He Owns the Cattle on a Thousand Hills
“The Mighty One, God the Lord, speaks and summons the earth from the rising of the sun to its setting. Out of Zion, the perfection of beauty, God shines forth. -Psalm 50:1-2
The words of this title today come from the most famous verse of Psalm 50, made more famous possibly by John Peterson’s song of the same name. This song focuses on God’s wealth, seeing as He owns all things, and that He is basically the Christian’s banker and can very ably take care of you financially. After all, He not only owns the cattle on a thousand hills but also the wealth in every mine. However, that is not the point of this verse nor the primary truth taught in this psalm.
Contrary to their normal sin of idolatry and the worshipping of false gods, the people of Israel were diligently following the Law of God ostensibly in their practice of God’s worship through sacrifices. However, as Isaiah 29, quoted by Jesus in Matthew 15, points out, “These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.
The sacrificial system of worship was to point forward to the true sacrificial Lamb who would take away the sins of the people of God when He was crucified on Mt. Calvary. As we read in Malachi 1 the people were surreptitiously picking the runts, lame, halt, and spotted young animals of their flocks, animals which were of no real good to them, to sacrifice to the Lord of Glory. However, Jesus, the One to whom their sacrifices were to point, and intended for the accurate instruction of the people, was an unblemished Lamb, the purest of the flock; for Jesus was the sinless Lamb of God! The people needed to know and appreciate such for their own good and blessing.
In their ritual of worship they were “honoring God with their lips, but there was no heart of thanksgiving in their worship. So God then asks, “Do I eat the flesh of bulls, or drink the blood of goats?…I [actually] own the cattle on a thousand hills [already]! In other words, all the sacrifices in the world which miss the point of worship are worthless, ritualistic, an outward performance of a rite, without the inner transformation which knowledge and heart-felt experience convey and produce.
God says instead, “Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving, and perform your vows to the Most High, and call upon Me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify Me. However, though they were sacrificing animals to God in false worship, it did nothing for their character. They continued sinning and were not only silent about the sin of their fellows, but actually praised the sin in their lives.
God ends Psalm 50 with these words: “The one who offers thanksgiving as his sacrifice glorifies me; to one who orders his way rightly I will show the salvation of God. The entire Psalm is about the vital importance of genuine thanksgiving to God, recognizing what God does in the lives of those who rightly fear Him and authentically seek Him. It teaches that even though you are fallen, that you truly are a sinner, you, yes you, can order your way in righteous behavior by calling on the strength Jesus provides in His sacrifice.
This is what the celebrating of Thanksgiving in America is genuinely about! The first Thanksgiving of which all Thanksgivings since allegedly follow and respect was a thanksgiving not to pilgrims nor to Indians, but to God for their survival, their salvation, and their future.
That the judgment of Psalm 50 not fall on you, you must take meditated steps reflecting a heart of thanksgiving within and without to the One who gives life and takes it away, who provides salvation or does not, who makes promises and fulfills them.
The Thanksgiving we celebrate in one week is not primarily about families gathering, a sumptuous meal, football games, or the like; it is first of all giving heart-felt thanks to God for all He has done to provide your salvation. Thanksgiving ought to be celebrated as a genuine honoring of the one and only God. Such thanksgiving comes from your own heart in fellowship with fellow lovers of God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
“When all Your mercies, O my God, my rising soul surveys, transported with the view, I’m lost in wonder, love, and praise.
Through every period of my life Your goodness I’ll pursue, and after death, in distant worlds the glorious theme renew.
(1st and 5th verses of Joseph Addison’s hymn, “When All Your Mercies, O My God, 1712)
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