A Call to Covenant Faithfulness
Some fault God for having favorites—making the Israelites his people. But to whom much is given, much is required, and God never failed to hold Israel to account. The same is true of us today.
An Asaph psalm.
1 Almighty God YHWH speaks
summoning earth’s inhabitants
from where the sun rises to where it sets.
2 From Zion, perfect in beauty
God appears in splendor.
3 Our God is coming, and he will not fail to speak.
With a fire devouring everything in his path
and a tempest encircling him
4 he summons the heavens above
and the earth below
to witness his people’s judgment.
5 “Summon all the believers
who sealed their covenant commitment
6 Then let the heavens
attest to the justice of his charges
for he is a just God.
7 “Listen, my people, as I speak.
I’ll state my charges against you, Israel:
I am God, your God.
8 I don’t fault you for your sacrifices.
or the burnt-offerings you constantly offer.
9 But I don’t need the bulls from your barns
or the rams from your pens.
10 Because all the beasts of the forest are mine
and the cattle on a thousand hills.
11 I know every bird in the mountains
and own everything that runs in the field.
12 “I wouldn’t tell you if I were hungry
since the world and everything in it is mine.
13 Do you think I eat the meat of bulls
or drink the blood of rams?
14 No, make thanksgiving your sacrifice to God
and keep your vows to the Most High.
15 Then call on me when you’re in trouble
and I’ll rescue you and you’ll honor me.”
16 As for the wicked, God says:
“What right have you to recite my laws
or mouth the words of my covenant?
17 For you spurn my discipline
and brush my words aside.
18 You run with every thief you meet
and team up with adulterers.
19 You allow your mouth to speak evil
and make your tongue speak lies.
20 You sit around badmouthing your kin—
slandering your own siblings.
21 Since I kept quiet when you did these things
you thought that
I had no more problem with evil than you.
But now I indict you
and lay out my charges against you.
22 “Think well now, all you who ignore me
lest I tear you apart
and there’s no one to save you!
23 Everyone who gives me thanks
offers a sacrifice that truly honors me.
And to everyone who holds to my path
I’ll reveal my great power to save.”
Many other psalms speak of God’s coming to rescue his people. Here the psalmist speaks prophetically of his coming to judge them on two accounts. He first rebukes them for their formalism. They think mere sacrifices—equivalent to our churchgoing—please him. That is, external acts of worship without the grateful, trusting hearts those acts are meant to picture.
God’s second rebuke is for allowing their formalism to grow into full-blown hypocrisy, as it inevitably does over time. This happens when we know how to talk the talk, but pursue our own priorities, which lead us to team up with lawless individuals. Then we turn faith’s externals into a cloak that hides our disregard for God’s moral demands. We no longer want to become holy—thankful, truthful, kind, gracious, fair—as God is holy. We simply want our own way and think we can use religious talk and pretense to get our way. This empties the life of God from all our acts of worship. And with our religion a mere outer form, we decide that the ends justifies the means and throw in our lot with moral deadbeats.
Since the Israelites have done this, God denounces them as wicked. And before a watching world, he charges them with violating his covenant. He urges them to change their ways before he tears them apart, enacting the covenant’s curses. This refers to the sacrifices they offered to seal their covenant commitment to him. The destruction of their sacrifices pictured the curses the Israelites owned as their just deserts should they violate the covenant. But their sacrifices won’t be enough to insulate them from those curses, which they now deserve.
According to this psalm, we’re going to encounter God, one way or another. We either face his furious judgment or enter his warm embrace. As amazing as it is, his grace embraces only those who become like him by truly holding to his path.
Lord, it’s so easy to slide into formalism—worship without heart, forget my need of grace, stop trusting you, and embrace worldly ways. From there, everything goes downhill fast. Keep me from so slippery a slope. Please make me holy as you are holy. Amen.
In your free moments today, meditate on God’s promise:
“To everyone who holds to my path
I’ll reveal my great power to save.”