A Psalm that is Repeated – Psalm 53

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)

Practical Atheism – Psalm 10

Statisticians have long been forecasting the rise of secularism in America. George Barna in his book The Seven Faith Tribes sets the number of Spiritual Skeptics at 11% – atheists (9%) and agnostics (2%) (99). When one factors in the number of “nons” you end up closer to 1 in 5 or 20% of the American population being somewhat skeptical of God, the Bible, & religion in general. All of these numbers are figures which have nearly doubled in size in the past 25 years. The 24 hour media cycle does not help. Every moment there is more bad news. Turmoil & tumult are the order of the day. It appears that evil is winning. Satan’s kingdom is advancing. What can the righteous do? Enter Psalm 10. The message of this Psalm is simple: Though it seems like evil wins in this world, God ultimately wins. What do we do when evil is winning? Psalm 10 provides insight concerning what we do in troubled times.

The Perplexity of Theism

1Why, O Lord, do you stand far away? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?

Why is God Silent? Verse 1, why is God far off and hidden? We are inclined to think that 1) if we are God’s people, He would never allow us to fall into the hands of our enemies or 2) if we are oppressed by evil men, God will be quick to rescue. However, the psalmist’s own experience does not bear this out. Surely you can identify with this to some degree. There is the creeping influence of secularism with the growing acceptance of ungodly practices; there is the threat of radical, militant Islam which largely goes unchecked though they broadcast their violent videos; maybe in your own life you have experienced some kind of oppression from evil people. Where is God in all of this? Why does He tolerate it?

13Why does the wicked renounce God and say in his heart, “You will not call to account”?

Why Be an Atheist? Verse 13, why do the wicked renounce God? And they do! 1) They deny there is a God (v.4); 2) They deny God sees their actions (v.11); 3) They deny God will judge them (13). Even today there are many who a) reject God & Christianity outright or b) claim the name of Christ while living their life as though He does not exist, what one writer calls “Christian Atheism.” Why would anyone exchange the safe shores of sanity which is theism for the roaring waves of insanity which is atheism, practical, Christian, or otherwise? Well, verses 2-11 will serve to explain why many choose this course.

The Practice of Atheism (2-11)

Contained in these vs. is a lengthy picture of human wickedness & as terrify as any found in all the Bible.

2In arrogance the wicked hotly pursue the poor; let them be caught in the schemes that they have devised.

3For the wicked boasts of the desires of his soul, and the one greedy for gain curses and renounces the Lord.

4In the pride of his face the wicked does not seek him; all his thoughts are, “There is no God.”

Pride (2-4): One reason people choose atheism is pride. “In the pride of his face the wicked does not seek Him,” i.e. God. Arrogance births & nourishes godlessness. The arrogant, prideful boaster shows contempt for God and for his fellow man, seeking to create & devour the permanent underclass (“pursue the poor”), exploiting & crushing the weak in their greed.

5His ways prosper at all times; your judgments are on high, out of his sight; as for all his foes, he puffs at them.

Prosperity (5): Herein lies the rub – the godly might expect God to strike down the practical atheist. Instead, though, “His ways prosper at all times.” In fact, his prosperity makes his continued atheism possible. The practical atheist 1) has no need for God’s moral code (“judgments” or “laws”), they are “out of his sight” & 2) he makes fun of us for upholding God’s standard of conduct (he “makes fun of his enemies”). So worldly wisdom says, “It’s a dog-eat-dog world; survival of the fittest; God won’t help you.”

6He says in his heart, “I shall not be moved; throughout all generations I shall not meet adversity.”

Protection (6): The phrase “he says in his heart” is key – this is the language of self-deception (cf. Psa 14.1). His pride & prosperity have so deceived the practical atheist that he believes he is guaranteed security. He’ll never be moved nor will adversity come his way. Not even God Himself can touch him!

A vivid illustration of this happened during WWII. The Italian dictator Benito Mussolini was shot at & nearly killed. He laughed it off: “The bullet has never been made that can kill me.”

7His mouth is filled with cursing and deceit and oppression; under his tongue are mischief and iniquity.

Profanity (7): This is vile, destructive language; wicked words. “Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks,” says the Lord. See Matthew 12.34-37. Our language matters to God. But if you don’t believe in God or believe He will hold you accountable, well, you will say whatever you please.

8He sits in ambush in the villages; in hiding places he murders the innocent. His eyes stealthily watch for the helpless;

9he lurks in ambush like a lion in his thicket; he lurks that he may seize the poor; he seizes the poor when he draws him into his net.

10The helpless are crushed, sink down, and fall by his might.

11He says in his heart, “God has forgotten, he has hidden his face, he will never see it.”

Persecution (8-11): Three images are employed to paint the vivid picture of the practical atheist’s violence: an assassin, a lion, & a hunter. The parallel between all three is that all stalk their prey, hiding in wait for their victim.

The practical atheist does all this under the self-deluded idea that “God has forgotten…He will never see.” This is a very bad, wicked person.

The Prayer of Theists (12-18)

As NT Christians, we would expect “Love your enemy” or pray for them. Even under the Law, “Love your neighbor.” However, that is not the chord struck by the Psalmist at all…

12Arise, O Lord; O God, lift up your hand; forget not the afflicted.

Do Something! (12): Don’t just stand there…do something! Do not sit on your hands… “Arise…lift up your hand!” Talk about coming boldly to the throne of grace! Lift up your hand and take vengeance, which is God’s alone.

13Why does the wicked renounce God and say in his heart, “You will not call to account”?

14But you do see, for you note mischief and vexation, that you may take it into your hands; to you the helpless commits himself; you have been the helper of the fatherless.

15Break the arm of the wicked and evildoer; call his wickedness to account till you find none.

Don’t Let Them Get Away With This! (13-15): “The Way of the Wicked Will Perish,” cf. Psa 1.6. Verse 13, they think they are getting away with it. “There’s no judgment, no hell.” This side of Calvary Peter ran into similar thinking, 2 Pet 3.1ff. There’s the New Testament update. There is a God who will judge the world. Verse 14, and God does see & while put to right all wrongs. God sees the schemes of the oppressors and the grief of those oppressed. Verse 15, the arm was the symbol of strength. So break his strength, take away his ability to do evil. Don’t let him get away with it!

16The Lord is king forever and ever; the nations perish from his land.

17O Lord, you hear the desire of the afflicted; you will strengthen their heart; you will incline your ear

18to do justice to the fatherless and the oppressed, so that man who is of the earth may strike terror no more.

YHWH is King (16-18): When evil is winning, and sometimes that happens, always keep in mind that YHWH still rules over all. No one will ever dethrone Him. Further, the weak ones have His ear; He inclines His ear to hear the oppressed. God has had the sovereignty & will always rule.

The bottom line is God is faithful, cf. Habakkuk 3.17-19. It is Habakkuk who also uttered, “The just shall live by faith” which is quoted all over the New Testament. Yes, when surrounded by ungodliness & godlessness, when all the news is of oppression & violence, the just must live by faith; faith in a faithful God who ultimately wins.