Psalm 50:16
But to the wicked God said, What have you to do to declare my statutes, or that you should take my covenant in your mouth?
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(16) But.—The psalm here turns to address a worse class, those who, while undisguisedly wicked, shelter themselves under the name of the covenant.

What hast thou to do?i.e., how darest thou?

Psalm 50:16. But unto the wicked — The same hypocritical professors, whom he called saints, Psalm 50:5, in regard of their profession, and here wicked, in respect of their practice; God saith — By his Holy Spirit inspiring his prophets with the knowledge of his will, and commissioning them to declare it; What hast thou to do to declare my statutes? — Having informed them what he would not reprove them for, Psalm 50:8, and why, Psalm 50:9-13, he now tells them for what he did reprove and condemn them, even for a vain and false profession of religion. That thou shouldest take my covenant in thy mouth — With what confidence darest thou make mention of my grace and favour in giving thee such a covenant and such statutes, pretending to embrace them, and to give up thyself to the observation of them? This concerned not only the instructers of the people, such as the scribes and Pharisees, at whom it prophetically pointed, but the hypocritical and formal Israelites in general, who professed to know God, but by works denied him. And it still concerns all those professors of the true religion, whose practice contradicts their profession, and in an especial manner those ministers of the gospel who, while they teach others, neglect to teach themselves. All such, according to the psalmist here, are guilty of a usurpation, and take unto themselves an honour to which they have no title, and from which therefore they shall soon be removed with shame and disgrace as intruders.50:16-23 Hypocrisy is wickedness, which God will judge. And it is too common, for those who declare the Lord's statutes to others, to live in disobedience to them themselves. This delusion arises from the abuse of God's long-suffering, and a wilful mistake of his character and the intention of his gospel. The sins of sinners will be fully proved on them in the judgment of the great day. The day is coming when God will set their sins in order, sins of childhood and youth, of riper age and old age, to their everlasting shame and terror. Let those hitherto forgetful of God, given up to wickedness, or in any way negligent of salvation, consider their urgent danger. The patience of the Lord is very great. It is the more wonderful, because sinners make such ill use of it; but if they turn not, they shall be made to see their error when it is too late. Those that forget God, forget themselves; and it will never be right with them till they consider. Man's chief end is to glorify God: whoso offers praise, glorifies him, and his spiritual sacrifices shall be accepted. We must praise God, sacrifice praise, put it into the hands of the Priest, our Lord Jesus, who is also the altar: we must be fervent in spirit, praising the Lord. Let us thankfully accept God's mercy, and endeavour to glorify him in word and deed.But unto the wicked God saith - This commences a second part of the subject. See the introduction. Thus far the psalm had reference to those who were merely external worshippers, or mere formalists, as showing that such could not be approved and accepted in the day of judgment; that spiritual religion - the offering of the "heart" - was necessary in order to acceptance with God. In this part of the psalm the same principles are applied to those who actually "violate" the law which they profess to receive as prescribing the rules of true religion, and which they profess to teach to others. The design of the psalm is not merely to reprove the mass of the people as mere formalists in religion, but especially to reprove the leaders and teachers of the people, who, under the form of religion, gave themselves up to a course of life wholly inconsistent with the true service of God. The address here, therefore, is to those who, while they professed to be teachers of religion, and to lead the devotions of others, gave themselves up to abandoned lives.

What hast thou to do - What right hast thou to do this? How can people, who lead such lives, consistently and properly do this? The idea is, that they who profess to declare the law of a holy God should be themselves holy; that they who profess to teach the principles and doctrines of true religion should themselves be examples of purity and holiness.

To declare my statutes - My laws. This evidently refers rather to the teaching of others than to the profession of their own faith. The language would be applicable to the priests under the Jewish system, who were expected not only to conduct the outward services of religion, but also to instruct the people; to explain the principles of religion; to be the guides and teachers of others. Compare Malachi 2:7. There is a striking resemblance between the language used in this part of the psalm Psa 50:16-20 and the language of the apostle Paul in Romans 2:17-23; and it would seem probable that the apostle in that passage had this portion of the psalm in his eye. See the notes at that passage.

Or that thou shouldest take my covenant in thy mouth - Either as professing faith in it, and a purpose to be governed by it - or, more probably, as explaining it to others. The ""covenant"" here is equivalent to the "law" of God, or the principles of his religion; and the idea is, that he who undertakes to explain that to others, should himself be a holy man. He can have no "right" to attempt to explain it, if he is otherwise; he cannot hope to be "able" to explain it, unless he himself sees and appreciates its truth and beauty. This is as true now of the Gospel as it was of the law. A wicked man can have no right to undertake the work of the Christian ministry, nor can he be able to explain to others what he himself does not understand.

