Psalm 50, Isaiah 58, Matthew 6:1–18
Humankind is always trying to figure God out. Humankind will often take a human role/position and apply it to God. It is not wrong to do this, in scripture we see, “Lord of lords.” There is an explicit understanding that no matter how great or powerful any person of influence or power is, God is more so. As the culture and governments change, so did the way God was viewed. For example, in the Roman Empire and well after the fall of the Roman Empire, God was viewed as an emperor. In the Reformation, God was viewed as more of a judge. John Wesley and others viewed God as Father, which is odd, as God the Father was a phrase used while God was viewed as emperor. Yet, God the Father, as the Wesleys understood God the Father, was a loving, caring, and self-sacrificing father. Despite this change, much of the church’s (and thus the people’s) interaction with God is still God as Emperor and God as Judge. This really comes into play when we read things such as Psalm 50, God as Judge.
The intro (vv. 1-6) set the stage for who God is, some symbolism to correctly identify God, and his command. The tendency is to see devouring fire and judge as bad. The devouring fire, though, is good and purifying (burns away the surface layer), and also reflects the context of this psalm regarding worship, where the sacrifice was burned to make amends to, covenant with, and praise God. When it comes to judge, it is the same word that is also used to contend, plead the cause, vindicate, govern. The best translation is still judge, however, as we dig deeper, it isn’t to condemn. Lastly, God calls heaven and earth. From a legal viewpoint (back to judge), heaven and earth are witnesses regarding the People of God. So, what is causing the issue?
Wrongly worshipping God. The implication of the verses is that the purpose of the sacrifices is to feed God. This is a logical leap, as the cultures around the Israelites believed exactly that about their sacrifices to their gods. God tells the Israelites that he could eat whatever he wanted if he needed to. First, they are all his (as he made them). Second, because he knows them all and where they are. Then we move on to the Thank Offering. Why? That God tells them to do a thank offering tells us that they missed this vital sacrifice that was part of the Law, but more importantly, should have been part of their hearts. Thanking God had disappeared. While not mentioned in this psalm at all, it probably meant that the Israelites weren’t performing Fellowship Offerings either. What does this tell us? That the Israelites had indeed turned God into judge and did the “right” things to appease God. This, again, takes from the cultures and religious practices from those around them.
God then goes and addresses those whose hearts don’t even get the whole God thing at all. These are the people that do all the “right” things, but unlike the ones previously addressed, don’t really care whether they do right or wrong. They do wrong and all they care about is avoiding punishment. We’ve all known people like this, who will say the right things to avoid the consequences of their behavior. These are those people. Doing the act doesn’t avoid the punishment, it actually adds to it.
Lastly, in this psalm, at the end of these two sections, there is promise. People in right relationship with God (which still doesn’t mean they are perfect) will be saved. Not to belabor the point, Isaiah 58 and Matthew 6:1–18 is all about our hearts in worship, and what God does in and for people in right relationship. In his song, “The Heart of Worship,” Matt Redman says/sings:
When the music fades
All is stripped away
And I simply come
Longing just to bring
Something that’s of worth
That will bless Your heart
Much of our life is filled with adding more and more. Our schedules are full. Our lives are busy. Church services go from one thing to another in a flow. We consume more and more food, drink, energy, data, but in so doing shove God out of our lives. Lent calls upon us to remove things from our lives, not to punish ourselves (as some people claim), but to remind us that God is truly all we need, and all God wants is all of us.
1) Have you ever been overwhelmed or underwhelmed by a church service? Can you figure out why?
2) Do you strive to do more things to please people? How about God? Does today’s scripture change your perspective?
3) There were 3 primary sacrifices in Levitical Law/life: remediation of sin, Thanksgiving, Free Will/Fellowship. What seems to be the primary goal of sacrifice? Which of the 3 do most people focus on? Why?
FD) What’s the simplest thing you can do to worship God today? What’s the simplest thing you can do to give thanks to God? What’s the simplest thing you can do to be in fellowship with God?