Psalm 53 – The Faithful God Delivers His People from Fools
This psalm has the title To the Chief Musician. Set to “Mahalath.” A Contemplation of David. The title describes for us the author, audience, and tune or instrument of the song (Psalm 88 is the one other psalm set to “Mahalath”). This psalm is essentially a repetition of Psalm 14, with a few small modifications, probably intended to give faith and courage to Israel in the midst of a national challenge, such as the threat of invasion or a siege.
A. The sad condition of the man who rejects God.
1. (1) David’s analysis of the God-rejecting man.
The fool has said in his heart,
“There is no God.”
They are corrupt, and have done abominable iniquity,
There is none who does good.
a. The fool has said in his heart, “There is no God”: David looked at those who denied the existence of God and came to the conclusion that they are fools. The idea behind this ancient Hebrew word translated fool is more moral than intellectual. David did not have in mind those not smart enough to figure God out (no one is that smart); he had in mind those who simply reject God.
i. From the italics in the New King James Version, we can see that what the fool actually says is, “No God.” “That is, ‘No God for me.’ So his is a practical as well as theoretical atheism. Not only does he not believe in God, he also acts on his conviction.” (Boice)
ii. David says this because of the plain evidence that there is a God, evidence in both creation and human conscience that Paul described in Romans 1. The fact that some men insist on denying the existence of God does not erase God from the universe; it instead speaks to their own standing as fools. As Paul wrote in Romans 1:22, Professing to be wise, they became fools.
iii. “The Hebrew word for fool in this psalm is nabal, a word which implies an aggressive perversity, epitomized in the Nabal of 1 Samuel 25:25.” (Kidner)
iv. The God-denying man is a fool because:
· He denies what is plainly evident.
· He believes in tremendous effect with no cause.
· He denies a moral authority in the universe.
· He believes only what can be proven by the scientific method.
· He takes a dramatic, losing chance on his supposition that there is no God.
· He refuses to be persuaded by the many powerful arguments for the existence of God.
v. There are many powerful arguments for the existence of God; among them are these:
· The Cosmological Argument: The existence of the universe means there must be a creator God.
· The Teleological Argument: The existence of design in the universe means there must be a designer God.
· The Anthropological Argument: The unique nature and character of humanity means there must be a relational God.
· The Moral Argument: The existence of morality means there must be a governing God.
vi. “Which is cause, and which is effect? Does atheism result from folly, or folly from atheism? It would be perfectly correct to say that each is cause and each is effect.” (Morgan)
b. The fool has said in his heart: David not only found what the fool said to be significant; where he said it is also important (in his heart). The God-denying man David has in mind is not merely troubled by intellectual objections to the existence of God; in his heart he wishes God away, typically for fundamentally moral reasons.
i. John 3:20 explains it this way: For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed.
ii. This means that the man David had in mind is not an atheist for primarily intellectual reasons. “Honest intellectual agnosticism does not necessarily produce immorality; dishonest emotional atheism always does.” (Morgan)
iii. It means that when we speak with those who deny God, we should not only – or even primarily – speak to their head, but also to their heart. “Let the preacher aim at the heart, and preach the all-conquering love of Jesus, and he will by God’s grace win more doubters to the faith of the gospel than any hundred of the best reasoners who only direct their arguments to the head.” (Spurgeon)
iv. The phrasing of said in his heart also reminds us that it is possible for one to say in his mind that there is a God, yet deny it in his heart and life. One may believe in God in theory, yet be a practical atheist in the way he lives.
v. 1 Samuel 27:1 tells us what David said in his heart on one occasion: Now I shall perish someday by the hand of Saul. There is nothing better for me than that I should speedily escape to the land of the Philistines; and Saul will despair of me, to seek me anymore in any part of Israel. So I shall escape out of his hand. Was this not David, in some sense, also denying God and speaking as a fool?
