This psalm purports to be a "psalm of Asaph." This is the first of the psalms ascribed to him. twelve in all are attributed to him, namely, Psalm 50; 73-83. Asaph was a Levite, a son of Berachiah, 1 Chronicles 6:39; 1 Chronicles 15:17. He was eminent as a musician, Nehemiah 12:46; 1 Chronicles 16:7, and was appointed by "the chief of the Levites," at the command of David, with two others, Heman and Ethan, to preside over a part of the sacred choral services of public worship, 1 Chronicles 15:16-19. They had charge particularly of the worship as conducted with "cymbals of brass," 1 Chronicles 15:19. The "sons of Asaph" are afterward mentioned among the choristers of the temple 1 Chronicles 25:1-2; 2 Chronicles 20:14; 2 Chronicles 29:13; Ezra 2:41; Ezra 3:10; Nehemiah 7:44; Nehemiah 11:22; and this office appears to have been hereditary in his family, 1 Chronicles 25:1-2. Asaph was celebrated in after times as a prophet and a poet, 2 Chronicles 29:30; Nehemiah 12:46. The title, rendered in the margin, "for Asaph," "may" mean either that the psalm was composed "by" Asaph himself, or that it was composed especially "for" him, by David or by someone else, and that it was committed to him to be set to music, or to be sung by that band of musicians over which he was appointed to preside. Compare the notes at the title to Psalm 42:1-11. The presumption is, that it was composed "by" Asaph, as this is the most natural explanation of the title, and as there is nothing in the circumstances of the case to render this improbable.
Of the "occasion" on which the psalm was composed we have no information. There is nothing in the title to indicate this, nor is there anything in the psalm itself which would connect it with any known events in the Jewish history. There are no local allusions, there are no names mentioned, there are no circumstances referred to, which enable us to determine the time of its composition.
The "object" of the psalm seems to be to set forth "the value and importance of spiritual religion as compared with a mere religion of forms." It is one among numerous portions of the Old Testament which show that the Jewish religion "contemplated" and "required" spirituality in its worshippers, and that it was not designed to be merely formal. There was, indeed, great tendency among the Jewish people to rely on the forms of religion, and it must be admitted that there was not a little in their modes of worship which went to foster this unless there was constant vigilance on the part of the worshipper, and on the part of the public teachers of religion. At the time when this psalm was composed, it would seem that there was a general reliance on the mere ceremonies of public worship; that much of the spirituality of religion had vanished; and that under the forms of religion, and connected with a decent and even scrupulous attention to them, there was a great, if not general, prevalence, of moral corruption among the people. See Psalm 50:16-21.
In the composition of the psalm, therefore, the author represents a scene of solemn judgment; describes God as coming with pomp, and amidst fire and tempests, to pronounce a sentence on man; and then, as in his presence, and as amidst these solemn scenes, shows what will be found to be true piety; what will meet with theapprobation, and what will incur the disapprobation, of God.
The psalm may be regarded as composed of the following parts.
I. A solemn representation of the scenes of judgment; of God as coming to judge his professed people, assembling together those who had avowed themselves to be his friends, and who had pledged themselves to be his amidst the solemn scenes of sacrifice, Psalm 50:1-6.
In this part of the psalm there are the following things:
(a) A general summons to the world, from the rising to the setting sun, Psalm 50:1.
(b) The statement that the great principles on which all would be determined would proceed out of Zion, or would be such as were inculcated there in the worship of God, Psalm 50:2.
(c) A description of God as coming to judgment amidst fire and tempest, Psalm 50:3.
(d) A general call to the heavens and the earth, that His people might be summoned from all quarters with reference to the final sentence, Psalm 50:4-5.
(e) A statement that perfect justice would be done, which the very heavens would reveal, for that God was himself the judge, Psalm 50:6.
II. A declaration of the great principles on which the judgment would proceed, and by which the issue would be determined. It would not be by an observance of the mere external forms of devotion, but by spiritual religion; by a sincere worship of God; by a holy life, Psalm 50:7-23.
This portion of the psalm is divided into two parts: the "first," showing that it is not by mere outward forms that acceptance can be found with God, but that there must be, under these forms, pure and spiritual religion, Psalm 50:7-15; and the "second," that the wicked cannot hope to meet with the favor of God, though they do observe these forms, Psalm 50:16-23.
First. It is not by mere external forms that acceptance can be found with God, Psalm 50:7-15.
