Lange Commentary on the Holy Scriptures
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
2 Out of Zion, the perfection of beauty,
God hath shined.
3 Our God shall come, and shall not keep silence:
A fire shall devour before him,
And it shall be very tempestuous round about him.
4 He shall call to the heavens from above,
And to the earth, that he may judge his people.
5 Gather my saints together unto me;
Those that have made a covenant with me by sacrifice.
6 And the heavens shall declare his righteousness:
For God is judge himself. Selah.
7 Hear, O my people, and I will speak;
O Israel, and I will testily against thee:
I am God, even thy God.
8 I will not reprove thee for thy sacrifices
Or thy burnt offerings, to have been continually before me.
9 I will take no bullock out of thy house,
Nor he goats out of thy folds:
10 For every beast of the forest is mine,
And the cattle upon a thousand hills.
11 I know all the fowls of the mountains:
And the wild beasts of the field are mine.
12 If I were hungry, I would not tell thee:
For the world is mine, and the fulness thereof.
13 Will I eat the flesh of bulls,
Or drink the blood of goats?
14 Offer unto God thanksgiving;
And pay thy vows unto the Most High:
15 And call upon me in the day of trouble:
I will deliver thee, and thou shalt glorify me.
16 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?
17 Seeing thou hatest instruction,
And castest my words behind thee.
18 When thou sawest a thief, then thou consentedst with him,
And hast been partaker with adulterers.
19 Thou givest thy mouth to evil,
And thy tongue frameth deceit.
20 Thou sittest and speakest against thy brother;
Thou slanderest thine own mother’s son.
21 These things hast thou done, and I kept silence;
Thou thoughtest that I was altogether such a one as thyself:
But I will reprove thee, and set them in order before thine eyes.
22 Now consider this, ye that forget God,
Lest I tear you in pieces, and there be none to deliver.
23 Whoso offereth praise glorifieth me:
And to him that ordereth his conversation aright will I shew the salvation of God.
EXEGETICAL AND CRITICAL
CONTENTS AND COMPOSITION.—Out of Zion a sublime and terrible manifestation of God is made, like that on Mount Sinai, Psalm 50:1–3. Heaven and earth are summoned as witnesses, while He sits in judgment, and pronounces sentence on His covenant people, Psalm 50:4–6. He explains to them the first table of the Law, Psalm 50:7–15; rebukes them for their misconception and abuse of the ordinances of sacrifice, and at the same time, encourages them to the true service of Himself, with the promise of His help. He next describes and threatens to punish the hypocrites who have His covenant on their lips, but break it in their lives, Psalm 50:16–20, warning them to take good heed to this Divine reproof, Psalm 50:21, 22, and concludes with a general and prophetic announcement of the fundamental idea of the whole address, Psalm 50:23. This idea, expressed after the manner of the prophets, corresponds with Pss. 15; 24:3–6; and still more closely with Pss. 11:7–9; 51:8, 9; 69:31. All these passages have for their basis the truth uttered by Samuel to Saul (1 Sam. 15:22). Of course the later prophets teach the same thing, but there is nothing in the character of this Psalm to oblige us to refer it, not to the times of David, but to those of Josiah (Ewald), or to those of the so-called Deutero-Isaiah (Hitzig). Nor is there any ground for objection to this, in the fact that Asaph (concerning whom see Introduction, § 2), as a Levite, belonged to the tribe whose duty it was to see that the sacrifices were offered in accordance with the rules of Divine service. For this is equally applicable to the prophet Jeremiah, (comp. Psalm 6:22, and Lam. 2:15), and the opinion is certainly ill-founded, that there is here a general repudiation of the Mosaic sacrifices. In this view of it, many of the ancient expositors referred the whole Psalm to the abolition of the Mosaic law through Christ, while later ones think that there is some indication of hostility to it on the part of the author.