vi. “It is in his heart he says this; this is the secret desire of every unconverted bosom. If the breast of God were within the reach of men, it would be stabbed a million times in one moment. When God was manifest in the flesh, he was altogether lovely; he did no sin; he went about continually doing good: and yet they took him and hung him on a tree; they mocked him and spat upon him. And this is the way men would do with God again.” (Macheyne, cited in Spurgeon)
c. They are corrupt, and have done abominable iniquity: David here considers the result of denying God. It leads men into corruption and abominable iniquity. This isn’t to say that every atheist lives a dissolute life and every God-believer lives a good life; yet there is a marked difference in moral behavior between those who take God seriously and those who do not.
d. There is none who does good: As David considered the sin of the God-denier, he looked out over the landscape of humanity and concluded that there is none who does good. He did not mean that there is no human good in this world, but that fallen man is so fallen that he does not by instinct do good, and even the good he may do is tinged with evil.
· We are born with both the will and the capacity to do evil; no one has to teach a child to do bad.
· The path of least resistance usually leads us to bad, not good.
· It is often easier to encourage others to do bad, instead of good.
· Many of our good deeds are tinged with selfish, bad motives.
i. “This is no exaggeration, since every sin implies the effrontery of supposedly knowing better than God, and the corruption of loving evil more than good.” (Kidner)
ii. “There is too much dainty dealing nowadays with atheism; it is not a harmless error, it is an offensive, putrid sin, and righteous men should look upon it in that light.” (Spurgeon)
2. (2-3) Heaven’s analysis of fallen humanity.
God looks down from heaven upon the children of men,
To see if there are any who understand, who seek God.
Every one of them has turned aside,
They have together become corrupt;
There is none who does good,
No, not one.
a. God looks down from heaven upon the children of men: While man may wish to forget about God, God never forgets about man. He is always observing man, looking down from heaven upon the children of men.
i. In man’s rejection of God, there is often the wish that God would just leave us alone. This is an unwise wish, because all human life depends upon God (Acts 17:28; Matthew 5:45). This is an impossible wish, because God has rights of a Creator over His creation.
ii. “The words remind us of God descending from heaven to observe the folly of those building the tower of Babel (Genesis 11:5) or looking down upon the wickedness of the race prior to his judgment by the flood.” (Kidner)
iii. One of the differences between this psalm and Psalm 14 is that the word Elohim replaces Yahweh repeatedly; it is difficult to discern the exact reason why.
iv. Both the similarities and the differences of the two psalms are instructive. “Some slight alterations show how a great song may be adapted to meet the need of some special application of its truth.” (Morgan)
b. To see if there are any who understand, who seek God: When God does look down from heaven, one thing He looks for is if there is any understanding or seeking among humanity.
i. God looks for this not primarily as an intellectual judgment; He doesn’t wonder if there are any smart enough to figure Him out. He looks for this more as a moral and spiritual judgment; He looks for men who understand His heart and plan, and who seek Him for righteousness sake.
ii. If someone does actually seek God, it is evidence that God is doing a work in that person. One may be religious and conduct rituals yet not really seek God at all. Men often seek an idol of their own making, not the true God who lives and reigns in heaven.
iii. “You have gone through this form of worship, but you have not sought after God. I am sick of this empty religiousness. We see it everywhere; it is not communion with God, it is not getting to God; indeed, God is not in it at all.” (Spurgeon, from a sermon on Romans 3)
c. Every one of them has turned aside, they have together become corrupt: When God looks, this is what He finds. He finds that man has turned away from God, and has therefore become corrupt.
i. Poole on turned aside: “Or, are grown sour, as this word signifies.… And so this is a metaphor from corrupted drinks, as the next [become corrupt] is taken from rotten meat.”
ii. “The Hebrews have the same word for sin and a dead carcase; and again the same word for sin and stench.” (Trapp)
d. There is none who does good, no, not one: When God finds none who does good, it is because there are none. It isn’t as if there were some and God couldn’t see them. David here observes and remembers that man is truly, profoundly, deeply fallen.
i. David’s use of “there is none who does good” suddenly broadens the scope beyond the atheist to include us. “‘After all, we are not atheists!’ we might say. But now, as we are let in on God’s perspective, we see that we are too included. In other words, the outspoken atheist of verse 1 is only one example of mankind in general.” (Kidner)
ii. “What a picture of our race is this! Save only where grace reigns, there is none that doeth good; humanity, fallen and debased, is a desert without an oasis, a night without a star, a dunghill without a jewel, a hell without a bottom.” (Spurgeon)
B. God’s defense of His righteous people.
1. (4-5) God defends His people when attacked.
