Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament, by Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsh, [1857-78], at sacred-texts.com
Divine Discourse concerning the True Sacrifice and Worship
With the preceding Psalm the series of the Korahitic Elohim-Psalms of the primary collection (Psa 1:1) closes. There are, reckoning Psa 42:1-11 and Psa 43:1-5 as one Psalm, seven of them (Psa 42:1). They form the principal group of the Korahitic Psalms, to which the third book furnishes a supplement, bearing in part an Elohimic (Psa 84:1-12) and in part a Jehovic impress (Psa 85:1-13; Ps 87:1-88:18). The Asaphic Psalms, on the contrary, belong exclusively to the Elohimic style of Psalms, but do not, however, all stand together: the principal group of them is to be found in the third book (Psa 73:1), and the primary collection contains only one of them, viz., Ps 50, which is here placed immediately after Ps 49 on account of several points of mutual relationship, and more especially because the prominent Hear then, My people (Psa 50:7), is in accord with the beginning of Ps 49, Hear, all ye peoples.
According to Ch1 23:2-5, the whole of the thirty-eight thousand Levites were divided by David into four divisions (24,000 + 6000 + 4000 + 4000). To the fourth division (4000) was assigned the music belonging to divine worship. Out of this division, however, a select company of two hundred and eighty-eight singers was further singled out, and divided into twenty-four classes. These last were placed under three leaders or precentors (Sangmeister), viz., fourteen classes under Heman the Kehathite and this fourteen sons; four classes under Asaph the Gersonite and his four sons; and six classes under Ethan (Jeduthun) and his six sons (1 Chr. 25, cf. Psa 15:1-5 :17ff.). The instruments played by these three leaders, which they made use of on account of their clear, penetrating sound, were the cymbals (Ch1 15:19). Also in Ch1 16:5, where Asaph is described as the chief (הראשׁ) of the sacred music in the tent where the Ark was placed, he strikes the cymbals. That he was the chief, first leader, cannot be affirmed. The usual order of the names if "Heman, Asaph, and Ethan." The same order is also observed in the genealogies of the three in 1 Chron 6:16-32. Heman takes the prominent place, and at his right hand stands Asaph, and on his left Ethan. History bears witness to the fact that Asaph was also a Psalm-writer. For, according to Ch2 29:30, Hezekiah brought "the words of David and of Asaph the seer" into use again in the service of the house of God. And in the Book of Nehemiah, Neh 12:46, David and Asaph are placed side by side as ראשׁי המּשׁררים in the days of old in Israel.
The twelve Psalms bearing the inscription לאסף are all Elohimic. The name of God יהוה does not occur at all in two (Ps 77, Psa 82:1-8), and in the rest only once, or at the most twice. Side by side with אלהים, אדני and אל are used as favourite names, and especial preference is also given to עליון. Of compounded names of God, אל אלהים והוה (only besides in Jos 22:22) in the Psalter, and אלהים צבאות in the Old Testament Scriptures generally (vid., Symbolae, pp. 14-16), are exclusively peculiar to them. So far as concerns their contents, they are distinguished from the Korahitic Psalms by their prophetically judicial character. As in the prophets, God is frequently introduced as speaking; and we meet with detailed prophetical pictures of the appearing of God the Judge, together with somewhat long judicial addresses (Ps 50; Psa 75:1-10; Psa 82:1-8). The appellation החזה, which Asaph bears in Ch2 29:30, accords with this; notwithstanding the chronicler also applies the same epithet to both the other precentors. The ground of this, as with נבּא, which is used by the chronicler of the singing and playing of instruments in the service of the house of God, is to be found in the intimate connection between the sacred lyric and prophecy as a whole. The future visionary character of the Asaphic Psalms has its reverse side in the historical past. We frequently meet with descriptive retrospective glances at facts of the primeval history (Psa 74:13-15; Psa 77:15., Psa 80:9-12; Psa 81:5-8; Psa 83:10-12), and Ps 78 is entirely taken up with holding up the mirror of the ancient history of the nation to the people of the present. If we read the twelve Psalms of Asaph in order one after the other, we shall, moreover, observe this striking characteristic, that mention is made of Joseph and the tribes descended from him more frequently than anywhere else (Psa 77:16; Psa 78:9, Psa 78:67., Psa 81:6; Psa 80:2.). Nor is another feature less remarkable, viz., that the mutual relationship of Jahve to Israel is set forth under the figure of the shepherd and his flock rather than any other (Psa 74:1; 77:21; Psa 78:52, Psa 78:70-72; Psa 79:13; Psa 80:2). Moreover these Psalms delight in other respects to vary the designations for the people of God as much as possible.