Psalm 50:1–6. The mighty God, even the Lord (El Elohim Jehovah).—These three names of God are, by the accents, in apposition. Hupf. thinks, without reason, that this accumulation of titles is chilling. On the contrary, it awakens and intensifies attention, as in Josh. 22:22, where God is described as the Mighty One, the God demanding reverence, who had revealed Himself in His Divine fulness in history. We do not approve the suggestion that the first two words should be combined=ingens Deus (Böttcher), or “the strong God” (Aquil., Symm.), or “the God of gods” (Sept., Isaki, Calvin, Ewald, Hupfeld); nor do we like the translation “God is Elohim Jehovah” (Chald.), nor “God, a God is Jehovah” (Hitzig). This last construction is connected with the rendering of the following line: “He speaks, the earth resounds.” This is ingenious, but doubtful, on account of the change in the subjects of the two verbs standing in juxtaposition; nor is it at all necessary. For in Psalm 50:4 the same word is not used as a call to the heavens and the earth (Ols., Hitz.), i.e. for the assembling of the Israelites given literally in Psalm 50:5, as if heaven and earth were the judicial messengers (Hupfeld), or the instruments and servants of Divine justice (Stier). This does not agree with the well-known idiom of Scripture, and would convey a monstrous idea. On the contrary, it is quite common to call heaven and earth as witnesses, Deut. 4:26; 32:1; Isa. 1:2; Maccab. 2:37. This also agrees well with the universal historic significance of the judgment seat before which God orders His people to assemble, and on which He shines forth in terrible majesty, as when He appeared as lawgiver on Mount Sinai. We would most naturally take the “messengers”—who are not expressly named—to be the angels who so often appeared in visions, and in Matth. 24:31 are described as God’s heavenly servants. Accordingly Psalm 50:6 declares, not the execution of the order, or that the heavens proclaimed the approaching judgment of God, i.e., announced to the parties that God would sit in judgment on them (Hupfeld); but that among the witnesses those celestial inhabitants publicly proclaimed the justice of the Divine sentence. We must therefore regard Psalm 50:1 as the call of God to the whole earth, its contents being akin to, though not synonymous with, the introductory formula of God’s commands to the prophet: “and the word of the Lord came,” etc. (Aquil., Symm., Theodot., Hupfeld). God does not yet call upon the earth to act as a witness, (most commentators), for this would be to anticipate the subsequent description, but He demands its attention. For this first address precedes the Theophany—a fact generally overlooked. It is not a superscription, or summary statement of what will afterwards be more fully detailed, but it rehearses the first act of the entire drama.—The accents show that by “the perfection of beauty,” we are to understand not God (Aquil., Older Comments., Luther, Böttcher), but Zion, not, however, the city of Jerusalem, but Mount Zion, as the residence of Jehovah.—The comparison of God’s appearance to the sunrise occurs also Deut. 33:2; Pss. 80:1; 94:1.—The negative אל in Psalm 50:3 would seem to show that the Imperfect tenses which here take the place of Perfects, are to be understood in an optative sense, the rather as they are again followed by Perfects, (Ols., Hengst., Hupfeld). But as in this connection the wish simply means the consent of the speaker, it would be perhaps better to take the Imperfects as Futures, and the negative Al, as in Pss. 34:6, 41:3, as indicating a personal interest in the mind of the speaker. If, however, the sentence is part of a narrative, and this narrative is an account, not of a historic event, but of a prophetic vision, the discourse has no reference to the future, and the certainty that God cannot keep silence may as well be expressed by the Present tense. Maurer’s rendering, neque est quod sileat, is good. The phrase “not keep silence,” can hardly be understood to mean “not tarry;” nor can it be taken in the sense of “thunder,” as if in keeping with the “fire and tempest,” (Hupfeld and others); but it refers to reproof, or more exactly, to the sinner’s next judicial sentence.—The object of the “covenant,” mentioned in Psalm 50:5, is not the “sacrifices.” It was not entered into for the sake of them (Aben Ezra); they were simply the ground of it, giving it legal validity and religious sanctity, Exod. 14:5; Num. 10:10; Ps. 92:4.
