

1. The God of gods, even Jehovah, 241241     The original words here rendered “The God of gods, even Jehovah,” are אל אלהים יהוה, E1 Elohim Yehovah Each of these words is a name of the Divine Being. The first has reference to the power of the Deity; so that it might be translated, “The Mighty One.” If we read אל אלהים, El Elohim, together, and translate “The God of gods,” this is a Hebrewism for “Most mighty God;” the word אלהים, Elohim, being placed after the name of any thing to express its excellency, greatness, or might. See p. 7, note 1, of this volume. Comp. Deuteronomy 10:17; Joshua 22:22; and Daniel 11:36. Horsley reads, “The omnipotent God Jehovah hath spoken.” The reading of the Chaldee is, “The mighty One, the God Jehovah.” The prophet has here joined together these three names of God, to give to the Israelites a more impressive idea of the greatness of Him who, now seated on his throne, and surrounded with awful majesty, was about to plead his controversy with them. hath spoken The inscription of this psalm bears the name of Asaph; but whether he was the author of it, or merely received it as chief singer from the hand of David, cannot be known. This, however, is a matter of little consequence. The opinion has been very generally entertained, that the psalm points to the period of the Church’s renovation, and that the design of the prophet is to apprise the Jews of the coming abrogation of their figurative worship under the Law. That the Jews were subjected to the rudiments of the world, which continued till the Church’s majority, and the arrival of what the apostle calls “the fullness of times,” (Galatians 4:4,) admits of no doubt; the only question is, whether the prophet must here be considered as addressing the men of his own age, and simply condemning the abuse and corruption of the legal worship, or as predicting the future kingdom of Christ? From the scope of the psalm, it is sufficiently apparent that the prophet does in fact interpret the Law to his contemporaries, with a view of showing them that the ceremonies, while they existed, were of no importance whatever by themselves, or otherwise than connected with a higher meaning. Is it objected, that God never called the whole world except upon the promulgation of the Gospel, and that the doctrine of the Law was addressed only to one peculiar people? the answer is obvious, that the prophet in this place describes the whole world as convened not for the purpose of receiving one common system of faith, but of hearing God plead his cause with the Jews in its presence. The appeal is of a parallel nature with others which we find in Scripture:

“Give ear, O ye heavens! and I will speak; and hear, O earth! the words of my mouths” (Deuteronomy 32:1;)

or as in another place,

“I call heaven and earth to record this day against you, that I have set before you life and death,” (Deuteronomy 30:19;)

and again Isaiah,

“Hear, O heaven! and give ear, O earth! for the Lord hath spoken,” (Isaiah 1:2.) 242242     “The Targum, Kimchi, and R. Obediah Gaon, interpret this psalm of the day of judgment, and Jarchi takes it to be a prophecy of the redemption by their future Messiah.” — Dr Gill. Dr Adam Clarke explains it in the first of these senses; observing, that “to any minor consideration or fact it seems impossible with any propriety to restrain it.” It appears, however, as Calvin holds, to be rather the aim and intention of the poem to teach the utter uselessness of all outward ceremonies in the absence of inward piety; and it is constructed on the plan of a dramatic performance, the sole actor being Jehovah seated on his throne in Zion, and the audience being the whole world, who are summoned to be witnesses of the judgment which he is to execute upon his people. This is the view taken by Bishop Lowth in his Lectures on Sacred Poetry, volume 2, p. 235. Walford gives the same interpretation. “To interpret this passage,” says he, “of the promulgation of the Gospel, as is done by Bishop Horne and other expositors of this book, is for the sake of a favorite theory to confound things that are distinct, and to throw obscurity over the whole, by which its specific design is darkened, and the poem deprived of its consistency and unity. The great purpose of the psalm is to deliver the judgment of God respecting the Jewish people; and heaven and earth are summoned, as in Isaiah 1:2, to behold the righteousness of Jehovah, and bear their testimony to it.”

