Book 2: Psalm 53 of 72 – Only God is good

Psalm 53 follows naturally on from Psalm 52.  “There is no God”, says the fool, as if this fool is the same mighty man described in the opening of Psalm 52.  This fool is corrupt and David describes that “there is none who does good“.  David’s conclusion is sombre – God wishes to see if any of the children of men would understand and seek after Him; but they have all fallen away, together they have become corrupt.  V.3 is his analysis of men: “[t]hey have all fallen away; together they have become corrupt; there is none who does good, not even one.

This grim analysis undoubtedly includes himself.

Then David addresses the Anointed One, He who is the promised seed of the woman in Genesis 3:15, and who is the only one who is able to understand and who seeks after God (v.2).  God the Father will scatter the bones of him who encamps against Jesus (v.5).  It is therefore not by man’s hands, but by Jesus the God-man, who will restore the fortunes of his people (v.6).  As Charles Spurgeon comments on this Psalm in his Treasury of David:

“David sees the end of the ungodly, and the ultimate triumph of the spiritual seed. The rebellious march in fury against the gracious, but suddenly they are seized with a causeless panic. The once fearless boasters tremble like the leaves of the aspen, frightened at their own shadows. In this sentence and this verse, this Psalm differs much from the fourteenth. It is evidently expressive of a higher state of realisation in the poet, he emphasises the truth by stronger expressions. Without cause the wicked are alarmed. He who denies God is at bottom a coward, and in his infidelity he is like the boy in the churchyard who “whistles to keep his courage up.” For God hath scattered the bones of him that encampeth against thee. When the wicked see the destruction of their fellows they may well quail. Mighty were the hosts which besieged Zion, but they were defeated, and their unburied carcasses proved the prowess of the God whose being they dared to deny. Thou hast put them to shame, because God hath despised them. God’s people may well look with derision upon their enemies since they are the objects of divine contempt. They scoff at us, but we may with far greater reason laugh them to scorn, because the Lord our God considers them as less than nothing and vanity.”

For who is good?  Jesus answered the ruler in Luke 18, “Why do you call me good?  No one is good except God alone“.  Here, David looks to the Son who is good, just like his Father, by the anointing of the Holy Spirit.

Book 2: Psalm 53 of 72 – Only God is good

Book 2: Psalm 52 of 72 – David the Mighty Man

The theme of Exodus, for this second book of the Psalms, runs throughout this chapter.  Although this chapter describes the incident of Doeg, the Edomite, reporting to Saul regarding his visit to the house of Ahimelech, the line of the sons of Satan stems from the unredeemed on the pages of Genesis through to the clearest sign of persecution of His children during the Israelites’ sojourn in Egypt.

David is addressing the “mighty” man – sarcastically so.  Such men laugh in the face of God’s steadfast love.

This chapter can be divided into three parts:

1.  vv.1-4 – the “mighty” man boasts of his evil; his tongue plots destruction; he is a worker of deceit; he loves evil more than good; he lies rather than speak what is right; he loves words that devour.  He is a classic child of the first liar (John 8:44).

2. vv.5-7 – this “mighty” man is then contrasted with God.  V.5 is powerful – “But God will break you down forever“.  From God’s steadfast and enduring love in v.1, we reach God’s capacity to break down the haughty man, to uproot him from the land of the living (c.f. Luke 12:5).  The mighty man shall no longer boast, but instead is laughed at by the righteous, as the godless man trusted in the abundance of his riches and sought refuge in his own destruction.

3.  vv.8-9 – after looking at the mighty man, at God, then we turn to David.  He is like a green olive tree in the house of God, for he trusts in the steadfast love of God forever and ever.  David, however, is not relying on himself; in v.9, he refers to God’s name.  For God’s name is good.  He wishes to be in the presence of His Name, the godly.

The way David ends this chapter is poignant, and the way this Psalm is arranged after Psalm 51 is not coincidental.  For in Psalm 51 we see David’s fall and his recognition that he relies on the sacrifice of the Son to be cleansed.  Although Psalm 52 is chronologically placed before Psalm 51, the “mighty” man, in fact, refers more to David’s life when he was adulterous and caused the death of Uriah, as well as his disobedience with the census causing the deaths of the Israelites (2 Samuel 24:14).  How easy it is for us to be the righteous men described in v.6, laughing at the boasting of the mighty man; for here, David’s life is both a combination of that mighty man, as well as he who is like a green olive tree in the house of God.  It is indeed a stern reminder to us that our trust is not in the abundance of our riches (v.7), nor to seek refuge in our destruction and lies (vv.3-4, 7), but in the opening and closing of this chapter – God’s steadfast love.

Is that not why the Israelites moaned in the wilderness, although initially laughing at the haughtiness of the Pharaoh who denied them the opportunity to leave Egypt until the 10 plagues effectively killed off his trust in his own riches and his gods?  How quickly our hearts turn away from God.  Yet, David reminds us, despite our fickle nature it is His love that endures forever.  And how is God’s love characterised?  By way of the only Mighty Man in whom we trust:

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.  For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.  Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.”

