If you’re reading the psalms consecutively, after being confronted with the inescapable fact of your sin in Psalm 50, you turn the page, and your heart is prepared to pray Psalm 51—David’s famous psalm of repentance. In praying Psalm 51, you realize you bring nothing to the table but your sin, dependence, and need. After being shown in the previous psalm that you’re either trying and getting tired or just tired of trying, you’re ready to receive.
One of the things I love about the Psalms is the intentionality of their arrangement. The ordering of the psalms is purposeful. Unfortunately, many people will simply grab a psalm here or there, assuming they are disjointed poems. However, like the rest of the biblical books, they are arranged this way for a reason.
For example, let’s consider Psalm 50 and Psalm 51.
Psalm 50 is a psalm about God’s justice and our sinfulness, and there are three primary parties described: God (vv.1-6), his people (vv.7-15), and the wicked (vv.16-21).
God is the mighty one (v.1), a great tempest and devouring fire (v.3) who is declared righteous by the heavens (v.6). As the only one righteous, God is the only one able to judge justly.
The other two parties are distinctly different but can be dealt with together under the heading of ‘sinner.’ In this way, David beautifully and holistically shows that no one can find themselves excluded from God’s just rebuke.
As God speaks to his people (v.7ff), his charge isn’t that they’ve not been obedient law-keepers (v.8), it’s that they’re trying to avoid him with their obedience. They know they owe God something, but they’re trying to pay him back with money from his own wallet (vv.9-13). Instead, what he desires is their gratitude (v.14a).
If they only offer sacrifices from a place of duty and not delight, then they’re missing the point. Everything is God’s already. He doesn’t need their stuff; he wants their hearts. And his command for them to offer sacrifices of thanksgiving shows they’ve been attempting to buy him off by only going through the motions. Therefore, it’s God’s positive assertion that his people will be delivered when they sacrifice to him from the heart (vv.14-15) that shows us there is no salvation in with God through sheer diligence.
Next, God turns his attention to “the wicked “(v.16ff). This group is the “everyone else” category. The first group dealt with his people, Israel—those people who bear his name to the world.