How many times do we find ourselves falling into the habit of going to church, giving our offering, and singing familiar hymns to God while our hearts are distant from Him? Is this not that vain worship that Christ condemned in the Gospels when He pinpointed the people’s hypocrisy by saying, “This people honoureth me with their lips, but their heart is far from me” (Mark 7:6)? This is a trap that Satan loves to allure the people of God into. It is a mere checklist religion apart from true heartfelt devotion and obedience. It is ritualism.
It is this empty ritualism that God warned His people against in Psalm 50. God came to them from a posture of judgment for the trap of ritualism that they had fallen into. God wanted their heart, but they thought they could replace a heartfelt devotion with more goats and bulls being offered as sacrifices to Him. God didn’t rebuke them for their offering- “I will not reprove thee for thy sacrifices or thy burnt offerings…” (v. 8). God had told them to give such offerings. Yet God reminded them that the sacrifices that they brought to Him were His to begin with. In offering up bulls and goats, they were not giving God anything He did not already have. “For every beast of the forest is mine, and the cattle upon a thousand hills. I know all the fowls of the mountains: and the wild beasts of the field are mine….the world is mine and the fulness thereof” (vv. 10-12). All these animals that were being offered to God belonged to God. God wasn’t hungry (v. 12), nor was He thirsty (v. 13). He didn’t need the sacrifices. Rather, they were for the instruction of the people. But the people had missed the point. The offerings belonged to God before the people even gave them. They had descended into the trap of ritualism. They had marked off their checklist that they had given their offering to God, while their hearts and lives were devoid of a truly pleasing sacrifice to God. What did God want from His people? He said in vv. 14-15- “Offer unto God thanksgiving; and pay thy vows unto the most High: And call upon me in the day of trouble: I will deliver thee, and thou shalt glorify me.” God wanted more than animal sacrifices. He wanted thanksgiving from the heart, obedience unto His Word, and complete dependence upon Him. The Jewish people had given into empty ritualism, but God wanted surrendered hearts. It is him who “offereth praise…and …that ordereth his conversation aright…” that glorifies God (v. 23).
This verse doesn’t tell us to stop giving physical offerings to God, rather, it warns those who only give the physical offering of money, resources, time, without heartfelt devotion to God. Your money, resources, and time already belong to the Lord. He wants something that can only issue from a submissive heart- obedience, praise, trust, thanksgiving.