As many of you may know (since I’ve mentioned it in this blog) I’m working on a prayer book designed for use in the home, around the dining table, etc. So please don’t misunderstand my following comments. I would not be releasing a book of “liturgical” prayers, if I did not find them valuable and beneficial to the godly life. However, as in all things, what honors God is the finding of balance, that tension between seemingly competing truths. Indeed, it is an ability to cope with the tension of the Christian walk that is most representative of maturity.
All that having been said in way of introduction, may I direct your attention, dear reader, to Psalm 50. The first of “The Psalms of Asaph”, this is a rather unique psalm compared to the rest of those attributed to either Asaph’s pen or to his care (Pss 73-83); it takes the form of a covenant lawsuit or what is known in Hebrew as a riv. What I would like to highlight and then comment on are verses 5, 8-9, 13-15 & 23.
Verse 5 reminds us that we chassidim (rendered variously in some popular English translations as “saints”, “godly ones”, “faithful ones” or “covenant people” ) are those, “who have cut a covenant via sacrifice” with God (cf. Exodus 24:3-8). For those who lived during days when there was a functioning Temple/Tabernacle this must have been extraordinarily evocative language. For those of us who look back to Messiah’s atoning sacrifice as the means by which we participate in the covenant, and to the mystery of God’s adoption as the means by which we become children of Abraham, we may need to pause and reflect upon the significance of these words. For a vivid and graphic description of the first cutting of this eternal covenant between Abraham (and his descendants) see Genesis 15:9-17.
In verses 8 & 9 we find God declaring that is not because His people have failed to make sacrifices or to bring Him continual burnt offerings (olah). God’s point is that He doesn’t need our sacrifices, indeed every animal in the Earth belongs to Him. Apparently some Israelites had confused the offering of gifts to the Lord as being something God needed from them. God has no need, but deserves all. This mistake is reminiscent of that definition of idolatry given in Deuteronomy chapter 8. We are reminded to bless the Lord for His provision after every meal (v. 10), and this is contrasted with verse 17,
“Beware lest you say in your heart, ‘My power and the might of my hand have gotten me this wealth.’” (ESV)
This warrants a comment on Psalm 51 as well. Often I have overheard or read Christians commenting on passages like Psalm 50 or more specifically 51:16, Jeremiah 6:20 or 1 Samuel 15:22, and taking them to mean that sacrifices are not pleasing to God or not what He really wants/wanted. But we forget, passages that strike that oh-so-necessary balance, like Psalm 51:19 or 50:14 or 50: 23.
And this brings us to the crux of this post. It is my hope that we will understand that while God gives us physical and tangible actions to take in the interest of our sanctification and the transforming of our minds/hearts these activities are only pleasing to God when they are offered up (executed by us) with proper motivation and with a heart full of overflowing awe and thanksgiving.
As Yeshua once asked, who is better off the man who says he will do as his father asked but does not act on that promise or he who refuses, but subsequently repents and goes and does the will of his father? Likewise, who is better off, he who does the activities God has prescribed for a godly life, but refuses to set his heart after God, or he who misses the point of the activities and thus neglects them, but in his naiveté seeks anxiously after God, and serves Him to the best of his uninformed ability?
Charles Spurgeon in Volume 1 of his The Treasury of David has the following to say in his commentary to Psalm 50. Many who believe similarly to myself might easily mistake the message of the following quote, but I would urge you to ponder them in the spirit of that I’ve conveyed in this post.
(speaking of 50:15) “Oh, blessed verse! Is this then true sacrifice? Is it an offering to ask an alms of heaven? It is even so. The King himself so regards it. For herein is faith manifested, herein is love proved, for in the hour of peril we fly to those we love. It seems a small thing to pray to God when we are distressed, yet is it a more acceptable worship than the mere heartless presentation of bullocks and he-goats. This is a voice from the throne, and how full of mercy it is! It is very tempestuous round about Jehovah, and yet what soft drops of mercy’s rain fall from the bosom of the storm! Who would not suffer such sacrifice? Troubled one, haste to present it now! Who shall say that Old Testament saints did not know the gospel? Its very spirit and essence breathe like frankincense all around this holy Psalm. ‘I will deliver thee.’ The reality of thy sacrifice of prayer shall be seen in its answer. Whether the smoke of burning bulls be sweet to me or no, certainly thy humble prayer shall be, and I will prove it so by my gracious reply to thy supplication. This promise is very large, and may refer both to temporal and eternal deliverances; faith can turn it every way, like the sword of the cherubim. ‘And thou shalt glorify me.’ Their prayer will honour me, and their grateful perception of my answering mercy will also glorify me. The goats and bullocks would prove a failure, but the true sacrifice never could. The calves of the stall might be a vain oblation, but not the calves of sincere lips.
Thus we see what is true ritual. Here we read inspired rubrics. Spiritual worship is the great, the essential matter; all else without it is rather provoking than pleasing to God. As helps to the soul, outward offerings were precious, but when men went not beyond them, even their hallowed things were profaned in the view of heaven.”
Let us be afraid, yes afraid, of claiming in our heart of hearts, “my power and the might of my hand have gotten me this __________ (you fill in the blank).” Let us be equally afraid of performing service to God without the proper perspective and the right heart attitude.
“Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving, and perform your vows to the Most High, . . . The one who offers thanksgiving as his sacrifice glorifies me; to one who orders his way rightly I will show the salvation of God!” Psalms 50:14, 23 (ESV)