Psalm 50

The mighty God, Jehovah, speaks
And calls the earth from sea to sea;
From beauteous Zion God shines forth,
He comes and will not silent be;
Devouring flame before Him goes,
And dark the tempest round Him grows.

In today’s jumbled dialect, “awesome” is an overused word.  It can be used to describe anything from mildly interesting to overwhelmingly exciting.  The colors on this blog are awesome…my pastor is awesome…the world is awesome.  Usually I try to avoid vague words like this in my writing.  But as I study Psalm 50, the words “totally awesome” inevitably come to mind, this time with a much deeper meaning—“awesome” because of the reverential fear inspired by this psalm, and “totally” because of the declarations of God’s majesty in every verse.

In Psalm 50, the Lord, the ruler of the whole earth, states that true worship can only arise from a sincere heart.   God applies this principle in commands to all people, both the righteous and the wicked.  Verses 4-15 contain his admonition to the nation of Israel to worship him with a true heart.  “Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving, and perform your vows to the Most High, and call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me” (vv. 14, 15 ESV).  In vv. 16-21, God condemns the wicked who falsely pretend to pay him homage.  The psalm concludes with a stern reminder to all men that we can only glorify God truly through a life of humble gratitude.

The blue Psalter Hymnal contains two selections of Psalm 50, both originating from a single complete versification in the 1912 Psalter.  After considering the content of these excellent settings, it’s clear that these two are more than enough.

92, “The Mighty God, Jehovah, Speaks”

The text of this versification is brilliantly crafted; the editors of the 1912 Psalter perfectly balanced accuracy with poetic beauty in their rendering of Psalm 50, which is presented in a natural, understandable translation.  I was particularly struck by how well the six-line L.M. meter fits some of the key passages:

…The heavens His righteousness declare,
For God Himself as Judge is there.

…The cattle on a thousand hills
And all the forest beasts are Mine…

…Deliverance I will send to thee,
And praises thou shalt give to Me.

The power of v. 7, revealing both the love and the fatherly correction of God towards his people, is rendered beautifully in this setting:

(3) Hear, O my people, I will speak,
Against thee I will testify;
Give ear to Me, O Israel,
For God, thy covenant God, am I;
I do not spurn thy sacrifice,
Thy offerings are before My eyes.

The awe of Psalm 50 is conveyed equally well through the tune, ST. PETERSBURG.  The grandeur of the melody builds through the repeat in the second line, then comes to a climax in a series of rapidly expanding intervals.  Without a doubt, the key of C is absolutely essential to this tune for maximum strength and brilliance.  In congregational singing, consider cutting back the organ accompaniment in the fourth and fifth stanzas before returning to the sixth verse with a broader registration.  “The Mighty God, Jehovah, Speaks” could also be arranged into a magnificent choir piece; for a little variety, consider interspersing a stanza or two of the tune of number 93, ST. CHRYSOSTOM.

93, “Thus Speaks the Lord to Wicked Men”

Continuing from a logical point in Psalm 50, where God shifts the focus from the error of his people to the false worship of the wicked, number 93 utilizes the last four stanzas from the same excellent versification.  The tune, ST. CHRYSOSTOM, has a unique degree of solemnity that is especially appropriate for the grave warnings in the text.

Consider this, who God forget,
Lest I destroy with none to free…

Sadly, as often-straying Christians, we often need to be reminded of these divine warnings.  Thus, number 93 could be a very appropriate song during the time of confession in worship, perhaps as a response to the reading of the law.

If our fate ended with Psalm 50, we would be doomed.  No sinful man, however good he may seem, can worship with a pure and sincere heart, as this psalm requires.  But by the grace of God, Psalm 50 leaves the Christian not with despair but with hope, because God himself has provided the answer to our dilemma through the death and resurrection of his Son.

Consider how Psalter Hymnal numbers 92-95 fit together like puzzle pieces into God’s plan of redemption.  Number 93 unapologetically exposes the workings of sin in our lives, cutting completely through our whitewashed layers of hypocrisy.  Numbers 94 and 95, from the penitential prayer of Psalm 51, express our realization of guilt and desire for restored fellowship with God.  But as we read though Psalm 51, we can also join the psalmist in confidently declaring that our Lord is our Savior, and that he will deliver us from sin and guilt.  Finally, the last two stanzas of number 95 (“Not the formal sacrifice/Has acceptance in Thine eyes…”) mesh exactly with the theme of number 92, evoking a grateful response from the heart of the repentant believer.  Though viewed from the lens of the Old Testament, the work of salvation can be clearly seen in Psalms 50 and 51.  As Christians, we can behold the fulfillment of God’s promises from these passages in the person and work of Jesus Christ.  And that realization is totally awesome.

The one who offers thanksgiving as his sacrifice glorifies me;
to one who orders his way rightly
I will show the salvation of God!

(Psalm 50:23 ESV)

–MRK

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