Read Psalm 50.
From the very beginning, God has called human beings to be like Him, to bear His image. Yet, our temptation for nearly as long has been to make God just like us. We want to reduce Him into someone we can control, someone who gets us, someone who’s on our side.
And we fall for it all the time. In our imaginations, God is just like us. He has the same values, the same sensibilities, the same preferences. Of course God would vote the way I do. Of course He holds the same opinion on this issue. God’s on my side. But as Joshua discovered when he stood face to face with the commander of the army of the Lord (Joshua 5:13–15), the question we ought to be asking ourselves is, Am I on God’s side?
In Jesus’ day, a lot of people found out they had deceived themselves into thinking they were on God’s side. Jesus routinely called out the religious leaders and Pharisees for their hypocrisy. On one memorable occasion, He entered the temple and overturned the tables of the moneychangers and merchants. In that moment, Jesus quoted a mashup of the Old Testament prophets, combining God’s words from Isaiah and Jeremiah, “Is it not written, ‘My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations’? But you have made it ‘a den of robbers’” (Mark 11:17; cf. Isaiah 56:7; Jeremiah 7:11).
The thing is, I don’t think the religious leaders in charge of the temple complex thought they were doing something that would anger God when they permitted the moneychangers and sacrificial animal vendors in the courtyard. The animals were there for out-of-town worshipers to purchase. (Imagine trying to haul a lamb or a goat miles and miles.) And since Roman money was sacrilegious, containing the image of Caesar, another “god,” it needed to be swapped out for official temple currency. In a sense, both services seemed to honor God.
There is no indication that the moneychangers were in any way corrupt, charging more than an honest profit for their services. The same can be said of the livestock merchants. Perhaps they were involved in dishonest gain—we don’t know—but that’s not really the point. Their tables and wares were set up in the Court of the Gentiles, the only place in the temple complex where non-Jews could draw near to the Lord.
The temple authorities assumed God was like them and would see the practicality of putting such services in a place of convenience. They also thought God had little regard for Gentiles. The people of Israel were His inheritance, Abraham’s children His special nation. But boy, did they misunderstand the heart of God. When Jesus—God in the flesh—showed up, He came with a whip (John 2:15), flipping over tables and chasing out those who were blocking the place reserved for Gentiles, as if to say, “What part of ‘house of prayer for all nations’—that’s all nations, every last one of them—are you not understanding?”
In Psalm 50, God describes the wicked. For the sake of clarity, these bad folks are those who hate God’s instruction (v. 17), who have no problem joining in with thieves and adulterers (v. 18), and who speak evil, even against their own brothers (vv. 19–20). He says, “When you did these things and I kept silent, you thought I was exactly like you” (v. 21). In their minds and hearts, they had made God like them, rather than becoming more like Him. The magnitude of their sin shows just how dangerous it is to fashion God into someone like us.
God does not always choose to speak into particular situations, but He’s not really silent either. He gave us His Word, that we might know His commands and His heart behind them. And He sent Jesus, “the image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15), in case there was any doubt about what He is like. For the temple authorities, God’s apparent silence ended abruptly when Jesus entered the temple.
This psalm reminds me that I am capable of self-deception. Just looking back at my own broken track record of sins and stumbles, I see evidence of how easy it is. I need to hold myself to Jesus’ example, rather than bring Him down to my level. I need the Word of God and His Spirit to continually speak into my life, that Jesus might come and turn over the tables I have set up.