God is here dealing with those that placed all their religion in the observances of the ceremonial law, and thought those sufficient.
I. He lays down the original contract between him and Israel, in which they had avouched him to be their God, and he them to be his people, and so both parties were agreed (Ps. 50:7): Hear, O my people! and I will speak. Note, It is justly expected that whatever others doe, when he speaks, his people should give ear; who will, if they do not? And then we may comfortably expect that God will speak to us when we are ready to hear what he says; even when he testifies against us in the rebukes and threatenings of his word and providences we must be forward to hear what he says, to hear even the rod and him that has appointed it.
II. He puts a slight upon the legal sacrifices, Ps. 50:8-13 Now,
1. This may be considered as looking back to the use of these under the law. God had a controversy with the Jews; but what was the ground of the controversy? Not their neglect of the ceremonial institutions; no, they had not been wanting in the observance of them, their burnt-offerings had been continually before God, they took a pride in them, and hoped by their offerings to procure a dispensation for their lusts, as the adulterous woman, Prov. 7:14. Their constant sacrifices, they thought, would both expiate and excuse their neglect of the weightier matters of the law. Nay, if they had, in some degree, neglected these institutions, yet that should not have been the cause of God’s quarrel with them, for it was but a small offence in comparison with the immoralities of their conversation. They thought God was mightily beholden to them for the many sacrifices they had brought to his altar, and that they had made him very much their debtor by them, as if he could not h have maintained his numerous family of priests without their contributions; but God here shows them the contrary, (1.) That he did not need their sacrifices. What occasion had he for their bullocks and goats who has the command of all the beasts of the forest, and the cattle upon a thousand hills (Ps. 50:9, 10), has an incontestable propriety in them and dominion over them, has them all always under his eye and within his reach, and can make what use he pleases of them; they all wait on him, and are all at his disposal? Ps. 104:27-29. Can we add any thing to his store whose all the wild fowl and wild beasts are, the world itself and the fulness thereof? Ps. 50:11, 12. God’s infinite self-sufficiency proves our utter insufficiency to add any thing to him. (2.) That he could not be benefited by their sacrifices. Their goodness, of this kind, could not possibly extend to him, nor, if they were in this matter righteous, was he the better (Ps. 50:13): Will I eat the flesh of bulls? It is as absurd to think that their sacrifices could, of themselves, and by virtue of any innate excellency in them, add any pleasure of praise to God, as it would be to imagine that an infinite Spirit could be supported by meat and drink, as our bodies are. It is said indeed of the demons whom the Gentiles worshipped that they did eat the fat of their sacrifices, and drink the wine of their drink-offerings (Deut. 32:38): they regaled themselves in the homage they robbed the true God of; but will the great Jehovah be thus entertained? No; to obey is better than sacrifice, and to love God and our neighbour better than all burnt-offerings, so much better that God by his prophets often told them that their sacrifices were not only not acceptable, but abominable, to him, while they lived in sin; instead of pleasing him, he looked upon them as a mockery, and therefore an affront and provocation to him; see Prov. 15:8; Isa. 1:11-23; 66:3; Jer. 6:20; Amos 5:21. They are therefore here warned not to rest in these performances; but to conduct themselves, in all other instances, towards God as their God.
2. This may be considered as looking forward to the abolishing of these by the gospel of Christ. Thus Dr. Hammond understands it. When God shall set up the kingdom of the Messiah he shall abolish the old way of worship by sacrifice and offerings; he will no more have those to be continually before him (Ps. 50:8); he will no more require of his worshippers to bring him their bullocks and their goats, to be burnt upon his altar, Ps. 50:9. For indeed he never appointed this as that which he had any need of, or took any pleasure in, for, besides that all we have is his already, he has far more beasts in the forest and upon the mountains, which we know nothing of nor have any property in, than we have in our folds; but he instituted it to prefigure the great sacrifice which his own Son should in the fulness of time offer upon the cross, to make atonement for sin, and all the other spiritual sacrifices of acknowledgment with which God, through Christ, will be well pleased.
III. He directs to the best sacrifices of prayer and praise as those which, under the law, were preferred before all burn-offerings and sacrifices, and on which then the greatest stress was laid, and which now, under the gospel, come in the room of those carnal ordinances which were imposed until the times of reformation. He shows us here (Ps. 50:14, 15) what is good, and what the Lord our God requires of us, and will accept, when sacrifices are slighted and superseded. 1. We must make a penitent acknowledgment of our sins: Offer to God confession, so some read it, and understand it of the confession of sin, in order to our giving glory to God and taking shame to ourselves, that we may never return to it. A broken and contrite heart is the sacrifice which God will not despise, Ps. 51:17. If the sin was not abandoned the sin-offering was not accepted. 2. We must give God thanks for his mercies to us: Offer to God thanksgiving, every day, often every day (seven times a day will I praise thee), and upon special occasions; and this shall please the Lord, if it come from a humble thankful heart, full of love to him and joy in him, better than an ox or bullock that has horns and hoofs, Ps. 69:30, 31. 3. We must make conscience of performing our covenants with him: Pay thy vows to the Most High, forsake thy sins, and do thy duty better, pursuant to the solemn promises thou has made him to that purport. When we give God thanks for any mercy we have received we must be sure to pay the vows we made to him when we were in the pursuit of the mercy, else our thanksgivings will not be accepted. Dr. Hammond applies this to the great gospel ordinance of the eucharist, in which we are to give thanks to God for his great love in sending his Son to save us, and to pay our vows of love and duty to him, and to give alms. Instead of all the Old Testament types of a Christ to come, we have that blessed memorial of a Christ already come. 4. In the day of distress we must address ourselves to God by faithful and fervent prayer (Ps. 50:15): Call upon me in the day of trouble, and not upon any other god. Our troubles, though we see them coming from God’s hand, must drive us to him, and not drive us from him. We must thus acknowledge him in all our ways, depend upon his wisdom, power, and goodness, and refer ourselves entirely to him, and so give him glory. This is a cheaper, easier, readier way of seeking his favour than by a peace-offering, and yet more acceptable. 5. When he, in answer to our prayers, delivers us, as he has promised to do in such way and time as he shall think fit, we must glorify him, not only by a grateful mention of his favour, but by living to his praise. Thus must we keep up our communion with God, meeting him with our prayers when he afflicts us and with our praises when he delivers us.
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