In Psalm 50, we find God’s standards for living as part of His covenant people and he calls the heavens and earth as witnesses as God himself sits as judge over His people for whether or not they are living godly lives or just moving through the motions with hearts that do not worship and lips that do not praise. This psalm is a warning to avoid ritualism and hypocrisy before God.

The setting of the psalm is comparable to a courtroom: God, the Judge, appears in a theophany, a visible manifestation to humankind of God (verses 1-3), and calls for a hearing (verses 4-6) in which the heavens and earth being called as witnesses. The accusations are twofold: First, ritualism. God’s people must realize that true worship does not consist of mere sacrifice, but of sacrifice offered with thanksgiving and faithfulness (verses 7-15). Second, hypocrisy. The wicked are denounced for not keeping God’s law, though they pretend that they do. In reality, they are those who “forget God” (verse 22), and face certain destruction unless they repent.

The Lord God, the Supreme Judge, levels two felony charges against His professing people: Ritualism and Hypocrisy

The Mighty One, God the Lord

The psalm opens up with telling us that “the Mighty One, God the Lord, speaks and summons the earth. The Psalmist heaps together these divine names as if a herald were proclaiming the titles of a might king and each name has its own meaning. “The Mighty One God the LORD” is really one of the compound names for God that combine some of His primary names. In this case, ’El’Elohim, and Yahweh (Jehovah).

El speaks of God as mighty. El appears to mean “power” and “might”. The name is associated with other qualities, such as integrity, jealousy, and compassion, but the root idea of “mighty” remains. El is often combined with other names to demonstrate the characteristics of God.

Elohim is a Hebrew word that denotes “God” or “god.” It is one of the most common names for God in the Old Testament. The basic meaning behind the name Elohim is one of strength or power of effect. Elohim is the infinite, all-powerful God who shows by His works that He is the creator, sustainer, and supreme judge of the world.

Yahweh (Jehovah), strictly speaking, is the only proper name for God. Translated in English Bibles “LORD” (all capitals) to distinguish it from Adonai, “Lord.” The revelation of the name is given to Moses “I Am who I Am”. This name specifies an immediacy, a presence. Yahweh is present, accessible, near to those who call on Him for deliverance, forgiveness, and guidance.

The Witnesses

As creator, God calls on the witnesses who were present when he made the covenant with his people. Verse one says that God speaks and summons the earth from the rising of the sun to its setting. The idea is that God has come to Jerusalem to judge the world, and the entire earth is gathered for that purpose. Heaven and earth, the whole world of nature, are summoned to be witnesses of the judgement, for they are far older than man, and have watched the whole course of Israel’s history.

The Targum interprets these witnesses of heaven and earth as the angels above on high, and the righteous on the earth below. Either way, these witnesses are called to hear what the Judge [God] shall say, when He will no longer keep silent; and to be witnesses of the justice of His proceedings.

God Himself is Judge

When he comes, he will not keep silent just as he did not when he met the people at Mt. Sinai. In Exodus 19:16, Moses brought the people of God out of the camp to meet with God and there were “thunderings and lightnings, and a thick cloud on the mountain; and the sound of the trumpet was very loud, so that all the people who were in the camp trembled.”

The Psalmist writes in Psalm 50 that before God is a devouring fire and around him a mighty tempest. It is the moment of accounting and God’s people will stand before Him as He judges them. Spurgeon writes, “Fire is the emblem of justice in action, and the tempest is a token of his overwhelming power.” 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. (Barnes’ Notes on the Bible)

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 the final sentence on mankind (Matt. 25:31; Acts 17:31; 10:42; John 5:22). At that time, God will no longer remain silent about the sins of mankind, but will act as a righteous judge.

Who will God judge?

Who will God judge? God’s people. The ones who were consecrated and set apart to Him. His godly ones. The people who made a covenant with God by sacrifice. God will exam them by the standard of their agreement with God. In other words, God will determine if His people are doing what they said they would do. God will judge to determine whether they were truly his.

Charge 1: Ritualism

The first indictment is about ritualism in worship (Psalm 50:7-15). Here the accused are addressed as “Israel”, and are reassured that they are dealing with (literally) “I, God your God” (Psalm 50:7). It is not that God was against the sacrifices altogether (Psalm 50:8) – after all, He had commanded them, and they pointed forward to the ultimate sacrifice of Jesus (Hebrews 10:4-10). However, He was refusing to accept their sacrifices as long as they were offered as bribes, or as long as people imagined that He benefited from them. This is like church people imagining that their attendance at church earns them credits with God, or that their sacrificial giving is somehow them helping God!

Charge 2: Hypocrisy

The second indictment is about hypocrisy (Psalm 50:16-22). Here the accused are addressed quite bluntly as “the wicked” (Psalm 50:16): “What right have you to declare My statutes, or to take My covenant in your mouth, seeing you hate instruction and cast My words behind you?” (Psalm 50:16-17). “You thought that I was altogether one such as yourself” (Psalm 50:21).

Hypocrisy, play-acting, lurks in many a dark corner in many a church and theological faculty – and in our own hearts. It is one thing to ‘talk the talk’ as the saying goes, but it is quite another to ‘walk the walk’. What good is all our religion if we have not justice, mercy and faith? The second indictment ends with a solemn warning in Psalm 50:22. ““Mark this, then, you who forget God, lest I tear you apart, and there be none to deliver! 2 Thessalonians 1:8-9 says, “in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might.”

Who will withstand before the righteous judge?

Who will withstand before the righteous judge? We find the answer in Psalm 50:23. If we are to be found innocent of the charge of ritualism, we must be a people who offers praise and glorifies God. Paul tells us how to do this in Romans 12:1. “I appeal to you therefore, brothers by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.”

In answer to the second charge of hypocrisy, it is to the one who orders his conduct rightly that God will show His salvation. James wrote in James 3:13, “Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom.”

If you were to stand before God on these two charges of ritualism and hypocrisy, would you be found guilty or will you be judged as “the one who offers thanksgiving as his sacrifice” and thereby glorifies God. Will the righteous Judge find you as “one who orders his way rightly?” If so, the He will show you the salvation of God.

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