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Commentary On Psalms Volume 2 by Jean Calvin

Psalm 50:6-13

6. And the heavens shall declare his righteousness, for God is judge himself. Selah.7. Hear, O my people! and I will speak; O Israel! and I will announce to thee: I am God, even thy God.8. I will not reprove thee for thy sacrifices, and thy burnt offerings are continually before me.9. I will take no calf out of thy house, nor he-goats out of thy folds.10. For every beast of the forest is mine, and the cattle upon a thousand hills.11. I know all the fowls of the mountains; and the wild beasts of the field are at my command.12. If I am hungry, I will not tell thee: for the world is mine, and the fulness thereof.13. Will I eat the flesh of bulls, and drink the blood of goats?

6. And the heavens shall declare his righteousness. The Jews were vain enough to imagine that their idle and fantastic service was the perfection of righteousness; but they are here warned by the prophet, that God, who had seemed to connive at their folly, was about to reveal his own righteousness from heaven, and expose their miserable devices. |Think you,| as if he had said, |that God can take delight in the mockery of your deluded services? Though you send up the smoke of them to heaven, God will make known his righteousness in due time from above, and vindicate it from the dishonors done to it by your wicked inventions. The heavens themselves will attest your perfidy in despising true holiness, and corrupting the pure worship of God. He will no longer suffer your gratuitous aspersions of his character, as if he took no notice of the enmity which lurks under your pretended friendship.| There is thus a cogency in the prophet's manner of treating his subject. Men are disposed to admit that God is judge, but, at the same time, to fabricate excuses for evading his judgment, and it was therefore necessary that the sentence which God was about to pronounce should be vindicated from the vain cavils which might be brought against it.

7. Hear, O my people! and I will speak. Hitherto the prophet has spoken as the herald of God, throwing out several expressions designed to alarm the minds of those whom he addressed. But from this to the end of the psalm God himself is introduced as the speaker; and to show the importance of the subject, he uses additional terms to awaken attention, calling them his own people, that he might challenge the higher authority to his words, and intimating, that the following address is not of a mere ordinary description, but an expostulation with them for the infraction of his covenant. Some read, I will testify against thee. But the reference, as we may gather from the common usage of Scripture, seems rather to be to a discussion of mutual claims. God would remind them of his covenant, and solemnly exact from them, as his chosen people, what was due according to the terms of it. He announces himself to be the God of Israel, that he may recall them to allegiance and subjection, and the repetition of his name is emphatical: as if he had said, When you would have me to submit to your inventions, how far is this audacity from that honor and reverence which belong to me? I am God, and therefore my majesty ought to repress presumption, and make all flesh keep silence when I speak; and among you, to whom I have made myself known as your God, I have still stronger claims to homage.

8 I will not reprove thee for thy sacrifices, etc. God now proceeds to state the charge which he adduced against them. He declares, that he attached no value whatsoever to sacrifices in themselves considered. Not that he asserts this rite of the Jews to have been vain and useless, for in that case it never would have been instituted by God; but there is this difference betwixt religious exercises and others, that they can only meet the approbation of God when performed in their true spirit and meaning. On any other supposition they are deservedly rejected. Similar language we will find employed again and again by the prophets, as I have remarked in other places, and particularly in connection with the fortieth psalm. Mere outward ceremonies being therefore possessed of no value, God repudiates the idea that he had ever insisted upon them as the main thing in religion, or designed that they should be viewed in any other light than as helps to spiritual worship. Thus in Jeremiah 7:22, he denies that he had issued any commandment regarding sacrifices; and the prophet Micah says,

|Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, or with ten thousands of rivers of oil? and what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy?| -- (Micah 6:7)

|I desire mercy,| he says in another place, (Hosea 6:6,) |and not sacrifice.| The same doctrine is every where declared by the prophets. I might refer especially to the prophecies of Isaiah, chapter 1:12; 58:1, 2; 66:3. The sacrifices of the ungodly are not only represented as worthless and rejected by the Lord, but as peculiarly calculated to provoke his anger. Where a right use has been made of the institution, and they have been observed merely as ceremonies for the confirmation and increase of faith, then they are described as being essentially connected with true religion; but when offered without faith, or, what is still worse, under the impression of their meriting the favor of God for such as continue in their sins, they are reprobated as a mere profanation of divine worship. It is evident, then, what God means when he says, I will not reprove thee for thy sacrifices; he looked to something beyond these. The last clause of the verse may be understood as asserting that their burnt-offerings were before the eyes of the Lord to the producing even of satiety and disgust, as we find him saying, (Isaiah 1:13,) that they were |an abomination unto him.| There are some, however, who consider the negative in the beginning of the verse as applying to both clauses, and that God here declares that he did not design to reckon with them for any want of regularity in the observance of their sacrifices. It has been well suggested by some, that the relative may be understood, Thy burnt-offerings which are continually before me; as if he had said, According to the Law these are imperative; but I will bring no accusation against you at this time for omitting your sacrifices.

9 I will take no calf out thy house Two reasons are given in this and the succeeding verses to prove that he cannot set any value upon sacrifices. The first is, that supposing him to depend upon these, he needs not to be indebted for them to man, having all the fullness of the earth at his command; and the second, that he requires neither food nor drink as we do for the support of our infirm natures. Upon the first of these he insists in the ninth and three following verses, where he adverts to his own boundless possessions, that he may show his absolute independence of human offerings. He then points at the wide distinction betwixt himself and man, the latter being dependent for a frail subsistence upon meat and drink, while he is the self-existent One, and communicates life to all beside. There may be nothing new in the truths here laid down by the Psalmist; but, considering the strong propensity we have by nature to form our estimate of God from ourselves, and to degenerate into a carnal worship, they convey a lesson by no means unnecessary, and which contains profound wisdom, that man can never benefit God by any of his services, as we have seen in Psalm 16:2, |My goodness extendeth not unto thee.| In the second place, God says that he does not require any thing for his own us but that, as he is sufficient in his own perfection, he has consulted the good of man in all that he has enjoined. We have a passage in Isaiah to a similar effect,

|The heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool: where is the house that ye build unto me, and where is the place of my rest? For all these things hath mine hand made.| -- (Isaiah 66:1, 2,)

In these words

God asserts his absolute independence; for while the world had a beginning, he himself was from eternity. From this it follows, that as he subsisted when there was nothing without him which could contribute to his fullness, he must have in himself a glorious all-sufficiency.

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