In Ps 50, Psa 73:1, we have before us a peculiar type of Psalms. The inscription לאסף has, so to speak, deep-lying internal grounds in its support. But it does not follow from this inscription that all these Psalms were composed by the aged Asaph, who, as Psa 78:69 shows, lived until the early part of Solomon's reign. The outward marks peculiar to Asaph were continued in his posterity even into the period after the Exile. History mentions Asaphites under Jehoshaphat (Ch2 20:14), under Hezekiah (Ch2 29:13), and among the exiles who returned (Ezr 2:41, cf. Ezr 3:10, one hundred and twenty-eight Asaphites; Neh 7:44, cf. Neh 11:22, a hundred and forty-eight of them). Since down to the period after the Exile even the cymbals (מצלתּים) descended to them from their ancestor, the poetic talent and enthusiasm may also have been hereditary among them. The later "Psalms of Asaph," whether composed by later Asaphites or some other person, are inscribed לאסף because, by whomsoever, they are composed in the style of Asaph and after Asaphic models. Ps 50, however, is an original Psalm of Asaph.
After the manner of the prophets the twofold truth is here advanced, that God has no delight in animal sacrifice without the sacrifice of prayer in which the heart is engaged, and that the confession of His word without a life that accords with His word is an abomination to Him. It is the very same fundamental thought which is expressed in Psa 40:7-9; Psa 69:31., Psa 51:18., and underlies Psa 24:1-10 (Psa 1:1) and Psa 15:1; they are all echoes of the grand utterance of Samuel (Sa1 15:22), the father of the poetry of the Psalms. It cannot surprise one that stress is laid on this denunciation of a heartless service of works by so many voices during the Davidic age. The nothingness of the opus operatum is also later on the watchword of the prophets in times when religious observances, well ordered and in accordance with legal prescription, predominate in Judah. Nor should it seem strange that Asaph the Levite, who was appointed to the sanctuary on Zion, expresses himself thus; for Jeremiah was also a Levite and even a priest (cohen), and yet no one has spoken a bolder, and more cutting word against the outward and formal service of sacrifice than he (Jer 7:22.). Both these objections being removed, there is nothing else that stands in the way of our ascribing this Psalm to Asaph himself. This is favoured by echoes of the Psalm in the prophets (cf. Psa 50:2 with Lam 2:15, and the verse-ending Psa 50:8, Psa 38:18, with Isa 49:16), and there is nothing opposed to it in the form of the language.
The theophany. The names of God are heaped up in Psa 50:1 in order to gain a thoroughly full-toned exordium for the description of God as the Judge of the world. Hupfeld considers this heaping up cold and stiff; but it is exactly in accordance with the taste of the Elohimic style. The three names are co-ordinate with one another; for אל אלהים does not mean "God of gods," which would rather be expressed by אלהי האלהים or אל אלים. אל is the name for God as the Almighty; אלהים as the Revered One; יהוה as the Being, absolute in His existence, and who accordingly freely influences and moulds history after His own plan - this His peculiar proper-name is the third in the triad. Perfects alternate in Psa 50:1 with futures, at one time the idea of that which is actually taking place, and at another of that which is future, predominating. Jahve summons the earth to be a witness of the divine judgment upon the people of the covenant. The addition "from the rising of the sun to its going down," shows that the poet means the earth in respect of its inhabitants. He speaks, and because what He speaks is of universal significance He makes the earth in all its compass His audience. This summons precedes His self-manifestation. It is to be construed, with Aquila, the Syriac, Jerome, Tremellius, and Montanus, "out of Zion, the perfection of beauty, Elohim shineth." Zion, the perfect in beauty (cf. the dependent passage Lam 2:15, and 1 Macc. 2:12, where the temple is called ἡ καλλονὴ ἡμῶν), because the place of the presence of God the glorious One, is the bright spot whence the brightness of the divine manifestation spreads forth like the rising sun. In itself certainly it is not inappropriate, with the lxx, Vulgate, and Luther, to take מכלל־יפי as a designation of the manifestation of Elohim in His glory, which is the non pius ultra of beauty, and consequently to be explained according to Eze 28:12, cf. Exo 33:19, and