Verses 1-6—In this Psalm, Asaph provides the reader with a strong visual image—God is above all. He directs the movements of the earth and the sun. Zion, a place of beauty and later referred to as a refuge for God’s people, is God’s dwelling place and the location from which He “will shine forth,” from which salvation will come. “A fire will devour before Him, and it will be very tempestuous around Him.” Clearly, when the Lord comes there will be a reckoning, to which the Apostle Paul later refers to. Fire will devour and burn away those things which are temporary, leaving pure and refined those things which are eternal.
Finally, one day the Lord will gather His saints together with Him, “those who have made a covenant with Me by sacrifice.” Obedience to the Lord was demonstrated by the sacrifice of animals for sin in the Old Testament. But clearly this sets the stage for Christ, the ultimate sacrifice. It is through Him that we as Christians have established our “covenant by sacrifice”, and He is our advocate before God the Judge.
Verses 7-16—What is the purpose of sacrifices? God is not so much concerned about whether they do it or not. Is He going to take animals from their stock when every animal in the fields belongs to Him? No, that’s not the reasoning behind it. God doesn’t need the sacrifices of animals. He doesn’t require our help, nor does He need to be fed. No; instead, the sacrifices must come from the heart, a heart of thanksgiving. It is a demonstration of obedience and love—it is about the heart and the actions that flow from it. “Offer thanksgiving, and pay your vows to the Most High,” Asaph says. These are what God is looking for. This misconception about sacrifice would haunt Israel throughout their history. There are many instances of sacrifice done out of tradition and lip service rather than out of a heart of true love for Him. That’s what God wants, though, a selfless relationship with us. He has already demonstrated His selflessness through Christ; now we need to demonstrate ours by doing the things that please Him.
Verses 16-23—The wicked have no right to share in the heritage of the Lord. In the most basic sense, they are clearly hypocrites, for how can they declare His law and attempt to partake in His covenant when they refuse to fulfill its requirements? If they don’t care for what the law says, how can they enjoy its benefits? Rather, they have joined in the wickedness of others and have conspired against the Lord. They have done everything contrary to what He has asked and required of them. The Lord clearly takes issue especially with the tongue. What they speak is nothing but evil against others; they slander one another, backbite and speak hatred. They thought they could get away with it, because up until then God had not rebuked them for it, waiting in His mercy for them to come to repentance. And note verse 21, in which God states their misconception: “You thought that I was altogether like you.” What a powerful statement! They thought they could get away with it, that the Lord wouldn’t notice or care. They really didn’t know Him, because they likened Him as unto themselves. They did not understand His character, for in reality He will rebuke them and judge them, setting their sins and wickedness before their eyes.
And finally, notice God’s final word to them, to those “who forget God.” He calls them to consider His mercy, that those who offer praise glorify Him, and those who walk uprightly before Him will be shown His great salvation. If they refuse this, then they are warned of His coming wrath and judgment, for those who turn from Him will He tear into pieces and there will be nothing left to deliver. This really demonstrates that men are without excuse. God has given them every opportunity, every last chance to get things right with Him; yet they still refuse it. They refuse to consider walking in His way, keep His commands, living for Him. Yet, it is easier for the flesh man to forget God than to hear His voice and respond; it is easier to live by the flesh than by the Spirit. But for those who do consider His mercy, glorifies and lives for Him, He will show His salvation.