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A Meditation on Psalm 50

By John Kunnathu

A Sacrifice of Thanksgiving

Psalm 50 (Text, NIV)

 A psalm of Asaph.
    1 The Mighty One, God, the LORD,
       speaks and summons the earth
       from the rising of the sun to the place where it sets.

    2 From Zion, perfect in beauty,
       God shines forth.

    3 Our God comes and will not be silent;
       a fire devours before him,
       and around him a tempest rages.

    4 He summons the heavens above,
       and the earth, that he may judge his people:

    5 "Gather to me my consecrated ones,
       who made a covenant with me by sacrifice."

    6 And the heavens proclaim his righteousness,
       for God himself is judge.

    7 "Hear, O my people, and I will speak,
       O Israel, and I will testify against you:
       I am God, your God.

    8 I do not rebuke you for your sacrifices
       or your burnt offerings, which are ever before me.

    9 I have no need of a bull from your stall
       or of goats from your pens,

    10 for every animal of the forest is mine,
       and the cattle on a thousand hills.

    11 I know every bird in the mountains,
       and the creatures of the field are mine.

    12 If I were hungry I would not tell you,
       for the world is mine, and all that is in it.

    13 Do I eat the flesh of bulls
       or drink the blood of goats?

    14 Sacrifice thank offerings to God,
       fulfill your vows to the Most High,

    15 and call upon me in the day of trouble;
       I will deliver you, and you will honor me."

    16 But to the wicked, God says:
       "What right have you to recite my laws
       or take my covenant on your lips?

    17 You hate my instruction
       and cast my words behind you.

    18 When you see a thief, you join with him;
       you throw in your lot with adulterers.

    19 You use your mouth for evil
       and harness your tongue to deceit.

    20 You speak continually against your brother
       and slander your own mother's son.

    21 These things you have done and I kept silent;
       you thought I was altogether like you.
       But I will rebuke you
       and accuse you to your face.

    22 "Consider this, you who forget God,
       or I will tear you to pieces, with none to rescue:

    23 He who sacrifices thank offerings honors me,
       and he prepares the way
       so that I may show him the salvation of God."
Psalm 50: A Meditation

The author of psalm 50 lets his/her readers see their own life through the eyes of God. In a grand dramatic scene, God, the king of the universe, appears with fire and tempest before and around Him. Then God orders the heavens and the earth, His servants, to assemble all His people, the people who had made a covenant (agreement) with God by a sacrifice. Once they assemble, God talks to them somewhat like this:

You offer me bulls and goats by sacrificing them to me. You seem to think that they belong to you, I need them for some reason, and I can't have them unless you give them to me. However, the truth is that everything in the world belongs to me. You own nothing, and so you can't give me anything. Moreover, I don't need your cattle and sheep because I don't eat meat. What I need from you is a sacrifice of thanksgiving.

It was 15th century BC. The people of Israel were slaves in Egypt. God called Moses at Mount Sinai to liberate them from slavery, and lead them to Canaan, the land of freedom. On the way back from Egypt, at Mount Sinai, Moses climbed up the mountain to meet God again. God asked Moses to convey a message to the people:

"You have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles' wings, and brought you to myself. Now, if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession".

Then God gave his laws to the people. When Moses went and told the people all the words and laws of the Lord, they responded with one voice, "Everything the Lord has said, we will do." Moses then wrote down everything the Lord had said. The next morning they built an altar and did a peace offering to God, sacrificing young bulls. Moses took half of the blood and sprinkled on the altar. Then he read the book of covenant to the people, who responded, "We will do everything the Lord has said". Then Moses took the other half of the blood, sprinkled on the people, and said,

"This is the blood of the covenant that the Lord has made with you in accordance with all these words".

This ritual was a contract between the people of Israel and God. Both parties signed the agreement with blood, which signified that they would keep the agreement even if they have to lose their life.

This poem (psalm 50) was probably written around 1000 BC, that is about 500 years after the above incident. What we see in the poem seems to be a reenactment of the original scene at Mount Sinai. The sacrifice originally done was a form of signing the contract. But the sacrifices God disapproves in the poem are the ones people do on a regular basis to please God and to obtain the blessings of God.

In the context of such a grand scene, the poet makes it clear that what God likes from His people is thankfulness. This is one of the very basic attitudes we need to cultivate in order to have a healthy and fruitful life. Being thankful is the opposite of complaining. Heaven is a place where all are thankful all the time, and hell is where all are complaining about everything all the time. We can create heaven in our lives by having an attitude of thankfulness.

Thankfulness is inversely proportional to expectation. More expectation causes more complaint, but less expectation causes more thankfulness. Thankfulness is also proportional to one's need. Higher the need, the more thankful one is when the need is fulfilled.

The poet is laughing at the foolishness of those who think that God is like a feudal lord who needs the gifts of his tenants, and that someone can please God by giving some gifts.

See Also:

More Prayers Useful to Many faiths

All Prayers

Prayer and Spirituality Infocenter

[Selected Prayers] [Prayer Home] [Holistic Living Home] [HolisticonLine Home]

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