Psalm 53 is nearly identical to Psalm 14.
If God says something once it is important; it is His word after all. If He says it twice, we must give it special attention. But what if God says it thrice? This Psalm is quoted by Paul in Romans 3.10-12. “This demands out keenest concentration, contemplation, assimilation, and even memorization…we are to ‘read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest.’” (Boice). There is no vain repetition with God. Spurgeon suggests that David wrote the 14th when he was young and turned his attention to it later in life for a “revision” of sorts. What he found was that men were no better later in life as they were when he was younger. Yet God takes care of the faithful who live surrounded by sin & evil. How bad is it really in the world? According to Psalm 53, it is really, really bad. We might say it’s a bad, bad, bad, bad world.
“To the choirmaster: according to Mahalath. A Maskil of David.” The superscription of this psalm calls it “a maskil.” A maskil could mean this is 1) a contemplative song [think about it, hmm…]; 2) a psalm imparting moral wisdom; 3) a well-written psalm (NET).
The Fountain of Sin (1a)
1The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.”
“Fool”: this word is typically used to describe a moral deficient person, an impious individual. A fool is one who “finds pleasure in evil conduct” (Prov 10.23, NIV). Not intelligence but impiety is in view. This personal rebellion is what stimulated their “repentance” about God’s existence.
“Heart”: The moral corrupt person must first convince him/herself there is no God. So here is self-deception. So they “suppress the truth in unrighteousness” (Romans 1.18).
“No God”: Ultimately, then, this is a choice to disbelieve in God. There may certainly be real challenges to their faith & attempts to make atheism appear reasonable or rational, but at the heart of atheism is personal rebellion.
The Filthiness of Sin (1b)
They are corrupt, doing abominable iniquity; there is none who does good.
“Corrupt”: Here is the deceptiveness of sin – it masquerades as something beautiful & desirable. Like how homosexual behavior is simple another alternative lifestyle or being for abortion is “pro-choice” (who would want to take away options?). Sin makes men altogether filthy.
“Vile”: or “have committed abominable injustice” (NASB). Is there really any greater injustice men can commit than to make sin seem attractive?
The Fact of Sin (2)
2God looks down from heaven on the children of man to see if there are any who understand, who seek after God.
“God Looks Down from Heaven”: Holy God, perfect & sinless, sitting upon His majestic throne looks down upon the earth. What does He see? A planet full of sinful men & women. All our sinful hearts & lives are open before Him.
The Witness of God: Do any seek after Him? When Paul quotes this verse in Romans 3.11 the answer is “no one understands…seek for God.”
The Fault of Sin (3)
3They have all fallen away; together they have become corrupt; there is none who does good, not even one.
“Fallen Away”: Is sin really that bad? YES! It is iniquity, unrighteousness, there is nothing good in it, it is evil. It is turning away from the right path, the path of life, to the path of death.
No One Does Good: Not only have we turned from God & corrupted ourselves, our interpersonal relationships are ruined because of sin. We do not do good to others.
The Folly of Sin (4)
4Have those who work evil no knowledge, who eat up my people as they eat bread, and do not call upon God?
“no knowledge…do not call upon God” is language indicative of those who never made time for God in their lives and their foolishness will ultimately find them out. Listen to the excuses people make when it comes to knowing God…
“I didn’t know you existed”: God has gone to great lengths to reveal Himself in the world & the Word – how will this sound to Him?
“I didn’t think you were important”: How insulting to God! What was more important? TV, fantasy football, Facebook, work?
“I didn’t have time for you”: Yet you had time for every other frivolous, meaningless thing; everything you believed was important, but wasn’t.
The Fruit of Sin (4b)
“…who eat up my people as they eat bread…”
Barbarity: these “eat up my people as they eat bread.” These devour the weak & the poor that they might become strong & rich. This is an apt description of the dog-eat-dog world that then was and still is.
Cruelty: when the deceitfulness of sin hardens men’s hearts we should expect to see even the family unit being destroyed. Just plain mean, acting like junk yard dogs toward one another.
The Fear (and Shame) of Sin (5)
5There they are, in great terror, where there is no terror! For God scatters the bones of him who encamps against you; you put them to shame, for God has rejected them.
God their Enemy: Here is the main variation between this and Pslam 14. “great terror where there is no terror.” Their own consciences frighten them, their imaginations fill them with terror. There is a very real fear that cannot be erased: God is & God fights against them.
“God has rejected them”: They are right to fear because it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. “The wicked flees when no one pursues” because in reality God is hunting them!
The Faith of the Saints (6)
6Oh, that salvation for Israel would come out of Zion! When God restores the fortunes of his people, let Jacob rejoice, let Israel be glad.
The Present Evil World: Sin abounds here & has made men barbaric & cruel. Our experience is one where sin wins: the righteous are vilified & destroyed. It’s as common as men eating bread. (Romans 3.10-20; 21-25)
Look Upward: First, our Savior has come & delivered us from the bonds of sin. We are no longer corrupt & vile because of Jesus. Second, we wait in anticipation for when Christ comes back to set to right all that is wrong:
“This is evidence of the righteous judgment of God, that you may be considered worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are also suffering— since indeed God considers it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you, and to grant relief to you who are afflicted as well as to us, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might, when he comes on that day to be glorified in his saints, and to be marveled at among all who have believed, because our testimony to you was believed. To this end we always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling and may fulfill every resolve for good and every work of faith by his power, so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.” (2 Thessalonians 1:5–12, ESV)
We are surrounded by sin & evil in this world. The world hates us but God has rejected them. When Jesus comes He will demonstrate that finally & fully. May we be found worthy when Jesus comes.
(Outline adapted from Matthew Henry)