Have the workers of iniquity no knowledge,
Who eat up my people as they eat bread,
And do not call upon God?
There they are in great fear
Where no fear was,
For God has scattered the bones of him who encamps against you;
You have put them to shame,
Because God has despised them.
a. Have all the workers of iniquity no knowledge: David first considered the profound fallenness of man; now he deals with the fate of God’s people in such a fallen world. God’s people might seem like the weak fools, but David understood that it is the workers of iniquity who have no knowledge.
i. “The question has almost a tone of surprise, as if even Omniscience found a matter of wonder in men’s mysterious love of evil.” (Maclaren)
b. Who eat up my people as they eat bread: It looks like the workers of iniquity are strong and have the upper hand. David wondered if the people of God are abandoned to the fools and the corrupt of this world, to those who do not call upon God.
i. “As they eat bread, i.e. with as little regret or remorse, and with as much greediness, and delight, and constancy too, as they use to eat their meat.” (Poole)
ii. And do not call upon God: “Practical atheism is, of course, prayerless.” (Maclaren)
c. There they are in great fear where no fear was: Here this psalm briefly but significantly departs from the words of Psalm 14. The idea seems to be that David took Psalm 14, slightly modified it to meet the present crisis, and used it to encourage Israel.
i. It seems that it was during a time of attack or siege from an enemy (him who encamps against you). David trusted that God would put the enemy in great fear, even though their strategic position gave them no real reason to fear (where no fear was).
ii. David prayed for something that God had promised an obedient Israel. God promised to send such fear (Leviticus 26:36).
iii. David prayed for something that God had done on other occasions. There were many times when God sent fear into the hearts of Israel’s enemies. Examples include Joshua against the Canaanites (Joshua 10:10), Gideon against the Midianites (Judges 7), Jonathan and his armor-bearer against the Philistines (1 Samuel 14), and Hezekiah against the Assyrians (2 Kings 18-19).
iv. “God they feared not, of men they were greatly feared, and yet here they feared a fear where no fear was.” (Trapp)
v. “The fear of God is either an impelling motive, leading in the ways of life; or it becomes a compelling terror, issuing in destruction.” (Morgan)
d. You have put them to shame, because God has despised them: Here God answers the fool who despises Him with despising the fool in return. However, it seems that it was not only the fool’s denial of God that provoked the Almighty; it was more pointedly the fool’s attack against the people of God. We might say that attacking the people of God is just as foolish as denying God’s existence.
2. (6) Longing for God’s salvation.
Oh, that the salvation of Israel would come out of Zion!
When God brings back the captivity of His people,
Let Jacob rejoice and Israel be glad.
a. Oh, that the salvation of Israel would come out of Zion: David knew that God was a refuge for His people and that the workers of iniquity would never win. Yet that was hard to see at the present time, so David expressed his great longing that God would bring the victory and deliverance He had promised to His people.
b. When God brings back the captivity of His people: This was not the Babylonian captivity, many generations after David’s time. Here captivity is used in a general sense, speaking of any time or situation where God’s people are oppressed and bound.
i. “We take that phrase ‘turns the captivity’ in the sense in which it admittedly bears in Job 42:10 and Ezekiel 16:53, namely that of deliverance from misfortune.” (Maclaren)
c. Let Jacob rejoice and Israel be glad: David anticipated the coming deliverance, and called the people of God to be joyful in consideration of it.
(c) 2020 The Enduring Word Bible Commentary by David Guzik – firstname.lastname@example.org