Have you ever been listening to a sermon about tithing or fundraising or about our need to proclaim and declare prosperity because we serve a God who owns the “cattle on a thousand hills”? What does that phrase mean? Where does it come from? How does it relate to me? Well, today, we’ll take a look at this portion of a verse and then we’ll examine its context. We’ll find Biblical answers to all of these questions, and I’ll try to address some of its abuses.
The partial quote comes from the second half of Psalm 50:10.
Psalm 50:10 (ESV) For every beast of the forest is mine,
the cattle on a thousand hills.
Interesting verse, but this isn’t a proverb, comes from a Psalm. So let’s read the Psalm and confirm who is speaking to whom, and what the topic of this conversation is.
Psalm 50 (ESV) | God Himself Is Judge
A Psalm of Asaph.
50 The Mighty One, God the Lord,
speaks and summons the earth
from the rising of the sun to its setting.
2 Out of Zion, the perfection of beauty,
God shines forth.
3 Our God comes; he does not keep silence;
before him is a devouring fire,
around him a mighty tempest.
4 He calls to the heavens above
and to the earth, that he may judge his people:
Okay, so far we have the LORD God who who speaks and summons the earth that He may judge His people. Let’s continue to see what He is saying.
5 “Gather to me my faithful ones,
who made a covenant with me by sacrifice!”
6 The heavens declare his righteousness,
for God himself is judge! Selah
7 “Hear, O my people, and I will speak;
O Israel, I will testify against you.
I am God, your God.
8 Not for your sacrifices do I rebuke you;
your burnt offerings are continually before me.
9 I will not accept a bull from your house
or goats from your folds.
10 For every beast of the forest is mine,
the cattle on a thousand hills.
11 I know all the birds of the hills,
and all that moves in the field is mine.
Interesting. The phrase we are examining today finds itself among several references to the fact that God is in-fact God, and that everything belongs to Him already. Who is God speaking to? Those who made a covenant with God by sacrifice, those under the Mosaic covenant. God declares that He will testify against Israel, for He is their God. God does not rebuke them for their sacrifices, their burnt offerings are continually before him, but notice he shifts immediately by saing He will not accept a bull from the house of Israel, nor goats from her fields. He owns every beast of the forest, all the birds of the hills and all that moves in the field. This reference to “a thousand hills” isn’t to be taken as a literal 1,000 hills, as if there could be cattle on the 1001st hill that didn’t belog to God, God is saying He owns them all. But where is this going? Is this headed toward a health, wealth, and prosperity teaching?
12 “If I were hungry, I would not tell you,
for the world and its fullness are mine.
13 Do I eat the flesh of bulls
or drink the blood of goats?
Israel was not the only nation whose worship included animal sacrifice, they were just the only nation who worshiped the LORD God. The pagans (consider the Egpytian gods, and later the Greek and Roman gods) sacrificed to idols and false gods, for their gods had to be fed, served, nourished, and appeased. Here, God is reminding Israel that He did not require these blood sacrifices for His sake, and even if He could hunger, He wouldn’t look to us for His sustinence. God doesn’t need your permission nor your cooperation, the world an everything in it belongs to Him. The notion that God has need of us in any way is a purely pagan one. The sacrifices of the Mosaic Covenant are part of their current covenant, but more importantly they point ahead to the Last Sacrifice of the Lamb of God, Christ, the Son of the Living God.
14 Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving,
and perform your vows to the Most High,
15 and call upon me in the day of trouble;
I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me.”
What does it mean to offer a sacrifice of thanksgiving? It first requires faith that it is God who has provided for your needs, that it is God who has saved you. For this definition I’m borrowing heavily from Hebrews 11:4-6. Both Cain and Abel brought sacrifices, but Abel found favor in the eyes of the LORD by faith. But now we get to the judgment against the people. Remember, their observance of the animal sacrifices under the Law isn’t why God is pronouncing judgment on Israel, so let’s look at what has been missing.
16 But to the wicked God says:
“What right have you to recite my statutes
or take my covenant on your lips?
17 For you hate discipline,
and you cast my words behind you.
18 If you see a thief, you are pleased with him,
and you keep company with adulterers.
19 “You give your mouth free rein for evil,
and your tongue frames deceit.
20 You sit and speak against your brother;
you slander your own mother’s son.
21 These things you have done, and I have been silent;
you thought that I was one like yourself.
But now I rebuke you and lay the charge before you.
22 “Mark this, then, you who forget God,
lest I tear you apart, and there be none to deliver!
23 The one who offers thanksgiving as his sacrifice glorifies me;
to one who orders his way rightly
I will show the salvation of God!”
Verse 16 hits Israel of the day, and today’s prosperity false-teachers, right between the eyes. You don’t get to demand that God keep His promises “according to the Law” in response to your faithless attempts at keeping the Law. God plainly lists how Israel falls short of the Law. Sure they keep the outward works of the sacrifices, but the lack faith, therefore their gestures are not pleasing to God. Notice how it’s beeing worded, you cast My Words behind you… you who forget God. A good cross-reference for this Psalm can be found in Isaiah 1 where, again, God is calling out Judah for her lack of faith despite the multitude of sacrifices. Without faith, it is impossible to please God.
This thanksgiving is a fruit of faith in God’s Word, for apart from faith in God’s Word we do not give thanks to God. As we examine our lives according to the 10 Commandments, we see that we fall woefully short of these today. As we examine the sins pointed out in the Psalm above, we see that we fall in that very same category. We sin. We are not under the Mosaic covenant, so where does that leave us? We look to the cross of Jesus Christ, and we believe in His finished work on the cross. We offer the sacrifice of thanksgiving to God for the body and blood of His son, Jesus Christ, received by Grace through faith.
So how does this Psalm 50 reference apply to us? We don’t feed God by our sacrifices, He feeds us by His Word. This passage in no way points to our temporal prosperity.
Whenever someone pulls out the description of God who owns the cattle on a thousand hills, know that the Psalmist is declaring God to be God of all things, the whole earth, all of creation and all that is in it. If the invoking of this description of God isn’t focusing on giving thanks to God for our salvation, be careful… it’s probably being lifted out of its context. This isn’t a “do more good works” text. God isn’t rebuking Israel for their lack of good works; rather, for their lack of faith.
Romans 16:24-27 (ESV)
Now to him who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages but has now been disclosed and through the prophetic writings has been made known to all nations, according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith— to the only wise God be glory forevermore through Jesus Christ! Amen.
In Christ Jesus,