There is none who does good — Psalms 14 & 53

Psalms of David

Psalms in Book 1 (Psalms 1 to 41) are mostly personal songs, so I will be looking at how they apply to us personally. Social and communal aspects of life and work do not come in until the later books of psalms.

Two psalms are mostly the same with three differences which I have included in italics.

The first difference is in the title Psalm 53 is ‘according to Mahalath. A Maskil‘ added to the title. Both have “to the choirmaster” and “of David” in the title showing these psalms are by David and dedicated to God, the Choirmaster. Mahaleth’s meaning has been lost and is thought to be either the tune to which Psalm 53 is set or a liturgical direction. Maskil is another debated phrase that some believe points to the psalm being wisdom literature, philosophy in a poetic form. Looking at the content of the psalms it is clear that both are wisdom psalms, with or without that direction.

The books of Psalms are roughly themed like this:

Book 1: Psalms 1 – 41: God is beside us.
Book 2: Psalms 42 – 72: God goes before us.
Book 3: Psalms 73 – 89: God is all around us.
Book 4: Psalms 90 – 106: God is above us.
Book 5: Psalms 107 – 150: God is among us.

To the choirmaster. Of David.

14 The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.”
    They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds,
    there is none who does good.
The Lord looks down from heaven on the children of man,
    to see if there are any who understand,
    who seek after God.
They have all turned aside; together they have become corrupt;
    there is none who does good,
    not even one.
Have they no knowledge, all the evildoers
    who eat up my people as they eat bread
    and do not call upon the Lord?
There they are in great terror,
    for God is with the generation of the righteous.
You would shame the plans of the poor,
    but the Lord is his refuge.

Oh, that salvation for Israel would come out of Zion!
    When the Lord restores the fortunes of his people,
    let Jacob rejoice, let Israel be glad.

To the choirmaster: according to Mahalath. A Maskil of David.

53 The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.”
    They are corrupt, doing abominable iniquity;
    there is none who does good.
God looks down from heaven
    on the children of man
to see if there are any who understand,
    who seek after God.
They have all fallen away;
    together they have become corrupt;
there is none who does good,
    not even one.
Have those who work evil no knowledge,
    who eat up my people as they eat bread,
    and do not call upon God?
There 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.

Oh, that salvation for Israel would come out of Zion!
    When God restores the fortunes of his people,
    let Jacob rejoice, let Israel be glad.

Psalms 14 & 53 ESVUK

If I were to choose which psalm from the 150 in the psalter to put in twice, it would not be Psalm 14. I would choose a song of praise not lament. As well as philosophy psalms 14 and 53 are laments. Lament takes up a significant part of the psalter, and it is a lament, Psalm 22, which is the most quoted psalm in the New Testament, psalm 22 is also prophetic and points to the crucifixion of Jesus. An event for which his followers also lamented, and liturgical churches urge their congregations to lament Good Friday and Holy Saturday.

I am not going to rant on about people who do not believe in God as being fools as some have done, because despite being the first words in these songs I do not believe it is the focus of Psalm 14 which focuses on God being present with those who follow him.

This is another of the differences between the two psalms, verses 5 and 6 of Psalm 14 and verse 5 of Psalm 53 are obviously different from each other, Psalm 14 talks about God looking after the righteous, the Lord being with the poor. Psalm 53 focuses on the fate of his enemies.

I think that is also the reason for the other difference in these Psalms, the way that God is addressed. Psalm 14 uses both Elohim and YHWH for God, translated in the ESV as God and the Lord respectively, yet Psalm 53 used only Elohim. YHWH, the actual personal name of God fits in with the focus of Psalm 14 and with its inclusion in Book 1 of the psalms. Book 1 is mostly personal psalms and here God is shown as being personal, his name is used, to the righteous and the poor, because God is personal to these people. Believing in, and following God is a personal relationship. If your relationship with God is formal I hope you come to know God in a more personal intimate way.

In contrast in Psalm 53, where the focus of the psalm is on the fate of God’s enemies, the personal name of God is not used. God is not personal to these people.

These psalms are laments and wisdom. There is no problem, wise people lament, some of the other lamenting psalms are rants, even bitter rants, against injustice. But they reveal a God of love. The God who wants a personal relationship with people, all people, but people ignore God in their daily lives.

The psalm is not saying atheists are stupid. There are some very intelligent ones out there. The psalms do say that it is foolish to ignore God, and some will say they believe in God, yet carry out their daily lives without a thought of how God would want them to treat others. The mention of the poor in 14:6 is a case in point. The Lord, the personal God, says he will be a refuge to those who would shame the plans of the poor.

Are you living your life in the way God wants? Are you loving your neighbour as much as you love yourself? I will leave you with that question to ponder.

< Psalm 13 | Psalm 14 | Psalm 15 >
< Psalm 52 | Psalm 53 | Psalm 54 >

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