Bible Commentaries
Psalms 53

Lange's Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal and HomileticalLange's Commentary

Verses 1-6

Psalms 53:0

To the chief Musician upon Mahalath, Maschil, A Psalm of David

          The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God.

Corrupt are they, and have done abominable iniquity:

There is none that doeth good.

2     God looked down from heaven upon the children of men,

To see if there were any that did understand,

That did seek God.

3     Every one of them is gone back; they are altogether become filthy.

There is none that doeth good,

No, not one.

4     Have the workers of iniquity no knowledge?

Who eat up my people as they eat bread:

They have not called upon God.

5     There were they in great fear, where no fear was:

For God hath scattered the bones of him that encampeth against thee:

Thou hast put them to shame, because God hath despised them.

6     Oh that the salvation of Israel were come out of Zion!

When God bringeth back the captivity of his people,
Jacob shall rejoice, and Israel shall be glad.


Its relation to Psalms 14:0—The double addition to the title, which designates this Psalm as an instructive Psalm, to be sung in a sorrowful manner, (vid. Introduct.) shows that the compiler recognized this Psalm as having an independent value along side of Psalms 14:0. At the same time its position among the Elohim-Psalms, and between Psalms 52, 54, which is analogous to that of Psalms 14:0, shows that the differences of the two texts, which are entirely similar in most strophes, were regarded as designed. It is manifest that the sevenfold use of the name of God corresponding with the number of the strophes was to have been marked by the fact that here Elohim is constantly used, whilst in Psalms 14:0 Elohim is only used three times, and Jehovah four times, and indeed with an accurate discrimination of the characteristic differences of these two names. This is at once partly against the supposition that Psalms 53:0 is the more ancient, (Clericus, Ewald, Hitzig), partly against the conjecture that David himself revised Psalms 14:0 (Hengst. and most of the older interpreters after the Rabbins). The following circumstances favor a remodelling of the Psalm (and not merely another recension of the same text); thus: In Psalms 53:1 b, the advance in thought is obscured by the insertion of “and” between the two verbs, but is then restored by placing instead of that noun, which in Psalms 14:1 designates human actions and doings in the good sense as well as in the bad, a word which characterizes evil as unwillingness. Furthermore instead of the “whole,” Psalms 14:3, we have here Psalms 53:3, “every one of them,” which is followed directly by סג, which is preferred to ס‏ר; and in Psalms 53:4 a the word “all,” which is so characteristic in Psalms 14:4, is missing. In Psalms 53:6 a, moreover, the expression designating deliverance has been strengthened by the plural. Finally and chiefly, instead of the two distiches, Psalms 14:5-6, there is here a tristich, which renders the thought expressed there in general terms more definite, by connecting it with a historical event. That a historical event is presupposed, particularly the catastrophe of Sennacherib, is accepted by Hitzig, Baur, et al. Hitzig finds the original text here, whilst he regards Psalms 14:6 as only a retouching of faded features in the style, which has succeeded badly, whilst Hupfeld recognizes in both texts merely the ruins of an original identity. Delitzsch, however, reminds us that such a dependence upon the very letters of the original, and such an alteration of the original by means of a change of letters is found elsewhere likewise, especially in Jeremiah. He also refers to the relation of 2 Peter to Jude, and conjectures that a later poet composed it somewhere about the time of Jehoshaphat or Hezekiah.

Str. V. Psalms 53:5. Where no terror was.—This does not mean blind alarm or unnecessary fear, but the sudden and unexpected breaking in of judgment at a time, when the enemies of the Israelites saw no reason to be terrified, and felt themselves entirely secure, and were without fear or care (Calvin, Venema, Hengst., Delitzsch). Examples of such ruin are: the confederates under Jehoshaphat (2 Chronicles 20:22 sq.), the host of Sennacherib (Isaiah 37:36). Parallel cases are: Job 15:21; 1 Thessalonians 5:3. Some supply after Aben Ezra “as this one,” which would express that it surpassed all others, was unheard of.—Scattered.—This is the consequence of the overthrow. It was the greatest disgrace that the bones which had not been gathered and buried, should be scattered (Psalms 141:7; Ezekiel 6:5), to become the prey of wild beasts, or manure of the field (Jeremiah 8:3; Jeremiah 9:21; Jeremiah 14:4; Jeremiah 25:33). The enemy is here designated by the collective in the singular, and as the besieger of the people of Israel, which leads to an external enemy. It is otherwise with Psalms 14:0. The participle might in itself, connected with Elohim, mean: who surrounds thee protecting, Psalms 34:7; Zechariah 9:8. But this reference is here prevented partly by the position of the participle, partly by the fact that it is not said then, whose bones, etc. Another reading is followed by the Sept., Vulg., Syr.: the bones “of those who please men,” by which Arab. and Æthiop understand hypocrites. But Aquil., Symm., Jerome, have our text.—Many interpreters, without any reason, refer these words to a future judgment.


1. “Those devour the people who derive only their own profit from those over whom they are placed, and do not use their office for the glory of God and their salvation,” (Augustine).
2. The prosperity of the ungodly is partly only apparent, partly without duration. They may sometimes gain external success, and even for a while oppress and afflict the people of God. But although it may seem for a time as if God did not trouble Himself for His people, or those who devour them, yet both parties will soon experience the watchfulness and the activity of God. Even in the days of their prosperity the ungodly cannot escape the curse which God has imposed upon evil doers, Leviticus 26:17; Leviticus 26:36; Proverbs 28:1. God gives them a cowardly heart so that they flee when no one pursues, and are frightened with the noise of falling leaves; whilst the righteous are courageous as a lion.—His hand, moreover, overtakes the secure, so that “terror is in their ears, and the destroyer comes upon them whilst at peace,” Job 15:21; 1 Thessalonians 5:3, and the overthrow is the more complete, the more unexpectedly it comes, and the more definitely it has the character of a Divine Judgment.

3. Such experiences should warn and urge to humiliation under the mighty hand of God. God breaks the rod which He uses to chastise; and when He receives His chastened people into favor again, and raises them up from their fall, they should not forget that the victory was given them over their enemies, because God rejected them.


Ungodly people are proud, presumptuous and defiant, but they are neither so wise as they think, nor so brave as they regard themselves, nor so strong as they make themselves to be.—He who boasts that he fears neither God nor man, will soon enough be found out to be not only a, fool and a transgressor, but likewise a liar.—In misfortune think not that God has forgotten thee, and in prosperity think not that thou hast accomplished it without God.—Your failures attribute to your guilt, your victories to God’s favor.—Forget not what thou owest to God in bad as well as in good times.

Starke: It is not enough to say with the mouth that there is a God, but we must show by our conversation that we are really convinced of it in our hearts.—God is not an idle observer of the world, but what He sees, and He sees all, He records in His book.—The ungodly are like the weather-cocks on the towers, very changeable; now they are altogether courageous, soon altogether despondent.

[Matt. Henry: 1). The fact of sin; 2) the fault of sin; 3) the fountain of sin; 4) the folly of sin; 5) the filthiness of sin; 6) the fruit of sin; 7) the fear and shame that attend sin; 8) the faith of the saints, and their hope and power touching the cure of this great evil.—C. A. B.]

Bibliographical Information
Lange, Johann Peter. "Commentary on Psalms 53". "Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal, and Homiletical". 1857-84.