not according to Lam 2:15 (more particularly since Jeremiah so readily gives a new turn to the language of older writers). But, taking the fact into consideration that nowhere in Scripture is beauty (יפי) thus directly predicated of God, to whom peculiarly belongs a glory that transcends all beauty, we must follow the guidance of the accentuation, which marks מכלל־יפי by Mercha as in apposition with ציּון (cf. Psychol. S. 49; tr. p. 60). The poet beholds the appearing of God, an appearing that resembles the rising of the sun (הופיע, as in the Asaph Psa 80:2, after Deu 33:2, from יפע, with a transition of the primary notion of rising, Arab. yf‛, wf‛, to that of beaming forth and lighting up far and wide, as in Arab. sṭ‛); for "our God will come and by no means keep silence." It is not to be rendered: Let our God come (Hupfeld) and not keep silence (Olshausen). The former wish comes too late after the preceding הופיע (יבא is consequently veniet, and written as e.g., in Psa 37:13), and the latter is superfluous. אל, as in Psa 34:6; Psa 41:3, Isa 2:9, and frequently, implies in the negative a lively interest on the part of the writer: He cannot, He dare not keep silence, His glory will not allow it. He who gave the Law, will enter into judgment with those who have it and do not keep it; He cannot long look on and keep silence. He must punish, and first of all by word in order to warn them against the punishment by deeds. Fire and storm are the harbingers of the Lawgiver of Sinai who now appears as Judge. The fire threatens to consume the sinners, and the storm (viz., a tempest accompanied with lightning and thunder, as in Job 38:1) threatens to drive them away like chaff. The expression in Psa 50:3 is like Psa 18:9. The fem. Niph. נשׂערה does not refer to אשׁ, but is used as neuter: it is stormed, i.e., a storm rages (Apollinaris, ἐλαιλαπίσθη σφόδρα). The fire is His wrath; and the storm the power or force of His wrath.
The judgment scene. To the heavens above (מעל, elsewhere a preposition, here, as in Gen 27:39; Gen 49:25, an adverb, desuper, superne) and to the earth God calls (קרא אל, as, e.g., Gen 28:1), to both לדין עמּו, in order to sit in judgment upon His people in their presence, and with them as witnesses of His doings. Or is it not that they are summoned to attend, but that the commission, Psa 50:5, is addressed to them (Olshausen, Hitzig)? Certainly not, for the act of gathering is not one that properly belongs to the heavens and the earth, which, however, because they exist from the beginning and will last for ever, are suited to be witnesses (Deu 4:26; Deu 32:1; Isa 1:2, 1 Macc. 2:37). The summons אספוּ is addressed, as in Mat 24:31, and frequently in visions, to the celestial spirits, the servants of the God here appearing. The accused who are to be brought before the divine tribunal are mentioned by names which, without their state of mind and heart corresponding to them, express the relationship to Himself in which God has placed them (cf. Deu 32:15; Isa 42:19). They are called חסידים, as in the Asaph Psa 79:2. This contradiction between their relationship and their conduct makes an undesigned but bitter irony. In a covenant relationship, consecrated and ratified by a covenant sacrifice (עלי־זבח similar to Psa 92:4; Psa 10:10), has God placed Himself towards them (Ex 24); and this covenant relationship is also maintained on their part by offering sacrifices as an expression of their obedience and of their fidelity. The participle כּרתי here implies the constant continuance of that primary covenant-making. Now, while the accused are gathered up, the poet hears the heavens solemnly acknowledge the righteousness of the Judge beforehand. The participial construction שׁפט הוּא, which always, according to the connection, expresses the present (Nah 1:2), or the past (Jdg 4:4), or the future (Jer 25:31), is in this instance an expression of that which is near at hand (fut. instans). הוּא has not the sense of ipse (Ew. 314, a), for it corresponds to the "I" in אני שׁפט or הנני שׁפט; and כּי is not to be translated by nam (Hitzig), for the fact that God intends to judge requires no further announcement. On the contrary, because God is just now in the act of sitting in judgment, the heavens, the witnesses most prominent and nearest to Him, bear witness to His righteousness. The earthly music, as the סלה directs, is here to join in with the celestial praise. Nothing further is now wanting to the completeness of the judgment scene; the action now begins.