16-20. the wicked—that is, the formalists, as now exposed, and who lead vicious lives (compare Ro 2:21, 23). They are unworthy to use even the words of God's law. Their hypocrisy and vice are exposed by illustrations from sins against the seventh, eighth, and ninth commandments.16 But unto the wicked God saith, What hast thou to do to declare my statutes, or that thou shouldest take my covenant in thy mouth?

17 Seeing thou hatest instruction, and castest my words behind thee.

18 When thou sawest a thief then thou consentedst with him, and hast been partaker with adulterers.

19 Thou givest thy mouth to evil, and thy tongue frameth deceit.

20 Thou sittest and speakest against thy brother; thou slanderest thine own mother's son.

21 These things hast thou done, and I kept silence; thou thoughtest that I was altogether such an one as thyself: but I will reprove thee, and set them in order before thine eyes.

Here the Lord turns to the manifestly wicked among his people; and such there were even in the highest places of his sanctuary. If moral formalists had been rebuked, how much more these immoral pretenders to fellowship with heaven? If the lack of heart spoiled the worship of the more decent and virtuous, how much more would violations of the law, committed with a high hand, corrupt the sacrifices of the wicked?

Psalm 50:16

"But unto the wicked God saith." To the breakers of the second table he now addresses himself; he had previously spoken to the neglecters of the first. "What hast thou to do to declare my statutes?" You violate openly my moral law, and yet are great sticklers for my ceremonial commands! What have you to do with them? What interest can you have in them? Do you dare to teach my law to others, and profane it yourselves? What impudence, what blasphemy is this! Even if you claim to be sons of Levi, what of that? Your wickedness disqualifies you, disinherits you, puts you out of the succession. It should silence you, and would if my people were as spiritual as I would have them, for they would refuse to hear you, and to pay you the portion of temporal things which is due to my true servants. You count up your holy days, you contend for rituals, you fight for externals, and yet the weightier matters of the law ye despise! Ye blind guides, ye strain out gnats and swallow camels; your hypocrisy is written on your foreheads and manifest to all. "Or that thou shouldest take my covenant in thy mouth." Ye talk of being in covenant with me, and yet trample my holiness beneath your feet as swine trample upon pearls; think ye that I can brook this? Your mouths are full of lying and slander, and yet ye mouth my words as if they were fit morsels for such as you! How horrible an evil it is, that to this day we see men explaining doctrines who despise precepts! They make grace a coverlet for sin, and even judge themselves to be sound in the faith, while they are rotten in life. We need the grace of the doctrines as much as the doctrines of grace, and without it an apostle is but a Judas, and a fair-spoken professor is an arrant enemy of the cross of Christ.

Psalm 50:17

"Seeing thou hatest instruction." Profane professors are often too wise to learn, too besotted with conceit to be taught of God. What a monstrosity that men should declare those statutes which with their hearts they do not know, and which in their lives they openly disavow! Woe unto the men who hate the instruction which they take upon themselves to give. "And castest my words behind thee." Despising them, throwing them away as worthless, putting them out of sight as obnoxious. Many boasters of the law did this practically; and in these last days there are pickers and choosers of God's words who cannot endure the practical part of Scripture; they are disgusted at duty, they abhor responsibility, they disembowel texts of their plain meanings, they wrest the Scriptures to their own destruction. It is an ill sign when a man dares not look a Scripture in the face, and an evidence of brazen impudence when he tries to make it mean something less condemnatory of his sins, and endeavours to prove it to be less sweeping in its demands. How powerful is the argument that such men have no right to take the covenant of God into their mouths, seeing that its spirit does not regulate their lives!

Psalm 50:18

"When thou sawest a thief, then thou consentedst with him." Moral honesty cannot be absent where true grace is present. Those who excuse others in trickery are guilty themselves; those who use others to do unjust actions for them are doubly so. If a man be ever so religious, if his own actions do not rebuke dishonesty, he is an accomplice with thieves. If we can acquiesce in anything which is not upright, we are not upright ourselves, and our religion is a lie. "And hast been partaker with adulterers." One by one the moral precepts are thus broken by the sinners in Zion. Under the cloak of piety, unclean livers conceal themselves. We may do this by smiling at unchaste jests, listening to indelicate expressions, and conniving at licentious behaviour in our presence; and if we thus act, how dare we preach, or lead public prayer, or wear the Christian name? See how the Lord lays righteousness to the plummet! How plainly all this declares that without holiness no man shall see the Lord! No amount of ceremonial or theological accuracy can cover dishonesty and fornication; these filthy things must be either purged from us by the blood of Jesus, or they will kindle a fire in God's anger which will burn even to the lowest hell.

