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Psalm 53

New International Version

1 For the director of music. According to mahalath. A maskil of David. The fool says in his heart, 'There is no God.' They are corrupt, and their ways are vile; there is no one who does good. 2 God looks down from heaven on all mankind to see if there are any who understand, any who seek God. 3 Everyone has turned away, all have become corrupt; there is no one who does good, not even one. 4 Do all these evildoers know nothing? They devour my people as though eating bread; they never call on God. 5 But there they are, overwhelmed with dread, where there was nothing to dread. God scattered the bones of those who attacked you; you put them to shame, for God despised them. 6 Oh, that salvation for Israel would come out of Zion! When God restores his people, let Jacob rejoice and Israel be glad!
English Standard Version

1 To the choirmaster: according to Mahalath. A Maskil of David. The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.” They are corrupt, doing abominable iniquity; there is none who does good. 2 God looks down from heaven on the children of man to see if there are any who understand, who seek after God. 3 They have all fallen away; together they have become corrupt; there is none who does good, not even one. 4 Have those who work evil no knowledge, who eat up my people as they eat bread, and do not call upon God? 5 There they are, in great terror, where there is no terror! For God scatters the bones of him who encamps against you; you put them to shame, for God has rejected them. 6 Oh, that salvation for Israel would come out of Zion! When God restores the fortunes of his people, let Jacob rejoice, let Israel be glad.
King James Version

1 {To the chief Musician upon Mahalath, Maschil, A Psalm of David.} The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God. Corrupt are they, and have done abominable iniquity: there is none that doeth good. 2 God looked down from heaven upon the children of men, to see if there were any that did understand, that did seek God. 3 Every one of them is gone back: they are altogether become filthy; there is none that doeth good, no, not one. 4 Have the workers of iniquity no knowledge? who eat up my people as they eat bread: they have not called upon God. 5 There were they in great fear, where no fear was: for God hath scattered the bones of him that encampeth against thee: thou hast put them to shame, because God hath despised them. 6 Oh that the salvation of Israel were come out of Zion! When God bringeth back the captivity of his people, Jacob shall rejoice, and Israel shall be glad.
New American Standard Bible

1 For the choir director; according to Mahalath. A Maskil of David. The fool has said in his heart, 'There is no God,' They are corrupt, and have committed abominable injustice; There is no one who does good. 2 God has looked down from heaven upon the sons of men To see if there is anyone who understands, Who seeks after God. 3 Every one of them has turned aside; together they have become corrupt; There is no one who does good, not even one. 4 Have the workers of wickedness no knowledge, Who eat up My people as though they ate bread And have not called upon God? 5 There they were in great fear where no fear had been; For God scattered the bones of him who encamped against you; You put them to shame, because God had rejected them. 6 Oh, that the salvation of Israel would come out of Zion! When God restores His captive people, Let Jacob rejoice, let Israel be glad.
New Living Translation

1 For the choir director: A meditation; a psalm of David. Only fools say in their hearts, 'There is no God.' They are corrupt, and their actions are evil; not one of them does good! 2 God looks down from heaven on the entire human race; he looks to see if anyone is truly wise, if anyone seeks God. 3 But no, all have turned away; all have become corrupt. No one does good, not a single one! 4 Will those who do evil never learn? They eat up my people like bread and wouldn't think of praying to God. 5 Terror will grip them, terror like they have never known before. God will scatter the bones of your enemies. You will put them to shame, for God has rejected them. 6 Who will come from Mount Zion to rescue Israel? When God restores his people, Jacob will shout with joy, and Israel will rejoice.
Christian Standard Bible

1 The fool says in his heart, "There's no God." They are corrupt, and they do vile deeds. There is no one who does good. 2 God looks down from heaven on the human race to see if there is one who is wise, one who seeks God. 3 All have turned away; all alike have become corrupt. There is no one who does good, not even one. 4 Will evildoers never understand? They consume my people as they consume bread; they do not call on God. 5 Then they will be filled with dread--dread like no other--because God will scatter the bones of those who besiege you. You will put them to shame, for God has rejected them. 6 Oh, that Israel's deliverance would come from Zion! When God restores the fortunes of his people, let Jacob rejoice, let Israel be glad.

What does Psalm 53 mean?

This psalm opens with a declaration that "the fool" denies God's existence. The Hebrew word translated as "fool" in this verse is nā'bāl. This doesn't imply someone who is stupid or incapable. It means someone senseless, irrational, or lacking in wisdom. Even intelligent people can act like fools, and there is nothing more foolish than denying the very existence of God (Psalm 53:1).

The name used for "God" in this psalm is Elohim, the God of creation. This contrasts to other Old Testament passages which use the expression YHWH, sometimes transliterated as Jehovah, the covenant-keeping God. Those who deny the existence of their own creator are not only foolish but also corrupt. Immorality is not something reserved for atheists, of course. God observes the entire human race as wayward, corrupt, and void of meritorious good deeds (Psalm 53:2–3).

David notes that there are wicked ones who persecute God's people, but he realizes God will cause those evildoers to be destroyed. This psalm makes a strong point that God puts those who attack Him and His people to shame. Some scholars think this might be a vague prophecy about what God did to the Assyrian army that encamped around Jerusalem in the time of King Hezekiah. The depiction of God scattering bones evokes bodies being strewn around without burial—this is a graphic and potent warning about the eternal wrath of God (Psalm 53:4–5).

As David considers the rampant evil in the world, he longs for God to deliver Israel and establish His kingdom on earth. When God fulfills David's desire for the kingdom, Israel will experience great joy. According to prophecies in books such as Zechariah, this plea will be granted, someday (Psalm 53:6).