Psalms 53 Summary - The Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
This Psalm is another recension of Psalms 14. Elôhîm (God), is substituted for Jehovah (A.V. Lord) in accordance with the usage of this book; and in Psa 53:1-4 ; Psa 53:6 there are a few variations which hardly affect the sense; but Psa 53:5 differs widely from the corresponding Psa 53:5-6 of Psalms 14. It is a disputed question whether this difference is due to corruption of the text or to intentional change. On the one hand the curious similarity of the Hebrew letters is in favour of the view that the text here is a conjectural restoration of characters which had become partially obliterated: but on the other hand it is possible that some later editor intentionally altered the original text in order to adapt the Psalm to his purpose by introducing a fresh historical reference, probably, as we shall see, to the destruction of Sennacherib’s army.
At first sight Psa 53:6 seems to bring the date of the Psalm down to the Exile. It might be a liturgical addition made in the time of the Exile, but even if this is not the case (and the occurrence of the verse in both recensions points to its being an original part of the Psalm) its language, as will be shewn in the notes, is not decisive.
The Psalmist traces the deep and universal corruption of mankind to its source in their failure to seek after God (Psa 53:1-3). He illustrates this corruption by the cruel treatment to which ‘the people of Jehovah’ have been subjected; and points to some signal interposition by which Jehovah has proved His care for them and refuted the denial of His Providence (Psa 53:4-5). The Psalm concludes with a prayer that He will gladden Israel with a full deliverance ( Psa 53:6).
It is commonly supposed that the Psalmist is describing the depravity of his own age and his own country. But at least in Psa 53:1-3 it is of mankind at large ( the sons of men, Psa 53:2) that he is speaking. His words recall the great examples of corruption in the primeval world, in the days before the Flood, at Babel, in Sodom; and in this recension at any rate, it is clear that ‘my people’ in Psa 53:4 must mean the nation of Israel, and not the poor but godly folk within the nation, while the ‘workers of iniquity’ must mean foreign invaders, not tyrannical Israelite magnates, for Psa 53:5 can refer to nothing less than some great national deliverance from a foreign enemy. In the notes on Psalms 14 the view is taken that Psa 53:4-5 were originally meant to refer to the oppression of Israel in Egypt and the deliverance at the Red Sea, as a great typical instance of defiant antagonism to Jehovah and of His intervention on behalf of His people; and they seem to have been remodelled here to introduce a reference to the invasion of Judah by the Assyrians and the miraculous destruction of Sennacherib’s host.
The title runs: For the chief Musician: set to Mahalath. Maschil of David. Mahalath (cp. the title of Psalms 88) may mean sickness, and is best explained as the initial word of some well-known song, to the melody of which the Psalm was set; rather than as denoting a mournful style of music or some kind of instrument. The LXX could only transliterate the word as unintelligible.
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The Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
The Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges is a biblical commentary set published in parts by Cambridge University Press from 1882 onwards. Anglican bishop John Perowne was the general editor. The first section published was written by theologian Thomas Kelly Cheyne and covered the Book of Micah.
Perowne exercised limited editorial control over the writers of individual commentaries: his aim was "to leave each contributor to the unfettered exercise of his own judgment".