Commentary on Psalms (42 - 89)
© by Francis Foulkes
& Cyril Okorocha


"1. The mighty one, God the LORD,
speaks and summons the earth
from the rising of the sun to its setting.
2. Out of Zion, the perfection of beauty,
God shines forth.

3. Our God comes and does not keep silence,
before him is a devouring fire,
and a mighty tempest all around him.
4. He calls to the heavens above
and to the earth, that he may judge his people:
5. 'Gather to me my faithful ones,
who made a covenant with me by sacrifice!'
6. The heavens declare his righteousness,
for God himself is judge. Selah.

7. 'Hear, O my people, and I will speak,
O Israel, I will testify against you.
I am God, your God.
8. Not for your sacrifices do I rebuke you;
your burnt offerings are continually before me.
9. I will not accept a bull from your house,
or goats from your folds.
10. For every wild animal of the forest is mine,
the cattle on a thousand hills.
11. I know all the birds of the air,
and all that moves in the field is mine.

12. 'If I were hungry, I would not tell you,
for the world and all that is in it is mine.
13. Do I eat the flesh of bulls,
or drink the blood of goats?
14. Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving,
and pay your vows to the Most High.
15. Call on me in the day of trouble;
I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me.'

16. But to the wicked God says:
'What right have you to recite my statutes,
or take my covenant on your lips?
17. For you hate discipline,
and you cast my words behind you.
18. You make friends with a thief when you see one,
and you keep company with adulterers.

19. 'You give your mouth free rein for evil,
and your tongue frames deceit.
20. You sit and speak against your kin;
you slander your own mother's child.
21. These things you have done and I have been silent;
you thought that I was one just like yourself.
But now I rebuke you, and lay the charge before you.

22. 'Mark this, then, you who forget God,
or I will tear you apart, and there will be no one to
23. Those who bring thanksgiving as their sacrifice honour me;
to those who go the right way
I will show the salvation of God'."

This Psalm is a challenge to those who profess to be God's people and to have a special "covenant" relationship with him, but in fact "forget God". They know the reality of God and yet do not give him his rightful place in the centre of their lives. They are like those referred to in the New Testament in 2 Timothy 3:5 as "holding to the outward form of godliness but denying its power". They live lives that contradict the saving and sanctifying power of the religion they profess with great fervour. Such people are challenged in three ways by this Psalm, and we can also apply these things to ourselves today.

Realise God's greatness

The people of Israel always looked back to the experience of God's showing himself to them in great power and glory on Mt. Sinai when the law was given to them (as Exodus 19 records). Deuteronomy 33:2 puts it, "The Lord came from Sinai, and --- he shone forth from Mount Paran." Then after the temple was built on Mt. Zion, they came to think of that as where God's presence was specially known, and so they said that from there, the place of great beauty, "God shines forth" (verse 2). Fire and storm always show the power and greatness of God as Creator, as they did on Mt.Sinai (verse 3). The mighty Creator God revealed in such ways is Judge of all (verse 4), and he judges with perfect knowledge and absolute justice (verse 6). He is "the mighty one, God the Lord", who speaks and calls the whole world to hear his word, "from the rising of the sun to its setting" (verse 1).

Realise what is more important than outward devotion

The people in the days when this Psalm was written offered many animal sacrifices. The Lord could say, "your burnt offerings are continually before me". They felt that their many offerings showed that they were very religious. They felt that they were pleasing God by giving him these things, as if they were were supplying him with food and drink that he needed. Such sacrifices could have been the outward expression of sincere worship of their hearts and lives, but they were not. So the word of the Lord in this Psalm rebuked them, as was often the case when the prophets spoke about people's sacrificial offerings (see references below). God was not rebuking them because they failed to offer enough sacrifices (verse 8). God had no need of any of them. The world and everything in it is God's (verse 12). What he wanted (and he still wants) was that his people should show that they were truly thankful for all his gifts, and that they acknowledged that they depended completely on him for help in all their needs (verses 14-15 and see Psalm 116:12-14) .

Realise that action in obedience means more than words

The people had learned God's commandments and could "recite" them. They spoke with their lips about his covenant (verse 16), but in actual fact they rejected his word and hated his discipline (verse 17). The commandment said, "You shall not steal", but they made friends with thieves. In Church life today Christians may do this by encouraging donations for personal support and church projects from people known to be thieves or whose sources of sudden wealth are very dubious. Another commandment said, "You shall not commit adultery", but they found pleasure in the company of adulterers. The counterpart today is enjoying pornographic films and videos and reading obscene literature. Another commandment said, "You shall not bear false witness", but even their close family could not trust their words. They were liars and wicked gossips. They thought that God cared as little about their sinful actions as they did themselves (verse 21). They were very mistaken. As the Law gave warning about the results of disobeying God's commandments (see Deuteronomy 28:15-46), so a serious warning is given here (in verse 22). As the Law gave promise of the blessings of obedience (see Deuteronomy 28:1-14), so the end of the Psalm has the assurance that those who bring a sincere offering of thanksgiving to God, and who choose to follow the right way, will surely find the salvation of God. So the Church that preaches God's word faithfully and seeks to impact society by the lives of its members inspired by the Holy Spirit will come to experience the blessing of God's revival in its land (see 2 Chronicles 7:14).

Prayer: Lord, give us the determination to be those who are "doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves" (James 1:22).

For further thought and study

Study the passages in the prophets that have similar teaching to that of verses 7-15, especially Isaiah 1:11-17, Jeremiah 6:20 and 7:21-26, Hosea 6:6, Amos 5:21-24 and Micah 6:6-8. See also 1 Samuel 15:22-23 and Psalm 40:6-8 and 51:16-17. In what ways can our outward religious observances be displeasing to God?


  1. This is the first of a number of Psalms that belong to an "Asaph" collection (the others are Psalms 73-83). Asaph was one of the chief musicians leading worship in the time of David (according to 1 Chronicles 15:17, 16:7, 25:1-2).
  2. The covenants that were made by God with Abraham and with the people in the days of Moses were made with the offering of sacrifices (see Genesis 15 and Exodus 24). Verse 5 in the Psalm may mean that God's "faithful ones" who had entered into covenant with him in the past were called as witnesses. It is more likely that the reference is to those who were called to renew their covenant with God. The people did this in the time when king Josiah called them back to a fresh obedience to God's law (2 Kings 23:1-3). It is possible also that there was in Israel an annual festival when the people were called back to God to renew their covenant with him. The Psalm would certainly be very appropriate for such a ceremony of covenant renewal.