Psalm 50 walks some familiar territory for those who like to critique the followers of God. God chastises Israel for not being true to their covenant with Him, even though they are very faithful in making their sacrifices. Some of us might think that the point is that animal sacrifice is abhorrent to God and, you know, fair point. But that’s not what the psalm is trying to teach us. Animal sacrifices were in part about the primal power of blood, but really they were about giving back to God a portion of your wealth in an agrarian economy. A better paraphrase for us would be God saying, “Do you think I want the money you give to church, or have a savings account that needs your cash?”
Stick around churches long enough and you’ll inevitably hear someone say, a little smugly, that they just know that God doesn’t care about how much we give or how well-maintained our buildings are, or what kind of stained-glass windows or vestments or organ or…you get the picture.
And, you know, fair point. But Psalm 50 doesn’t condemn making gifts or sacrifices to God or the church. In fact, pretty much all the Bible’s passages that critique making sacrifices or prayers or worship or ritual aren’t opposed to those things. The point is not that God is indifferent to our offerings. The point is that God knows when you’re coming from a place of love, and when you’re trying to flatter, or even worse, bribe your heavenly Father.
Motives matter, and God knows our hearts even better than we do.