Psalm 50 – “Oracle About Sacrifice”

Hebrew-English Text
I. Summary
God speaks about sacrifice and delivers a warning to those who do wrong.

II. Photo
God speaks about sacrifice: “Do I eat the flesh of bulls, or drink the blood of he-goats?” (v. 13)

III. Select Verses    
2: From Zion, perfect in beauty, God appeared!
4-6: He summoned the heavens above, and the earth, for the trial of His people. “Bring in My devotees, who made a covenant with Me over sacrifice!” Then the heavens proclaimed His righteousness, for He is a God who judges. Selah.
8-13: I censure you not for your sacrifices, and your burnt offerings, made to Me daily; I claim no bull from your estate, no he-goats from your pens.  For Mine is every animal of the forest, the beasts on a thousand mountains. I know every bird of the mountains, the creatures of the field are subject to Me. Were I hungry, I would not tell you, for Mine is the world and all it holds. Do I eat the flesh of bulls, or drink the blood of he-goats?
16-22: And to the wicked, God said: “Who are you to recite My laws, and mouth the terms of My covenant, seeing that you spurn My discipline, and brush My words aside? When you see a thief, you fall in with him, and throw in your lot with adulterers;  you devote your mouth to evil, and yoke your tongue to deceit; you are busy maligning your brother, defaming the son of your mother. If I failed to act when you did these things, you would fancy that I was like you; so I censure you and confront you with charges. Mark this, you who are unmindful of God, lest I tear you apart and no one save you.

IV. Outline

1a. Superscription
1b-2. Account of God’s call/appearance
3-4. Introduction before God’s arrival
5-15. Oracle
    8-15. Part 1
        8. Exordium (introduction)
        9-13. Lesson: God does not need sacrifice
        14-15. Exhortation to sacrifice and pray
    16a. Speaker’s introduction to part 2
    16b-22. Part 2
        16b. Confrontation
        17-20. Accusation
        21-22. Warning
    23. Encouragement to sacrifice

V. Comment
Like Psalm 81, Psalm 50 is comprised of an introduction and an oracle. As Craigie points out, God’s main message is about sacrifice: “The essence of the divine speech concerns the meaning and purpose of sacrifices, and it was vital that the people have the meaning clear in their minds before the actual sacrifices were offered later in the day. God did not need sacrifices; the people did need them. God possessed already all the animals of the world, birds and beasts, domestic and wild (vv 10–11). He had no pressing need for an extra steer or a couple of billy goats, as if he were running short of provisions (v 13)! From one perspective, the language is comical, for it presupposes a rather weak and hungry God, waiting desperately for the next sacrifice to fill his belly, but the power of the language comes from its nature as caricature. To think of sacrifices as something that God literally required was precisely to reduce God to this absurdly hungry deity; yet a superficial and formal offering of sacrifices, based on obedience to stipulations and nothing else, was tantamount to such a view of God. The essence of the whole sacrificial system was to be found in “thanksgiving” and the fulfillment of “vows” (v 14); for at root, the covenant community did not exist for the temple, but the temple and its cult existed only as an avenue through which the worship and thanksgiving of the covenant people could be directed to God. Covenant was a relationship with God; thanksgiving to God could be expressed through the sacrificial cult, thereby enriching the relationship. And when the relationship with God was healthy, then the people in turn could confidently call upon God in times of distress and experience his deliverance and salvation (v 15).” (365-366)

VI. Works Used
(see “Commentaries” page)
Craigie, Peter C. “Psalms 1-50” Word Biblical Commentary vol. 19 (Waco, Texas: Wordbooks, 1983).
Gerstenberger, Erhard S. “Psalms Part 1 with an Introduction to Cultic Poetry” Forms of Old Testament Literature (Michigan: Eerdmans, 1988).
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