Psalm 50: The Heart Of A Worshipper—Proper Sacrifices (Part 2)

In the first part of our exposition of Psalm 50, we considered what proper, or correct worship is—that is, worship offered according to the Word of God (Regulative Principle of Worship) and given with all of the heart, mind, soul, and strength. Thus, worship must be offered properly, both outwardly, according to Scripture, and inwardly, not merely checking the boxes. We looked at the opening verse of Psalm 50 wherein God calls his people not only to worship, but also to judgment, because they had not worshiped him sincerely as he requires. In this second part, we now turn to the rest of the psalm where we see how God deals with improper worship and what he expects of his people.

Proper Sacrifices in Worship (vv. 7–15)

Speaking in covenantal and legal language, God admonishes his people:

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. (7–8)

Why does God speak in this fashion? As verse 8 tells us, it is not because Israel is guilty of failing to attend and participate in the worship service—for there is no lack of sacrificial offerings. He does not rebuke them for forgetting to set their calendars or alarms for the day of worship; rather, he rebukes them because their heart is not in it. Therefore, their bare external acts of presenting offerings are pointless for the God who already owns everything:

I will not accept a bull from your house

or goats from your folds.

For every beast of the forest is mine,

the cattle on a thousand hills.

I know all the birds of the hills,

and all that moves in the field is mine. (9–11)

Everything already belongs to God—the sacrificial bulls, the goats, the calves, the birds—he does not need them in order to carry on as God. He wants them only if they are offered from a heart full of reverence. In some ancient pagan religions, the gods needed blood and sacrifices in order to exist and function. The LORD, however, is the creator and possessor of heaven and earth. He is not like the false gods who need blood to exist or be satiated:

If I were hungry, I would not tell you,

for the world and its fullness are mine.

Do I eat the flesh of bulls

or drink the blood of goats? (11–12)

These verses highlight the bankruptcy of worship that may be outwardly proper, but which is missing the underlying spiritual purpose of worship—to glorify God with outwardly and inwardly acceptable worship. The people of God are not called merely to go through the motions or check the boxes, but to worship in truth and in spirit. If worship is only superficial and not from the heart, it is hypocritical worship. Concerning this external religiosity in the place of spiritual worship, John Calvin wrote:

There have always been hypocrites in the church, men who have placed religion in a mere observance of outward ceremonies, and among the Jews there were many who turned their attention entirely to the shadows and figures of the law, without regarding the truth represented in them. They conceived that nothing more was commanded of them but their sacrifices and other religious rites, but his is a gross error.1

God wants no bare external show; he wants pure and true spiritual worship. God’s people must worship both outwardly, in the way he has commanded, and with a heart full of thanks and praise. Our Lord Jesus addressed the problem of hypocritical religiosity when he confronted it in the Pharisees. He responded to their outward acts of religion which were strictly for show and were missing the heart of a true worshiper:

Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. (Matt 6:1–2)

And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. (Matt 6:5)

You hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy of you, when he said: “This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me; teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.” (Matt 15:7–9)

Hypocrisy in religion has no expiration date—the same problem exists in the church today. Whether in Psalm 50, the Gospel According to Matthew, or in our own public worship, God does not desire mere outwardly proper worship. He wants heartfelt worship that is according to his will. The LORD continues his call:

Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving,

and perform your vows to the Most High,

and call upon me in the day of trouble;

I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me. (14–15)

Here is the central point of the psalm: offer God praise as he has commanded in Scripture and fulfill your vows, not only for show, but inwardly. In this way, God will receive the glory, the goal of public worship. This is what God expects of his people—then and now—to glorify him both through proper sacrifice as he has commanded, and with all of the heart, mind, and soul.

On these verses of Psalm 50, Calvin concluded, “Praise and prayer are set in opposition to ceremonies and mere external observance of religion, to teach us, that the worship of God is spiritual.”2 Indeed, God wants proper outward sacrifices and he seeks proper spiritual worship with all of the heart, soul, and strength. If this concept is beginning to sound repetitious, perhaps that is the point and the LORD wants his people to get it before his judgment comes.

As we consider our own worship on the Lord’s Day, does this describe how you worship God, fulfilling your vows, worshiping him as he has commanded, and not merely outwardly, but in spirit and truth? This is what brings him glory and what sanctifies his people. If we follow the pattern set forth in these verses, we are offering him proper sacrifices, and these lead to a life of bringing him glory, not only in public worship, but beyond the public liturgy and into life in general. But what happens if we do not? What happens if we worship haphazardly? What if our worship appears to glorify God, but our hearts are not in it? The final section of this psalm addresses these questions.

Proper Sacrifices in All of Life (vv. 16–23)

But to the wicked God says:

“What right have you to recite my statutes

or take my covenant on your lips?” (16)

Obedience is expected of one not only in the public worship service, but in all of life. Here, God denounces those who go through the motions in worship, even naming them “the wicked.” This psalm is liturgical in nature; thus, God is not addressing the Canaanites, but his own people. Those who worship God only for show will have this lackluster approach toward God in all areas of life. As they leave the public worship service where they offered their vain outward sacrifices, we see that their way of living does not reflect their outward display:

For you hate discipline,

and you cast my words behind you.

