Dum de dum dum …
You know, it is not always easy to come up with concise way to explain something. In fact, it rarely is.
Okay, let’s try this. I want to show you the way the early Christians would have understood Psalm 50, and then I want to show you how it applies to us today.
I want to do this just in case it might better equip you to get the teachings out of the Old Testament that the apostles and the early church got out of it. The Old Testament books were a lot richer collection to them than they are to us.
I have this really great web page on their Bible interpretation that I wrote yesterday, but it’s not edited or formatted to go up on the web yet! So sorry!
Psalm 50 the Early Christian Way
Well, first of all, the early Christians would have quoted the whole long passage (and the Ante-Nicene Fathers would translate it as they "adduced" the passage, the only place I’ve ever heard that word used).
This isn’t the 19th century, though, so I’m going to cut a lot … and, in fact, because it’s the 21st century, I’m going to use one of those modern translations that comes free with the Online Bible. It’s called the God’s Word Version.
Gather around me, my godly people who have made a pledge to me through sacrifices. … I am not criticizing you for sacrifices or burnt offerings, which are always in front of me. But I will not accept another young bull from your household or a single male goat from your pens.
Whoa! God’s a little irritated here, it appears.
I actually think this translation misses the point, but so do most of the others I referenced. The point is not that God isn’t criticizing them about sacrifices or burnt offerings. Hopefully, you’ll see that the context suggests that God’s saying, “If you didn’t offer any sacrifices, I wouldn’t criticize you. It’s not sacrifices I care about.”
Okay, so why doesn’t God want another young bull or even a single male goat from the Israelites?
There’s actually two reasons. God gives those two reasons over and over in the Scriptures, but we modern Christians have adopted one particular error that stops us from noticing one of those reasons.
So this passage is useful because it gives that neglected reason first. Most other passages give them in reverse order.
So what’s that neglected reason?
See if you can pick it up from the Psalm:
Every creature in the forest, even the cattle on a thousand hills, is mine. I know every bird in the mountains. Everything that moves in the fields is mine. If I were hungry, I would not tell you, because the world and all that it contains are mine.
Can you see it yet? The next verse in Psalm 50 is going to give the answer away, but I want to let one of the earliest Christian writings explain it to you. That will give even more import to the next verse in Psalm 50.
When the Gentiles offer [sacrifices] to those that are destitute of sense and hearing [i.e., idols], they furnish an example of madness. [The Jews], on the other hand, because they think they’re offering these things to God as if he needed them, might just as well consider it an act of folly rather than of divine worship.
The one that made heaven and earth and all that is in it and who gives us everything we need certainly requires none of those things which he himself bestows on those who think of providing them to him! (Letter to Diognetus 2)
The reason God tells the Israelites here that he owns the cattle on a thousand hills is to tell them that he doesn’t need their sacrifices. He owns everything; why in the world would he need the Israelites to send them up to heaven in the form of smoke?
So after all that, here’s the verse where God says it very directly:
Do I eat the meat of bulls or drink the blood of goats?
God is telling the Israelites, "Are you nuts? Do you not realize that I don’t need those sacrifices of yours? Do you think I’m hungry up here? Do you think I eat beef and drink goat’s blood? Listen, even if I did, and even if I were hungry, I wouldn’t tell you because I own a lot more than you do."
We modern Christians usually miss this reason that God rejects sacrifices because we think that the reason that Christians don’t offer sacrifices is because Christ was the final sacrifice.
If so, the apostles didn’t know about it. They were still offering sacrifices even after Christ died (Acts 21:26).
Christians don’t offer sacrifices because God doesn’t need sacrifices. He owns everything. He’s really not interested in sacrifices. Those were only given to the Israelites to help keep them focused on him.
As far as the early Christians were concerned, the ancient Israelites weren’t offered the Spirit of God the way Christians are. Thus, as a fleshly people, they needed some fleshly things to keep them going. Those things included sacrifices, a weekly Sabbath rest, and all the other external observances of the Law.
Christians don’t need such things. They offer up spiritual sacrifices because they are a spiritual people. Those spiritual sacrifices include mainly walking in holiness before God.
God comments in Psalm 50 that those are the sacrifices he’s looking for:
Bring your thanks to God as a sacrifice, and keep your vows to the Most High.
I need to add one more place where God says that he’s really not interested in sacrifices. The early Christians loved to quote the following passage:
When I brought your ancestors out of Egypt, I did not tell them anything about burnt offerings and sacrifices. But I did tell them this, "Obey me, and I will be your God, and you will be my people. Live the way I told you to live so that things will go well for you. (Jer. 7:22-23)
God never said anything about sacrifices when he brought them out of Egypt??? So what’s all that stuff in Exodus and Leviticus?
If you look, you’ll notice that none of the sacrifice commands came until after the Israelites made the golden calf. It was at that point that God spoke about sacrifices, giving the Israelites a religious system that was for their sake, not God’s, to help keep them from wandering to other gods.
Of course, that only worked so well.
Oh, I mentioned two reasons that God didn’t want any more bulls or goats from them.
The second we do know about. They were disobedient and difficult, so their sacrifices were offensive to God.
How dare you quote my decrees and mouth my promises! You hate discipline. You toss my words behind you … Consider this, you people who forget God. Otherwise, I will tear you to pieces, and there will be no one left to rescue you.
Then God says a second time in the Psalm what true sacrifices are:
Whoever offers thanks as a sacrifice honors me. I will let everyone who continues in my way see the salvation that comes from God.
Okay, that’s it for Psalm 50. If you’d like some more on the law, I think my Law of Moses page has apostolic teaching on the Law that modern Christians are in desperate need of knowing.