Surviving the Storms of Life: Psalm 53
Surviving the Storms of Life
The largest and finest bell in the East was in the great Buddhist Temple, Shwee-da-gone, in Rangoon. During a war the bell sank in a river. Over the years, various engineers tried but failed to raise it. At last a clever priest asked permission to try, but only if the bell was given to his temple.
The priest had his assistants gather an immense number of bamboo rods. One by one the rods were fastened to the bell at the bottom of the river. After thousands of them had been fastened, the bell began to move. When the last bamboo rod was attached, the buoyancy of the accumulated rods lifted the bronze bell from the mire of the river bottom to the stream’s surface.
Every act of trust we exhibit toward God, from simple prayer to putting God’s word into practice in our lives in obedience, is like one of those bamboo rods. Each prayer or act of obedience might not seem like much at the time, but with time and persistence, the enemy is conquered. The walls of Jericho fall down. Let’s meditate on psalm 53 together.
This is the third psalm we have studied together this year. This is is very, very much like Psalm 14. These two psalms are quoted by the apostle Paul in Romans 3:10-12 to show that sin is ubiquitous, endemic - even pandemic - across human nature. That’s not to say that we are born in sin as John Calvin and his followers want to insist. But rather it is to say that because mankind is not all-knowing and all-powerful and all-loving - in short, because we are not divine - we do sin. Every single one of us. And that’s why we need a Savior.
Let’s meditate on Psalm 53 together…
THE UNIVERSAL NATURE OF SIN - 53:1-3:
The word “fool” is nabal in Hebrew, which you recognize as being the name of Abigail’s husband who died and allowed David to take Abigail as his wife; that story is told in 1 Samuel 25. “Nabal” is mentioned 22 times in the books 1 and 2 Samuel; after his death, Abigail is referred to as the “widow of Nabal” four times.
The word is used 18 times in the OT, five times is Psalms: 14:1; 39:9; 53:2; 74:18, 22. In the Psalm 74 passage, Asaph writes “a foolish people has spurned Your name” (vs. 18) and “the foolish man reproaches You all day long.”
This “foolish” person is not necessarily an atheist. In fact, there were probably very few atheists in the ancient times. Everybody believed in some type of god. Rather, the “foolish” person is the one who lives as if there is no God, no one to whom to be accountable. When the Bible says “every man did what was right in his own eyes” (Judges 17:6), it is describing the fool.
The fool says in his heart, as evidenced by his life, there is no God to whom to be accountable. We live in a country of fools even today, don’t we?
The fool is corrupt. That’s the word used five times in the account of the world before the flood of Noah’s day: Genesis 6:11-13, 17.
The fool has committed abominable injustice. Look at Deuteronomy 7:26… The word translated “abomination” is related to this word “abominable.” But observe too the verb “to utterly abhor.” That phrase is emphatic in the Hebrew language; if I were to translate it literally, it would read: “to abhor, you will abhor.” Anything that is an “abomination” is something which God abhors.
God became so angry with Israel that He abhorred them: “Therefore the anger of the Lord was kindled against His people and He abhorred His inheritance” (Psa. 106:40).
The author of Psalm 119:163 writes: “I hate and despise [abhor] falsehood, But I love Your law.”
The word “injustice” is used frequently by the prophet Ezekiel; I’ve counted 9 times. The word is only used 21 times in the OT. There is no injustice in God (Deut. 32:4) so God demands that mankind not practice injustice. He abhors it.
Then, to emphasize the point, David says “there is no one who does good.”
In verse 2, David comments that God has looked down from heaven, from His throne of holiness and justice, to see if there are any among the “sons of men” who understands the moral nature of the universe. Is there anyone who understands spiritual truths, spiritual realities? Is there? Is there anyone who seeks after God? The idea is that this individual - who does not exist - seeks after God without God first reaching out to him. Is there anyone who seeks after God without God first appealing to him? No. There is not.
Instead, David writes in verse 3:
Everyone one of them (the sons of men) has turned aside. “Men” were is the word “adam,” which can mean “earth, dirt, Adam, or man.” David could be saying “sons of Adam,” referring to humanity. That is significant in the sense that in Luke 3, Luke concludes his genealogy of Jesus Christ by calling Him the “son of Adam, the son of God” (3:38).
The verb “to turn aside” also means “to go back, to fall away.” It is used frequently in Psalms, 8 times. This is speaking of humanity in general; mankind fell away from God’s commands, beginning in the Garden of Eden, then after the flood of Noah when God started over, then at the tower of Babel when God punished mankind and scattered them. On and on it goes. If man does not have exterior boundaries, he goes astray. Man needs boundaries. Man needs someone who can guide him through this life.
Together, they (the sons of men) have become corrupt. This word “corrupt” is different from the word in verse 1. This word is only used in this psalm and in its sister psalm, Psalm 14. But it means to be or do something that is distorted, wrong, out of the proper expectations.
