This psalm is attributed to Asaph. The contents would allow for it to have been composed by the Levite who was a contemporary of David. (1 Chronicles 6:31, 39; 25:1, 6) In the case of other psalms attributed to Asaph, however, the contents clearly point to a time much later than David’s reign. Therefore, a descendant of the family of Asaph may have been the composer.
Psalm 50 opens with the singular form of the Hebrew word for “God,” followed by the plural form (evidently denoting excellency) and then the unique name YHWH, identifying him as the One who will always prove to be the God he has revealed himself to be. (See Psalm 1.) The psalmist portrayed YHWH as speaking and summoning the inhabitants of the land everywhere, from the east where the sun rises and as far as the west where the sun sets. Based on the context, the people were to assemble to hear God’s requirements for those whom he approves.
God “shines forth” from Zion, his representative place of dwelling, for the sanctuary containing the ark of the covenant was located in the city. Possibly the shining forth refers to the fact the Most High is the source of all enlightenment and guidance. It is because of being associated with the worship of YHWH that Zion is called the “perfection of beauty,” and not on account of any of the architectural or scenic features of the city.
The psalmist depicted God’s coming as accompanied by impressive phenomena — devouring fire (suggestive of lightning) issuing forth in front of him and a tremendous storm (probably swirling thunderclouds) round about him. His not keeping silent may refer to his not refraining from taking action, for the coming is in his capacity as judge.
YHWH is represented as calling upon the heavens and the earth to witness his coming to judge his people. At the time he concluded a covenant with the Israelites at Mount Sinai, sacrifices were used to make it operative. Accordingly, the “faithful ones” that were to gather before him were the Israelites who were under obligation to observe the covenant made by sacrifice. They are addressed as “faithful ones” (“holy ones,” LXX), likely because that is what they should have been as his people. On account of failing to live up to their covenant obligations, however, they were being called to account.
The reference to the heavens declaring God’s righteousness indicates that they would be testifying that his judgment is just. This is evident from the phrase that follows, “for God himself is judge.”
The psalmist represented God as speaking to his assembled people, calling upon them to listen to his testimony against them. Emphasizing the seriousness of the situation, the psalmist focused the people’s attention on the speaker, “God, your God I am.”
The Most High did not reprove the Israelites for any failure in carrying out the ritualistic aspects of worship. Apparently they did offer their sacrifices and holocausts as the law prescribed.
The Almighty, however, did not depend upon receiving an offering of a bull from anyone’s house or a male goat from the flock. In the sense of not needing any sacrifices, he did not “accept” offerings of bulls or goats.
As the Creator, he owned everything. All the animals of the forest belonged to him, as did the cattle on a “thousand” hills. “Thousand” is here representative of a large number, and could signify all the cattle.
God’s knowing all the “birds of the mountains” (“birds of the sky,” LXX) indicated that they were his creatures. Everything that moved in the field belonged to him.
He did not need anyone to supply food and drink for him. With all creation available to him, he would certainly not have needed to tell anyone that he was hungry. He did not eat the flesh of bulls nor did he drink the blood of male goats.
Animal sacrifices in themselves did not count with God. He desired that his people accompany such sacrifices with sincere thanksgiving for all that he had done for them. The Septuagint reads, “Sacrifice to God a sacrifice of praise.” To him, the Most High, they should pay their vows, fulfilling all that they had promised to do.
In time of distress, they should call upon him for help, giving evidence of their faith in him as their deliverer. He would respond to their sincere petitions for aid, effecting their rescue. In appreciation for having been delivered, they would glorify the Most High, extolling him for what he had done for them.
As for the wicked one (the “sinner” [LXX], a person living a life of sin), the question indicates that he had no right to relate God’s regulations or to “take up” God’s covenant in his mouth. Seemingly, the impious one would represent himself as living by divine regulations. With his mouth, he made expressions suggesting that he upheld God’s covenant. In reality, however, he violated divine regulations and proved false to his covenant obligations.
The godless one hated discipline, refusing to change his ways and obey God’s commands. Instead of heeding God’s words, he tossed them behind himself, out of sight. He did not want to look at them, distancing himself as far as possible from God’s words.
The lawless one proved to be accepting of a thief and cast in his lot with adulterers, suggesting that he also engaged in such sinful acts. Besides being guilty of moral corruption, the godless one misused his tongue. The “evil” proceeding from his mouth would have been lies and slander. To attain his base objective, he would cleverly frame his words to deceive others.
The depth of his depravity is indicated by his going to the point of harming his brother. He would sit in the company of others and speak against him. In a time when polygamy existed among the Israelites, the full brother was the son of the same mother. The lawless one had sunk to such a low level that he did not even shrink back from slandering his full brother in order to attain his unworthy aims.
Because the Most High kept “silent,” not immediately expressing his adverse judgment, the lawless one deluded himself that God was just like him, willing to condone wrong conduct. The impious one was in for a rude awakening, for God would reprove him for his actions and expose his error before his eyes.
Forgetters of God were to understand that he would not tolerate lawlessness indefinitely. They should change their ways, lest they be overtaken by condemnatory judgment (comparable to being torn to pieces by a predator, with no one coming to the rescue).
The one in whom the Almighty takes delight is the person honoring him with thanksgiving as his sacrifice. Such a one has deep appreciation for all that God has done for him. The upright person arranges his way aright, choosing to follow a divinely approved course. Therefore, God will prove to be his deliverer, providing aid and relief in times of distress.
In verse 1, the Hebrew word ’érets, which can be rendered “earth,” does not appear to embrace all of earth’s inhabitants. The words of this psalm are directed to God’s people, including those who had failed to live up to their covenant obligations. This suggests that the call to assemble is directed to all residing in the land.
The meaning of the expression “selah” (50:6) is uncertain. In the Septuagint, the term is rendered diápsalma, thought to mean “pause” or “musical interlude.” Verse 15, in the Septuagint, also ends with diápsalma, but the Masoretic Text does not include the term “selah.”