[PEROWNE: The God of gods, Jehovah.—This is, there can be no doubt, the proper rendering of the words El Elohim.—These three names of God occur in the same way in Josh. 22:22, where they are twice repeated, and are in like manner separated by the accents. This is the only use of the name Jehovah in the Psalm, Which is in accordance with the general Elohistic character of the Second book, but the adjunct “God of gods,” is certainly remarkable.—ALEXANDER: The Almighty, God, Jehovah. Almighty is not an adjective agreeing with the next word (the Mighty God), but a substantive in apposition with it. The three names are put together in a kind of climax, El, Elohim, Jehovah. The first represents God as almighty, the second, as the only proper object of worship, and (by its plural form) as perfect, the third, as self-existent and eternal, and at the same time, as the peculiar God of Israel.—PEROWNE: Will not keep silence. The optative seems to be required by the form of the negative (אָל=μη), with the second verb. Still, it must be confessed, that the abrupt introduction of a wish here disturbs the flow of the language, and this is not obviated even if, with Hupfeld, we suppose this to be a common formula, in which God is called upon to manifest Himself.—J. F.]
Psalm 50:7–15. I am God, even Thy God,—These words are designed, not simply to excite attention (De Wette), for this has been already aroused, as is indicated by the intensive א: but they declare the rightful title to act as judge (Hupf. Del.) Exod. 6:2; 20:2 and lawgiver, Ps. 71:11.—The Divine reprimand is given, not because the sacrifices enjoined by the law had been omitted. Israel had not neglected to offer them, and God was unmindful neither of them nor of Israel’s conduct in presenting them day by day. But in these material sacrifices God felt no interest, because, on the one hand, men could offer to Him nothing which He did not already possess, since all creatures are His; and on the other hand, He had no need of them, as food or as a means of enjoyment. It is not said that Israel had fallen into this error, nor is there any reproof in express terms. But the lawgiver sitting as a judge, first presents and explains to His people standing before His tribunal, the law of sacrificial service, and then leaves the application of it with themselves. This can be the more readily done, because by the change of the negative into the positive form, the exhibition of the law becomes a direct exhortation and promise. Now, out of the many sacrifices prescribed by the law, some specially important ones are named, though not confined to those associated with thanksgiving and certain kinds of vows. No ritualistic sacrifice in itself, even if offered in a proper spirit, with confession of sin (Kimchi), is what God requires. But, in terms derived, no doubt, from the sacrificial liturgy, as in Ps. 51:19; Hos. 14:3, (Arnoldi in Justin’s Flowers of Ancient Hebrew Poetry, 183), He insists upon an offering of praise and thanksgiving, instead of the symbol, the sincere payment of vows, and a trustful call upon Himself, as a condition of such a hearing of prayer, as should supply new causes of praise to God, (compare Ps. 69:31). “Pay thy vows,” Psalm 50:14, means fulfill all the commandments of God, according to thy promise on entering into the covenant, Exod. 19:8. This is not to be limited to the moral law, or the Ten Commandments, Exod. 20. (Baur, De Wette), for this supposes a distinction never made in the Old Testament. Nor are the “vows” thank-offerings (Lev. 7:16;Prov. 7:14), in a spiritual sense, i.e. songs of thanksgiving (Hupfeld), for this would needlessly limit what is demanded. For Todah means not simply “praise” (Geier, J. H. Mich.), but “praise and thanksgiving.” Nor can this be taken only in an individualizing sense, as a form of inward heart devotion, in contrast with merely outward worship (Hengst.), without the rendering “offer praises to God, and thus pay, i.e. thou shalt pay thy vows, and then calling upon me,” etc. (Hengst.);—a rendering which requires the unwarranted insertion of the words “thus” and “then,” and the violent change of the Imperfect into a Future.—The prophetic character of this Psalm, and the Divine utterance in it, indicate a progress in revelation. This is seen also in such passages as Isa. 1:11; Hos. 6:6; Mich. 6:6; Prov. 21:3, anticipating, as they do to some extent, New Testament views, but the same thing is discoverable even in the Pentateuch, in Deuteronomy, partly in promise, partly fulfilled. The legal definitions are treated as normal expressions of the Divine will in regard to the whole moral and religious conduct of mankind; and thus they are divested not only of their merely ceremonial character, but even of their externality.