This vehement mode of address was required in speaking to hypocrites, that they might be roused from their complacent security, and their serious attention engaged to the message of God. The Jews had special need to be awakened upon the point to which reference is here made. Men are naturally disposed to outward show in religion, and, measuring God by themselves, imagine that an attention to ceremonies constitutes the sum of their duty. There was a strong disposition among the Jews to rest in an observance of the figures of the Law, and it is well known with what severity the prophets all along reprehended this superstition, by which the worst and most abandoned characters were led to arrogate a claim to piety, and hide their abominations under the specious garb of godliness. The prophet, therefore, required to do more than simply expose the defective nature of that worship which withdraws the attention of men from faith and holiness of heart to outward ceremonies; it was necessary that, in order to check false confidence and banish insensibility, he should adopt the style of severe reproof. God is here represented as citing all the nations of the earth to his tribunal, not with the view of prescribing the rule of piety to an assembled world, or collecting a church for his service, but with the design of alarming the hypocrite, and terrifying him out of his self-complacency. It would serve as a spur to conviction, thus to be made aware that the whole world was summoned as a witness to their dissimulation, and that they would be stripped of that pretended piety of which they were disposed to boast. It is with a similar object that he addresses Jehovah as the God of gods, to possess their minds with a salutary terror, and dissuade them from their vain attempts to elude his knowledge. That this is his design will be made still more apparent from the remaining context, where we are presented with a formidable description of the majesty of God, intended to convince the hypocrite of the vanity of those childish trifles with which he would evade the scrutiny of so great and so strict a judge.

To obviate an objection which might be raised against his doctrine in this psalm, that it was subversive of the worship prescribed by Moses, the prophet intimates that this judgment which he announced would be in harmony with the Law. When God speaks out of Zion he necessarily sanctions the authority of the Law; and the Prophets, when at any time they make use of this form of speech, declare themselves to be interpreters of the Law. That holy mountain was not chosen of man’s caprice, and therefore stands identified with the Law. The prophet thus cuts off any pretext which the Jews might allege to evade his doctrine, by announcing that such as concealed their wickedness, under the specious covert of ceremonies, would not be condemned of God by any new code of religion, but by that which was ministered originally by Moses. He gives Zion the honorable name of the perfection of beauty, because God had chosen it for his sanctuary, the place where his name should be invoked, and where his glory should be manifested in the doctrine of the Law.

3. Our God shall come, and shall not keep silence 243243     This negative form of expression is employed to give greater emphasis. He repeats that God would come, in order to confirm his doctrine, and more effectually arouse them. He would come, and should not always keep silence, lest they should be encouraged to presume upon his forbearance. Two reasons may be assigned why the prophet calls God our God He may be considered as setting himself, and the comparatively small number of the true fearers of the Lord, in opposition to the hypocrites whom he abhors, claiming God to be his God, and not theirs, as they were disposed to boast; or rather, he speaks as one of the people, and declares that the God who was coming to avenge the corruptions of his worship was the same God whom all the children of Abraham professed to serve. He who shall come, as if he had said, is our God, the same in whom we glory, who established his covenant with Abraham, and gave us his Law by the hand of Moses. He adds, that God would come with fire and tempest, in order to awaken a salutary fear in the secure hearts of the Jews, that they might learn to tremble at the judgments of God, which they had hitherto regarded with indifference and despised, and in allusion to the awful manifestation which God made of himself from Sinai, (Exodus 19:16; see also Hebrews 12:18.) The air upon that occasion resounded with thunders and the noise of trumpets, the heavens were illuminated with lightnings, and the mountain was in flames, it being the design of God to procure a reverential submission to the Law which he announced. And it is here intimated, that God would make a similarly terrific display of his power, in coming to avenge the gross abuses of his holy religion.