(a) A statement of the fact, and of the grounds of the fact, that God will testify against them, Psalm 50:7-8.
(b) The mere offering of sacrifices cannot be acceptable to Him. He does not "need" their sacrifices, as all the beasts of the world are His, Psalm 50:9-13.
(c) Only praise - spiritual worship - humble trust in him - can be admitted as true righteousness; as that which will be acceptable to him, Psalm 50:14-15.
Second. The wicked cannot be accepted and approved though they do observe the forms of religion, Psalm 50:16-23.
(a) Such men, though in the priestly office, cannot be regarded as appointed by God to declare his will, or to represent him on earth, Psalm 50:16-17,
(b) A description of the actual conduct of many of those who professed to be His friend; who were rigid in their observances of the external forms of religion, and who were even in the priestly office, Psalm 50:18-21.
This psalm, therefore, is one of the most instructive portions of the Old Testament, as setting forth the necessity of spiritual religion, and the fact that a mere observance of forms can never constitute that righteousness which will make people acceptable to God.
A Psalm of Asaph. The mighty God, even the LORD, hath spoken, and called the earth from the rising of the sun unto the going down thereof.The mighty God, even the Lord - Even "Yahweh," for this is the original word. The Septuagint and Vulgate render this "The God of gods, the Lord." DeWette renders it, "God, God Jehovah, speaks." Prof. Alexander, "The Almighty, God, Jehovah, speaks;" and remarks that the word "mighty" is not an adjective agreeing with the next word ("the mighty God"), but a substantive in apposition with it. The idea is, that he who speaks is the true God; the Supreme Ruler of the universe. It is "that" God who has a right to call the world to judgment, and who has power to execute his will.
Hath spoken - Or rather, "speaks." That is, the psalmist represents him as now speaking, and as calling the world to judgment.
And called the earth - Addressed all the inhabitants of the world; all dwellers on the earth.
From the rising of the sun unto the going down thereof - From the place where the sun seems to rise, to the place where it seems to set; that is, all the world. Compare the notes at Isaiah 59:19. See also Malachi 1:11; Psalm 113:3. The call is made to all the earth; to all the human race. The scene is imaginary as represented by the psalmist, but it is founded on a true representation of what will occur - of the universal judgment, when all nations shall be summoned to appear before the final Judge. See Matthew 25:32; Revelation 20:11-14.
Out of Zion, the perfection of beauty, God hath shined.Out of Zion - The place where God was worshipped, and where he dwelt. Compare the notes at Isaiah 2:3.
The perfection of beauty - See the notes at Psalm 48:2.
God hath shined - Has shined forth, or has caused light and splendor to appear. Compare Deuteronomy 33:2; Psalm 80:2; Psalm 94:1 (see the margin) The meaning here is, that the great principles which are to determine the destiny of mankind in the final judgment are those which proceed from Zion; or, those which are taught in the religion of Zion; they are those which are inculcated through the church of God. God has there made known his law; he has stated the principles on which he governs, and on which he will judge the world.
Our God shall come, and shall not keep silence: a fire shall devour before him, and it shall be very tempestuous round about him.Our God shall come - That is, he will come to judgment. This language is derived from the supposition that God "will" judge the world, and it shows that this doctrine was understood and believed by the Hebrews. The New Testament has stated the fact that this will be done by the coming of his Son Jesus Christ to gather the nations before him, and to pronounce tile final sentence on mankind: Matthew 25:31; Acts 17:31; Acts 10:42; John 5:22.
And shall not keep silence - That is, the will come forth and "express" his judgment on the conduct of mankind. See the notes at Psalm 28:1. He "seems" now to be silent. No voice is heard. No sentence is pronounced. But this will not always be the case. The time is coming when he will manifest himself, and will no longer be silent as to the conduct and character of people, but will pronounce a sentence, fixing their destiny according to their character.
A fire shall devour before him - Compare the notes at 2 Thessalonians 1:8; notes at Hebrews 10:27. The "language" here is undoubtedly taken from the representation of God as he manifested himself at Mount Sinai. Thus, in Exodus 19:16, Exodus 19:18, it is said, "And it came to pass on the third day in the morning, that there were thunders and lightnings, and a thick cloud upon the mount, and the voice of a trumpet exceeding loud; and Mount Sinai was altogether on a smoke, because the Lord descended upon it in fire: and the smoke thereof ascended as the smoke of a furnace, and the whole mount quaked greatly.
