The Agora
Bible Commentary

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Psalm 53

Psa 53:1

SUPERSCRIPTION: "A MASKIL OF DAVID". See Lesson, Psalms, "Maschil".

Biblical "fools": The rich fool (Luke 12:20). The unbelieving fool (Psa 53:1). The self-righteous fool (Pro 28:26). The scornful fool (Pro 14:9). The righteous "fool" (1Co 4:10).

HISTORICAL: Psa 53 follows a psa with an explicit historical title about Doeg the Edomite, and precedes another psa about Saul's hunt for David the outlaw, suggests that this psa also belongs to the same period in David's life. Phrase after phrase makes an easy link with Doeg's betrayal of David and his vicious massacre, at Saul's command, of the priests of Nob (1Sa 21; 22).

HEZEKIAH: In view of the likelihood of psalm revision in the days of Hezekiah, it is worthwhile also to read 14/53 against the backdrop of events in his time:

RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN PSA 14 AND PSA 53: It is usually assumed that Psa 14 is the original. But this is not certain. It is noteworthy that Psa 53 has "Elohim" where Psa 14 has "Yahweh" or "Jehovah" (right through, according to the Sopherim). The same interesting phenomenon appears in Psa 40:13-17 (= Psa 70:1-5) and Jdg 5:4,5 (= Psa 68:7,8). But why? Bullinger guesses: A distinction between private and public use of the psalm. Waller guesses: The psalms were used at two different sanctuaries of the Lord: Gibeon (1Ki 3:4) and Zion.

THE FOOL SAYS IN HIS HEART, "THERE IS NO GOD": "Fool" = "nabal" (1Sa 25:25). This is not "atheism" in the modern sense of the term, but in the same sense as Psa 10:4,6,11-13; 97:7: 'God is inactive; He will take no notice; and if He does, He certainly won't punish.' This is precisely the attitude of many religious people today: they are willing to believe in God and follow religious observance so long as God leaves them alone and lets them run their affairs in their own way. Notice the change from "the fool" (singular: Saul?) to "they" (plural: Saul and Doeg?).

This designation, "fool", goes for those who doubt God's sovereignty as well as those who deny Him. Either He is sovereign, or He is not God. Therefore, when we become so preoccupied with and dismayed by circumstances and certain people that we doubt God's ability to handle things in His own way, and in His own time, then we, too, become fools.

An atheist complained to a friend because Christians had their special holidays such as Christmas, Easter and the like and Jews celebrated their national holidays as the Passover and Yom Kippur.

"But we atheists," he said, "have no recognized national holiday. It's unfair discrimination." To which his friend replied, "Why don't you celebrate April first?"

(HEZEK) Rabshakeh's tirade against the God of Israel: Isa 37:23,28.

THEY ARE CORRUPT: Sw Gen 6:12; Jdg 2:19. But lit this Heb word means: they have caused to destroy, with ref to Doeg and the priests of Nob in 1Sa 22:18,19. Hence the phrase: abominable works of Psa 14 (changed to the more specific "iniquity" in Psa 53:1). AV has "abominable": Some things may be abominable to God even though they are highly esteemed by men: eg covetousness (Luk 16:15). And men's works can be abominable even when they profess to know God: Tit 1:15,16.

(HEZEK) The enormities of the Assyrian invasion.

THERE IS NO ONE WHO DOES GOOD: The worldly unscrupulousness, manifested in Saul and his minions, was even more marked in Caiaphas and the rulers of the Jews. "Good" = "chrestoteta" (LXX), suggesting "Christ-like". Paul applies these words and vv 2b, 3 to Jew and Gentile (like Saul and Doeg), alike impervious to the gospel (Rom 3:10-12). Cp the citation of Psa 2 in Act 4:25-28, where Jews = Herod and the priests, and Gentiles = Pilate and the Roman soldiers. Ct the generation of the righteous (v 5), ie the new Israel in Christ (Rom 11:5).

Psa 53:2

GOD LOOKS DOWN: Sw "looked" in Gen 18:16, where the angels begin their investigation of Sodom. This is the language of direct Divine intervention, as at the time of the Flood: Gen 6:5,12.

THE SONS OF MEN: The sons of Adam. But, because of the absence of vowel pointing in the original mss, this could as easily read: the sons of Edom, with ref to Doeg the Edomite.


ANY WHO SEEK GOD: An ironic allusion to 1Sa 21:7, where Doeg was "detained before the Lord", poss for some ceremonial uncleanness, but certainly not to "seek God" in any meaningful sense!

Psa 53:3

For what kind of uncleanness was Doeg detained before the Lord (1Sa 21:7)?

EVERYONE HAS TURNED AWAY: Sw Exo 32:8. The repetition of "all" suggests the experience of Noah's day, when mankind was a lost race, except for one lone family.

CORRUPT: "Filthy" (AV): Heb "alach" = worthless, rancid, tainted, as sour milk; "stinking" (AV mg); "unprofitable" (Rom 3:12); "rotten to the core" (NEB). A word that graphically expresses character deterioration (cp idea in Isa 64:6,7).

