This psalm demonstrates that no matter how sincere a person may be in going through their religious ceremonies, this doesn’t take the place of obedient faith. When a person is sincerely obedient to God then the results will simply be praise and thanksgiving.
Although the headings aren’t inspired by God, they are important because they give us some understanding of the Psalm and they help us to see why it was written. The headings usually tell us four things.
1. Who wrote them, probably wrote them or possibly wrote them.
2. Information about the historical background to the Psalm. Why it was written.
3. They tell us of the tune the Psalm was written to.
4. How it was used.
The heading tells us that this is a psalm of Asaph. This is the first of twelve psalms of Asaph, the others are found in Psalms 72-82. Asaph was possibly one of the leaders of choirs or musicians in David’s time, such as Heman the Singer, 1 Chronicles 6:33 / 2 Chronicles 16:17 / 2 Chronicles 25:6.
Asaph begins by using three different names which describe the character of God. The Mighty One, that is, El, God, that is Elohim and LORD, that is, Yahweh.
It is God who is speaking and He summons the whole of the earth, Psalm 113:3 / Isaiah 59:19 / Malachi 1:11. God is summoning all the people of the earth to judgment, Genesis 6:11 / Genesis 9:13 / Deuteronomy 32:1. Asaph reminds us of the time when God came to Mount Zion, Exodus 19:16-19, but he tells us that this time, God comes from Zion.
God shines and causes His light and beauty to appear, Deuteronomy 33:2 / Psalm 80:2 / Psalm 94:1. Despite calling all the earth together here, God didn’t come to judge all the peoples of the earth, He came to judge His people, that is, those who made a covenant with Him by sacrifice, Exodus 19:5-6 / Exodus 24:5-8.
Righteousness is the foundation upon which God has a right to judge His people, Psalm 97:6, and because God is the only just one, God and God alone has the right to call all into a final judgment, Matthew 25:32 / Revelation 20:11-14.
You may notice at the end of verse six, some translations have the word, ‘selah’, although no one really knows what this word means, it’s likely it means to pause. It’s a time to stop and reflect upon what has just been said.
We can almost imagine the Asaph pausing for a breath as he contemplates God’s judgment upon His people.
All peoples of the earth are now present, but notice who is first to be judged, it’s God’s own people, 1 Peter 4:17. Israel was faithful in legally performing the sacrifices of the law, this wasn’t God’s charge against them, Isaiah 1:11.
Neither was God looking to be fed as a man with the meat of the animals of the world, for all the world belonged to Him Exodus 29:11 / Exodus 29:36 / Leviticus 4:4.
God’s charge against them was that they weren’t offering obedience, that is, they didn’t fulfil their vows and they didn’t offer thanksgiving in prayer that brought God honour.
The charge was God’s goodness toward them didn’t motivate them to give thanks, 2 Corinthians 4:15 / Mark 12:33-34. It appears that Israel were just going through the motions or the rituals, without being obedient or thankful.
God tells them if they fulfil their vows, Psalm 76:11 / Ecclesiastes 5:5 / Isaiah 1:11-17, and call upon Him when they are in trouble then God will deliver them and as a result, Israel will honour Him.
Barnes in his commentary says the following.
‘The purpose of all that is said here is to show that true religion, the proper service of God, does not consist in the mere offering of sacrifice, but that it is of a spiritual nature, and that the offering of sacrifice is of no value unless it is accompanied by corresponding acts of spiritual religion, showing that the heart has a proper appreciation of the mercies of God and that it truly confides in him.’
God now turns His attention to the wicked among His own people. It was the wicked among Israel who proclaimed the statutes of God by legally offering the sacrifices. The problem was they didn’t give any glory to God in their hearts and they didn’t offer any thanksgiving for His goodness.
In other words, they publicly read out God’s laws, Deuteronomy 31:10-13, but their lives didn’t bring any honour to God. They weren’t practising what they were preaching and as a result, their lives spoke louder to God than what they said, Romans 2:17-23.
They had broken several of God’s commandments, they joined in with a thief, Exodus 20:15 / Deuteronomy 5:19, they were involved in adultery, Exodus 20:14 / Deuteronomy 5:18, they used their tongues for evil and deceit, Exodus 20:16 / Deuteronomy 5:20.
Notice that not only did they do wrong but they also joined in with the wrong of others, Romans 1:32.
God kept silent when they were involved in these things, Acts 17:30, and they thought that God was like them, that is, they didn’t see God as a holy God whose dwelling place was heaven and they thought that God wouldn’t mind them doing what they were doing.
How wrong they were, God is going to arraign them, that is, rebuke them and set out His case against them.
Notice how gracious God is with them, He asks them to ‘consider’, which implies He’s giving them time to deeply think about what they are doing and time to repent of their sinfulness before it’s too late, Acts 17:30-31 / 2 Peter 3:9 / Revelation 2:5.
God wants people to truly honour Him in worship with praises of thanksgiving and He wants people to be blameless, that is, He doesn’t want any hypocritical lip service. If people really want to find the way of truth and salvation, God will show them the way to go, Psalm 25:9 / John 14:6.
Asaph reminded the people that God will not accept lip service in worship and although He accepted sacrifices, He wouldn’t accept sacrifices without thanksgiving and obedience, 1 Samuel 15:22 / Proverbs 21:3 / John 4:24.
As Christians, it’s all too easy to worship God simply with our lips, our mouths may move and sound may come out, but we can have no real understanding of what we are praying or singing, and as a result, there is no real thanksgiving in our hearts for what God has done or is doing in our lives, 1 Corinthians 14:15-16.
Even those who claim they do great things for God in His Name can be guilty of giving Him lip service, Matthew 7:21. It’s all too easy to go through the motions of our religion with our hearts far from God, Isaiah 29:13 / Matthew 15:8-9.
We can deceive the world around us and one another into thinking that we truly are ‘religious’, but God knows what’s really in our hearts, Jeremiah 17:10 / Galatians 6:8.
The good news is that God gives us all time to ‘consider’, He gives us time to seriously think about our ways and time to repent before the final judgment, 2 Peter 3:9 / 2 Peter 3:15.