And it shall be very tempestuous round about him - The word used here - שׂער śa‛ar - means properly to shudder; to shiver; and then it is employed to denote the commotion and raging of a tempest. The allusion is doubtless to the descent on Mount Sinai Exodus 19:16, and to the storm accompanied by thunder and lightning which beat upon the mountain when God descended on it to give his law. The whole is designed to represent God as clothed with appropriate majesty when judgment is to be pronounced upon the world.
He shall call to the heavens from above, and to the earth, that he may judge his people.He shall call to the heavens from above - He will call on all the universe; he will summon all worlds. The meaning here is, not that he will gather those who are in heaven to be judged, but that he will call on the inhabitants of all worlds to be his witnesses; to bear their attestation to the justice of his sentence. See Psalm 50:6. The phrase "from above" does not, of course, refer to the heavens as being above God, but to the heavens as they appear to human beings to be above themselves.
And to the earth - To all the dwellers upon the earth; "to the whole universe." He makes this universal appeal with the confident assurance that his final sentence will be approved; that the universe will see and admit that it is just. See Revelation 15:3; Revelation 19:1-3. There can be no doubt that the universe, as such, will approve the ultimate sentence that will be pronounced on mankind.
That he may judge his people - That is, all these arrangements - this coming with fire and tempest, and this universal appeal - will be prepatory to the judging of his people, or in order that the judgment may be conducted with due solemnity and propriety. The idea is, that an event so momentous should be conducted in a way suited to produce an appropriate impression; so conducted, that there would be a universal conviction of the justice and impartiality of the sentence. The reference here is particularly to his professed "people," that is, to determine whether they were truly his, for that is the main subject of the psalm, though the "language" is derived from the solemnities appropriate to the universal judgment.
Gather my saints together unto me; those that have made a covenant with me by sacrifice.Gather my saints together unto me - This is an address to the messengers employed for assembling those who are to be judged. Similar language is used by the Saviour Matthew 24:31 : "And he (the Son of Man) shall send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other." The idea is, that God will bring them, or assemble them together. All this is language derived froth the notion of a universal judgment, "as if" the scattered people of God were thus gathered together by special messengers sent out for this purpose. The word "saints" here refers to those who are truly his people. The object - the purpose - of the judgment is to assemble in heaven those who are sincerely his friends; or, as the Saviour expresses it Matthew 24:31, his "elect." Yet in order to this, or in order to determine who "are" his true people, there will be a larger gathering - an assembling of all the dwellers on the earth.
Those that have made a covenant with me by sacrifice - Exodus 24:6-7. Compare the notes at Hebrews 9:19-22. The idea here is, that they are the professed people of God; that they have entered into a solemn covenant-relation to him, or have bound themselves in the most solemn manner to be his; that they have done this in connection with the sacrifices which accompany their worship; that they have brought their sacrifices or bloody offerings as a pledge that they mean to be his, and will be his. Over these solemn sacrifices made to him, they have bound themselves to be the Lord's; and the purpose of the judgment now is, to determine whether this was sincere, and whether they have been faithful to their vows. As applied to professed believers under the Christian system, the "idea" here presented would be, that the vow to be the Lord's has been made over the body and blood of the Redeemer once offered as a sacrifice, and that by partaking of the memorials of that sacrifice they have entered into a solemn "covenant" to be his. Nothing more solemn can be conceived than a "covenant" or pledge entered into in such a manner; and yet nothing is more painfully certain than that the process of a judgment will be necessary to determine in what cases it is genuine, for the mere outward act, no matter how solemn, does not of necessity decide the question whether he who performs it will enter into heaven.
And the heavens shall declare his righteousness: for God is judge himself. Selah.And the heavens shall declare his righteousness - Shall make it known, or announce it. That is, the heavens - the heavenly inhabitants - will bear witness to the justness of the sentence, or will approve the sentence. See the notes at Psalm 50:4. Compare Psalm 97:6.