Psalm 50:19


Unto the wicked, i.e. the same ungodly and hypocritical professors whom he calleth saints, Psalm 50:5, in regard of their profession, and here wicked in respect of their practice, and the truth of the thing. God saith: he told them what he would not reprove them for, Psalm 50:8, and why, Psalm 50:9,10, &c.; now he tells them for what he did reprove and condemn them, even for a vain and false profession of religion. With what confidence darest thou make mention of or boast of God’s grade and favour vouchsafed unto time, in giving thee such a covenant and statutes, pretending to embrace them, and to give up thyself to the observation of them? This concerns not only the teachers, (of whom some understand these words,) but all the Israelites in general; of whom he rather seems to speak. But unto the wicked God saith,.... By whom are meant, not openly profane sinners; but men under a profession of religion, and indeed who were teachers of others, as appears from the following expostulation with them: the Scribes, Pharisees, and doctors among the Jews, are designed; and so Kimchi interprets it of their wise men, who learnt and taught the law, but did not act according to it. It seems as if the preceding verses respected the truly godly among the Jews, who believed in Christ, and yet were zealous of the law; and retained legal sacrifices; as such there were, Acts 21:20; and that these words, and what follow, are spoken to hypocrites among them, who sat in Moses's chair, and said, and did not; were outwardly righteous before men, but inwardly full of wickedness, destitute of the grace of God and righteousness of Christ;

what hast thou to do to declare my statutes; the laws of God, which were given to the people of Israel; some of which were of a moral, others of a ceremonial, and others of a judicial nature; and there were persons appointed to teach and explain these to the people, as the priests and Levites: now some of these were abrogated, and not to be declared at all in the times this psalm refers to; and as for others, those persons were very improper to teach and urge the observance of them, when they themselves did not keep them; and especially it was wrong in them to declare them to the people, for such purposes as they did, namely, to obtain life and righteousness by them;

or that thou shouldest take my covenant in thy mouth? which is to be understood, not of the covenant of works made with Adam, and now broke; nor of the pure covenant of grace, as administered under the Gospel dispensation, of which Christ is the Mediator, and the Gospel a transcript, since both were rejected by these persons; but the covenant at Mount Sinai, which was a typical one; and being in some sense faulty, was now antiquated, and ought to have ceased; and therefore these men are blamed for taking it in their mouths, and urging it on the people: and besides, they had no true sight of and faith in the thing exhibited by it; and moreover were not steadfast, nor did they continue in it, like their fathers before them, Psalm 78:37, Hebrews 8:7.

But unto the wicked God saith, {m} What hast thou to do to declare my statutes, or that thou shouldest take my covenant in thy mouth?

(m) Why do you pretend to be of my people and talk of my covenant, seeing that you are a hypocrite?

16. What meanest thou by rehearsing my statutes, and by having taken (R.V. rightly, and that thou hast taken) my covenant in thy mouth? The people had pledged themselves to observe the conditions of the covenant as laid down in the ‘book of the covenant,’ of which the Decalogue (‘the tables of the covenant’) was the first and most important part (Exodus 24:7), and these men professed to recognise their duty as Israelites. Cp. Isaiah 29:13; Matthew 15:8.