If you see a thief, you are pleased with him,

and you keep company with adulterers.

You give your mouth free rein for evil,

and your tongue frames deceit.

You sit and speak against your brother;

you slander your own mother’s son. (17–20)

The moral law concerned with love of neighbor is in view here. Recall that Psalm 50 began with a picture of the LORD on holy Mt. Zion, an allusion to the giving of the law at Mt. Sinai. The laws concerned with honoring and worshiping God properly have been broached, and now God addresses laws regarding adultery, thievery, and dishonesty.

The point is clear: if one does not offer proper sacrifices in the public service, how can one expect to offer the proper sacrifices of obedience to God the rest of the week? One cannot. All of life is not worship, but if one cannot worship God properly on the day that he has set apart for that purpose and in the way that God has commanded—both outwardly and inwardly—one’s disobedient approach to the worship of God will follow in the rest of life.

Throughout all of their covenant breaking, God has said nothing to those who put on a display of piety in worship but fail to bring him glory in their lives. But here in verse 21, he reminds them of who he is in relation to them:

These things you have done, and I have been silent;

you thought that I was one like yourself.

But now I rebuke you and lay the charge before you. (21)

The stipulations of the covenant have been broken; the legal charge has come. God’s people have confused themselves with their creator, and judgment has been stored up against them. They have mistaken the LORD’s temporary tolerance and patience as an acceptance of their sin. As Paul writes,

do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed. (Rom 2:4–5)

Indeed, this liturgical psalm is about judgment. The judgment is coming for covenant breakers who go through the motions and offer outwardly proper sacrifices on the Sabbath day but fail to honor God inwardly. Despite their supposed piety, they are betrayed by their own outward actions as they leave the worship service and fail to offer the sacrifice of obedience to God and love for neighbor. This section of the psalm is a warning of that judgment. As Calvin wrote,

They may take occasion from his conceived forbearance to indulge a false peace of mind, and escape the disquietude which they could not fail to feel were they seriously persuaded that was the avenger of sin. We have a sufficient proof in the supine security which hypocrites display, that they must have formed such false conceptions of God. They not only exclude from their thoughts his judicial character, but think of him as the patron and approver of their sins.3

And to they who make that mistake, God says:

Mark this, then, you who forget God,

lest I tear you apart, and there be none to deliver! (22)

The tone is severe: judgment is coming. But what of those who recognize their sin of improper worship and turn to God in repentance and seek to practice true, reverent worship? For those who turn from their sin and turn to God, mercy and pardon are offered. To those who look to the obedience of Christ—the only one to worship God properly at all times, who suffered and died for sinners—their sins will be forgiven. To those who by the power of the Spirit, endeavor after new obedience, God will sanctify by his grace. This is good news. As the psalm concludes, the grace and salvation of God is on display:

The one who offers thanksgiving as his sacrifice glorifies me;

to one who orders his way rightly

I will show the salvation of God!” (22–23)

Conclusion

Let this psalm then be a both a warning and an encouragement to us. Our lives throughout the week must be congruent with the way we worship on the Lord’s Day. We must worship God properly as he has commanded according to the Regulative Principle of Worship (RPW), and that includes worshiping him with all of the heart, soul, and strength. This frame of mind towards God must follow us in all of life as we live to bring him glory in all that we do. This is our chief end. All of life is not worship—worship is worship—but if we cannot worship properly, then we will not live properly, and judgment will come.

Lest we think we that by simply coming to the Lord’s Day service(s) and checking all the right boxes during public worship, we have thereby finished our duty to God, we are reminded in Psalm 50 that God is not pleased with mere external worship. The sacrifices we offer in the divine service do indeed matter, but not if they are not also followed by a life that brings God glory through obedience and love for him and for our neighbor. The Lord reminds his people that all of life matters, and if we do not worship him properly both outwardly and inwardly, then we cannot expect our life to please God and bring him glory. Both of these must come together in the life of a Christian.

As he demonstrates in Psalm 50, God is not fooled when we simply go through the motions. Thus, we are fooling ourselves if we think he is pleased by outwardly proper worship on Sunday and unholy living the rest of the week. Indeed, he is pleased with us only when we worship him properly both inwardly and outwardly on the Lord’s Day, and when that worship is followed by a life that brings him glory with proper sacrifices in all of life.

Therefore, we shall close with the fitting words of the preacher to the Hebrews: “Let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire,” and “Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name. Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.” (Heb 12:28–29; 13:15–16)

Notes

  1. John Calvin, Commentary on the Book of Psalms Vol. II (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2003), 257.
  2. Calvin, Psalms, 270.
  3. Calvin, Psalms, 278

©Scott McDermand II. All Rights Reserved.

You can find the whole series here. 


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