For God is judge himself - The judgment is not committed to mortal men, or even to angels. Creatures, even the most exalted and pure, might err in such a work as that of judging the world. That judgment, to be correct, must be founded on a perfect knowledge of the heart, and on a clear and complete understanding of all the thoughts, the motives, the words, the deeds of all people. It cannot be supposed that any created being, however exalted, could possess all this knowledge, and it cannot be supposed that any created being, however pure, could be so endowed as to be secure against error in pronouncing a judgment on the countless millions of people. But God combines all these in himself; a perfect knowledge of all that has ever occurred on earth, and of the motives and feelings of every creature - and, at the same time, absolute purity and impartiality; therefore his judgment must be such that the universe will see that it is just. It may be added here that as the New Testament has stated (see the notes at Psalm 50:3) that the judgment of the world in the last day will be committed to the Lord Jesus Christ, the considerations just suggested prove that he is Divine. The immediate point in the passage before us is, that the fact that "God" will preside in the judgment, demonstrates that the acts of judgment will be "right," and will be such as the "heavens" - the universe - will approve; such, that all worlds will proclaim them to be right. There is no higher evidence that a thing is right, and that it ought to be done, than the fact that God has done it. Compare Genesis 18:25; Psalm 39:9.
Hear, O my people, and I will speak; O Israel, and I will testify against thee: I am God, even thy God.Hear, O my people, and I will speak - God himself is now introduced as speaking, and as stating the principles on which the judgment will proceed. The previous verses are introductory, or are designed to bring the scene of the judgment before the mind. The solemn scene now opens, and God himself speaks, especially as rebuking the disposition to rely on the mere forms of religion, while its spirituality and its power are denied. The purpose of the whole is, by asking how these things will appear in the judgment, to imply the vanity of "mere" forms of religion now. The particular address is made to the "people" of God, or to "Israel," because the purpose of the psalmist was to rebuke the prevailing tendency to rely on outward forms.
O Israel, and I will testify against thee - In the judgment. In view of those scenes, and as "at" that time, I will "now" bear this solemn testimony against the views which you entertain on the subject of religion, and the practices which prevail in your worship.
I am God, even thy God - I am the true God, and therefore I have a right to speak; I am "thy" God - the God who has been the Protector of thy people - acknowledged as the God of the nation - and therefore I claim the right to declare the great principles which pertain to true worship, and which constitute true religion.
I will not reprove thee for thy sacrifices or thy burnt offerings, to have been continually before me.I will not reprove thee for thy sacrifices or thy burnt-offerings - On the words "sacrifices" and "burnt-offerings" here used, see the notes at Isaiah 1:11. The meaning is, "I do not reprove or rebuke you in respect to the withholding of sacrifices. I do not charge you with neglecting the offering of such sacrifices. I do not accuse the nation of indifference in regard to the external rites or duties of religion. It is not on this ground that you are to be blamed or condemned, for that duty is outwardly and publicly performed. I do not say that such offerings are wrong; I do not say that there has been any failure in the external duties of worship. The charge - the reproof - relates to other matters; to the want of a proper spirit, to the withholding of the heart, in connection with such offerings."
To have been continually before me - The words "to have been" are inserted by the translators, and weaken the sense. The simple idea is, that their offerings "were" continually before him; that is, they were constantly made. He had no charge of neglect in this respect to bring against them. The insertion of the words "to have been" would seem to imply that though they had neglected this external rite, it was a matter of no consequence; whereas the simple meaning is, that they were "not" chargeable with this neglect, or that there was "no" cause of complaint on this point. It was on other grounds altogether that a charge was brought against them. It was, as the following verses show, because they supposed there was special "merit" in such offerings; because they supposed that they laid God under obligation by so constant and so expensive offerings, as if they did not already belong to him, or as if he needed them; and because, while they did this, they withheld the very offering which he required, and without which all other sacrifices would be vain and worthless - a sincere, humble, thankful heart.
I will take no bullock out of thy house, nor he goats out of thy folds.I will take no bullock out of thy house - Bullocks were offered regularly in the Hebrew service and sacrifice Exodus 29:11, Exodus 29:36; Leviticus 4:4; 1 Kings 18:23, 1 Kings 18:33; and it is with reference to this that the language is used here. In obedience to the law it was right and proper to offer such sacrifices; and the design here is not to express disapprobation of these offerings in themselves considered. On this subject - on the external compliance with the law in this respect - God says Psalm 50:8 that he had no cause to complain against them. It was only with respect to the design and the spirit with which they did this, that the language in this verse and the following verses is used. The idea which it is the purpose of these verses to suggest is, that God did not "need" such offerings; that they were not to be made "as if" he needed them; and that if he needed such he was not "dependent" on them, for all the beasts of the earth and all the fowls of the mountains were his, and could be taken for that purpose; and that if he took what was claimed to be theirs - the bullocks and the goats - he did not wrong them, for all were his, and he claimed only his own.