[BARNES: To have been continually before me, E. V. (Psalm 50:8). 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, i.e. they were constantly made. He had no charge in this respect to bring against them. The insertion of the words “to have been,” would seem to imply that though they had neglected the external rite, it was a matter of no consequence; whereas the simple meaning is that they were not chargeable with this neglect. It was on other grounds altogether that a charge was brought against them.—J. F.]
Psalm 50:16. But to the wicked, etc. The address turns from the first to the second table of the law, here, as in Exod. 24:7; 34:28, designated as the “covenant;” and the sins against the sixth, seventh, and eighth commandments, i.e. sins against one’s neighbor are specially mentioned. It does not follow from this nor other like descriptions, e.g.Isa. 1:15; 66:3, that the erring members of God’s people, those who were content with a merely external Worship of Him, are always in Scripture identical with the “wicked,” and that they are here addressed as those alluded to in Psalm 50:7 and the following verse (Hengst.). This is correct only in so far as Psalm 50:7 addresses the whole people and not a part of them, and as to this people those belong who are specially censured as “forgetting God,” Psalm 50:22. There is no previous threat of punishment, but only an exposition of the law of sacrifice, ending with an exhortation and a promise. To this the contrast refers, and not to different classes or grades of sinners (most commentators), On this account Psalm 50:22 must be connected, not with the concluding sentence, but with Psalm 50:21.
Psalm 50:16–20. What hast thou to do to declare, etc.—This is not an inquiry indicating surprise or disapproval, for the reason of an aimless action, “what can it profit thee?” (De Wette). It is an express reprimand of an insolent one, “How darest thou?” The construction ל with the infinitive is changed into that of the infinitive verb.—The translation of Psalm 50:18: “thou goest with him,” (Chald., Sept., Vulgate, Luther), grows out of the derivation from the word רוּץ. But in this case the vowels must be placed thus: וַתָּרָץ. The word in our present text וַתָּדֶץ must come from רָצּה as in Job 34:9, with עִם, i.e. to have pleasure in the society of some one.—“Thine own mother’s son” describes the nearest blood relationship, and contains an allusion to the polygamous relations then common. Ordinarily אח designates a “brother” in a wider sense. The “blow” given to him is not a physical one (Hitzig), nor something given to him, or laid in his way by which he may receive a blow, like σκανδαλον (Sept.), or offendiculum (Vulgate, Gesen., Maurer), but one with the tongue, but not necessarily in the sense of calumny (Rab., Ewald, Hengst.), though נתן is often equivalent to “give away.”—The “keeping silence,” Psalm 50:21, is a proof of Divine forbearance designed to lead men to repentance (Rom. 2:4), though often misinterpreted by them. There is no question asked here—“should I keep silence?” (Hitzig), nor in the following line, where the oratio obliqua is indicated by the infinitive construct.—To translate the concluding verse, “And this (more accurately “these”) is the way” (Sept., Syr., Luther), gives the general meaning, but it is based on the erroneous reading שָׁם, instead of the one handed down by the Talmud שָׂם, which, according to Isa. 43:19, compares with 49:11; Ezek. 21:25 would lead to the sense of: to make, prepare, or to pave a way (Böttcher). Taking the sentence as an independent one, it would read: “who prepares a way” (Hengst.), or: “who directs the way” (Hupfeld); qui ordinat viam (Vulgate, Geier); qui disposuit viam (Calvin, Maurer.) But to get this ethical sense, it must be paraphrased: “who regulates his life according to fixed principles,” or “who prepares himself to walk in the right way.” A simpler meaning perhaps would be: “who prepares the way,” i.e. “who equips himself for the journey” (Hitzig). This, how ever, would seem to refer the Psalm to the times of the Exile. The versions: “who has a care of his walk” (De Wette), “who walks carefully” (Ewald), are either elliptical or involve grammatical difficulties. It is perhaps better, therefore, to regard the sentence not as an independent one, but as a continuation of the preceding (Del.).
Psalm 50:21. Imagined.—The Hebrew verb originally means to liken or compare, and another of the same form, to be silent, so that it is peculiarly appropriate in this place, where the mention of God’s silence immediately precedes, and the imagining referred to was a false assimilation of the Most High to> the sinner himself.
