In Psalm 50, God appeals to His people for a genuine relationship, for sincerity on their part, for them to “make it real” when it comes to God. We can hear the sense of frustration and desperation when God says:
“Hear, O my people, and I will speak, O Israel, I will testify against you.
I am God, your God. Not for your sacrifices do I rebuke you;
your burnt offerings are continually before me.
I will not accept a bull from your house, or goats from your folds,
for every wild animal of the forest is mine, the cattle on a thousand hills.
I know all the birds of the air, and all that moves in the field is mine.
If I were hungry, I would not tell you, for the world and all that is in it is mine.
Do I eat the flesh of bulls, or drink the blood of goats?
Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving, and pay your vows to the Most High.
Call on me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me.”
The picture is clear enough. God’s people envisioned God like the pagans thought of their gods. They thought that God would simply be pleased with sacrifices and drink offerings, as if God needed them for food and drink. Their idea of “serving God” was that God needed them to care of him. They thought that they were doing God a favor by giving Him these things, and that God would return the favor by blessing them with material things.
The fact is that this was completely incorrect. In fact, it was exactly backwards. As God explained to them, it was God who took care of them, not them who took care of God. If anyone needed help, it was Israel, not God. And if anyone was going to do something for someone, it would be God who acted for Israel, not Israel for God.
But it was even worse. What God demanded of His people was not that they “feed” Him with their sacrifices. No, what God wanted was His people’s integrity. He wanted them to be people of truth, justice, compassion, love, and righteousness. He wanted them to be holy people, and it angered God that Israel thought that they could live however they wanted – including indulging in all kinds of evil – as long as they offered their sacrifices to God; as if God was pleased simply with the external offerings. Maybe the pagan gods were that way, but the One True God is not.
God therefore continues:
“to the wicked God says: “What right have you to recite my statutes, or take my covenant on your lips?
For you hate discipline, and you cast my words behind you.
You make friends with a thief when you see one, and you keep company with adulterers.
You give your mouth free rein for evil, and your tongue frames deceit.
You sit and speak against your kin; you slander your own mother’s child.
These things you have done and I have been silent; you thought that I was just like you.
But now I rebuke you, and lay the charge before you.
Mark this, then, you who forget God, or I will tear you apart, and there will be no one to deliver.”
The crux of the problem is revealed in v 21: “you thought that I was just like you.”
It seems to me that this problem is as acute today as it was 3000 years ago when this psalm was written. People still tend to think God is just like them. We tend to make God in our own image rather than work on making ourselves into God’s image (Eph 4.24). We think well of ourselves, we think that we are basically good people, and therefore if we like or approve of something, then God (who is also good) must like and approve of it as well. How could He not?
This was the problem not only with the Jews of David’s day, but also with the Jews of Jesus’ day. The Pharisees thought that God (and the Messiah) was just like a Pharisee. Today, homosexuals think that God approves of their lifestyle (because they approve of it). People who are obsessed with the matter of race believe that God’s first priority is race relations. People who have a complaint against others believe that God has a complaint against those same people. People who criticize others believe that God criticizes those same people as well.
It is a sad little game that we play with ourselves. We make a god in our own minds according to the image of “myself.” The result is a god who thinks and acts just like me. He likes what I like, he approves of what I do, and my goals are his goals. But such a god does not really exist. He exists only in our imaginations.
The One True God is not like us. “God is not a man, that he should lie, nor a son of man that he should be fickle” (Num 23.19). He cannot be cajoled into deviating from His holy will (1 Sam 15.29). He does not deal in deception, nor does He do things insincerely. His ways are always righteous, just, and just. Everything He thinks and does comes from absolute holiness and purity. We do not fool Him with pretended sincerity. He sees into our hearts (Heb 4.13), He knows the thoughts and intentions of our minds, and He judges us there. Be careful. Don’t make a false god (in your own image), worship it, and then conclude that you are right with God. It doesn’t work that way.
The last words of the psalm are these: “He who offers a sacrifice of thanksgiving honors Me; and to him who orders his way aright I shall show the salvation of God.”
A well known text on inadequate views of God: J. B. Phillips, Your God is Too Small