Worship beats sacrifice
Here comes God, and talking
For the music leader. A psalm of Asaph.1 He speaks as LORD and God,
The greatest of the great.
He speaks to people everywhere,
From sunrise to sunset.
2 God himself lights up Jerusalem,
The city perfectly beautiful.
3 Here comes God, and he’s talking.
Fire clears a path before him.
Storms rage around him.
4 He demands the attention of heaven.
He summons the people of earth.
It’s time to judge and settle the scores.
5 “Gather the people devoted to me.
The ones with contract obligations,
Signed in the blood of sacrifice.”
6 The sky erupts in a declaration
Of the goodness of our God.
For he is God and he is judge.
God testifies against Israel7 “Listen to me, dear people of mine.
I’m testifying against you, Israel.
I’m not simply God. I’m your God.
8 I don’t have a problem with your sacrifices.
You’re faithfully burning animal sacrifices.
9 But I’m not taking any more of your bull.
You can keep your goats, too.
10 Every animal in the woods is already mine.
I own the cattle on a thousand hills.
11 I know every bird in those hills
I own every creature in the fields.
12 If I got hungry,
I’ll be doggone if I would tell you.
Why bother? I own the world
And everything in it.
13 Do I look hungry?
Do I need another beef barbecue?
Do I look thirsty?
Do I need a tall glass of billy-goat blood?
14 Do this instead.
Offer your God a sacrifice of thanks
And keep the promises you made to him.
15 Call me when trouble comes.
I’ll come to your rescue.
You can thank me then.
God gets in the face of bad folks16 God says to evil people,
“Who do you think you are
Reciting my laws
And talking about my covenant agreement?
17 You hate the discipline in my laws.
You ignore the requirements in the covenant.
18 When you see someone stealing something,
You want in on it.
To you, adultery is no big deal.
19 You say any rotten thing that comes into your head.
You spit it out in a spray of lies.
20 You’ll even badmouth your own brother.
You trash-talk your own mother’s son.
21 Should I keep quiet while you act like this?
Do you think I’m just like you?
Gimme a break.
I’ll get in your face about what you’ve done.
22 Think about what I’ve just said,
Those of you who ignore God.
Otherwise, I’ll tear you to pieces
And no one will save your sorry self.
23 For those who honor me
By sacrificing an offering of thanks,
And by doing what’s right in life,
I, God, will show them what salvation looks like.
The subtitle wasn’t part of the original psalm. Like Korah, Asaph led a musical family in the tribe of Levi, one of the 12 tribes that made up the original nation of Israel. Levite families worked as priests and worship leaders and assistants for the Jewish nation. Asaph was a leader of worship music during the time of King David (1 Chronicles 16:5). His family carried on the musical tradition, showing up five centuries later, when a Jewish man named Nehemiah, in the 500s BC, helps rebuild Jerusalem after Babylonian invaders from what is now Iraq had leveled Jerusalem in 586 BC.
Literally “Zion,” which is a term of endearment, and another name for Jerusalem. It’s a bit like “The Big Apple” for New York City, “The City of Love” for Paris, and “Sin City” for Las Vegas, though some wouldn’t call that a term of endearment.
The word in the original language of Hebrew is selah. Bible scholars haven’t figured out what it means yet, so all we can do is guess. It could mean “pause for effect,” “instrumental interlude,” or “choir singing ‘Amen.’” We’re offering a guess instead of selah. Though selah might be the better way to go because it’s always correct, it’s also always incomprehensible. “Instruments” has a good chance of being wrong, but at least we convey the idea that the Hebrew word behind it probably has something to do with enhancing the song.
God is telling his people, at least in this moment, to stop giving the burnt offering animal sacrifices and to offer only sacrifices of thankfulness. Burnt offering were entirely consumed in the fire. Thanksgiving offerings were partially eaten by the worshipper, at a meal with family and friends. So, God doesn’t want the burnt offerings of bulls, goats and sheep. He’s also going to stop tolerating sinful behavior. He’s going to confront sinful people with their sin and hold them accountable.
God is saying that, at the moment, he doesn’t want burnt offerings, which consume the entire animal. He’s telling the people to give a thank offering, which the worshiper and others eat partially, as a meal. People often gave this offering as part of a vow they made to God (Leviticus 7:12-15). This offering, some scholars say, was the essence of the sacrificial system because it provided a way to worship God and to thank him in a joyful way.
God entered into an agreement—often called a covenant or a contract—with the Jewish people. He promised to protect them and bless them with success in life. In return the Jewish people were to obey the laws Moses gave them. The Book of Deuteronomy is a summary of those laws and the rituals they were to observe. For one, they were to sacrifice animals to atone for their sins and to thank God for his kindness. Deuteronomy 28 lays out the rewards the Jewish people get for honoring their part of the agreement and the penalties for breach of contract, which meant breaking the laws. Observant Jews today still take these laws and rituals seriously.
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