Exposition of the sacrificial Tra for the good of those whose holiness consists in outward works. The forms strengthened by ah, in Psa 50:7, describe God's earnest desire to have Israel for willing hearers as being quite as strong as His desire to speak and to bear witness. העיד בּ, obtestari aliquem, to come forward as witness, either solemnly assuring, or, as here and in the Psalm of Asaph, Psa 81:9, earnestly warning and punishing (cf. Arab. šahida with b, to bear witness against any one). On the Dagesh forte conjunctive in בּך, vid., Ges. ֗20, 2, a. He who is speaking has a right thus to stand face to face with Israel, for he is Elohim, the God of Israel - by which designation reference is made to the words אנכי יהוה אלהיך (Exo 20:2), with which begins the Law as given from Sinai, and which here take the Elohimic form (whereas in Psa 81:11 they remain unaltered) and are inverted in accordance with the context. As Psa 50:8 states, it is not the material sacrifices, which Israel continually, without cessation, offers, that are the object of the censuring testimony. ועולתיך, even if it has Mugrash, as in Baer, is not on this account, according to the interpretation given by the accentuation, equivalent to ועל־עולותיך (cf. on the other hand Psa 38:18); it is a simple assertory substantival clause: thy burnt-offerings are, without intermission, continually before Me. God will not dispute about sacrifices in their outward characteristics; for - so Psa 50:9 go on to say-He does not need sacrifices for the sake of receiving from Israel what He does not otherwise possess. His is every wild beast (חיתו, as in the Asaph Psa 79:2) of the forest, His the cattle בּהררי אלף, upon the mountains of a thousand, i.e., upon the thousand (and myriad) mountains (similar to מתי מספּר or מתי מעט), or: where they live by thousands (a similar combination to נבל עשׂור). Both explanations of the genitive are unsupported by any perfectly analogous instance so far as language is concerned; the former, however, is to be preferred on account of the singular, which is better suited to it. He knows every bird that makes its home on the mountains; ידע, as usually, of a knowledge which masters a subject, compasses it and makes it its own. Whatever moves about the fields if with Him, i.e., is within the range of His knowledge (cf. Job 27:11; Psa 10:13), and therefore of His power; זיז (here and in the Asaph Psa 80:14) from זאזא = זעזע, to move to and fro, like טיט from טיטע, to swept out, cf. κινώπετον, κνώδαλον, from κινεῖν. But just as little as God requires sacrifices in order thereby to enrich Himself, is there any need on His part that might be satisfied by sacrifices, Psa 50:12. If God should hunger, He would not stand in need of man's help in order to satisfy Himself; but He is never hungry, for He is the Being raised above all carnal wants. Just on this account, what God requires is not by any means the outward worship of sacrifice, but a spiritual offering, the worship of the heart, Psa 50:14. Instead of the שׁלמים, and more particularly זבח תּודה, Lev 7:11-15, and שׁלמי נדר, Lev 7:16 (under the generic idea of which are also included, strictly speaking, vowed thank-offerings), God desires the thanksgiving of the heart and the performance of that which has been vowed in respect of our moral relationship to Himself and to men; and instead of the עולה in its manifold forms of devotion, the prayer of the heart, which shall not remain unanswered, so that in the round of this λογικὴ λατρεία everything proceeds from and ends in εὐχαριστία. It is not the sacrifices offered in a becoming spirit that are contrasted with those offered without the heart (as, e.g., Sir. 32 :1-9), but the outward sacrifice appears on the whole to be rejected in comparison with the spiritual sacrifice. This entire turning away from the outward form of the legal ceremonial is, in the Old Testament, already a predictive turning towards that worship of God in spirit and in truth which the new covenant makes alone of avail, after the forms of the Law have served as swaddling clothes to the New Testament life which was coming into being in the old covenant. This "becoming" begins even in the Tra itself, especially in Deuteronomy. Our Psalm, like the Chokma (Pro 21:3), and prophecy in the succeeding age (cf. Hos 6:6; Mic 6:6-8; Isa 1:11-15, and other passages), stands upon the standpoint of this concluding book of the Tra, which traces back all the requirements of the Law to the fundamental command of love.