16–21. In the preceding verses God has reproved the formalist:—the man who regarded the offering of sacrifice as the essence of religion. He now turns to address the wicked man:—the hypocrite, who repeated His commandments and professed allegiance to Him, while he deliberately set those commandments at defiance by his conduct. To him God adopts a sterner tone. The offences with which he is charged are breaches of the commandments of the second Table of the Decalogue, neglect of the simplest moral duties toward his neighbour. The general reproof in Psalm 50:16-17 is followed by specific charges of breaking the eighth, seventh, and ninth commandments, and the address concludes with a stern warning, Psalm 50:21. Comp. generally Hosea 4:1-2; Romans 2:17-24.Verses 16-21. - While even the more godly among the Israelites have been thus, to a certain extent, reproved (vers. 8-14), the psalmist now addresses to the ungodly, the open and wilful transgressors, a far sterner rebuke. They claim the privileges of God's covenanted servants (ver. 16), but perform none of the duties (vers. 17-20), thus bringing down upon themselves a terrible menace. Verse 16. - But unto the wicked God saith, What hast thou to do to declare my statutes, or that thou shouldest take my covenant in thy mouth? The wicked assumed that they were true Israelites. They were familiar with the words of God's statutes, and with the terms of the covenant. They claimed the right of enforcing them against others (Romans 2:18-20), while in their own persons they set them at nought (vers. 18-20). God declares that they have no right to assume to be teachers of others until they have taught themselves - they are unfit even to "take his covenant in their mouth." Exposition of the sacrificial Tra for the good of those whose holiness consists in outward works. The forms strengthened by ah, in Psalm 50:7, describe God's earnest desire to have Israel for willing hearers as being quite as strong as His desire to speak and to bear witness. העיד בּ, obtestari aliquem, to come forward as witness, either solemnly assuring, or, as here and in the Psalm of Asaph, Psalm 81:9, earnestly warning and punishing (cf. Arab. šahida with b, to bear witness against any one). On the Dagesh forte conjunctive in בּך, vid., Ges. ֗20, 2, a. He who is speaking has a right thus to stand face to face with Israel, for he is Elohim, the God of Israel - by which designation reference is made to the words אנכי יהוה אלהיך (Exodus 20:2), with which begins the Law as given from Sinai, and which here take the Elohimic form (whereas in Psalm 81:11 they remain unaltered) and are inverted in accordance with the context. As Psalm 50:8 states, it is not the material sacrifices, which Israel continually, without cessation, offers, that are the object of the censuring testimony. ועולתיך, even if it has Mugrash, as in Baer, is not on this account, according to the interpretation given by the accentuation, equivalent to ועל־עולותיך (cf. on the other hand Psalm 38:18); it is a simple assertory substantival clause: thy burnt-offerings are, without intermission, continually before Me. God will not dispute about sacrifices in their outward characteristics; for - so Psalm 50:9 go on to say-He does not need sacrifices for the sake of receiving from Israel what He does not otherwise possess. His is every wild beast (חיתו, as in the Asaph Psalm 79:2) of the forest, His the cattle בּהררי אלף, upon the mountains of a thousand, i.e., upon the thousand (and myriad) mountains (similar to מתי מספּר or מתי מעט), or: where they live by thousands (a similar combination to נבל עשׂור). Both explanations of the genitive are unsupported by any perfectly analogous instance so far as language is concerned; the former, however, is to be preferred on account of the singular, which is better suited to it. He knows every bird that makes its home on the mountains; ידע, as usually, of a knowledge which masters a subject, compasses it and makes it its own. Whatever moves about the fields if with Him, i.e., is within the range of His knowledge (cf. Job 27:11; Psalm 10:13), and therefore of His power; זיז (here and in the Asaph Psalm 80:14) from זאזא equals זעזע, to move to and fro, like טיט from טיטע, to swept out, cf. κινώπετον, κνώδαλον, from κινεῖν. But just as little as God requires sacrifices in order thereby to enrich Himself, is there any need on His part that might be satisfied by sacrifices, Psalm 50:12. If God should hunger, He would not stand in need of man's help in order to satisfy Himself; but He is never hungry, for He is the Being raised above all carnal wants. Just on this account, what God requires is not by any means the outward worship of sacrifice, but a spiritual offering, the worship of the heart, Psalm 50:14. Instead of the שׁלמים, and more particularly זבח תּודה, Leviticus 7:11-15, and שׁלמי נדר, Leviticus 7:16 (under the generic idea of which are also included, strictly speaking, vowed thank-offerings), God desires the thanksgiving of the heart and the performance of that which has been vowed in respect of our moral relationship to Himself and to men; and instead of the עולה in its manifold forms of devotion, the prayer of the heart, which shall not remain unanswered, so that in the round of this λογικὴ λατρεία everything proceeds from and ends in εὐχαριστία. It is not the sacrifices offered in a becoming spirit that are contrasted with those offered without the heart (as, e.g., Sir. 32 [35]:1-9), but the outward sacrifice appears on the whole to be rejected in comparison with the spiritual sacrifice. This entire turning away from the outward form of the legal ceremonial is, in the Old Testament, already a predictive turning towards that worship of God in spirit and in truth which the new covenant makes alone of avail, after the forms of the Law have served as swaddling clothes to the New Testament life which was coming into being in the old covenant. This "becoming" begins even in the Tra itself, especially in Deuteronomy. Our Psalm, like the Chokma (Proverbs 21:3), and prophecy in the succeeding age (cf. Hosea 6:6; Micah 6:6-8; Isaiah 1:11-15, and other passages), stands upon the standpoint of this concluding book of the Tra, which traces back all the requirements of the Law to the fundamental command of love.
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