Psalm 53 - The Fool
For the director of music. According to mahalath.
A maskil of David.
This psalm is a revised version of Psalm 14, revised by David himself (as the inscription notes). "It is another edition by the same author, emphasized in certain parts, and re-written for another purpose" [Spurgeon, 433]. In both psalms, David speaks of manís rejection of God and its resulting wickedness. "The evil nature of man is here brought before our view a second time, in almost the same inspired words. All repetitions are not vain repetitionsÖ David after a long life, found men no better than they were in his youthÖ If our age has advanced from fourteen to fifty-three, we shall find the doctrine of this Psalm more evident than in our youth" [Spurgeon, 433].
David begins the psalm by defining what is, according to the Bible, the height of foolishness: "The fool says in his heart, ĎThere is no Godí" (vs. 1). In this verse, we see that the Biblical name for the atheist is "fool". "Being a fool he speaks according to his nature; being a great fool he meddles with a great subject, and comes to a wild conclusion" [Spurgeon, 433]. Contrary to popular belief, it is not those who believe in God, but those who do not believe in God that are fools. "The leading truths of natural religion are so clear that it is folly to deny them."[Plumer, 196]
Some nowadays may think that they are modern, advanced thinkers when they declare that there is no God, but atheism is nothing new; and the acceptance of atheism in society, its voguishness, comes and goes like a passing fad. "All the unrenewed persons are fools before God, how wise soever they may seem to men" [Dickson, 318]. Sometimes, atheists are admired in society. "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, 434]. At other times, atheism is looked down upon and, during those times, atheists generally keep quiet. In the psalm, the fool keeps his atheistic statements "in his heart." Certainly, at the time of Davidís writing, a time of Godís visible intervention in the nation of Israel, it would have been absurd to claim aloud that there is no God. Undoubtedly, many of those who were speaking atheism "in their hearts", were at the same time paying lip service to a belief in God. "Words are cheap; but what a man Ďsays in his heartí shows whether he is a wise man or a fool, a saint or a sinner" [Plumer, 196].
Atheism, being the depth of foolishness, leads to depravity, and so, David notes that the atheists "are corrupt, and their ways are vile." All corruption is the result of disbelief, for how can one have a strong awareness of the presence of God, and yet still be corrupt? "The atheist is, morally, as well as mentally, a fool, a fool in the heart as well as in the head; a fool in morals as well as in philosophyÖ ĎNo Godí, being interpreted, means no law, no order, no restraint to lust, no limit to passion. Who but a fool would be of this mind?" [Spurgeon, 433]. The corruption of the secret atheists reveal, more accurately than their words, the belief of their hearts, their belief that "there is no God."
Now, it is not surprising to find that atheists are condemned in the Bible. However, David goes on to say, "There is no one who does good." David now switches to Godís point of view of the situation on earth: "God looks down from heaven on the sons of men to see if there are any who understand, any who seek God" (vs. 2). However, "Everyone has turned away, they have together become corrupt; there is no one who does good, not even one" (vs. 3). God searches for a good man, but does not find him. "Had there been one understanding man, one true lover of his God, the divine eye would have discovered him" [Spurgeon, 434]. In Godís eyes, depravity, indeed a form of atheism, is universal. Davidís language is unambiguous, unqualified and all-inclusive. He says: "any", "any", "everyone", "no one", "not even one." We all stumble into atheism whenever we sin, for in effect, by sinning, we are saying, "There is no God," or at least "God is not watching." As stated above, if we truly had an awareness of the presence of God, we would not sin. Oh, how we condemn the atheist; how we shake our heads at his denial of God; but when we sin, are not we denying God through our actions? We may deny God, but our denial does not cause Him to go away. He "looks down" and sees us in our sin, and holds us accountable for it. God is not indifferent to the goings-on of men, though atheists think He is. Disbelief in God does not cause Him to disappear.