The accusation of the manifest sinners. It is not those who are addressed in Psa 50:7, as Hengstenberg thinks, who are here addressed. Even the position of the words ולרשׁע אמר clearly shows that the divine discourse is now turned to another class, viz., to the evil-doers, who, in connection with open and manifest sins and vices, take the word of God upon their lips, a distinct class from those who base their sanctity upon outward works of piety, who outwardly fulfil the commands of God, but satisfy and deceive themselves with this outward observance. מה־לּך ל, what hast thou, that thou = it belongs not to thee, it does not behove thee. With ועתּה, in Psa 50:17, an adversative subordinate clause beings: since thou dost not care to know anything of the moral ennobling which it is the design of the Law to give, and my words, instead of having them as a constant test-line before thine eyes, thou castest behind thee and so turnest thy back upon them (cf. Isa 38:17). ותּרץ is not from רוּץ (lxx, Targum, and Saadia), in which case it would have to be pointed ותּרץ, but from רצה, and is construed here, as in Job 34:9, with עם: to have pleasure in intercourse with any one. In Psa 50:18 the transgression of the eighth commandment is condemned, in Psa 50:18 that of the seventh, in Psa 50:19. that of the ninth (concerning the truthfulness of testimony). שׁלח פּה ברעה, to give up one's mouth unrestrainedly to evil, i.e., so that evil issues from it. תּשׁב, Psa 50:20, has reference to gossiping company (cf. Psa 1:1). דּפי signifies a thrust, a push (cf. הדף), after which the lxx renders it ἐτίθεις σκάνδαλον (cf. Lev 19:14), but it also signifies vexation and mockery (cf. גּדף); it is therefore to be rendered: to bring reproach (Jerome, opprobrium) upon any one, to cover him with dishonour. The preposition בּ with דּבּר has, just as in Num 12:1, and frequently, a hostile signification. "Thy mother's son" is he who is born of the same mother with thyself, and not merely of the same father, consequently thy brother after the flesh in the fullest sense. What Jahve says in this passage is exactly the same as that which the apostle of Jesus Christ says in Rom 2:17-24. This contradiction between the knowledge and the life of men God must, for His holiness' sake, unmask and punish, Psa 50:20. The sinner thinks otherwise: God is like himself, i.e., that is also not accounted by God as sin, which he allows himself to do under the cloak of his dead knowledge. For just as a man is in himself, such is his conception also of his God (vid., Psa 18:26.). But God will not encourage this foolish idea: "I will therefore reprove thee and set (it) in order before thine eyes" (ואערכה, not ואערכה, in order to give expression, the second time at least, to the mood, the form of which has been obliterated by the suffix); He will set before the eyes of the sinner, who practically and also in theory denies the divine holiness, the real state of his heart and life, so that he shall be terrified at it. Instead of היה, the infin. intensit. here, under the influence of the close connection of the clauses (Ew. 240, c), is היות; the oratio obliqua begins with it, without כּי (quod). כמוך exactly corresponds to the German deines Gleichen, thine equal.
Epilogue of the divine discourse. Under the name שׁכחי אלוהּ are comprehended the decent or honourable whose sanctity relies upon outward works, and those who know better but give way to licentiousness; and they are warned of the final execution of the sentence which they have deserved. In dead works God delighteth not, but whoso offereth thanksgiving (viz., not shelamim-tôda, but the tôda of the heart), he praises Him
(Note: In Vedic jag', old Bactrian jaz (whence jag'jas, the primitive word of ἅγιος), the notions of offering and of praising lie one within the other.)
and שׂם דּרך. It is unnecessary with Luther, following the lxx, Vulgate, and Syriac versions, to read שׁם. The Talmudic remark אל תקרי ושׂם אלא ושׁם [do not read ושׂם, but ושׁם] assumes ושׂם to be the traditional reading. If we take שׂם דּרך as a thought complete in itself, - which is perfectly possible in a certain sense (vid., Isa 43:19), - then it is best explained according to the Vulgate (qui ordinat viam), with Bצttcher, Maurer, and Hupfeld: viam h. e. recta incedere (legel agere) parans; but the expression is inadequate to express this ethical sense (cf. Pro 4:26), and consequently is also without example. The lxx indicates the correct idea in the rendering καὶ ἐκεῖ ὁδὸς ᾗ δείξω αὐτῷ τὸ σωτήριον Θεοῦ. The ושׂם דוך (designedly not pointed דּרך), which standing entirely by itself has no definite meaning, receives its requisite supplement by means of the attributive clause that follows. Such an one prepares a way along which I will grant to him to see the salvation of Elohim, i.e., along which I will grant him a rapturous vision of the full reality of My salvation. The form יכבּדנני is without example elsewhere. It sounds like the likewise epenthetical יקראנני, Pro 1:28, cf. Pro 8:17, Hos 5:15, and may be understood as an imitation of it as regards sound. יכבּדנני (= יכבּדני) is in the writer's mind as the form out of pause (Ges. ֗58, 4). With Psa 50:23 the Psalm recurs to its central point and climax, Psa 50:14. What Jahve here discourses in a post-Sinaitic appearing, is the very same discourse concerning the worthlessness of dead works and concerning the true will of God that Jesus addresses to the assembled people when He enters upon His ministry. The cycle of the revelation of the Gospel is linked to the cycle of the revelation of the Law by the Sermon on the Mount; this is the point at which both cycles touch.