Again, to emphasize his point, David writes: “There is no one who does good, not even one.” David repeats what he said at verse 1, but then emphasizes it: “not even one.”
No. No one is right in the eyes of Jehovah God. No one, left to himself or herself, can be good and right and holy and stand in the presence of God.
So, what can be done?
RESTORATION COMES FROM GOD:
Before David gets to the “hope,” he still emphasizes the “hopelessness” of mankind…
Verse 4: Do the workers of evil not know? “Know” is actually a verb while the NASV translates it as a noun: Knowledge. No, the workers of evil do not know. Can we see here where it is important to have the right knowledge? You recall that God said through Hosea the prophet that His people were destroyed for lack of knowledge - Hosea 4:6.
“Evil” here is aven which is found in the village known as “Beth-haven.” The word is used 74 times in the OT. It is a favorite word in Psalms for wickedness: used 28 times. These “workers of evil” who do not know “are eating My people,” God says (David says). They consume God’s people, abusing them and exhorting them, taking advantage of them, as if they were just bread.
What is their problem? It is found at the end of verse 4: “they have not called on God.” In Hebrew, the wording is inverted for emphasis: “God they have not called.”
We see here the significant importance of mankind calling on God. “Calling on the name of the Lord” is a phrase used nearly a dozen times in the OT, beginning with Seth’s descendants in Genesis 4:26. The psalmist uses it five times. It refers to everything that is involved with depending on God and trusting Him. It involves prayer and worship in general as well as trusting God’s guidance and His leadership, doing what God commands us to do.
The wicked do not “call upon the Lord.” Why? They do not know what the end result of life will be if they don't call on the Lord. That’s where our job begins - telling people who God is and that they need to call upon Him.
Verse 5 notes the end result of this type of lifestyle. “There they feared fear. There was not fear. Because God scattered the bones of the one encompassing. You have disgraced them because God has rejected them.”
“Perfect love casts out fear,” we recognize from 1 John 4:18. Then perfect wrath, or perfect hatred as God’s wrath is directed at those in sin, creates or stimulates fear. So these wicked “feared fear.” There was no fear for those who were followers of God because we have nothing to fear. If you fear God, you don’t have to fear mankind.
God has scattered the bones of the one “encompassing,” surrounding, threatening the righteous. That’s why the wicked have something to fear. That’s why the righteous have nothing to fear. As Moses told Israel before they crossed the Red Sea: Exodus 14:14 - “The Lord will fight for you while you keep silent.”
The righteous has “disgraced” the wicked because God has rejected them. Isaiah uses this verb a lot, 21 times. Psalms uses the word 35 times. It is obvious why God has rejected them. They are wicked and they do not know what it takes to be right in the eyes of God.
The good news, the hope, the “gospel” is in verse 6…
Who will give from Zion the salvation of Israel? When God brings back the captivity of His people, Jacob will rejoice. Israel will be glad.
Isaiah and Psalms both love the word “salvation.” Of course it can refer to a non-spiritual sort of “redemption” or “deliverance” or “escape.” This deliverance will come “when God brings back the captivity of His people.”
Since David is the author of this psalm, we’re not talking about the Assyrian captivity or the Babylonian captivity. He must have in mind some attack or siege laid against Jerusalem from one of the enemies which David fought against - it could be the Philistines, the Ammonites, the Arameans or some other. It is likely that these oppressors are the “wicked” which David has been discussing.
When God does brings about this salvation, this deliverance, then Judah will rejoice and Israel will be glad. The nation was united under King David but still “Israel” referred to the northern tribes of Israel, those which had been dedicated to King Saul and his family in the seven years following the death of King Saul, before David united the two sections of the country. “Judah,” of course referred to David’s tribe and likely the tribe of Benjamin which often sided with the tribe of Judah.
You may remember that when Joseph was Prime Minister of Egypt and he was testing his brothers to see if they were still capable of despicable behavior, Joseph kept back Benjamin to make him a slave. Judah is the one who offered himself in the place of Benjamin (Genesis 44:14-34). From that point on, there seemed to be a close relationship between Benjamin’s family and Judah’s family.
The verb “to rejoice” is used especially in Psalms - 19 times. The synonym “to be glad” is used more frequently overall, and 51 times in Psalms. Does God want us to be happy? Yes. But not at the expense of being faithful to Him. Because if we can be faithful to Him in this life, the joys we will experience in heaven will engulf, supersede, overpower all the joys we have experienced in this life.
Do you trust God? To conclude our study of Psalm 53, we go to Paul’s use of the text in Romans 3 and we note 3:23-24: “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus.”
How do we acquire the knowledge of God that the wicked lack? Through Jesus Christ. How do we obtain salvation which the wicked lack? Through Jesus Christ. How do we approach God? Through Jesus Christ. Jesus is the answer to the sentiments expressed in Psalm 53.
Take home message: Let us know God, fear God, and teach God. Then we will rejoice and be glad in ways that we can only imagine.