For every beast of the forest is mine, and the cattle upon a thousand hills.For every beast of the forest is mine - All the beasts that roam at large in the wilderness; all that are untamed and unclaimed by man. The idea is, that even if God "needed" such offerings, he was not dependent on them - for the numberless beasts that roamed at large as his own would yield an ample supply.
And the cattle upon a thousand hills - This may mean either the cattle that roamed by thousands on the hills, or the cattle on numberless hills. The Hebrew will bear either construction. The former is most likely to be the meaning. The allusion is probably to the animals that were pastured in great numbers on the hills, and that were claimed by men. The idea is, that all - whether wild or tame - belonged to God, and he had a right to them, to dispose of them as he pleased. He was not, therefore, in any way dependent on sacrifices. It is a beautiful and impressive thought, that the "property" in all these animals - in all living things on the earth - is in God, and that he has a right to dispose of them as he pleases. What man owns, he owns under God, and has no right to complain when God comes and asserts his superior claim to dispose of it at his pleasure. God has never given to man the absolute proprietorship in "any" thing; nor does he invade our rights when he comes and claims what we possess, or when in any way he removes what is most valuable to us. Compare Job 1:21.
I know all the fowls of the mountains: and the wild beasts of the field are mine.I know all the fowls of the mountains - That is, I am fully acquainted with their numbers; their nature; their habits; their residence. I have such a knowledge of them that I could appropriate them to my own use if I were in need of them. I am not, therefore, dependent on people to offer them, for I can use them as Iplease.
And the wild beasts of the field are mine - Margin, "with me." That is, they are before me. They are never out of my presence. At any time, therefore, I could use them as I might need them. The word rendered "wild beasts" - זיז zı̂yz - means any moving thing; and the idea here is, whatever moves in the field, or roams abroad. Everything is his - whether on the mountains, in the forest, or in the cultivated field.
If I were hungry, I would not tell thee: for the world is mine, and the fulness thereof.If I were hungry, I would not tell thee - I should not have occasion to apply to you; I should not be dependent on you.
For the world is mine - The earth; all that has been created.
And the fulness thereof - All that fills the world; all that exists upon it. The whole is at his disposal; to all that the earth produces he has a right. This language is used to show the absurdity of the supposition that he was in any way dependent on man, or that the offering of sacrifice could be supposed in any way to lay him under obligation.
Will I eat the flesh of bulls, or drink the blood of goats?Will I eat the flesh of bulls, or drink the blood of goats? - This is said to show still further the absurdity of the views which seem to have prevailed among those who offered sacrifices. They offered them "as if" they were needed by God; "as if" they laid him under obligation; "as if" in some way they contributed to his happiness, or were essential to his welfare. The only supposition on which this could be true was, that he needed the flesh of the one for food, and the blood of the other for drink; or that he was sustained as creatures are. Yet this was a supposition, which, when it was stated in a formal manner, must be at once seen to be absurd; and hence the emphatic question in this verse. It may serve to illustrate this, also, to remark, that, among the pagan, the opinion did undoubtedly prevail that the gods ate and drank what was offered to them in sacrifice; whereas the truth was, that these things were consumed by the priests who attended on pagan altars, and conducted the devotions of pagan temples, and who found that it contributed much to their own support, and did much to secure the liberality of the people, to keep up the impression that what was thus offered was consumed by the gods. God appeals here to his own people in this earnest manner because it was to be presumed that "they" had higher conceptions of him than the pagan had; and that, enlightened as they were, they could not for a moment suppose these offerings necessary for him. This is one of the passages in the Old Testament which imply that God is a Spirit, and that, as such, he is to be worshipped in spirit and in truth. Compare John 4:24.
Offer unto God thanksgiving; and pay thy vows unto the most High:Offer unto God thanksgiving - The word rendered "offer" in this place - זבח zâbach - means properly "sacrifice." So it is rendered by the Septuagint, θῦσον thuson - and by the Vulgate, "immola." The word is used, doubtless, with design - to show what was the "kind" of sacrifice with which God would be pleased, and which he would approve. It was not the mere "sacrifice" of animals, as they commonly understood the term; it was not the mere presentation of the bodies and the blood of slain beasts; it was an offering which proceeded from the heart, and which was expressive of gratitude and praise. This is not to be understood as implying that God did not require or approve of the offering of bloody sacrifices, but as implying that a higher sacrifice was necessary; that these would be vain and worthless unless they were accompanied with the offerings of the heart; and that his worship, even amidst outward forms, was to be a spiritual worship.