[ALEXANDER: O consider this, etc., Psalm 50:22. The Hebrew particle of entreaty (נַא) is not so well expressed by the now of the English Bible, as by the oh of the Prayer Book version.—PEROWNE: Sacrificeth thanksgiving, Psalm 50:23. The verb is designedly employed in order to mark the nature of the sacrifice which God will have; slay not victims, bring not animals, but bring thanksgiving as sacrifices. The E. V. with its rendering “offereth praise,” loses slightly the distinct reference to the Mosaic sacrifices, which are not indeed absolutely suspended—the time had not yet come for this—but are put in their true place. The very great prominence again given to thanksgiving, is worthy of our careful notice. There is no duty so commonly forgotten.—J. F.]
DOCTRINAL AND ETHICAL
1. We must carefully distinguish those actual judgments of a world-historic significance, to execute which God is often said to come down from heaven, from that sitting in judgment on His covenant people, which is in this Psalm set forth as a prophetical vision, though connected with certain great historic events. For this latter purpose, God appears in supreme majesty; He shines forth from Zion, that He may reveal in His word, neither a new law nor a new exposition of it, but a Divine sanction of the deeper conception of the law. And so by exhibiting the real purport of the law, while reprimanding and exhorting His people, He would have it take a firmer hold on their consciences, and aid them in a new development of life.
2. Before God chastises His people, He makes known to them by His word, how intensely He hates sin, and how carefully He watches over the covenant established by Him under the sanction of sacrificial ordinances. The importance of this word is enhanced by the certainty of God’s personal participation in them, and by the assurance that while graciously dwelling in the midst of His people, He is still sublime and terrible in His majesty. At the same time His love is manifest in this: that He makes known to them the judicial earnestness of His royal administration, by symbols, whose design and meaning could not be misunderstood, (Exod. 20:17; Deut. 4:24; 9:3; 32:22; 1 Kings 19:11; Heb. 12:29); and that before punishing them, He instructs, warns, exhorts them, mingling both threats and promises with the exposition of His law. As in His first proclamation, so now, He claims the authority of the only true God, the Lord of heaven and earth; the God whom the people of Israel had acknowledged and accepted as their God.
3. The real character of God and His holy will was utterly misconceived, when the sacrifices of the law of Moses were viewed as gifts of man that satisfied a want of the Divine nature, or as performances by which a sinner fulfilled his moral obligations, or could redeem himself from the guilt and punishment of his transgressions. If God had such a want, since He is Lord of all things, He had no need of looking to man for its supply. As the Omnipotent and Omniscient One, He could refresh Himself when and where He pleased. But His nature is spiritual, and therefore subject to no such necessities. What He desired was not the correct observance of legal rites, but a far higher thing, Psalm 50:12, the discharge of those moral and religious duties of which these rites were simply the symbolic expression.
4. God’s commands must be expounded in order that they may be learned and understood, but this is only as a means to an end, viz: their actual fulfillment. When the law speaks of sins, it does so, not to influence our evil passions, but to make us see the hatefulness of sin, to warn against the dangers that surround us, and to awaken that holy fear which leads to repentance, and guards against abusing God’s patience, and goodness, and grace. For the wrath of God is as terrible as His grace is lovely.
5. The first and most natural duty of those who are received into the covenant of grace, is gratitude. The expression of it in word and work, is acceptable to God only when it embraces obedience both to the first and second tables of the law. True gratitude is not bounded by a legal command, or the letter of an appointment, but it passes over into the domain of love. Thus it paves a way for an ever-enlarging experience, and an ever deepening conception of the salvation of God—a way leading out of the Old Testament into the New.
HOMILETICAL AND PRACTICAL
One and the same God delivers the law to His people, explains it to His church, and accomplishes it in those whom He graciously pardons.—Grace not only deserves our gratitude, but it works it in us and blesses it.—God’s commands must not only be learned and spoken about, but must also be obeyed.—The wrath of God is as terrible as His grace is lovely; and yet in each of them the majesty of the Heavenly King is alike revealed.—Think what God is, consider what God does, observe what God wills.—Gratitude is not only the best offering for grace received, but also the foundation most acceptable to God, of new prayers for needed help.
