A Psalm of Asaph
1 The mighty God, even the LORD, hath spoken, and called the earth from the rising of the sun unto the going down thereof.
2 Out of Zion, the perfection of beauty, God hath shined.
3 Our God shall come, and shall not keep silence: a fire shall devour before Him, and it shall be very tempestuous round about Him.
4 He shall call to the heavens from above, and to the earth, that He may judge His people.
5 Gather My saints together unto Me: those that have made a covenant with Me by sacrifice.
6 And the heavens shall declare His righteousness: for God is judge Himself. Selah.
7 Hear, O my people, and I will speak: O Israel, and I will testify against thee: I am God, even thy God.
8 I will not reprove thee for thy sacrifices or thy burnt offerings, to have been continually before Me.
9 I will take no bullock out of thy house, nor he goats out of thy folds.
10 For every beast of the forest is Mine, and the cattle upon a thousand hills.
11 I know all the fowls of the mountains: and the wild beasts of the field are Mine.
12 If I were hungry, I would not tell thee: for the world is Mine, and the fulness thereof.
13 Will I eat the flesh of bulls, or drink the blood of goats?
14 Offer unto God thanksgiving: and pay thy vows unto the Most High:
15 And call upon Me in the day of trouble: I will deliver thee, and thou shalt glorify Me.
16 But unto the wicked God saith, What hast thou to do to declare My statutes, or that thou shouldest take My covenant in thy mouth?
17 Seeing thou hatest instruction, and castest My words behind thee.
18 When thou sawest a thief, then thou consentedst with him, and hast been partaker with adulterers.
19 Thou givest thy mouth to evil, and thy tongue frameth deceit.
20 Thou sittest and speakest against thy brother: thou slanderest thine own mother’s son.
21 These things hast thou done, and I kept silence: thou thoughtest that I was altogether such an one as thyself: but I will reprove thee, and set them in order before thine eyes.
22 Now consider this, ye that forget God, lest I tear you in pieces, and there be none to deliver.
23 Whoso offereth praise glorifieth Me: and to him that ordereth his conversation aright will I shew the salvation of God.
God is coming to judge both the righteous and the wicked.
We listen in reverent awe to the voice of God as He exhorts and corrects us. Suppose I came into this room and announced to all that the President was coming to our house in about five minutes to give us a message or make a request of us. I would think that we would all sit up straight to meet the President, and get ready to receive what he has to say. Of course God is so much greater than any president, and when He speaks we should listen attentively to what He has to say. What an amazing thing it is that God, who is so far above this universe, cares about us—that He would speak to us and save us in the day of trouble! We should feel both humbled and honored at the same time.
Verses 1–4. As God enters the room, there comes the dramatic introduction of this One who addresses us with absolute authority. But to whom does the living God speak? There are those who may think that God only speaks to His people or the church, but this would mean that He is not the authority over the whole world. It is true that He speaks from Zion (or the church), but His message is directed to the whole world. Later in the psalm we will find that the wicked refuse to listen to God, but that does not mean that God is not speaking to them. What, then, is this message from God that the whole world needs to hear? God is coming to judge.
There are some things that man cannot control. When forest fires and volcanoes rage out of control, all of the technology that modern man assembles to quell the force of this destruction is of little avail. This is the picture God uses for His judgment. As sure as a forest fire consumes everything in its pathway, God’s judgment comes to enforce His absolute standard of perfect justice in the destruction of His enemies and the salvation of His people. In the words of one poet, “The mills of God grind slowly, but very fine.”
Verses 5–6. The psalm addresses both the people of God and the wicked. But first, God comes and speaks to those who have made covenant with Him. Who are these people? Should we consider this just another irrelevant psalm that directs itself only to Old Testament Israel, or do we take this people to be those covenanted to God in all ages? Yahweh speaks to Israel or Jerusalem, the city of God, but this Israel is also known as the church of the Firstborn—the church of Jesus Christ (Heb. 12:23). Those who enter the church of Jesus Christ by baptism are part of this covenant, and they are called saints, which is another word for “special ones” or “set apart ones.” (The same word is used for the saints, both the parents and children, that made up the church at Corinth in 1 Corinthians 1:2 and 7:14). In verse 5, we read that the covenant is made by sacrifice, and the New Testament makes it plain that this sacrifice came by way of Jesus who gave His own life for us.
The message God brings to His people is very simply stated: righteousness. For our God loves righteousness, and in His judgment, His righteousness will always triumph over the evil of sin. We can be absolutely assured that God will take care of the problem of sin. Either by the death of His only begotten Son or the eternal fires of hell, God will judge sin.