And pay thy vows unto the Most High - To the true God, the most exalted Being in the universe. The word "vows" here - נדר neder - means properly a vow or promise; and then, a thing vowed; a votive offering, a sacrifice. The idea seems to be, that the true notion to be attached to the sacrifices which were prescribed and required was, that they were to be regarded as expressions of internal feelings and purposes; of penitence; of a deep sense of sin; of gratitude and love; and that the design of such sacrifices was not fulfilled unless the "vows" or pious purposes implied in the very nature of sacrifices and offerings were carried out in the life and conduct. They were not, therefore, to come merely with these offerings, and then feel that all the purpose of worship was accomplished. They were to carry out the true design of them by lives corresponding with the idea intended by such sacrifices - lives full of penitence, gratitude, love, obedience, submission, devotion. This only could be acceptable worship. Compare the notes at Isaiah 1:11-17. See also Psalm 76:11; Ecclesiastes 5:5.
And call upon me in the day of trouble: I will deliver thee, and thou shalt glorify me.And call upon me in the day of trouble - This is a part of real religion as truly as praise is, Psalm 50:14. This is also the duty and the privilege of all the true worshippers of God. To do this shows where the heart is, as really as direct acts of praise and thanksgiving. The purpose of all that is said here is to show that true religion - the proper service of God - does not consist in the mere offering of sacrifice, but that it is of a spiritual nature, and that the offering of sacrifice is of no value unless it is accompanied by corresponding acts of spiritual religion, showing that the heart has a proper appreciation of the mercies of God, and that it truly confides in him. Such spirituality in religion is expressed by acts of praise Psalm 50:14; but it is also as clearly expressed Psalm 50:15 by going to God in times of trouble, and rolling the burdens of life on his arm, and seeking consolation in him.
I will deliver thee - I will deliver thee from trouble. This will occur
(a) either in this life, in accordance with the frequent promises of his word (compare the notes at Psalm 46:1); or
(b) wholly in the future world, where all who love God will be completely and forever delivered from all forms of sorrow.
And thou shalt glorify me - That is, Thou wilt honor me, or do me honor, by thus coming to me with confidence in the day of calamity. There is no way in which we can honor God more, or show more clearly that we truly confide in him, than by going to him when everything seems to be dark; when his own ways and dealings are wholly incomprehensible to us, and committing all into his hands.
But unto the wicked God saith, What hast thou to do to declare my statutes, or that thou shouldest take my covenant in thy mouth?But unto the wicked God saith - This commences a second part of the subject. See the introduction. Thus far the psalm had reference to those who were merely external worshippers, or mere formalists, as showing that such could not be approved and accepted in the day of judgment; that spiritual religion - the offering of the "heart" - was necessary in order to acceptance with God. In this part of the psalm the same principles are applied to those who actually "violate" the law which they profess to receive as prescribing the rules of true religion, and which they profess to teach to others. The design of the psalm is not merely to reprove the mass of the people as mere formalists in religion, but especially to reprove the leaders and teachers of the people, who, under the form of religion, gave themselves up to a course of life wholly inconsistent with the true service of God. The address here, therefore, is to those who, while they professed to be teachers of religion, and to lead the devotions of others, gave themselves up to abandoned lives.
What hast thou to do - What right hast thou to do this? How can people, who lead such lives, consistently and properly do this? The idea is, that they who profess to declare the law of a holy God should be themselves holy; that they who profess to teach the principles and doctrines of true religion should themselves be examples of purity and holiness.
To declare my statutes - My laws. This evidently refers rather to the teaching of others than to the profession of their own faith. The language would be applicable to the priests under the Jewish system, who were expected not only to conduct the outward services of religion, but also to instruct the people; to explain the principles of religion; to be the guides and teachers of others. Compare Malachi 2:7. There is a striking resemblance between the language used in this part of the psalm Psa 50:16-20 and the language of the apostle Paul in Romans 2:17-23; and it would seem probable that the apostle in that passage had this portion of the psalm in his eye. See the notes at that passage.
