A few weeks ago I was explaining my thoughts on Psalm 42-49 to a friend and they asked the inevitable question, “If those psalms are a unit then does Psalm 50 continue their progression of thought?” My quick reply of “I don’t know” was certainly not the best answer to give if I was trying to describe the Psalms as a single unified work with a logical progression of thought!
But as I studied Psalm 49 a little closer I realized it provides the perfect prelude to the thought found in Psalm 50. In Psalm 49 the nature and end of the righteous ones are contrasted against the nature and end of the wicked ones, and in Psalm 50 we hear the difference between God’s words of judgment upon each group.
(Psalm 50:1-6) God Speaks from His Throne in Zion
God speaks from Zion, the mighty city of God and the future home of the conquering groom and his bride. Zion does not reside solely in the future but it presently exists, spanning time from eternity past to eternity future, and from this eternal city God speaks words of judgment to all creatures of heaven and earth gathered before him. And while these words sound much like those spoken by him in Revelation 20, they also have universal appeal throughout all time.
(Psalm 50:7-15) God’s Words to the Righteous
I imagine if I were standing with those before God’s throne, I might have assumed I was one of the righteous people, but upon hearing his first words, “I will testify against you…” I’d begin to wonder. “I thought,” I would say to myself, “I did everything he asked of me. What have I done that would cause him to testify against me?”
Then as God described how everything in the universe was, is, and ever more shall be his, and how he did not need my sacrifices I would know I was in trouble, not because I did awful things (though I have), but because I lived as though sacrifices were what he wanted. I, much like ancient Israel, saw sacrifice as central to my relationship with God: I sacrificed time, talents, and treasures to God thinking that was sufficient, but after hearing God’s words, I realize they evidently weren’t.
I would wonder, as God continued to explain that all he wanted from the righteous was their words of thanks and a child-like trust in him, if I should have thought more intently on Jesus’ words “Unless you become as little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matt 18:3)
(Psalm 50:16-21) God’s Words to the Wicked
It certainly wouldn’t take long for my thoughts to press down upon me in accusation, but I believe I would find some relief when God’s focus shifted to the wicked people.
But when God described the wicked people as ones who kept his laws on their lips, my respite would be short-lived. I had always thought the wicked were the stereotypical evil men, completely disregarding God’s ways, but this description is different. The wicked, God declares, are those who knew his word best, yet despite their spiritual knowledge did many horrible things including theft, adultery, lying, and slandering.
In self righteousness I, probably like everyone else, would scan the crowd looking for the people about whom God was talking, but I would only find others like me, God’s righteous children: there would be no stereotypical wicked person. But it wouldn’t take long for us to realize God is speaking to us, the children of God: we are both righteous and wicked; we sacrifice for God, yet don’t trust him; we try to take care of things on our own, forgetting God wants us to rely on him; we know the word of God backward and forward, yet continually choose sinful behavior.
At this point I think I would recall many times in my life when in one moment I taught God’s ways and in the next moment I did horrible things. I would remember these sins, but soon realize that worse even than my most heinous sin was that I used God’s silence as tacit approval: I validated my actions when there was no immediate consequence. But now that I hear God’s words to the wicked people I know God didn’t intend for his silence to be construed as approval for my sin.
(Psalm 50:22-23) Final Consequences
Instead of condemnation by God’s holy and righteous judgment, God would speak of his grace and eternal life: despite our unfaithfulness, God offers us salvation. I would be tempted to search the scriptures to uncover mysterious depths of spiritual insight and gain more knowledge to understand how this could be, but in the end I think I would find that the explanation is found in a song many of us learned as children: trust and obey, for there’s no other way to be happy in Jesus but to trust and obey.