THERE IS NO ONE WHO DOES GOOD, NOT EVEN ONE: From LXX and Rom 3:12. Could mean: "There is none that doeth good, not UNTIL One!" -- ref to the extraordinary and absolutely unique "One".

Psa 53:4

THOSE WHO DEVOUR MY PEOPLE AS MEN EAT BREAD: Similar refs in Psa 79:6,7; Pro 30:14; Lam 2:16; Jer 10:25; Mic 3:3,4. "To eat", as the wild beast or gluttonous man does, eagerly devouring, without remorse or regret. An allusion to Doeg's ruthless slaughter of the priests: 1Sa 22:18. The Heb could read: 'Did they not know, those who eat up my people who eat the bread of God? They (ie my people, the priests) did not cry out.' Thus there are historical refs to priests, shewbread ('bread of God'), and the heathen ignorance and indifference of Doeg, in the enormity of his crime.

(NT) Cp Christ, the true priest, "devoured" by his enemies just after he ate the bread of God (at his Passover). Or, Christ (who is the bread of God: Joh 6:35, etc) complacently "devoured" by his unheeding enemies. Like a lamb led to slaughter (Isa 53:7), he "did not cry out" (AV).

Psa 53:5

THERE THEY ARE, OVERWHELMED WITH DREAD: This was the ultimate outcome of Saul's mania for persecuting David and his friends: 1Sa 28:5. And the jealousy and hatred of God's enemies was finally turned to great fear before the Philistines.

(HEZEK) The siege of Jerusalem and its shattering outcome: Isa 37:36.

WHERE THERE WAS NOTHING TO DREAD: Initially, Saul's (and Doeg's) marked lack of fear of God.

GOD SCATTERED THE BONES OF THOSE WHO ATTACKED YOU: Allusion back to Goliath (1Sa 17:54; 21:9)? The LXX has "men-pleasers", an alternative reading of Psa 53:5. This describes the end of Saul the persecutor: 1Sa 31:9-13. (But David's bones were kept: ct Psa 34:20!) By a very slight alteration, this last phrase would read "him that was hanged", on the walls of Beth-shan!

FOR GOD DESPISED THEM: "Rejected" (RV); sw 1Sa 16:1: God's rejection of Saul. This exposition indicates that this Psa 53:5 was added by David at some later time -- the interval between 1Sa 22 and 1Sa 31 at least) -- or even when the Psa was appointed for sanctuary use, at the time the ark was brought to Zion (2Sa 6).

Psa 53:6

OH, THAT SALVATION FOR ISRAEL WOULD COME OUT OF ZION!: Apparently a highly-inappropriate v in this psalm, but how well it describes the climax of salvation in Christ and the bringing in of his kingdom! The one who was brutally slain (see v 4) is now raised from the dead, at last to return to the scene of his death, but now in glorious triumph (cp with Isa 59:20, cited in Rom 11:26; see WIsa 512). Zion was the home of Melchizedek. Nob, the location of the sanctuary and the priests, was next to Zion (1Sa 21; Isa 10:32; cp 1Sa 17:54 with 1Sa 22:10. Is Nob to be identified with Golgotha? see Psa 8). After the murders of the priests, this sanctuary was prob left desolate until David took Jerusalem (2Sa 6). But then the memory of that gruesome slaughter might be partially erased, when God's glorious ark was at last brought to its secure resting place.

(HEZEK) This might even be Hezekiah's addition (like Psa 89:49-52), for assuredly Israel's salvation did come out of Zion then, and a great captivity did return home with gladness (WHez 85,86).

SALVATION: An intensive plural: "God's great salvation"!

WHEN GOD RESTORES THE FORTUNES OF HIS PEOPLE: Or "brings back the captivity" (cp AV). See Psa 85:1; Deu 30:3; and Isa 49.

JACOB... ISRAEL: Suggests allusion to Gen 32:24-32; 33:1, when Jacob's fear of Esau/Edom, the fool who had no fear of God, was removed.

SUBSCRIPTION: "FOR THE DIRECTOR OF MUSIC. WITH STRINGED INSTRUMENTS": "Neginoth" (Psa 3, 5, 53, 54, 60 -- "Neginah", singular, Psa 66, 75; Hab 3:19; Isa 38:20). "Neginoth" sig "to strike", as upon a musical instrument, or in affliction. Trials of affliction are for the development of godly character. The Neginoth psalms, like Isa 38 itself, all seem to have allusion to more than "stringed instruments"; ie, to a smiting by hard circumstances, or by the power of God: consider Psa 3:1,2,6,7; 5:6,10; 53:1,5; 54:3; 60:1-3,6-9; 66:3,11,12; 75:4-8,10; Hab 3:5-17.

As the musician strums and plucks the strings of his instrument to produce the desired music, so the Almighty uses pressures and other circumstances to produce certain actions from (and to develop certain characteristics in) His children.

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