The Mighty One, God, the Lord,
speaks and summons the earth
from the rising of the sun to where it sets.
From Zion, perfect in beauty,
God shines forth.
Our God comes
and will not be silent;
a fire devours before him,
and around him a tempest rages.
He summons the heavens above,
and the earth, that he may judge his people:
‘Gather to me this consecrated people,
who made a covenant with me by sacrifice.’
And the heavens proclaim his righteousness,
for he is a God of justice.
– Psalm 50
One of the reasons that the Psalms are so loved and cherished is that they give voice to authentic human experience. Sometimes the writer is saying ‘God, you are great!’ or ‘I trust you,’ other times there’s just an urgent cry for deliverance, ‘help!’ or when the prayer has been answered, ‘thanks.’
In this Psalm though, the human voice is absent and it is God’s turn to speak.
The opening verses depict God thundering out from Jerusalem to call his people to account. The judgment begins with those God calls ‘my people’, the people that he loves, who he has chosen and who have committed themselves to him. Sobering words for those of us who claim to follow this God and who are often better are spotting motes of dust in other people’s eyes than the plank of wood in our own.
The first thing God says to them is ‘Listen’ (v. 7). In a world of constant noise and chatter that’s one of the most difficult things to do, we are so easily distracted and the ubiquity of the mobile phone doesn’t help. To be quiet and to listen is one of the hardest things to do but it’s one of the most important. Peter once asked Jesus, ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life’ (John 6:68). The words of God are life giving. The problem is we’re not always listening.
One of the ways we don’t listen is by thinking we’re doing God some sort of favour by following him. But God is not a needy God, God is not lacking in anything, the whole world is his, the whole universe is his and because he doesn’t need anything he isn’t open to bribery or flattery or manipulation (vv. 8–13).
Another way we don’t listen to God is by failing to turn to him when we’re in trouble. Obviously there are things that we should do to stop us getting into trouble in the first place and God doesn’t guarantee he will always wave a wand and magic all our troubles away but there are times when we find ourselves in too deep a mess and all the self-help books in the world can’t help us out of the pit. One of those pits is dug out of our sin and guilt, another one is marked death and dying. There’s no way out in our own strength but God promises that when we call on him, he will come to our rescue (vv. 14–15).
Another way we don’t listen is when we think God is more bothered by religious show than by our relationship with others. The ‘wicked’ (v. 16) are those who happily perform religious acts and spout religious words but whose actions deny their faith. Calvin said that our minds are like idol factories and our biggest mistake is to think that God is like we are, self-seeking, indifferent to the needs of others and writing off those who cannot help us in some way, such a way cannot lead to abundant life (v. 22).
There is, however, an alternative: to live in deep gratitude (note the reference to ‘thank offerings’ in verses 14 and 23), to realise that none of us are self-made men or women and that everything that we have comes from God’s hand and because of his goodness. In the New Testament we call that ‘grace’.