Psalm 50:10 – “For every beast of the forest is mine, the cattle on a thousand hills.”
I’m a Midwest guy. I grew up in Indiana and my wife and I have spent most of our married life in ministries in Kentucky, Illinois, and Missouri. During that time, we have driven thousands of miles in these states for ministry obligations, weekend getaways, and family get-togethers. We know Interstates 55, 74, 65, and 44 like the backs of our hands. Sara can pretty much tell you every restaurant, gas station and hotel and the exit number where each is located. Me? Not so much. I usually just ride along as she drives, working on a sermon or writing this chapter, or answering emails.
But there is one thing I always seem to notice—cows grazing in the acres of fields that line the highways throughout the Midwest. My wife can attest to the fact that whenever I see a bunch of cattle grazing on a random hillside, I quote today’s verse. “Look Sara,” I say as she smiles in anticipation, “those cows belong to God; Psalm 50:10, ‘the cattle on a thousand hills are mine.’” I don’t know why, but this verse is one of my favorites in the in the whole Bible. Maybe it’s because I’m a city boy and cows still fascinate me, or maybe I’m continually amazed by the grandeur of our God. Either way, when we consider the theme of the week, we must conclude that money is no obstacle to the ruler of the universe.
In this Old Testament Psalm (Psalm 50), we find words that would have been used in an ancient courtroom. Words like “speaks and summons” in verse one, and “calls” in verse four indicate an invitation to take the stand. Further, the word “judge” in verses four and six tell us that one party is making a “charge” (v. 21) against another. Finally, the word “testify” in verse seven lets us know that there is a witness. The frightening thing about this legal scene is that God is the witness and judge who is calling his people to the stand to defend the charge he has against them. And the verdict?
The verdict is that although “your burnt offerings are continually before me (v. 8), I will not accept a bull from your house or goats from your folds” (v. 9). But, why God? Don’t you want us to give you animal sacrifices? Surprisingly, the answer is “no.” Here, God reminds us of just how much he truly owns. He says that he doesn’t need the bulls and goats, “For every beast of the forest is mine” (v. 10). “I know all the birds and I see all that moves on the ground” (v. 11). In other words, God is telling us that he has everything. He owns it all. He can take it anytime he wants. I love the declaration our God makes in Psalm 50:12, “If I were hungry, I would not tell you, for the world and it’s fullness are MINE.”
This leads to the age-old question, “What do you give someone who has everything?” We might ask this about our parents when we are kids, of a spouse when we get older, or of wealthy friends. There are just some people who are hard to give gifts to because they don’t NEED anything. This is especially true of “The Mighty One, God the Lord” (v. 1). What do you give to the God who made it all, controls it all, keeps it all, and can take it all anytime he wants? There is only one thing you can give someone who has everything—everything you’ve got.
The issue with the people on trial in Psalm 50 was that they were giving God animal sacrifices and they thought that these were adequate payment to God and would make him happy. But God doesn’t need more animals. What the Lord desires is the heart behind the sacrifice. Sacrifices to God in the Old Testament were designed to be an outward picture of a heart that was completely given over to God. So, when God saw sacrifices being offered but knew that the hearts of those offering them were not devoted to him, he called them to the stand. “I don’t want your animals,” God declared in judgment, “I want your heart.” And it’s the same today. God really doesn’t want your money. He doesn’t need your wealth. He doesn’t do fund drives. Everything—all of it—is his and his for the taking, anytime he pleases. And yet he still wants us to give him something; he wants us.
This happens in two ways. First, God wants our thanksgiving. The sacrifice that should accompany any gift to God, whether it’s a bull at the temple or a check in the offering at church, is thanksgiving. “Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving” (v. 14). God states his case and says, “The one who offers thanksgiving as his sacrifice glorifies me” (v. 23). When we give to God, we offer whatever it is as a way of saying “thank you.” We can never repay God. We can never impress him with the size of our gifts. But we can acknowledge him with grateful hearts in the gifts we bring. If we are thankful when we give, then and only then, does a bull or offering become valuable to God.
Second, God desires that we regularly make sacrifices to him as a sign of our agreement with him. The Bible word is “covenant” and it is always a sacred agreement between two parties. In this case, God is in a covenant with his “faithful ones…by sacrifice” (v. 5). This is an important understanding of our relationship with Jesus and why we give. A covenant always involves God and someone he chooses. It’s not a covenant if God gives to us and we don’t give back to him. It’s not a covenant if we give to him and he doesn’t reciprocate. This means that our giving indicates that we are in relationship with God. Again, God doesn’t NEED our sacrifices, but he desires them from us because they indicate our part in the relationship with him.
God recalls for his Old Testament people that this covenant was made by sacrifice. We’re not sure exactly which special occasion God was referencing. It could be their deliverance from death at the Passover when a lamb was sacrificed to seal the agreement. He may have been reminding them of any number of ceremonial sacrifices made with the people of Israel through Abraham, Moses, David, Joshua, and others. Whatever sacrifice God is pointing back to, it ultimately points forward to the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross for the New Testament people of God. Why do we give? We give because Christ signed a covenant to save us from our sins. He signed it with his blood. The right thing (and always from a heart of gratitude) is to give him all we can in return.
As we’ve come to the end of our first week of study we have reflected on the riches, treasures, grace, and giving of our God. Every Saturday throughout this study, we will conclude our week of “counting the cost” by considering, acknowledging, reflecting, and meditating on the eternal wealth of our Heavenly Father. So take a few minutes at the end of this week’s “obstacle” studies to consider the cost of following Christ with these questions. As you recognize God’s greatness, how much do you really value being in relationship with him? In light of his incomparable worth, how much would you give to follow? As you grasp his incredible generosity, how generous should you be? Think and pray about your answers to these questions. Above all, pray for strength so that the wealth God has given you does not become the obstacle that stands in the way of your relationship with him.