Theme: Summons to Judgment
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 the introduction to Psalm 49 I pointed out that, because the Bible is a progressive revelation, it is often the case that a New Testament passage is a commentary on an Old Testament text. In the case of Psalm 49 it was the other way around; the psalm can be viewed as exposition of Jesus’ well-known parable of the rich fool. Psalm 50 is an example of the normal pattern. Its theme is developed in 1 Peter 4:7, where Peter writes, “For it is time for judgment to begin with the family of God; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God?” A theme like this calls for sober reflection by God’s people.
Psalm 50 is a judgment psalm, and the opening verses are a call to judgment in words that evoke memories of the solemn setting of the giving of the law on Mount Sinai in the days of Moses. In Exodus 19, the chapter that immediately precedes the Ten Commandments, we are told, “On the morning of the third day there was thunder and lightning, with a thick cloud over the mountain, and a very loud trumpet blast. Everyone in the camp trembled. Then Moses led the people out of the camp to meet with God, and they stood at the foot of the mountain. Mount Sinai was covered with smoke, because the LORD descended on it in fire. The smoke billowed up from it like smoke from a furnace, the whole mountain trembled violently, and the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder” (Exod. 19:16-19).
We have exactly this setting in the first six verses of Psalm 50, which are a summons to judgment in which God presents himself on Mount Zion as he did on Mount Sinai, accompanied by fire and a tempest. This theophany is not so extensively described as the one in Exodus. This is a psalm after all, not history. Nevertheless, there is no mistaking the author’s intention. And lest we miss it, later on there are other echoes of the language of Mount Sinai. The summons of the people in verse 7 ends with the words “I am God, your God,” which echoes the first words of the Ten Commandments, “I am the LORD your God” (Exod. 20:1), and in verses 18 and 19 there are explicit references to the eighth, seventh and ninth commandments.
It is hard to imagine anything more solemn than this opening summons to God’s court. Note three important elements.
The names of God. The first line contains three names of God: El, Elohim and Yahweh (Jehovah). J. J. Stewart Perowne argues that the first two are not names but are rather to be understood as “the God of gods,” thus identifying Jehovah as that One (“The God of gods, Jehovah…”).1 But most commentators understand these to be three distinct names, each with its own specific overtones. The New International Version captures some of this by its translation: “the Mighty One, God, the LORD.” As Alexander Maclaren says, “The psalm opens with a majestic heaping together of the divine names, as if a herald were proclaiming the style and titles of a mighty king at the opening of a solemn assize…. El speaks of God as mighty; Elohim, as the object of religious fear; Jehovah, as the self-existent and covenant God.”2
What is there in Psalm 50 to indicate that it is a “judgment” psalm?
What is the first important element concerning God’s summons to his court, and how should it be understood?
Reflection: Read 1 Peter 4:7 and compare this New Testament verse to the psalm we are studying.
1J. J. Stewart Perowne, Commentary on the Psalms, 2 vols. in 1 (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1989), vol. 1, p. 405. Original edition 1878-1879.2Alexander Maclaren, The Psalms, vol. 2, Psalms 39-89 (New York: A. C. Armstrong and Son, 1893), pp. 117, 118.