The Word Made Fresh
(A psalm of Asaph.)
1The mighty one, God the LORD, calls out
to summon the earth from sunrise to sunset.
2God shines forth out of Zion,
a place of perfect beauty.
3Our God comes, not in silence,
but with a sweeping fire before and a great storm all around.
4God comes to judge the people,
and calls out to heaven and earth,
5“Summon all those who are faithful
who have bonded with me with the sacrifices they bring.”
6God is the judge, whose righteousness
is declared by the heavens above.
7“Listen, my people, and hear me speak, Israel.
I will be a witness against you, for I am God, your God.
8I do not scold you because of your sacrifices,
for they are brought to me continually.
9But I need not accept a bull from your herd
or a goat from your folds
10because every wild beast of the forest is mine
as well as all the cattle on a thousand hillsides.
11I know every bird that flies
and all the beasts that graze belong to me.
12If I were hungry, I wouldn’t bother to tell you
because the world is mine, and everything in it.
13Do I eat beef? Or drink goats’ blood?
14Instead, offer a sacrifice of thanksgiving to God,
and keep the promises you make to the Most High.
15Call on me when you are in trouble
and I will rescue you. Then give me the glory.”
16But to those who are wicked God says:
“What gives you the right to recite my laws
or let my promises come from your lips?
17You obviously hate to be disciplined,
and you leave my instructions behind.
18You make friends with thieves when you see them
and hang out with those who engage in adultery.
19You run off at the mouth
and your tongue is expert at deception.
20You sit around and talk and put down your own family.
You slander your mother’s children – your own brothers and
21You have done this, and I have been silent,
and you thought I approved of your behavior.
But I am scolding you now and you have been accused.
22You forgot about your God, but you’d better pay attention now,
or I will tear you apart and no one will try to protect you.
23Those who offer the sacrifice of gratitude honor me.
Those who do what is right will see the salvation of God.”
Superscription: this is the first of the twelve psalms attributed to Asaph. Asaph was a priest during the time of King David and is mentioned often as being a musician in the temple – see, for example, 1 Chronicles 16:7. It is fitting, then, that this psalm is concerned with the animal sacrifices that were brought in great quantity to the altar in Jerusalem. The attitude taken here towards those offerings may surprise you, however.
1-6: The psalmist pictures God summoning the people to the temple. Zion, a sacred hill within the city walls, is described as “a place of perfect beauty.”
7-11: God addresses the people concerning their sacrifices of goats and bulls. God has no need of such; every animal on the earth already belongs to God.
12-15: I love verse 12. Although some ancient people actually believed they were feeding their gods when they brought sacrifices, Asaph has no such illusion. God has no need to be fed. Instead, his insight is that what God wants from them is gratitude, obedience, and simple trust.
16-21: The wicked imagine that as long as they observe the outward rituals, they can behave in any way they please. Their deeds belie the sincerity of their sacrifice.
22-23: The psalm ends with a threat: evildoers will be punished no matter how many sacrifices they bring, but God will watch over those who express their gratitude to God and live accordingly.
God is quite capable of distinguishing between the outward show and the inward commitment.