Or that thou shouldest take my covenant in thy mouth - Either as professing faith in it, and a purpose to be governed by it - or, more probably, as explaining it to others. The ""covenant"" here is equivalent to the "law" of God, or the principles of his religion; and the idea is, that he who undertakes to explain that to others, should himself be a holy man. He can have no "right" to attempt to explain it, if he is otherwise; he cannot hope to be "able" to explain it, unless he himself sees and appreciates its truth and beauty. This is as true now of the Gospel as it was of the law. A wicked man can have no right to undertake the work of the Christian ministry, nor can he be able to explain to others what he himself does not understand.
Seeing thou hatest instruction, and castest my words behind thee.Seeing thou hatest instruction - That is, He is unwilling himself to be taught. He will not learn the true nature of religion, and yet he presumes to instruct others. Compare the notes at Romans 2:21.
And castest my words behind thee - He treated them with contempt, or as unworthy of attention. He did not regard them as worthy of being "retained," but threw them contemptuously away.
When thou sawest a thief, then thou consentedst with him, and hast been partaker with adulterers.When thou sawest a thief - When you have seen or found one who was intending to commit theft, then (instead of rebuking or exposing him) you have been willing to act with him, and to divide the profits. The words "when thou sawest" would seem to imply readiness and willingness to engage with them, as "at first sight." Whenever there was an opportunity to share in the results of theft, they were ready to engage in it. The main "point" in this is, that they were willing to do so even when observing the outward duties of religion, and when professing to be the true worshippers of God. A similar sentiment occurs in Romans 2:21. See the notes at that passage.
Then thou consentedst with him - literally, Thou didst delight in him, or hadst pleasure in him. He was a man after thine own heart. Thou wast at once on good terms with him.
And hast been partaker with adulterers - Margin, as in Hebrew, "thy portion was with adulterers." This was a common vice among the Jewish people. See the notes at Romans 2:22. The idea here is, that they were associated in practice with adulterers; they were guilty of that crime as others were. The point of the remark here is, that they did this under the cloak of piety, and when they were scrupulous and faithful in offering sacrifices, and in performing all the external rites of religion.
Thou givest thy mouth to evil, and thy tongue frameth deceit.Thou givest thy mouth to evil - Margin, as in Hebrew, "thou sendest." That is, they gave it up to evil; they employed it in evil: in falsehood, malice, deceit, slander, deception, detraction.
And thy tongue frameth deceit - The word rendered "frameth" means properly to bind, to fasten; and then, to contrive, to frame. The meaning is, that it was employed in the work of deceit; that is, it was employed in devising and executing purposes of fraud and falsehood.
Thou sittest and speakest against thy brother; thou slanderest thine own mother's son.Thou sittest and speakest against thy brother - To the general character of falsehood and slander there is now added the fact that they were guilty of this in the most aggravated manner conceivable - against their nearest relations, the members of their own families. They were not only guilty of the crime against neighbors - against strangers - against persons to whom they sustained no near relationship; but against those of their own households - those whose characters, on that account, ought to have been especially dear to them. The words ""thou sittest"" probably refer to the fact that they would do this when enjoying social contact with them; in confidential conversation; when words of peace, and not of slander, might be properly expected. The word "brother" "might" be used as denoting any other man, or any one of the same nation; but the phrase which is added, "thine own mother's son," shows that it is here to be taken in the strictest sense.
Thou slanderest - literally, "Thou givest to ruin." Prof. Alexander renders it, "Thou wilt aim a blow." The Septuagint, the Vulgate, Luther, and DeWette understand it of slander.
Thine own mother's son - It is to be remembered that where polygamy prevailed there would be many children in the same family who had the same father, but not the same mother. The nearest relationship, therefore, was where there was the same mother as well as the same father. To speak of a brother, in the strictest sense, and as implying the nearest relationship, it would be natural to speak of one as having the same mother. The idea here is, that while professing religion, and performing its external rites with the most scrupulous care, they were guilty of the basest crimes, and showed an entire want of moral principle and of natural affection. External worship, however zealously performed, could not be acceptable in such circumstances to a holy God.
These things hast thou done, and I kept silence; thou thoughtest that I was altogether such an one as thyself: but I will reprove thee, and set them in order before thine eyes.These things hast thou done, and I kept silence - Compare the notes at Isaiah 18:4. The meaning is, that while they did these things - while they committed these abominations - he did not interfere. He did not come forth in his anger to destroy them. He had borne all this with patience. He had borne this until it was now time that he should interpose Isaiah 18:3, and state the true principles of his government, and warn then of the consequences of such a course of sin and hypocrisy. Compare the notes at Acts 17:30.
