Psalm 50: What Does it Mean to Offer a Sacrifice of Praise?
Psalm 50 and Paul in Hebrews 13:15 speak of offering God a sacrifice of praise (“Through him, then, let us continually offer a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that confess his name.”), but what does that mean? How can praising God be a sacrifice? Isn’t it a joy and a blessing to praise our God?
Psalm 50 starts with a theophany, God appearing in nature. 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)
Written in the prophetic vein, Psalm 50 critiques the worshiping community. “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. (For a different take on this psalm, check out an earlier post from four years ago.)
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 praise.” (14a) “He who brings praise as his sacrifice honors me.” (23a) (Some versions translate praise as thanksgiving.)
What Does God Want from God’s People?
God addresses first his people (vs. 7-15) who mistakenly think he is honored by empty rituals; then 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) They think God is like them and wants the practices of other religions around them where animal sacrifice, even human sacrifice, was common.
Our God wants something more. He wants all of us, our praise and our thanksgiving. God wants us to praise him and follow his ways. Much more challenging than offering a sacrificial animal.
Praise as a Sacrifice
We owe God everything. So why should praise be a sacrifice? Yet, so often we forget to offer God the praise God deserves. Consider the ten lepers healed by Jesus (Luke 17:11-19). Only one returns to thank Jesus for this gift. We get busy about our lives and forget that everything we are and have is from our God. In our pride and foolishness, we forget to thank God. We even think we deserve what we have. To praise God is to humbly acknowledge God’s place in our life. Why is that so hard?
The other way that praise is a sacrifice, is praising God when life is not going our way. The writers of the Psalms are good at this. They may complain to God and lament their situation, but even in their suffering, they thank God in advance, recognizing that God hears their call and will respond. Praising God when life isn’t going our way is a challenge. It is a sacrifice, one we are called to make.
Our God sees into the heart. You can’t fool God. God tolerates no bull! What God does want is our praise and thanksgiving. God wants all of us, not just some superficial practice or offering.
How is God calling you to sacrifice today? Can you praise God even when life is hard? Even in the midst of suffering?
This post is part of a series of blog posts on the Psalms. Sign up to follow this blog and and receive a free copy of Still Dancing, the second book in my Dancing through Life Series. click here to sign up
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