Partner with as God uses us to make a difference for those displaced by Russia's war on Ukraine.
Click to donate today!

Bible Commentaries

Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers

Psalms 53


This Psalm is a variation from Psalms 14:0. Which was the original, or whether both are not corruptions of some lost original, are questions involving minute comparisons and examinations of the Hebrew text, and possibly do not admit of satisfactory answers. Instead of “Jehovah” in Psalms 14:0, Psalms 53:0 has Elohîm, according to the style of this part of the collection. The other differences are discussed in the Notes. (See Introduction and Notes to Psalms 14:0)

Title.—See title, Psalms 4:0.

Upon Mahalath.—One of the most perplexing of the perplexing inscriptions. We have a choice of explanations from derivation between upon a flute, and after the manner of sickness. The word occurs again in the Title of Psalms 88:0, with the addition of “to sing.” It is against the analogy supplied by other inscriptions to refer this to the sad nature of the contents of the Psalm, though in the case of Psalms 88:0 such an interpretation would be very appropriate and not inappropriate here. As in other cases, we look for some musical direction here, and if we take the root, meaning “sick” or “sad,” we must render “to a sad strain,” or “to the tune of a song beginning with the word ‘sadness.’”

Verse 1

(1) And.—The conjunction is wanting in Psalms 14:1.

Iniquity.—Instead of the general term, “doings,” in Psalms 14:0, as if the adapter of the Psalm felt that a word applicable to good as well as evil was not strong enough to express the hideousness of the profanity.

Verse 3

(3) There are two unimportant variations from Psalms 14:0 here: “every one,” instead of “the whole,” and “gone back” (sag) for “gone aside” (sar).

Verse 4

(4) Notice the omission of the expressive “all” found in Psalms 14:0

Verse 5

(5) Where no fear was.—This—the most interesting variation from Psalms 14:0—appears plainly to have been inserted to bring the Psalm into harmony with some circumstance belonging to the time for which it was adapted, but to which we have no clue. As to the choice among the various explanations that have been given of it, we must remark that the one which takes “fear” in a good sense (“Then were they in great fright where there was no fear of God”) is excluded by the fact that the same word is employed in both clauses; and, as elsewhere pâchad is used of a “cause of terror,” we may render, There were they in great fear, where there was no cause for fear.

Apparently, from the immediate context, this statement is made not of the enemies of Israel, but of Israel itself, and was so constantly applicable to a people supposed to be living under the immediate protection of God, and yet liable to sudden panics, that we need not try to recover the precise event referred to.

Of him that encampeth against thee.—Literally, of thy besiegers. The bones of the beleaguering host lie bleaching on the sand. But the text seems to have suffered. The LXX. and Vulg. have “the bones of them that please men,” and a comparison with Psalms 14:5-6 shows such a similarity of letters, with difference of meaning, that both texts look like different attempts to restore some faded MS. Many attempts have been made to restore the original, but none eminently satisfactory.

Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of Used by Permission.
Bibliographical Information
Ellicott, Charles John. "Commentary on Psalms 53". "Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers". 1905.