Thou thoughtest that I was altogether such an one as thyself - The idea here is, that they thought or imagined that God was just like themselves in the matter under consideration, and they acted under this impression; or, in other words, the fair interpretation of their conduct was that they thus regarded God. That is, they supposed that "God" would be satisfied with the "forms" of religion, as "they" were; that all he required was the proper offering of sacrifice, according to "their" views of the nature of religion; that he did not regard principle, justice, pure morality, sincerity, even as they themselves did not; and that he would not be strict to punish sin, or to reprove them for it, if these forms were kept up, even as "they" were not disposed to be rigid on the subject of sin.
But I will reprove thee - I will rebuke thee alike for thy sins, and for this view of the nature of religion.
And set them in order - literally, I will "array" them; that is, I will draw them out to view in their appropriate ranks and orders, as soldiers are drawn up in martial array. They shall be so arranged and classified that they may be seen distinctly.
Before thine eyes - So that they may be plainly seen. The meaning is, that they would have a clear and impressive view of them: they would be made to see them as they were. This might be done then, as it is done now, either
(a) by their being set before their minds and hearts, so that they would see and feel the enormity of sin, to wit, by conviction for it; or
(b) by sending such punishment on them for their sins that they might "measure" the guilt and the number of their transgressions by the penalties which would be inflicted.
In some way all sinners will yet be made to see the nature and the extent of their guilt before God.
Now consider this, ye that forget God, lest I tear you in pieces, and there be none to deliver.Now consider this - Understand this; give attention to this. The word "now" does not well express the force of the original. The Hebrew word is not an adverb of "time," but a particle denoting "entreaty," and would be better rendered by, "Oh, consider this;" or, "Consider this, I beseech you." The matter is presented to them as that which deserved their most solemn attention.
Ye that forget God - Who really forget him though you are professedly engaged in his worship; who, amidst the forms of religion, are actually living in entire forgetfulness of the just claims and of the true character of God.
Lest I tear you in pieces - Language derived from the fury of a ravenous beast tearing his victim from limb to limb.
And there be none to deliver - As none can do when God rises up in his wrath to inflict vengeance. None would "venture" to Interpose; none "could" rescue from his hand. There "is" a point of time in relation to all sinners when no one, not even the Redeemer - the great and merciful Mediator - will interpose to save; when the sinner will be left to be dealt with by simple, pure, unmixed and unmitigated "justice;" when mercy and kindness will have done their work in regard to them in vain; and when they will be left to the "mere desert" of their sins. At that point there is no power that can deliver them.
Whoso offereth praise glorifieth me: and to him that ordereth his conversation aright will I shew the salvation of God.Whoso offereth praise glorifieth me - That is, he truly honors me; he is a true worshipper; he meets with my approbation. The word here rendered ""offereth"" is the same which is used in Psalm 50:14, and means "he that sacrifices:" here meaning, he that presents the sacrifice of praise. So the Septuagint: "the sacrifice of praise glorifies me." So the Vulgate. The idea is, that the worship which God requires is "praise;" it is not the mere external act of homage; it is not the presentation of a bloody sacrifice; it is not the mere bending of the knee; it is not a mere outward form: it is that which proceeds from the heart, and which shows that there is there a spirit of true thankfulness, adoration, and love.
And to him that ordereth his conversation aright - Margin, as in Hebrew, "that disposeth his way." Or, more literally, "To him that "prepares" or "plans" his way;" that is, to him who is attentive to his going; who seeks to walk in the right path; who is anxious to go in the road that leads to a happier world; who is careful that all his conduct shall be in accordance with the rules which God has prescribed.
Will I show the salvation of God - This may mean either, "I, the author of the psalm as a teacher" (compare Psalm 32:8); or, "I" as referring to God - as a promise that "He" would instruct such an one. The latter is the probable meaning, as it is God that has been speaking in the previous verse. The "salvation of God" is the salvation of which God is the author; or, which he alone can give. The "idea" here is, that where there is a true desire to find the way of truth and salvation, God will impart needful instruction. He will not suffer such an one to wander away and be lost. See the notes at Psalm 25:9.
The general ideas in the psalm, therefore, are
(1) that there is to be a solemn judgment of mankind;
(2) that the issues of that judgment will not be determined by the observance of the external forms of religion;
(3) that God will judge people impartially for their sins, though they observe those forms of religion; and
(4) that no worship of God can be acceptable which does not spring from the heart.