A Psalm of Asaph
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; he does not keep silence;
before him is a devouring fire,
around him a mighty tempest.
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 beast of the forest is mine,
the cattle on a thousand hills.
11 I know all the birds of the hills,
and all that moves in the field is mine.
12 “If I were hungry, I would not tell you,
for the world and its fullness are mine.
13 Do I eat the flesh of bulls
or drink the blood of goats?
14 Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving,
and perform your vows to the Most High,
15 and call upon me in the day of trouble;
I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me.”
I know that Luther’s paraphrase of the 46th psalm, “A Mighty Fortress” is often considered the great hymn of the Reformation. The hymn is wonderful and deserves that place. But I think this is the psalm of the Reformation. I encourage you to read this psalm slowly and carefully. As you read its verses, paraphrase it for yourself. What is the psalmist (Asaph according to the ascription) saying here?
In the first part he speaks of the extent of God’s glory and his role as judge over the earth and all its people. His reign encompasses all, from the rising to the setting of the sun. He shines forth out of the beauty of Zion. A devouring fire and a mighty tempest accompany Him. He summons the peoples to judgment and even the heavenly bodies declare His righteousness. It is the second part of the psalm, starting at verse 7 which makes this the great psalm of the Reformation.
God brings His people to judgment. They imagine that they have made a covenant with him through sacrifice. They are treating God as if He is some great vending machine. Insert the sacrificial coin and out comes the blessing and security which they crave. But God does not need their sacrifices. The cattle of a thousand hills belong to him. If He were hungry, He would not tell them or ask them for sustenance. They have not bought anything. God is not for sale.
In the final paragraph he speaks of what he wants. The sacrifice of thanksgiving, the acknowledgment that God blesses them. Integrity – when we vow in God’s name, do it. But most of all, the final verse. God wants to turn to Him when we are in need. He is the solution of our problems. He is the rescuer in our need. He is the One who brings deliverance when we face a foe. This is faith, not a work, but a relationship in which God rescues us.