Theme: The Judge’s Final Charge
Because God is the judge of all the earth, our proper response to him is to humble ourselves, repent of our sins, and offer ourselves to him in grateful service.
Scripture: Psalm 50:1-23
In yesterday’s devotional we said that three of the Ten Commandments are mentioned in this psalm. Yesterday we looked at the first one, and today consider the other two.
“You shall not commit adultery” (v. 18). The second reference is to the seventh of the Ten Commandments, found in Exodus 20:14 and Deuteronomy 5:18. It concerns sexual relations with another person’s wife or husband. But it is also broader than that, since it embraces all kinds of sexual sins, including the outward sin of fornication and the inner sins of impure thoughts or lust. Jesus said that “anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matt. 5:28).
At this point there is a strong temptation for us to dismiss the force of the commandment. We live in an exceedingly lustful age, and we tend to excuse this sin on the grounds that if even thinking about adultery is adultery, then all are guilty and therefore it cannot be so bad. But notice that this is not what the psalm does. In the previous example, the psalmist condemned these hardened hypocrites not necessarily because they stole things from others, though they probably did, but because they joined the company of thieves. So also in this case. These alleged people of God are condemned not necessarily because they have been guilty of adultery themselves, though they may have been, but because they threw in their lot with adulterers. That is, they liked to hang around them. They liked their approach to life and their stories. My point is that the Bible does the very opposite of what we do. It does not lessen the force of the commandment; it heightens it. It condemns us for pretending to worship and enjoy God when what we actually enjoy is sin.
“You shall not bear false witness” (v. 19, 20). The third and last representative commandment is the ninth, from Exodus 20:16 and Deuteronomy 5:20. It deals with truth. We tend to treat words lightly, excusing slander by the claim, “I didn’t mean it,” or a lie by the excuse, “I was mistaken.” Or, even worse, we hear, “I said it; so what?” God does not take these false representations or lies lightly. He is a God of truth. In fact, to judge by the space given to each of these commandments in the psalm, it would seem that he regards lying as even worse than stealing and adultery. The first two are combined in one verse of two lines, while discussion of this single sin fills two verses and four lines: “You use your mouth for evil and harness your tongue to deceit. You speak continually against your brother and slander your own mother’s son” (vv. 19, 20).
The last verse seems to highlight a sad characteristic of lying, namely, that it becomes a habit. Once we fall into it, it is something we do “continually.” It becomes a pattern of speech that we cannot break. Moreover, we become indiscriminate in our lying. We speak not only against our brothers (or sisters) in the broadest sense of those terms, but also against our “own mother’s son,” that is, to the one with whom above all we should be truthful, our own blood brother or sister.
What is the problem with such people? As I said above, they have forgotten that God is a moral God. God says, “You thought I was altogether like you” (v. 21). We excuse sin and take moral requirements lightly. God does not. We assume that because God is silent for long periods of time, he is as indifferent to righteousness as we are. But God is not indifferent. Peter referred to those who mock God’s judgment because it is delayed, saying, “Where is this ‘coming’ he promised?” But Peter replied, “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. . . . But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare.” He then asks, “Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be” (2 Peter 3:9-11)? What kind, indeed?
This is exactly where Psalm 50 ends. It ends with a final charge to God’s real and alleged people, reminding them of the judgment that is coming and challenging them to remember God by a repentance leading to thanksgiving.
There have been two kinds of people in this psalm, though outwardly they may seem to be the same: formalists and hypocrites. Both “forget God” (v. 22), but they do so in different ways. The first are genuine believers, but they fall into formal patterns of worship by forgetting that God is spirit and must be worshiped spiritually, that is, with the heart and mind. The second are wolves in sheep’s clothing. They are not believers. They forget that God is a moral God and that he will not be mocked. They forget that their sin will surely be judged one day.
It is hard to think of a psalm that is as relevant to our day as this one. As Alexander Maclaren once wrote, “The psalm has as keen an edge for modern as for ancient sins. Superstitious reliance on externals of worship survives, though sacrifices have ceased; and hypocrites, with their mouths full of the Gospel, still cast God’s words behind them.”6 Let’s learn from it by humbling ourselves before God, repenting of our many sins and honoring God by the thankful offering up to him of our very selves.
How does the meaning of the seventh commandment extend beyond the actual wording? Where else do you see this subject talked about in the New Testament?
What substitute expressions do people use to try to minimize or redefine a lie? Also, what excuses do people make in an attempt to avoid guilt or blame? What does this reveal about themselves?
Application: Examine yourself in light of the commandments Dr. Boice looks at in this chapter, and pray for purity and obedience in these areas.
For Further Study: The Psalms is one of the best-loved portions of the Bible, which James Boice spent years preaching through. You can order the published set of these sermons from the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals for 25% off the regular price.
6Alexander Maclaren, The Psalms, vol. 2, Psalms 39-89 (New York: A. C. Armstrong and Son, 1893), p. 124.