LUTHER: To call upon God in times of trouble, and to thank Him for His aid, is the truest worship, the most acceptable sacrifice, and the proper way to salvation.
STARKE: God speaks! who would not diligently attend? He who despises His words, despises God Himself, and such an one shall be despised himself.—The fairest ornament of a land or a locality, is the confession of the doctrine of Christ and a godly walk.—As the sweetest wine may become the most acid vinegar, and the most pleasant summer day may end in the severest thunder-storm, so the wanton abuse and contempt of God’s grace is followed by the most fearful punishment.—Remember, O man ! how many witnesses there are of thy conduct.—Heaven and earth must testify before God that His judgment of the despisers of His grace is perfectly just.—Divine service without faith displeases God more than it honors Him.—Think not that God needs thy service, or that He gets any advantage thereby.—But to thyself, the true service of God is the greatest blessing and benefit.—The Christian’s first vow is that made to God in Baptism—to serve and believe in Him; his first and chiefest care should be to see that this vow is not broken.—All those hate discipline who, while they know and perhaps teach others the word of God, are not themselves brought by it to true repentance, faith, and holiness.—Esteem no sin trifling because punishment does not quickly follow it.—What is loaned for a long time must not be regarded as a gift.—God looks upon the wickedness of men, not because He has pleasure in it, but to afford them time for repentance, and to cut off all excuses for it.—When the period of grace is passed, no hope of salvation is left; and he who has not found the true Saviour, will never find another.—To see Jesus here by faith, and hereafter face to face, is a sufficient reward for those who are now diligent in offering sacrifice to God.—REICHEL: People are reprehensible, not for going to the Holy Supper, but because while going to it they continue to live in all sorts of sins and abominations.—ARNDT: Gratitude includes many virtues, e.g. the knowledge of God, for it recognises Him as the source of all good; the fear of God, or the filial fear, which, as a child, receives all benefits from God as a father; humility, or the consciousness that we have nothing in ourselves, but get everything from God.—RICHTER: From Sinai Jehovah spake as a Lawgiver; from Zion, as a Saviour; from His throne He speaks in both characters, to the whole human race.—The more heartily you give thanks, the richer and greater cause for thanksgiving shall you receive.—STIER: God, before whose judgment-seat stand only those holy ones who have entered into covenant with Him by sacrifice, explains to His erring and offending people that true way of sacrifice that leads to salvation.—Those offenders who mean to sin and offer sacrifice at the same time shall certainly be punished.—UMBREIT: Heaven and earth shall be witnesses, while God judges His people.—The new commandment of the pure and true worship of God.—Unbridled iniquity leads men, step by step, from one abomination to another.—GUENTHER: Are we really sincere and honest in rendering our service to God? Is there no concealed hypocrisy of any kind within us? Listen attentively: none at all? TAUBE: The majestic appearance of the Lord when He comes as a judge, and to testify to His people concerning His true worship, and the hypocritical service of the ungodly. Judgment begins at the house of God, but it also makes manifest His faithful ones.—DEICHERT: Our God shall come, and not keep silence. 1. How He comes. 2. What He finds amongst us. 3. What He has to say to us about it.—AHLFELD: How does the Christian enter the new year? 1. With thanks. 2. With confession. 3. With prayer (according to Psalm 50:14–16).:—HEUBNER: The proper way of calling upon God. 1. Wherein it consists. 2. What should induce us to do it. 3. How we are prepared to do it.
[BARNES: The general ideas in this Psalm 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 men impartially for their sins, though they observe these forms of religion; and (4) that no worship of God can be acceptable which does not spring from the heart.—HENRY: (1) It is not enough for us to offer praise, but we must withal order our conversation aright—thanksgiving is good, but thanksliving is better. (2) Those that would have their conversation aright, must take care and pains to order it; to dispose it according to rule; to understand their way and to direct it. (3) Those that take care of their conversation make sure their salvation; them God will make to see His salvation; for it is a salvation ready to be revealed; He will make them to see it and enjoy it, to see it, and to see themselves happy in it forever. Note: The right ordering of the conversation is the only way, and it is a sure way to obtain the great salvation.—F.]
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.