Will They Never Learn?

Psalm 53

An EasyEnglish Translation with Notes (about 1200 word vocabulary) on Psalm 53


Gordon Churchyard

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Words marked with a *star are described in the word list at the end.

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Jesus said, "Have I been with you for such a long time and still you do not know me?" (John 14:9)

Psalm 53

  (This is) for the music leader.
  (Use the music called) Mahalath.
  (It is) a *maskil for David.

v1   A fool thinks that there is no God.
  People (*like that) are bad. They are *evil.
  None of them does anything that is good.

v2   God is looking down from *heaven on the people on earth.
  He wants to see if there is:
    anyone that understands
    anyone that is looking for God

v3   But they have all turned away and have become *evil.
  Nobody does anything good, not one person.

v4   Will the *evil doers not learn?
  They eat my people (as easily) as they eat bread.
  They do not speak to God.

v5   They were very much afraid when there was nothing to fear!
  God threw away the bones of the people that attacked you, (his people).
  He made (the *evil doers) ashamed because God did not like them.

v6   Oh, who will come from Zion and make Israel safe?
  When God makes his people rich and happy again,
  Jacob will sing and Israel will dance.

The Story of Psalm 53

Psalm 53 is nearly the same as Psalm 14. There are two differences:

    You will find the word *LORD 4 times in Psalm 14 and the word God 3 times. In Psalm 53, the word *LORD is nowhere, but God appears 7 times.

    Verse 5 in Psalm 53 is not the same as in Psalm 14.

Why are there these differences?

There is an English hymn (or Christian song) that starts "Eternal Father, strong to save". It is a hymn that asks God to give help to sailors. W. Whiting wrote it in 1860. There were no planes in 1860. Since people have travelled by plane, we have needed a new hymn. So, someone has written "Eternal Father, strong to save" again. This time it asks God to give help to airmen. We describe the hymn as "rewritten" (or "somebody wrote it again".) This happened to Psalm 14.

In Psalm 14, David wrote about Moses bringing the Israelites through the Red Sea. God had saved them from Egypt. But now, nearly 300 years after David died, God saved them again. This time he saved them from Assyria. So, Psalm 14 was "rewritten". It became Psalm 53. It was still Davidís psalm, but they had to make two changes:

1) They put the name God instead of *LORD. Perhaps this was because they wanted everyone to know that he was God of the whole world. *LORD is a name that only Godís people use.

2) They changed verses 5 and 6 in psalm 14 to verse 5 in Psalm 53. This says that God threw away the bones of the people that attacked Judah. Those people were the Assyrians.

What Psalm 53 means

Verse 1: There are two groups of fools:

    those that make us laugh

    those that are stupid.

This psalm is about the second group. "Thinks", in Hebrew is "says in his *heart". The Jews believed that you thought with your *heart. But you also feel in your *heart. It makes you do things good or bad.

Verse 2: "The people on earth" in Hebrew is "sons of men". This probably means not the people, but the leaders of the enemies of God. But they make the people do what they want them to do. In this verse, we find the Hebrew word "*maskil". We translate this "teaching psalm" when it is at the top of a psalm (*like this one). Here we say that it means "understands". In other words, people have learned something!

Verse 4: "Eat my people as they eat bread" means that bad men kill Godís people. They do it as easily as they eat a meal. They do not feel that they have done something that is bad.

Verse 5: This is about the way that Godís *angel killed 185 000 Assyrian soldiers. The story is in 2 Kings 19 and Isaiah 37. The Assyrians were winning the *war. So they went to sleep one night and they were not afraid. In the morning, when they awoke, 185 000 of them were dead! Then the others that did not die "were afraid, very much afraid". They went home to Assyria and Jerusalem was free!

Verse 6: So, Jacob sang and Israel danced! Jacob and Israel are names for Godís people.

*LORD and God

Psalm 25 explains these names. But there is more. Think about these facts:


Book 1 (Psalms 1-41)

Book 2 (Psalms 42-72)

God (elohim)

49 times

189 times

LORD (yahweh)

275 times

26 times

Books 1 and 2 of the Psalms came from different places and times. We call Book 2 Elohistic because it usually uses the word God (elohim) and not *LORD. Book 1 is Yahwehistic because it usually uses *LORD (yahweh) and not God.

Why is this important? There are two possible reasons:

    They used Elohim (God) because they began to see (understand) that he was God of everybody. The *LORD was only God of the Jews.

    They used Elohim in *Exile because they did not want to use the name Yahweh in a foreign land.

Both of these reasons make us think that they wrote Book 1 of the Psalms (1-41) before Book 2 (42-72).

Something to do

1.  Read the story of the way the *Angel of the *Lord killed 185 000 Assyrians in one night. You will find it in 2 Kings 19 and Isaiah 37.

2.  The fool in Psalm 14 is one of Godís people. Who is he in Psalm 53? (The answer is in verse 5.)

Word list

angel ~ a servant of God (usually) in *heaven.

evil ~ very very bad people (or the things that they do).

exile ~ away from your own country, not able to return.

heart ~ part of our body; the Jews thought that you used your *heart to think; so to know it Ďin your heartí or Ďby heartí means that you remember it.

heaven ~ the home of God.

like ~ another word for Ďasí.

LORD ~ a special name for God; only his people use it (look after Psalm 25).

lord ~ someone with authority (with a capital L a name for God, look after Psalm 25).

maskil ~ a psalm that teaches you something.

nation ~ a group of people (or a country) with a government.

war ~ people (or *nations) fighting each other.


© 2000-2001, Wycliffe Associates (UK)

This publication is written in EasyEnglish Level A (1200 words)

July 2001

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