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Psalms 50 Summary - The Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges

This Psalm, like the preceding one, is a didactic Psalm. But while the lesson of Psalms 49 is an echo of the teaching of the ‘Wise Men,’ that of Psalms 50 is an echo of the teaching of the Prophets: and while, in accordance with the characteristic method of ‘Wisdom,’ “all peoples” are addressed in Psalms 49, in accordance with the characteristic method of Prophecy the people of Jehovah is addressed in Psalms 50.

The Psalm is a solemn vision of judgement. It is finely dramatic in form. As in Isaiah 1 and Micah 6, Jehovah puts Israel upon its trial in the presence of all Nature. He is at once Plaintiff and Judge. The two speeches in which He exposes the shortcomings of His people are introduced by a prologue, and summed up in a brief epilogue.

i. In a solemn introduction the Advent of God to judge His people is described. As He came of old from Sinai in the midst of storm and lightning to promulgate the Law, so now He is represented as appearing from Zion surrounded by these symbols of His majesty to enforce it. Heaven and earth are summoned to be witnesses of the trial (Psa 50:1-6).

ii. God speaks; and first He addresses the mass of the people, who imagine that their duty to Him is fulfilled by the formal offering of material sacrifices. He shews them that He has no need of material sacrifices. What He desires is the sacrifice of the heart, expressed in sincere thankfulness and loyal trust (Psa 50:7-15).

iii. Then in a sterner tone He addresses the hypocrites who glibly repeat His laws with their lips, but shamelessly break them in act by gross offences against their neighbours (Psa 50:16-21).

iv. The Psalm concludes with an epilogue of warning and promise (Psa 50:22-23).

Thus the Ps. deals with man’s duty towards God and his duty towards his neighbour; with the nature of acceptable service, and the obligations of social morality. Its two main divisions answer to the two great divisions of the Decalogue. The whole corresponds to the teaching which was constantly being repeated by the prophets, and is briefly summed up in the sentence, “I desire lovingkindness, and not sacrifice, and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings.” The principle comes down from the first of the prophets (1Sa 15:22), and finds its most forcible exposition in Isa 1:11 ff., to which the Psalm is intimately related, and Mic 6:6 ff. The same thought is expressed in the Wisdom-literature in Pro 21:3, and Sir 35:1-7 ; and elsewhere in the Psalter, e.g. in Psa 40:6 ff; Psa 51:16 ff; Psa 69:30 f.; 15; Psa 24:1 ff. But none of these passages is to be understood as an absolute condemnation of sacrifice. Sacrifice was the recognised bond of the relation between God and men, though it was not, as men were prone to think, the sum and substance of that relation. The primitive institution of sacrifice was continued and developed in the Mosaic legislation. The covenant of Sinai was sanctioned by sacrifice, though it was not based upon it; the Decalogue contained no injunction to offer sacrifice. It is not the sacrificial system in itself, but the sacrificial system emptied of “its moral significance as the recognition of the holiness of God and the sinfulness of the sinner,” and made a substitute for the higher duties of devotion and morality, or combined with a glaring defiance of those duties, which is denounced by prophet and psalmist as a thing which God hates. See Oehler’s O.T. Theology, § 201.

To what date is the Psalm to be assigned? Clearly it belongs to a time when sacrificial worship was scrupulously maintained, but a low standard of morality was united with punctilious ceremonial observance. We know from the prophets Hosea, Isaiah, and Micah, that this was conspicuously the case in the eighth century b.c., and to this period the Psalm may most safely be assigned. Delitzsch indeed regarded it as an original Psalm of David’s musician Asaph, but the tendency to formalism does not seem to have been specially characteristic of that time. Some critics place it after the Exile, alleging that Psa 50:5 implies the dispersion of the nation. But this inference cannot legitimately be drawn from the verse: and on the other hand, would any poet after the Return have ventured to call Zion ‘the perfection of beauty,’ in view of the past glories of the city and Temple which were never restored? Moreover Lam 2:15, “Is this the city that men called The perfection of beauty, The joy of the whole earth”? combines Psa 50:2 and Psa 48:2: and Psalms 97, which is acknowledged to belong to the time of the Return, is based upon reminiscences of this Psalm together with Psalms 47, 48.

This Psalm may then best be referred to the same period as the preceding Psalms. A somewhat later date, in the reign of Josiah, has been suggested, but the close relation between the Psalm and Isaiah 1 is in favour of the earlier date.

On the title A Psalm of Asaph, and the general characteristics of the Asaph Psalms see Intr. to Book 111, pp. 427ff.

Consult other comments:

Psalms 50:0 - Albert Barnes' Notes on the Bible

Psalms 50:0 - The Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges

Psalms 50:0 - Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers (Old and New Testaments)

Psalms 50:0 - John Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible

Psalms 50:0 - Matthew Henry's Whole Bible Commentary

Psalms 50:0 - Jamieson, Fausset and Brown's Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible

Psalms 50:0 - Keil & Delitzsch Commentary on the Old Testament

Psalms 50:0 - Commentary Series on the Bible by Peter Pett

Psalms 50:0 - English Annotations on the Holy Bible by Matthew Poole

Psalms 50:0 - Whedon's Commentary on the Old and New Testaments

The Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges