Around 1948 John W Peterson wrote the hymn “He owns the cattle”, based on the words from Psalm 50:10. It goes like this:
He owns the cattle on a thousand hills,
The wealth in every mine;
He owns the rivers and the rocks and rills,
The sun and stars that shine.
Wonderful riches, more than tongue can tell –
He is my Father so they’re mine as well;
He owns the cattle on a thousand hills –
I know that He will care for me.
It was a popular song, but, as this song suggests, is Psalm 50:10 really about the fact that because God owns the cattle on a thousand hills then we have a claim upon them and can be assured of God’s provision for all our needs? As much as there is some truth to this, it is not really what Psalm 50 is all about.
Let’s read it and consider what God was actually saying:
7 “Listen, my people, and I will speak;
I will testify against you, Israel:
I am God, your God.
8 I bring no charges against you concerning your sacrifices
or concerning your burnt offerings, which are ever before me.
9 I have no need of a bull from your stall
or of goats from your pens,
10 for every animal of the forest is mine,
and the cattle on a thousand hills.
11 I know every bird in the mountains,
and the insects in the fields are mine.
12 If I were hungry I would not tell you,
for the world is mine, and all that is in it.
13 Do I eat the flesh of bulls
or drink the blood of goats?
So, what then is the message of Psalm 50?
It is written in the context of God’s people going astray and even worshiping false gods, even while they continued with the Levitical sacrifices and offerings. For example, in Jeremiah’s prophesy, God says to Israel, “acknowledge your guilt – you have rebelled against the Lord your God, you have scattered your favours to foreign gods…and have not obeyed me.” (Jeremiah 3:13)
And so, God is saying to his people that they seem to have forgotten that he “does not need sacrifices for “food.” God does not need anything; He is the Self-existent One. He is the Creator and Sustainer; nothing creates or sustains Him. This is in direct contrast to the pagan gods, whose mythologies taught their need to eat. Sacrifices brought to the idols were considered the food of the gods. The One True God of Israel makes a clear distinction between Himself and the false deities.” (https://www.gotquestions.org/cattle-on-a-thousand-hills.html
In fact, God goes to great lengths to make this message clear to his people when he says, I have no need … every animal of the forest is mine, and the cattle on a thousand hills. I know every bird in the mountains, and the insects in the fields are mine. If I were hungry, I would not tell you, for the world is mine, and all that is in it.
Brueggmann states concerning these verses that they “are a remarkable statement in which God testifies against Israel (v. 7) by asserting his sovereignty, his independence, his otherness. This is one of the most exalted statements we have of God’s ‘Godness’. This God has no need to be fed by Israel’s action in worship…Verse 8 suggests that sacrifice is a proper and acceptable form of worship to which Yahweh has no objection, but Israel ought to be under no illusion about such worship. God does not need or want such sacrifices and does not rely on them for nourishment…God is here disentangled from any necessary bond to Israel. Israel knows and relies on God’s abiding engagement with Israel. On Yahweh’s part, however, that engagement is one of free passion, not of necessity.”
Having spelled this all out very clearly, God, in verses 14-15 tells his people what then is proper.
14 “Sacrifice thank offerings to God,
fulfil your vows to the Most High,
15 and call on me in the day of trouble;
I will deliver you, and you will honour me.”
What God really requires is for us, his people, to be thankful to Him and to recognise our total dependence upon him. Knowing that when we humbly call upon him in times of trouble (or in fact, at any time), we know and can trust that He is the One who is able and willing to deliver us. In this act we honour Him, recognising that “the saving gifts move only in one direction.” (# 2)
In the NT, concerning our eternal salvation, Paul gives us a similar message:
8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no one can boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9)
Thankyou Father that your “engagement [with us] is one of free passion, not of necessity”. Thankyou that “because of your great love for us, [you] God who [are] rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in [our] transgressions.” (Ephesians 2:4-5) Amen.