Book 2: Psalm 52 of 72 – David the Mighty Man

Book 2: Psalm 51 of 72 – Give us clean hands

Given the victorious glory and grace extended to us in Psalm 50, we immediately move onto a Psalm of David.  Psalm 51 is described as the king’s psalm, particularly after Nathan warned David with regard to his immoral act with Uriah’s wife, Bathsheba.

The chapter starts as one of remorse and repentance: “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy” (v.1).  David is appealing to God’s love and mercy; not to his own works.  This is consistent with the previous psalm of Asaph.  It is by God’s mercy that David’s transgressions are blotted out.  It is only God who can cleanse us from our sins; our obedience amounts to nothing; rather, it is from the cross that such obedience flows back to the ascended Son.

David also recognises that though he had sinned against Bathsheba, against his nation, against Uriah, these are but the by-product of him sinning against God (v.4).  Just as the 10 Words to Moses could be summarised as “love the LORD your God with all your your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind; and love your neighbour as yourself.“, so also a failure to comply with any of the 10 Words a by-product of a failure to love the LORD and love our neighbour.

It is worth observing David’s comment on v.5 – he describes having been “brought forth in iniquity and in sin did my mother conceive me”.  However, there is nothing in Scripture which describes such iniquity; it appears, rather, that he is referring to his sin as stemming from the iniquity of the original sin.  As Charles Spurgeon says of v.5 in Treasury of David:

“He goes back to the earliest moment of his being, not to traduce his mother, but to acknowledge the deep tap roots of his sin. It is a wicked wresting of Scripture to deny that original sin and natural depravity are here taught. Surely men who cavil at this doctrine have need to be taught of the Holy Spirit what be the first principles of the faith. David’s mother was the Lord’s handmaid, he was born in chaste wedlock, of a good father, and he was himself, “the man after God’s own heart; “and yet his nature was as fallen as that of any other son of Adam, and there only needed the occasion for the manifesting of that sad fact. In our shaping we were put out of shape, and when we were conceived our nature conceived sin. Alas, for poor humanity! Those who will may cry it up, but he is most blessed who in his own soul has learned to lament his lost estate.”

The king’s plea to God to purge him with hyssop is a reflection of the blood and hyssop used to touch the lintel and the two doorposts to ensure that they are hiding under God’s covering during the final plague in Egypt (v.7); David relies therefore not on burnt offerings alone, but refers to the earliest incident of the salvation of Israel as a nation – by the blood of Christ, represented in the type.  One’s desire for joy and gladness comes from the rejoicing of the broken bones (v.8); blotting out of iniquities (v.9); a clean heart (v.10); a renewed and right spirit (v.10); His presence (v.11); and His Holy Spirit (v.11).  That is the joy of His salvation, for He upholds David with a willing spirit.  That is the king’s plea, and that is the understanding of this God of grace.

In v.14, David describes that he wishes to be delivered from “bloodguiltiness”.  This is a reference to the death of Uriah the Hittite.  David is acknowledging what (a part of) his sin is for the first time in this chapter.  Today, we very easily acknowledge our sins before our Father and forget the awe that the Old Testaments saints had in acknowledging their sins before Him.  They trembled in fear, for they knew that they were worthy to be destroyed because of their trespasses.  Do we tremble in fear, knowing that is what we deserve, before acknowledging that what we deserve has been replaced – on His discretion – by the blood of Jesus?

Just as Christ taught us to forgive our debtors as He forgave us our debts, so David would teach his transgressors God’s ways — that is how the lost sheep will be returned.  David will not merely sacrifice burnt offerings – that is not the appropriate response.  The appropriate response is that of a broken spirit, a contrite heart (v.17).  That said, David does not disown the typology of the sacrifices; he returns to them in vv.18 and 19.  The building of the walls of Jerusalem is a call for God to build the walls and protection of the church, despite His sin; his reference to the offerings are described as the right sacrifices.  He understands that the sacrifices themselves are meaningless; underlined with a contrite heart and a broken spirit, they bear out their intended meaning.  So also what sacrifices and offerings we make, what ministries we partake, are meaningless without that broken spirit and contrite heart, as a wholesome response to His salvation, His restoration, His gift of the Holy Spirit, His glorious presence.

However, that contrite heart does not start with us.  That contrite heart starts with the Christ — for it is He is the one broken first before us (1 Corinthians 11:24).  That is why we can then be received by the man who receives sinners, for it is He who first was the one received by the Father as Christ was broken.

Spurgeon states,

“”A broken heart” is an expression implying deep sorrow, embittering the very life; it carries in it the idea of all but killing anguish in that region which is so vital as to be the very source of life. So excellent is a spirit humbled and mourning for sin, that it is not only a sacrifice, but it has a plurality of excellences, and is preeminently God’s sacrifices. A broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise. A heart crushed is a fragrant heart. Men contemn those who are contemptible in their own eyes, but the Lord seeth not as man seeth. He despises what men esteem, and values that which they despise. Never yet has God spurned a lowly, weeping penitent, and never will he while God is love, and while Jesus is called the man who receiveth sinners. Bullocks and rams he desires not, but contrite hearts he seeks after; yea, but one of them is better to him than all the varied offerings of the old Jewish sanctuary.”

Book 2: Psalm 51 of 72 – Give us clean hands