4. He shall call to the heavens from above It is plain from this verse for what purpose God, as he had already announced, would call upon the earth. This was to witness the settlement of his controversy with his own people the Jews, against whom judgment was to be pronounced, not in the ordinary manner as by his prophets, but with great solemnity before the whole world. The prophet warns the hypocritical that they must prepare to be driven from their hiding-place, that their cause would be decided in the presence of men and angels, and that they would he dragged without excuse before that dreadful assembly. It may be asked, why the prophet represents the true fearers of the Lord as cited to his bar, when it is evident that the remonstrance which follows in the psalm is addressed to the hypocritical and degenerate portion of the Jews? To this I answer, that God here speaks of the whole Church, for though a great part of the race of Abraham had declined from the piety of their ancestors, yet he has a respect to the Jewish Church, as being his own institution. He speaks of them as his meek ones, to remind them of what they ought to be in consistency with their calling, and not as if they were all without exception patterns of godliness. The form of the address conveys a rebuke to those amongst them whose real character was far from corresponding with their profession. Others have suggested a more refined interpretation, as if the meaning were, Separate the small number of my sincere worshippers from the promiscuous multitude by whom my name is profaned, lest they too should afterwards be seduced to a vain religion of outward form. I do not deny that this agrees with the scope of the prophet. But I see no reason why a church, however universally corrupted, provided it contain a few godly members, should not be denominated, in honor of this remnant, the holy people of God. Interpreters have differed upon the last clause of the verse: Those who strike a covenant with me over sacrifices, Some think over is put for besides, or beyond, and that God commends his true servants for this, that they acknowledged something more to be required in his covenant than an observance of outward ceremonies, and were not chargeable with resting in the carnal figures of the Law. 244244     In Luther’s German translation of the Bible this verse is rendered,
   “Gather me mine holy ones,
That regard the covenant more than offering.”
Others think that the spiritual and true worship of God is here directly opposed to sacrifices; as if it had been said, Those who, instead of sacrifices, keep my covenant in the right and appointed manner, by yielding to me the sincere homage of their heart. But in my opinion, the prophet is here to be viewed as pointing out with commendation the true and genuine use of the legal worship; for it was of the utmost consequence that it should be known what was the real end for which God appointed sacrifices under the Law. The prophet here declares that sacrifices were of no value whatever except as seals of God’s covenant, an interpretative handwriting of submission to it, or in general as means employed for ratifying it. There is an allusion to the custom then universally prevalent of interposing sacrifices, that covenants might be made more solemn, and be more religiously observed. 245245     The manner in which covenants were anciently ratified by sacrifices was this: The victim was cut into two parts, and each half was placed upon an altar. The contracting parties then passed between the pieces, which was a kind of imprecation upon the party who should violate the covenant, being as much as to say, May he or they be cut asunder like that dissected victim. In this manner, the covenant which God made with Abraham and his family was ratified, Genesis 15:9, 17, 18. This awful ceremony was also observed by God’s ancient people at the renovation of the covenant, as appears from Jeremiah 34:18. See also a covenant between God and his people with sacrifices in Exodus 24:4-8. This explains the phrase here used, which is literally, “Those who have cut a covenant with me by sacrifice,” the verb being from כרת, carath, he cut The same mode of ratifying covenants prevailed among some of the heathen nations, as appears from the allusions made to it by Homer and Virgil, Iliad, lib. 19, 50, 260; Æneid, lib. 12, 50, 292. In like manner, the design with which sacrifices were instituted by God was to bind his people more closely to himself, and to ratify and confirm his covenant. The passage is well worthy of our particular notice, as defining those who are to be considered the true members of the Church. They are such, on the one hand, as are characterised by the spirit of meekness, practising righteousness in their intercourse with the world; and such, on the other, as close in the exercise of a genuine faith with the covenant of adoption which God has proposed to them. This forms the true worship of God, as he has himself delivered it to us from heaven; and those who decline from it, whatever pretensions they may make to be considered a church of God, are excommunicated from it by the Holy Spirit. As to sacrifices or other ceremonies, they are of no value, except in so far as they seal to us the pure truth of God. All such rites, consequently, as have no foundation in the word of God, are unauthorised, and that worship which has not a distinct reference to the word is but a corruption of things sacred.

6. And the heavens shall declare his righteousness. The Jews were vain enough to imagine that their idle and fantastic service was the perfection of righteousness; but they are here warned by the prophet, that God, who had seemed to connive at their folly, was about to reveal his own righteousness from heaven, and expose their miserable devices. “Think you,” as if he had said, “that God can take delight in the mockery of your deluded services? Though you send up the smoke of them to heaven, God will make known his righteousness in due time from above, and vindicate it from the dishonors done to it by your wicked inventions. The heavens themselves will attest your perfidy in despising true holiness, and corrupting the pure worship of God. He will no longer suffer your gratuitous aspersions of his character, as if he took no notice of the enmity which lurks under your pretended friendship.” There is thus a cogency in the prophet’s manner of treating his subject. Men are disposed to admit that God is judge, but, at the same time, to fabricate excuses for evading his judgment, and it was therefore necessary that the sentence which God was about to pronounce should be vindicated from the vain cavils which might be brought against it.

VIEWNAME is study