Though He searches, God finds none who "understand": we do not understand the serious of sin; we do not understand the hatred of God for sin; we do not understand the power of God to judge sin. Also, He finds none that "seek God": "None seek Him aright, and as He ought to be sought, nor can [they do so] while they live in sin; for men in seeking God fail in many things: as, First, men seek Him not for Himself. Secondly, they seek Him not alone, but other things with Him. Thirdly, they seek other things before Him, as worldlings do. Fourthly, they seek Him coldly or carelessly. Fifthly, they seek Him inconstantly; [like] Judas and Demas. Sixthly, they seek Him not in His word, as heretics do. Seventhly, they seek Him not in all His word, as hypocrites do. Lastly, they seek Him not seasonably and timely, as profane, impenitent sinners do; have no care to depend upon Godís word, but follow their own lusts and fashions of this world." [Thomas Wilson, in Spurgeon, 171]
Moreover, "everyone has turned away" (vs. 3). In our natural selves, without the Spirit of God, we turn from God. As Paul points out: "The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned" (1 Cor. 2:14). In turning aside, "they have together become corrupt" (vs. 3). Sin begets sin. When immorality is hip (as it is in a large part today), many become immoral, and the moral standards of all society are lowered so that even the righteous are drawn into sin.
Finally, "there is no one who does good" (vs. 3), and (if by chance we do not fully comprehend this) David adds, "not even one." How can this be, with all the charitable works in the world? But think: do we do any good thing without mixed motives? Do we tithe, but for the tax write-off? Do we serve, but for the accolades of men? Do we preach, but to show off our oratorical skills? Do we evangelize, but to make points with God? Do we love, but to be loved? As Jesus said, "No one is goodóexcept God alone" (Mark 10:17).
Having established that "there is no one who does good, not even one", David in the next verses does make a distinction between Godís people and those who will be judged by God: "Will the evildoers never learnóthose who devour my people as men eat bread and who do not call on God?" (vs. 4). Those who will be judged, the "evildoers", are those "who do not call on God". And so, though everyone sins, some call on the Lord and some do not. Those who call on the Lord, call on Him for forgiveness of sin, for forgiveness for not seeking Him, for salvation from judgment.
As for the others, those "evildoers never learn" (vs. 4). They do not "learn", despite evidence of Godís existence in the world around them, despite evidence of Godís presence in the lives of His people. The evildoers "devour" Godís people, often because Godís people make them feel condemned for their apathy concerning God.
Though the evildoers do their best to persecute Godís people, they do not live in a state of confidence in their own lot: "There they were, overwhelmed with dread, where there was nothing to dread" (vs. 5). They live in fear, because the awareness of the presence of God is not with them. One great advantage of being a child of God is the awareness we have of His presence, and the peace and confidence His presence brings to our lives. We know our sins are forgiven, through our Lord Jesus Christ. Evildoers must always be looking over their shoulders, expecting Godís wrath to visit them for their sins. So, those who are so defiant in verse 1, by saying "There is no God", later stand in fear, "overwhelmed with dread." And eventually, as David points out, Godís wrath will visit them: "God scattered the bones of those who attacked you; you put them to shame, for God despised them" (vs. 5).
Consideration of these things causes David to cry out for the Messiah, for the One who would bring salvation: "Oh, that salvation for Israel would come out of Zion" (vs. 6). David knew that the misfortunes of the people of God are temporary, and that the Messiah would come in glory to save them. David here was crying out for the "salvation of Israel". This is the salvation that the Jews of Christís time were looking for. They were looking for Christ to overthrow the Roman government and set up His kingdom on earth. However, Christ first had a much more important mission for His first coming: to bring us our personal salvation. David was looking for the Messiah to bring peace to Israel; Christ first, more valuably, brought us peace with God.
David, though, longs for the time "when God [will restore] the fortunes of His people" (vs. 6). Make no mistake, the Lord Jesus Christ is coming back to earth to set up His kingdom. When He does, the salvation of His people will come once and for all, and the corruption of the evildoers will be done away with.
The mere thought of the Lordís salvation should cause us to shout with joy, so David says: "Let Jacob rejoice and Israel be glad!" The two personalities of the people of God praise Him: "Jacob", the striver who grabs the heel of his brother, "rejoices"; "Israel", the wrestler who holds on to the angel of the Lord until he receives a blessing, is "glad."
Indeed, Lord, we praise You for Your salvation, the greatest possession that we have. We praise You that You have reached down to save us, though we have so largely rejected You. Give us, by Your Spirit, a greater awareness of Your presence, so that we may live purer lives. We pray these things in the name of our Savior, Jesus Christ, Amen.