I love the way words spoken thousands of years ago are still relevant today, sometimes in ways that surprise. In Psalm 50, God is speaking to his people. God comes as a thundering judge to testify against the people, “Our God comes, he does not keep silence, before him is a devouring fire, round about him a mighty tempest. He calls to the heavens above and to the earth, that he may judge his people.” (4)
“I will accept no bull from your house,” (9a) God proclaims, much like Judge Judy telling battling parties in a law suit to cut the crap and get to the heart of the matter. While God was referring to the actual beast, a bull used for sacrificial purposes, the slang term works as well. Certainly God didn’t know that thousands of years after these words were written down, the term bull would take on the meaning it has today, or did he? We are talking about God here!
Psalm 50 is written in the prophetic vein as a critique of the worshiping community. God is telling the people that meaningless rituals are not acceptable. Their offerings of animals mean little to him, after all they were only giving back to God what already belonged to him, “For every beast 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.” (10-11) You can’t give what God already has. What good are burnt offerings—God doesn’t eat them, “Do I eat the flesh of bulls or drink the blood of goats.” (13) Rather what God wants is a thankful heart, “Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving.” (14a) “He who brings thanksgiving as his sacrifice honors me.” (23a)
God addresses first his people who mistakenly think he is honored by empty rituals; then God addresses the wicked who willfully disobey his words, “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.” (16b-17) God goes on to explain, “These things you have done and I have been silent; you thought I was one like yourself.” (21a)
Throughout history we keep trying to create our God in images we understand. God made us in his own image and likeness, yet we keep trying to make God in our image. And so people who are wicked imagine a wicked God.
Animal sacrifice, even human sacrifice, was common in Old Testament times. When the Hebrew nation formed as a people under one God, they took the practices of other religions and adopted them as their own. Hence they designed a religious structure that included animal sacrifice because that was all they knew.
God always meets us where we are and then leads us to something better. God accepts the offerings of the people but is leading them to something better, true worship! Like a parent who accepts the gift a child brings, tacky jewelry or an ugly tie, as an expression of the child’s love, when what the parent really wants may be the child’s obedience and help around the house. Or like spouses who first give each other what they like, thinking their spouse will like it but as they get to know each other better, they give not what they want to give but what their spouse wants to receive. So we need to learn what it is God truly wants from us, not what we want to give God.
Our God sees into the heart. You can’t fool God. God tolerates no bull! God doesn’t want any nonsense from us, any hypocrisy or false sense of duty. What God does want is our praise and thanksgiving. This costs more than two turtle doves to present in the Temple, it costs our whole life. But it is well worth it.
What does God want from you today?