Psalm 50 describes a courtroom drama, where the setting includes a judge, defendant, prosecution, witnesses, and defense. This and similar Old Testament passages are called covenant lawsuits. God is bringing charges against the nation of Israel.

The Judge

Psalm 50:1-6 gives the equivalent of a bailiff saying "all rise." The Righteous Judge enters the room. He is the Lord, a name unique to Him. His beauty and might inspire awe in all the witnesses. He has all-encompassing power.

All of creation serve as witnesses to this court's proceedings. The defendant is the nation of Israel, who is being held to account for the covenant made at Sinai (the Mosaic Law).

The judge and the prosecutor are the same in this case. For justice to be done, the Judge must have impeccable character; and He does, because He is God. When the Judge is also the prosecutor, his accusations and judgment are certain. The defendants have little hope of prevailing.

The Defendants

Two groups within the covenant community are addressed in this lawsuit. The first (Psalm 50:7-15) shows a misunderstanding of worship. The Lord still describes himself as their God; He is not bringing charges against them, but correcting their misunderstanding.

This first group is repeatedly offering sacrifices for their sin (burnt offerings). They see God as insatiable and think God needs sacrifices to appease Him. Such a view also means that He can be manipulated. God would rather them offer voluntary thank offerings in addition to their sin offerings (verse 14).

It is easy for us as human beings to become preoccupied with our sin. This can produce a self-centered view of worship. For those whose sin God has covered, God desires us to go beyond the sin already atoned for, to celebrate and be thankful! In verse 15, God offers rescue to anyone who will call out to Him.

The second group of worshippers are wicked (Psalm 50:16-22). They are part of the covenant community but are rebellious. They love and hate the wrong things (verses 17-18). Their character is betrayed by their speech (verses 19-20). They tear down their own family with their words. Finally, they misunderstand God Himself, thinking He is just like them.

When God is silent, we get to see ourselves, and often it is not a flattering picture. God gives the wicked worshippers a warning of coming judgment in verse 22 if they do not repent.

The Verdict

Romans 8:28-34 is an appropriate New Testament cross reference for this psalm. It shows that the Judge is actually on the side of the defendant. Those who have been justified need not fear the Judge. Jesus was torn for us on the cross; he took the judgment threatened in Psalm 50:22. We find that the defense is also God, and so the verdict is just as certain: salvation for those who accept.

Application Points

  • Do you think about yourself the way God does? Or do you focus on sin that has already been atoned for? Once you have repented and forsaken, you do not need to dwell on or carry guilt for what God has already forgiven. His pity is not just for the first time repentant sinners turn to Him; He pities us after salvation and will lovingly receive our offerings of thanksgiving. Read Psalm 51 for an example.
  • Do you view your spiritual family as God views you? When a brother or sister in Christ sins, our first response should be love, and that given without any condition pending evaluation of them.
  • This is no ordinary courtroom drama. Even though you are a guilty defendant, the Judge wants an ongoing relationship with you! Such grace deserves a lifestyle of thankful, holy living as a response.

Tools for Further Study

A Hymn to Encourage: "O Worship the King" by Robert Grant, 1833

O worship the King, all glorious above,
And gratefully sing His power and His love;
Our Shield and Defender, the Ancient of Days,
Pavilioned in splendor, and girded with praise.

O tell of His might, O sing of His grace,
Whose robe is the light, whose canopy space;
His chariots of wrath the deep thunderclouds form,
And dark is His path on the wings of the storm.

Thy bountiful care, what tongue can recite?
It breathes in the air, it shines in the light;
It streams from the hills, it descends to the plain,
And sweetly distills in the dew and the rain.

Frail children of dust, and feeble as frail,
In Thee do we trust, nor find Thee to fail;
Thy mercies how tender, how firm to the end,
Our Maker, Defender, Redeemer, and Friend.