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Psalm 50

A Call to Covenant Faithfulness

Some fault God for making the Israelites his people. For having “favorites.” But to whom much is given, much is required, and God doesn’t hesitate to hold Israel to account, which is no less true of us today.

An Asaph psalm.

Almighty God Yahveh speaks
summoning earth’s inhabitants
from where the sun rises to where it sets.
From Zion, perfect in beauty
God appears in splendor.
Our God is coming, and he will not fail to speak.
With a fire devouring before him
and a windstorm raging around him
he summons the heavens above
and the earth below
to witness his people’s judgment.

5 “Summon all the believers who sealed
their covenant commitment by sacrifice!”
Then let the heavens
attest to the justice of his charges
for he is a just God.

“Listen, my people, as I speak.
I’ll state my charges against you, Israel:
I am God, your God.
8 I don’t fault you for your sacrifices.
or the burnt-offerings you constantly offer.
But I don’t need bulls from your barns
or rams from your pens.
10 Because all the beasts of the forest are mine
and the cattle on a thousand hills.
11 I know every bird in the sky
and own everything that runs in the field too.

12 “I wouldn’t tell you if I were hungry
since the world and everything in it is mine.
13 Do you think I eat the meat of bulls
or drink the blood of rams?
14 No, make thanksgiving your sacrifice to me
and keep your vows to the Most High.
15 Then call on me when you’re in trouble
and I’ll rescue you and you’ll honor me.”

16 As for the wicked, God says:
“What right have you to recite my laws
or mouth the words of my covenant?
17 For you spurn my discipline
and brush my words aside.
18 You run with every thief you meet
and team up with adulterers.
19 You let your mouth speak evil
and make your tongue speak lies.
20 You sit around badmouthing your kin—
slandering your own siblings.
21 Since I kept quiet when you did these things
you thought that, like you
I had no problem with evil.
But now I indict you
and lay out my charges against you.

22 “Think well, all you who ignore me
lest I enact the covenant’s curses[a]
and there’s no one to rescue you!
23 Everyone who gives me thanks
offers a sacrifice that truly honors me.
And to everyone who holds to my path
I’ll reveal my great power to save.”

The psalmist speaks here as prophet. While the theme of many other psalms is of God’s coming to rescue his people, he comes here to judge them on two accounts. He first rebukes them for their formalism. They think mere sacrifices—equivalent to our churchgoing—please him. That is, sacrifices without the grateful, trusting hearts the sacrifices are meant to picture.

God’s second rebuke is for those whose formalism has grown into full-blown hypocrisy. They know how to talk the talk, but they’ve got their own priorities, which lead them to team up with others more lawless than themselves. The externals of their faith have thus become a cloak that hides their disregard for God’s moral demands. They want their own way, not to become holy—thankful, truthful, kind and fair—as he is holy. That’s why they’re so at home with moral deadbeats. So before a watching world, God charges them with violating his covenant. He urges them to change their ways before he enacts the covenant’s curses. They will encounter him, either way. But only truly holding to his path, only becoming like him, will they be embraced by his amazing grace.

It’s so easy to slide into formalism, Lord, worshipping without heart, blind to all I have to be grateful for, not truly trusting you. And from there, everything goes downhill fast. Keep me from so slippery a slope. Please make me holy as you are holy.

In your free moments today, meditate on God’s promise:

“To everyone who holds to my path, I’ll reveal my great power to save.”


[a] Literally, “tear you apart.” This refers to the sacrifice they offered to seal their covenant commitment (v. 5). The sacrifice’s destruction pictured the curses they accepted as their just deserts should they violate the covenant.

Why Yahveh?

Every translator of the Psalms must decide how to handle God’s personal name, YHWH, which occurs repeatedly in its Hebrew text. Translators of the King James Version usually translated it “LORD” (all caps) and occasionally transliterated it (badly) as “Jehovah.” Modern translations, likewise, either translate or transliterate it. While translating it aims to make it more accessible to readers, transliterating it is more faithful to the text since it’s not a word at all, but rather God’s uniquely personal name. I’ve chosen to transliterate it to root it more firmly in the biblical story as the name—meaning the “self-existent One”—that God revealed to Moses on Mount Sinai. This name set Israel’s God apart from all the gods of Israel’s neighbors.

Personal names are, well, very personal. Even the sound of a name can evoke strong emotion. One problem with YHWH is that we aren’t sure how it was pronounced since Jews long ago stopped saying it in order better to hallow it. In transliterating it, I follow the advice of my esteemed Hebrew professor, Raymond Dillard. He advocated transliterating it as Yahveh—pronounced yah·vay—arguing that following the modern Hebrew pronunciation of its third consonant makes the name sound more robustly Jewish than Yahweh.
May these psalms be a light to you in dark times. You can read more of Mark Robert Anderson's writings on Christianity, culture, and inter-faith dialogue at Understanding Christianity Today.