Theme: The First Indictment: Formalism
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
Yesterday we concluded by looking at the first element involved in being summoned to God’s court. We begin today by mentioning the other two.
The universal scope of the impending judgment. The next important element in this opening summons to judgment is the scope of the call itself. It extends to the whole “earth, from the rising of the sun to the place where it sets” (v. 1). Indeed, it is even greater than that. For having traversed the earth from east to west in verse 1, the psalmist then looks up and down as he refers to God summoning “the heavens above, and the earth” in verse 4. All are included. None are left out. We seem to be on the very verge of God’s final judgment of the ungodly.
The sudden focus on God’s own people. Yet suddenly, at the end of verse 4 and in verse 5, there is a surprise. We were expecting God’s final judgment on the heathen, but now we discover that the summons is to God’s own people: “He summons the heavens above, and the earth, that he may judge his people: ‘Gather to me my consecrated ones, who made a covenant with me by sacrifice.’”
This is why I began this study by Peter’s words concerning judgment for God’s people: “It is time for judgment to begin with the family of God.”3 For it is not the heathen, but the people of God who are in view.
Appropriately, this opening summons ends with the word selah (v. 6). Selah seems usually to indicate a break in what is being said, calling for quiet and reflection. If that is accurate, it could not be more significant than here. That one word says well what the prophet Habakkuk said elsewhere in a similar reference to God’s judgment, when he wrote: “The LORD is in his holy temple; let all the earth be silent before him” (Hab. 2:20).
There are two categories of God’s alleged people summoned to judgment: 1) those writer Derek Kidner calls the “nominally orthodox” or “mechanically pious”4 (vv. 7-15); and 2) “hypocrites” (vv. 16-21). The first are people who, when God reproves them for a lack of genuine love for him and a thankless spirit, retreat into ritual.
Ritual is not bad in itself, of course, which is why God says, “I do not rebuke you for your sacrifices or your burnt offerings” (v. 8). In this case, the burnt offerings and sacrifices did two good things. First, they reminded the worshiper that all we have comes from God; even in our worship we only give back a portion of what God has already given us. Second, they teach that the only way of approaching God is by atonement for sins. They remind us that we are sinners and need salvation. But what this boils down to is that rituals, whether the Old Testament system of sacrifices and feasts or the New Testament sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper, are for our benefit, not God’s. Therefore, they function rightly only when they inculcate a spirit of thankfulness in the worshiper.
Study Questions:

What is the significance of the scope of God’s impending judgment?
From the study, what is the surprise found in verses 4-5?
What are the two categories of people God addresses? Describe the first category.

Application: Do you sometimes find yourself feeling like someone in the first category who is reproved for a lack of love and a thankless spirit? What will you do in response to these problems, and what steps will you take to eliminate them?
For Further Study: Romans 1 describes the depravity of the human race, and God’s response to such rebellion. Download and listen for free to James Boice’s message, “Base Ingratitude.” (Discount will be applied at checkout.)
3Psalm 50 is the first psalm ascribed to Asaph. It is the only one in the second book of Psalms, but in the next book there is an entire collection under his name, Psalms 73-83 (eleven in all). Asaph was one of the chief leaders of music appointed by David to preside over the Levite choirs (cf. 1 Chron. 15:14-17, 19; 16:4-6, 37). By the time of Hezekiah, Asaph was ranked with David as one of the greatest composers of praise hymns (2 Chron. 29:30). For a careful discussion of Asaph and the Asaphic psalms see Franz Delitzsch, Biblical Commentary on the Psalms, vol. 2, trans. Francis Bolton (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, n.d.), pp. 122-124.
4Derek Kidner, Psalms 1-72: An Introduction and Commentary on Books I and II of the Psalms (Leicester, England, and Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1973), p. 187.

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