Psalms 50-55
June 13th

Produced by The Listening for God Ministry
Copyright 2016

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Please refer to one or more Bible versions of your choice to read this section. We recommend that you read at least two versions for added understanding. For your convenience, we have provided six links below, each of which takes you directly to today's chapters in a specific version:

Key Verse

Have mercy upon me, O God, according to thy lovingkindness: according unto the multitude of thy tender mercies blot out my transgressions.

Wash me throughly from mine iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin.

- Psalm 51:1-2 (KJV)

Summary of Chapters

Collectively this group of Psalms recognizes that no one person is perfectly free from sin. Some of the people depicted in this set of Psalms pretend to be perfect but are not, some confess with a contrite heart, one boasts of evil, another dismisses God, and others betray their friend. The first is assumed to have been written by Asaph, who was a Levite priest during the reign of King David. The remaining ones are attributed to King David, second king of Israel, indicating that he was the author or the subject of an anonymous author.

In Psalm 50, God appears before the Israelite people in order to rebuke them. He arrives in his glory, preceded by fire and surrounded by tempest. He convicts one group of the people for making sacrifices when their hearts are not in it, and addresses another for speaking about the law but not following it. Eugene Peterson's translation of this Psalm into contemporary language and everyday slang gives us a better understanding of the message for this second group:

    What are you up to, quoting my laws,
            talking like we are good friends?
        You never answer the door when I call;
            you treat my words like garbage.
        If you find a thief, you make him your buddy;
            adulterers are your friends of choice.
        Your mouth drools filth;
            lying is a serious art form with you.
        You stab your own brother in the back,
            rip off your little sister.
        I kept a quiet patience while you did these things;
            you thought I went along with your game.
        I'm calling you on the carpet, now,
            laying your wickedness out in plain sight.

    - Psalm 50:16-21 (MSG)

Psalm 51 is a heartfelt petition for forgiveness, generally assumed to have been written by King David after the prophet Nathan confronted him regarding his adulterous affair with Bathsheeba. The author recognizes that ultimately the sin is against God: "Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight (Ps 51:13 - NIV)." The psalmist asks for restoration and in return commits to teach other transgressors. He also offers to make appropriate sacrifices.

The next four Psalms speak of evil committed by others. Psalm 52 may have been written by David when Doeg the Edomite revealed his location to Saul. Saul had been hunting David in a jealous rage, as we had read in earlier books. David taunts Doeg and says that God will punish him for his wickedness. The author contrasts the expected downfall of this evil man with his own righteousness:

    God shall likewise destroy thee for ever, he shall take thee away, and pluck thee out of thy dwelling place, and root thee out of the land of the living. Selah.

    - Psalm 52:3 (KJV)

    But I am like a green olive tree in the house of God: I trust in the mercy of God for ever and ever.

    I will praise thee for ever, because thou hast done it: and I will wait on thy name; for it is good before thy saints.

    - Psalm 53:8-9 (KJV)

The 53rd Psalm reiterates the verses from Psalm 14, with some slight changes. It describes the foolish man who denies the existence of God and laments the lack of faith among the people: "Everyone has turned away, all have become corrupt; there is no one who does good, not even one (Ps 53:3 - NIV)." But it concludes with a call for restoration and salvation.

Psalm 54 is one of the shortest in the book. In it the author asks for protection from strangers (enemies) who are attacking him, and commits to make freewill sacrifices to the LORD. The 55th Psalm is a heart-breaking poem, assumed also to be from David. It describes the betrayal of a friend, and ends with the declaration that the LORD will bring down the wicked, thus the Psalmist asserts his trust in the LORD.

Reflection and Application

The image of God coming to speak to us and convict us of our actions, as described in Psalm 50 seems like something that only occurred in ancient Biblical times. However, God does continue to communicate with us in the 21st century A.D. We may be convicted by a loyal friend, speaking on God's behalf, as Nathan did to David, or we may hear God directly. He may have been silent for a while, but not forever. When he speaks to you he will use language that you understand - perhaps something like what is shown below:

    "Time's up for playing fast and
            loose with me.
        I'm ready to pass sentence,
            and there's no help in sight!
        It's the praising life that honors me.
            As soon as you set your foot on the Way,
        I'll show you my salvation."

    - Psalm 50:22-23 (MSG)

We can find solace in Psalm 51 if we stand accused of un-confessed sins and are afraid to approach God either because of the depth of our sins or because we don't know what to say. The Biblical commentator Derek Kindner regards this Psalm as the greatest of the seven "Penitential Psalms(1)." The other Penitential Psalms are 6, 32, 38, 102, 130, and 143.

Psalm 51, which is presumed to be part of David's confession after being confronted by Nathan for his murderous and adulterous actions, stands out for its sincerity and call to action. We need to be equally sincere and trust that God wants to forgive us for whatever we have done.

We are perpetually surrounded by non-believers, including those who delight in evil (Psalm 52), those who dismiss God (Psalm 53), those who oppress us (Psalm 54), and perhaps worst of all, those who we thought were loyal and betray us for some inconceivable earthly gain (Psalm 55). In all cases we must trust that God understands and will deliver justice in his own way. Jesus encountered all of these types and even was betrayed and abandoned, so we can trust that he gets it.

Our role, if we choose to accept it, is to stay loyal to God, rooted like the olive tree that sustains for thousands of years. How do we stay rooted? One way is to pray continually. In Psalm 55:17, the author testifies that "Evening, morning and noon I cry out in distress, and he hears my voice." Jesus goes one step further, commanding us to "always pray and not give up (Luke 18:1 - NIV)."

We must also never give up speaking of God's goodness as a counterweight to the evil forces and as a response to those who claim God is irrelevant.

Questions and Prayers for Further Reflection

    Related Questions
    1. What is one of your best accomplishments that required a lot of persistence?
    2. What unforgiven sins do we need to approach God with today?
    3. What would you imagine that God would say if he spoke to you today?

    Recommended Prayer
    Father in Heaven, we know you see our actions and don't hesitate to call us out on the carpet for our wrong-doing. Forgive us for being wayward and help us to confess and turn back towards you.

    Suggested Prayer Concerns
    Those who have been betrayed by close friends


    (1) Kidner, Derek, Psalms 1-72, A commentary, Inter-Varsity Press, Downers Grove, IL, 1975. p.189

    Looking Ahead

    Tomorrow's reading: Psalms 56-62 (In God We Trust)

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