You thought that I was one just like yourself (Psalm 50)

Psalm 50 opens with an announcement of coming of God to call the people of the covenant to account. On the day of judgment God shines forth and “does not keep silent” but speaks forth.

The reader of this psalm should remember the nonsilence of the heavenly Judge with some trepidation on arrival at verse 21, which is in my estimation one of the most arresting and chilling lines in all of Scripture:

“These things you have done and I have been silent; you thought that I was one just like yourself.”

The silence of God, leaving space for my self-deceiving self-justification to run its course, is not the unfair silence of one who has not spoken and then springs a trap later by announcing some new requirement. It is the silence of one who has spoken quite clearly and expects me to remember and obey during his temporary absence, which is not even real absence but only already the failure of my own attention.

The objects of God’s judgment in the psalm—aka the wicked—are not the targets chosen by God’s people as recipients of their own resentment. The objects of God’s wrath here are not those who never undertook to obey. The objects of God’s wrath are his own people, those who have made a formal, binding commitment to follow God and God’s instruction. These are the people who regularly recite Scripture but then also consort with the thief and adulterer and participate in his slander and ridicule against their own kin.

This merits meditation: for me, here and now, who is the thief? who is the adulterer? what is the slander? who are my kin?

God promises to reject the religious performances of the perfidious “faithful ones,” verbal and ritual (Protestant and Catholic?), tear them apart, and devour them with fire.

I do not take the fact that I find this warning chilling as assurance that I am in no danger from it; but I reckon that many Christians who do not find it chilling—who apply it easily and without qualms only to others—may be in dire danger from it.

The way to safety? First step: thanksgiving (v. 23)! (Did we see that coming?) And then: “go the right way.”

Here is the entire Psalm in the NRSV:

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