Verses 7–13. Unfortunately, those of Israel and the church of Jesus Christ, those who are in covenant with God, are not always faithful to Him. Even as a father must take his son aside and earnestly counsel, warn, and even rebuke him, Yahweh does this with those who are in covenant with Him. It would be hard to find a period in Israel’s history where there was not some rebellion brewing among the people of God. The church in Europe and America is hardly any different. Although hundreds of millions have been baptized into the church, it seems that the church is not really listening to the voice of God in His Law-Word much anymore.
The root problem in both America and in Asaph’s Israel is self-sufficiency and pride. How easy it is for men to believe that God needs them, and forget how much they need Him! They think that they are doing God a favor by the sacrifices they bring to Him, by their works, prayers, and worship. Here God soundly corrects this false impression.
The Old Testament saints offered sacrifice to God, as do we. Of course our sacrifices are not bloody atonements, but we do bring our tithes and offerings to His church. Yet here God appears disinterested in the sacrifices of His people. Would He refuse to accept their sacrifices? Was it because they did not do
it as often as God had commanded them? Not at all. They were bringing these sacrifices in the wrong state of heart, believing that they were doing God a favor.
Verses 14–15. What God really wants in our sacrifices of works and worship is a heart that trusts in Him for salvation. He wants hearts of gratitude and faith. This is what He wanted in the Old Testament times and this is still what He demands of us now. Instead of hearts that lift themselves up with pride and say, “God needs me and He needs my sacrifices,” God wants humble and contrite hearts that cry out, “I need You, God!”
Though it may be difficult to humble ourselves enough to acknowledge that God does not need us, this is what the Scriptures plainly teach. From all eternity, God was and is ultimately self-sufficient. When we pretend that God needs us, we have stopped respecting God for who He is, and we are trying to turn ourselves into “God.” Although it is quite popular today to say that “God needs us,” this does nothing to fulfill our created purpose, which is to glorify God and enjoy Him. Let us therefore bow our proud hearts to the dust, accept His marvelous salvation, and live lives of joyful gratitude before Him.
Verses 16–22. Now the psalm moves on to a message for the wicked. Even within the church, there are those who talk about the Word and associate themselves with the covenant, but refuse to walk the walk (Num. 16:26: 1 Cor. 5:13). Yahweh defines this wicked man, who claims to be part of the people of God, as the one who despises His words and refuses to walk in His ways. Moreover, these wicked men easily compromise with evil. When somebody talks about stealing and adultery in the workplace, they are too weak to stand up against it and by their silence they implicitly consent to it. Their mouths are dedicated to lies and deceit. They even slander their own brothers and resist instruction. To make matters worse, in assuming that God tolerates these sins, they implicate God as partnering in their sinful behavior. Without a question, God will judge these wicked men. You can count on it.
Verse 23. The conclusion is short and sweet. God requires two things of the faithful: worshipful praise and a repentant life. He wants to hear our praise every day of the week, and especially on the Lord’s Day. But He also wants us to order our lives according to His Word. Of course, the Lord does not require perfection. But He does require His own faithful, covenant-keeping people to walk in the paths of repentance, according to the dictates of His Word.
1. This psalm answers the question, “Who needs who?” Does God need us or do we need Him? If we can come to the place where we realize that we need our God every minute of the day, then we have found the purpose for which we were created. Indeed, we must utterly rest on God’s salvation and feel a deep need for His presence and grace every day of the week.
2. If we have received God’s salvation, if we believe in Christ, then of course we could never consent to the evil of stealing, adultery, and slander. If you love Christ, you love His words. A church service will not become some unbearably boring or intimidating experience for you. You will embrace the instruction of God’s Word.
Worship includes both exhortation and warning. In no uncertain terms, this psalm warns of fire and judgment. Certainly, God will not tolerate pride and wickedness in the assembly of His saints. Such exhortations will appear in good preaching and healthy worship from time to time.
1. What is the symbol for judgment used in this psalm?
2. Who are those who have made covenant with God? Are they always true believers?
3. What was the problem with these people?
4. How does God describe a wicked man in this psalm?
5. For what occasion might we want to use a psalm like this one?
1. What can we say about our own faith? Is our religion just a sham, a fake? Do we talk the talk on Sunday, but refuse to walk the walk on Monday?
2. What is our heart attitude as we bring our tithes and worship to God? Do we come with hearts of thanksgiving, love, and faith? Or do we think that we give something to God that He did not first give to us?