Here Comes the Judge
In an opinion piece published in the most recent Epoch Times, Roger L. Simon commented on the Supreme Court's decision to stop the president’s student loan forgiveness proposal. I don’t want to touch on that issue at all but was interested in a term he defined. And I quote, “But beyond all this is the issue known in economics as ‘moral hazard’ – a phrase that has been variously defined but basically, according to The Economic Times, ‘is a situation in which one party gets involved in a risky event knowing that it is protected against risk and the other part will incur the cost.’”
A “moral hazard.” As I am not an economist, that term was new to me. It struck me as one way to define the times in which we live. The willingness to risk other people’s livelihoods or even their lives without any cost to self smacks of cowardice and selfishness. Calling it a “moral hazard” may be an understatement.
What we’re seeing in our world today is the effects of having no god other than self. When you are your own god, the center of your own universe, you submit to no higher or broader authority. Whether or not you keep the rules and obey the laws becomes a matter of convenience. When we accept the false notion that reality can be defined by each individual, we permit all kinds of bad behavior.
This happens because we recognize no judge, will allow no one to condemn us and are utterly convinced we will not be called to account for our actions. It’s all a mistake, but that last one is the most chilling error.
The Bible is clear that there will be an accounting for the way we have chosen to live our lives. That there will be a Judgment Day, with God being our Judge. We may get away with evil deeds, bad decisions, and sinful attitudes in this life, but there will be consequences before we enter into the next life. Those who create moral hazards and commit any other kind of sin will be held responsible for their decisions.
Scripture tells us that the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom (Proverbs 9:10). The reverse is also true: an absence of the fear of God is the beginning of stupidity. We are recklessly wasting our lives if we think we’re getting away with defying God. This may be one of the most neglected truths in the world today.
Stay on God’s way to prepare for Judgment Day.
1. God will judge all people. (1-3, 6)
God alone is qualified to be the Judge of all humanity. He is the MIGHTY ONE. (1) This is the term that refers to God as the Commander of Heaven’s Army, the angelic creatures. He alone is powerful enough to render perfect justice.
He has SUMMONED ALL HUMANITY. (1) Although this is in the past tense, I believe it refers to an event in our future: Judgment Day (compare it to Revelation 20). The reference to the sun rising and sun setting is simply a poetic device to encompass the entire Earth.
He SHINES IN GLORIOUS RADIANCE. (2) In the Bible, God’s glory is physically manifest in dazzling light.
God IS NOT SILENT; He is not apathetic or complacent. (3) Compare this to 2 Peter 3:9, where Peter teaches that God is not SLOW, but instead He is giving people time to repent. Just the opposite of SILENT, God’s path through history is “noisy.” He is active in human lives and will bring this creation to a dramatic end through a devouring FIRE and a raging STORM. The FIRE will consume the WICKED, reducing them to ash, and the STORM will blow away the remains. This is a picture of utter destruction, proving God will not overlook sin; all unbelieving, unrepentant sinners will suffer God’s wrath.
All creation witnesses to His justice. (4+6) In the Bible, inanimate parts of creation are frequently called upon to “witness” the dealings of God with His people. They give evidence against the defendants, supporting the truthful and eternal nature of God’s justice.
2. God will judge His people. (4-5, 7-15)
At this point, God’s people were the nation of Israel and Gentile converts. That’s who is meant by verse four’s reference to HIS PEOPLE. God’s people are more precisely identified in verse five as His FAITHFUL PEOPLE, those who keep His covenant inwardly and outwardly.
In verses seven through thirteen, God judged their sacrifices as worthy, but clarified that they were for their sake, not His. He didn’t need them to feed Him; God is entirely self-sufficient (we only pretend we are). A problem with a legalistic, sacrificial system (like the Old Testament) is that one’s relationship with God can become superficial or superstitious.
In this case, God’s people were assuming if they gave the sacrifices the Law required, that was all that was needed to placate God, to make Him “happy.” Like the pagan peoples around them, they thought of their sacrifices as buying God’s indulgence.
However, the Law was never meant to be merely a physical/financial transaction. The physical sacrifice of blood was a physical symbol of their emotional and spiritual remorse over sin and a desire to get right with God. It was an outward act that symbolized an inward state of faithful devotion to God.
That’s why the psalm goes to such lengths to inform the people that God does not need their sacrifices. He can take care of Himself and exists entirely independently of their sacrifices. He never NEEDED their sacrifices, what He WANTED was their hearts. God called upon them to keep the Covenant with THANKFULNESS as a sacrifice. (14)
One benefit of covenant-keeping is prayer. In this psalm, prayer was implied when God promised to RESCUE them in times of TROUBLE. (15) This verse starts with the word THEN, as if to say, “Since I don’t need you to provide me with the flesh of animals to survive, give me the THANKFULNESS I really desire as you make sacrifices and demonstrate your love for me by obeying me.”
In this world troubles come to everyone. When they come to God’s people, we are to CALL ON Him in prayer. He will RESCUE us. We, in gratitude, will give Him GLORY. That is, in a nutshell, how the life of faith works.
