photo from Carpathian, Ukraine.

by Brian Shilhavy

The Mighty One, God, the LORD, speaks and summons the earth from the rising of the sun to the place where it sets… Our God comes and will not be silent; a fire devours before him, and around him a tempest rages. (Psalm 50:1-3)

The author of Psalm 50 was very emphatic about who he was writing about at the beginning of this Psalm, using three different terms for God, the Creator of heaven and earth. In a culture filled with idolatrous worship of other things and other “gods”, the author didn’t want to leave any doubt about who he was writing about. Psalm 50 is a clear reminder of who God is, his place in the universe, and what he expects of his people. It offers valuable lessons for us also here in the 21st century.

First, Psalm 50 establishes the fact that God is both the owner and the ruler of the physical universe – both heaven and earth. And as the ruler, he has something to say to the inhabitants. God is not a silent ruler. He speaks. It is within our best interest to listen to what he has to say.

The main point Psalm 50 is trying to communicate is that God is not concerned about religion – a system of activities or rules that people use to try and please God or earn his favor. No, God is not concerned with religious activity. He wants a relationship with us. That is the heart of what he is trying to communicate to his people in Psalm 50.

The religious system in place during the day this Psalm was written was a Jewish system of sacrifices that were started during the days of Moses. It was never intended to be a religious system where the people would earn God’s favor by performing these sacrificial duties prescribed by the law. It was intended to be a reminder to the people of how dependent they were on God, both for their spiritual needs as well as their physical needs. The purpose was to draw their hearts and minds back to God, and to rely on him alone for all of their needs. That kind of worship, where one totally depends on God alone for all their needs by walking in faith, is what was supposed to separate the Jewish people from all other nations and religions.

So God reminds them in this Psalm that they have lost their focus, and that they have replaced their dependency on him with religious activities:

I do not rebuke you for your sacrifices or your burnt offerings, which are ever before me. I have no need of a bull from your stall or of goats from your pens, for every animal of the forest is mine, and the cattle on a thousand hills. I know every bird in the mountains, and the creatures of the field are mine. If I were hungry I would not tell you, for the world is mine, and all that is in it. Do I eat the flesh of bulls or drink the blood of goats? (Psalm 50:8-13)

Notice that he states that he is not rebuking them for the sacrifices. The acts of sacrificing themselves were not wrong, they were written in the law that he had given to them after all. It was their perspective on the meaning of those sacrifices that bothered God. He is basically saying “how foolish of you to think that I need these sacrifices for some reason. I already own the universe, including all your livestock and all the wild animals that are not domesticated. I know every single one of them. So what makes you think I need these things? You have lost your focus on the purpose of these sacrifices.”

God Makes Clear What He Desires

Fortunately, God does not simply stop there with pointing out their faults. His criticism is a “constructive criticism” designed to get them to change their behavior for their own benefit. He goes on to state what he really desires from his people:

Sacrifice thank offerings to God, fulfill your vows to the Most High, and call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you will honor me. (Psalm 50:14-15)

God knows that we can do nothing apart from him. The very air that we breathe every second of our existence is dependent upon him.

He desires a relationship, not religion.

He wants us to come to him for everything, both in good times and in difficult times. When we enjoy any good thing in life, he wants us to thank him. That’s a sacrifice, because it takes a sacrifice on our part to set aside time to focus our thoughts and mind on God and thank him for his blessings in our life. When things are not going well in our lives, he wants us to turn to him for help, because he is the best person in the universe, being its creator and ruler, to supply what is lacking in our lives.

Things have not changed much today. The principles all remain exactly the same.  Most of us have religious or what we consider “spiritual” activities that we do, and it is easy to think and engage in these activities thinking that we are pleasing God somehow.

But God is not pleased with our religious activities. He wants a relationship with us. He speaks to us all the time, and perhaps he is speaking to you right now through this message you are reading.

Will you make a sacrifice of thanks to him today, and take time to listen to him? He knows what your needs are, and he has the solution.

Is any one of you in trouble? He should pray. Is anyone happy? Let him sing songs of praise. (James 5:13)

Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. Or what man is there among you who, when his son asks for a loaf, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, he will not give him a snake, will he? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give what is good to those who ask Him! (Matthew 7:7-11)

O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise. You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise. (Psalm 51:15-17)