Good morning! Can you imagine reading through one of the hymnals at synagogue or church? What if there was no music there, but the words were clearly arranged in parallel phrases? Individual songs would stand with their own meaning, yet be grouped with similar ones. Every so often there would be a dramatic shift in the topics discussed, like perhaps between Good Friday and Easter hymns. So it is with the psalms—each song is unique and distinct, yet they are bound together as the songbook of Scripture. Some have more meaning or significance than others, or catch the modern eye differently. Today’s passage (Psalms 49-54) leads us past the first third of this songbook. While each psalm has its own merits, 50 and 51 are most interesting to me today.
Psalm 50 gives God a voice, weighing in on appropriate ways for humanity to honor the divine. We haven’t yet read the “heavy hitters” of biblical prophecy, but here God sounds like one of the prophets, proclaiming the importance of thankful living instead of temple sacrifices. The whole ritual system comes in for a rebuke, because animal sacrifices can’t wipe away the wickedness of an ungrateful heart. God doesn’t need dead animals, because God has all the live ones already! Instead, thanksgiving is the appropriate sacrifice to God, as is seeking God’s help in troubled times.
Psalm 51 is a classic prayer for unburdening the self of all the sinful accretions that build up while moving through the world. A superscript identifies this as David’s confessional psalm when Nathan confronts him about stealing Bathsheba from Uriah the Hittite. While there is plenty of language about penitence and sinfulness, the focus of the psalm here is the joy of salvation and the loyal presence of God’s love. Near the end there’s more language about acceptable sacrifices, which links it to Psalm 50. We must be in the “Worship and Praise” part of the hymnal. Happy reading!
Please join discussion of this passage at the Daily Bible Facebook group, or comment below. The passage for tomorrow is Psalms 55-61. Thanks for reading!