3. God will judge the wicked. (16-22)
People make themselves God’s enemies because of their sin. The psalmist listed a few sins to give us an idea of the behaviors that alienate us from God.
The sin of hypocrisy. (16) Hypocrites are the subject of this psalm. This warning is for them. Hypocrisy involves 2 deceptions:
- Sincere hypocrites have deceived themselves. They mistakenly think legalism and superstition can satisfy God. These are the people addressed in vs. 7-15. Self-deception is the worst kind of deception as it blinds us to our need to repent.
- Insincere hypocrites know what God wants but they only put on a show of godly behavior to fool others. Deceiving others is a sin and will be completely exposed on Judgment Day. These people are addressed in vs. 16-22.
The sin of rejecting God. (17) God said, YOU REFUSE MY DISCIPLINE. Sometimes the troubles we experience are God’s way of disciplining us, teaching us to repent and change course, going back to Him. Stubbornly sticking to our sinful ways and refusing to repent reveals our claims to faith to be false.
He also described their rejection as treating His WORDS LIKE TRASH. The first decision everyone needs to make regarding faith is to believe the Bible is true. If the word of God is not the ultimate authority, the absolute truth by which all lives are to be lived, then that person is not a believer. Our nation is failing morally, and the Church is failing morally because people choose to make self the ultimate authority, not the Bible.
The sin of keeping bad company. (18) There are two reliable ways to assess a person’s character (especially your own). One, by knowing what kind of people he chooses to befriend. In 1 Corinthians 15:33, the Apostle Paul, possibly quoting a proverb familiar in his time, wrote, “Bad company corrupts good character.” Two, by knowing what kind of people choose to be his enemies. Having bad people criticize you for doing good is the sincerest testimony to a person’s character.
The sins of the tongue. (19-20) There are many forms of verbal sin. The psalmist gives two examples: lying and slander. Notice these are both relationship-breakers, introducing division by falsehood and inappropriate use of the truth.
They mistook God’s silence for apathy. (21) They thought they’d gotten away with it. This relates back to our earlier comment on God’s “silence.”
But Judgment Day remains a fixed point and justice will be done. (21) All hypocrisy will be exposed to all people and God’s perfect justice will be rendered, equalizing every evil and injustice this world has ever seen. Here in the Old Testament, grace triumphs over judgment and the unrepentant are given another chance to repent and avoid God’s wrath. (22)
4. Only God’s path leads to salvation. (23)
Thankfulness is a sacrifice honors God. (14+23) Thankfulness is an example of the inner life rightly devoted to God. It is not the only attitude of true faith, but it will be unerringly present in the person who truly believes.
Faithfulness to His path is the way to salvation. (23) Jesus said, “If you love me, you will obey my commands (John 14:15).” In this, He is in agreement with the Old Covenant. Theologically speaking, Psalm 50 and Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) are the two points where the two covenants are closest together. They agree that outer moral actions and inner spiritual attitudes will be the same in a person with genuine, saving faith.
Stay on God’s way to prepare for Judgment Day.
In November 2022, Shelby Abbot offered some constructive ways to get ourselves off the throne of our lives and put God there. He published “Four Ways to Avoid the Catastrophe of Self-Appointed Authority” on the website “The Gospel Coalition.
1. Stop avoiding the challenge of the church.
“Our power to choose isn’t all bad. There’s a lot of rotten theology and false teaching out there to ignore. But if I’m the only one in charge of my spiritual input, and I’m not committed to a real-life church community, my Christian life will become little more than a hobby I engage with when I’m comfortable doing so.”
2. Recognize the limits of your perspective.
“In an individualistic culture, self-directed spirituality may sound ideal, but we must all come to grips with the countercultural reality that the Christian life is not about us. It’s about Jesus, not complete independence to do whatever I want. When I have total control over my Google-search church, it gives me an autonomy I may desire but was never designed to handle.”
3. Pursue loving pastoral authority.
“When I’m with people who have opposing viewpoints, I’m reminded I must be quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger (James 1:19). This lesson is never more real to me than when I’m interacting with my pastors. Those men have lovingly challenged me to walk closer with Jesus and give my life for the sake of the gospel until it hurts. We all need pastoral authorities who love us enough to challenge us and raise the bar.”
4. Pursue humility and maturity.
“Mature believers are humble enough to know an assessment from others can make them stronger, wiser, and godlier. To do so, I must recognize that pride is a thief of maturity. It justifies sinful behavior and inhibits deep-rooted growth.”
Roger L. Simon, “The Supreme Court Saves a Republic on the Edge of Extinction,” The Epoch Times, July 5-11, 2023, p. A13.
John W. Baigent, One-Volume Illustrated Edition of the Zondervan Bible Commentary, The Psalms, 2008, p. 572.
C. F. Keil and F. Delitzsch, Commentary on the Old Testament, Vol. 5, Psalms, 1982, pp. 120-132.
Shelby Abbot, “Four Ways to Avoid the Catastrophe of Self-Appointed Authority,” retrieved from https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/avoid-self-appointed-authority/ on 14 July 2023.