September 12, 2015

Tom Lowe




Title: The Downfall of Israel’s Foes

(To the choirmaster; according to Mahalath.  A Maskil of David.”)


Theme: The fool, foreshadowing Antichrist denies the existence of God.



Psalm 53 (KJV)

1 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.






The phrase “according to “Mahalath” probably means “set to a sad melody.” For this psalm is about a very sad fact of human life, that many people take it for granted that God doesn’t matter.  They say: “Oh, yes, I suppose there is a God—but what difference does that make?”


Psalms 14 and 53 have similar wording—one of the sanctuary musicians probably revised the original psalm to fit a new occasion, perhaps the defeat of the Assyrian army in the days of King Hezekiah (v. 5; Isaiah 37)—but there are certain remarkable differences, as well.  In the first place, Psalm 53 is a maschil psalm, intended for public instruction.  There are 13 such psalms in the Hebrew hymn book, this is the sixth.  That hints at something, for the number thirteen is connected with rebellion and apostasy, and the number six is the number of man.  One gets the feeling that this psalm will instruct us about man in his rebellion and apostasy.


This psalm is actually another version of Psalm 14.  While Psalms 14 and 53 are much the same in content they are quite different in character.  Psalm 14 is a song, Psalm 53 is a sermon; Psalm 14 deals with God’s verdict, Psalm 53 with God’s vengeance; Psalm 14 has to do with the sin of man, Psalm 53 with the man of sin; Psalm 14 is judicial—man is brought into court and found guilty, Psalm 53 is judgmental—man is caught with the arms of rebellion in his hands and swept away; Psalm 14 is interpreted for us in Romans, Psalm 53 in Revelation.


In Psalm 14 God is called Jehovah three times, in Psalm 53 He is always called Elohim (seven times).  In Psalm 14 man dethrones God from his heart and repudiates any knowledge of the God who reveals Himself; in Psalm 53 the dethronement of God is followed by the crowning of the beast, the man of sin, for no knowledge of a personal God is left.  If God has to be named at all it is by the name Elohim—the distant, far off Creator.  Even atheists sometimes inadvertently and illogically speak the name of God.


Already we have noted enough differences between these two psalms to see why both of them are included in the Word of God.  Just because one thing is similar to another does not mean that it is necessarily the same.





There were times when the Judean community became unspeakably corrupt and when Zion, its spiritual center, was destitute of any responsible, directing influence because its priesthood was degenerate.  Malachi’s criticism of the priesthood of his day (Malachi 1:6-2:9) is a case in point.  Then the New Year prayer for the change of fortunes was concentrated on the priesthood, the spiritual leadership of the worshipping congregation of the Temple. 



The psalm gives us three different pictures of the world.

  1. A Wicked World (53:1-4)
  2. A Warring World (53:5)
  3. A Wonderful World (53:6)



I. A Wicked World (53:1-4)


Psalm 14 deals with man’s general sinfulness, Psalm 53 with man’s specific sin.  It is the sin of trying to rule God out of His universe, conspiring to enthrone wickedness and vice in the person of the man of sin.  The psalm describes four classes of people who will flock to the banners of the beast. 

  1. The Foolish Man (53:1)
  2. The Forgetful Man (53:2)
  3. The Filthy Man (53:3)
  4. The Fierce Man (53:4)




  1. The Foolish Man (53:1)


“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.”  


When the beast takes over the earth it will certainly seem like that.  The book of Revelation leaves us in little doubt as to what will happen.  After the Church is called home the vilest passions of men will be set loose, for the great Restrainer will be removed.  The seals will be broken and the forces which are holding man’s wickedness in check will be gone.  God will abandon men to their lusts and passions. 


The ancient Jewish commentary, the Targum, has a paraphrase of verse 1 that states: “There is no government of God upon the earth.” This fallacy is both ancient and modern.  In Old Testament times virtually nobody was an atheist; they couldn’t be because they lived too close to creation and to men who knew men, who knew men, who knew of God.  Life was too mysterious for them to make that foolish mistake.  So the words “There is no God”, must be looked at from within the Bible, and not from a modern secularist standpoint.  In the Old Testament nowhere do we find that God just “is”, or “exists.” Always he is “doing.” Genesis 1:1 says: “In the beginning God created . . .” So now we know Him by his actions, for loving, saying, redeeming, and so on are all creative actions“The fool”—a man who scoffs at ethical and religious claims (Psalm 39:8; 74:22; Proverbs 17:7), and in his thoughts and plans he renounces God—is not necessarily a dunce or stupid.  He may be intellectually brilliant as far as contemporary education is concerned, but he does not want to face the evidence as to the person, power and providence of God.  This fool spoken of here simply cannot see God in action.  He is the “absentee landlord” in the world.  Consequently, “when the cat’s away, the mice do play.” Since God seems to be away, men do abominable inequity. It is possible that the reference to “fool” could evoke memories of David’s frustrating experience with Nabal, the husband of Abigail (1 Samuel 25).


Men will say, “There is no government of God upon the earth.” They will be wrong, of course, but it will certainly look as though they are right.  God will not have dropped the reins of governments, but He will have loosed them.  Men will get the bit between their teeth and race off to their doom.  They will end up crowning the devil’s messiah as the lord and savior of mankind.


Our verse marks three features of the foolish man.



  1. His False Concepts


Why is it that men are so bad?  Surely it is because there is no fear of God before their eyes: they say in their hearts, “There is no God at all to call us to an accounting, none that we need to stand in awe of.” Men’s bad practices flow from their bad principles. They profess to know God, yet their works deny Him, because they deny him in their thoughts.  They are fools in God’s eyes (whose judgment we are sure is right), for harboring such corrupt thoughts.  Atheists are the greatest fools in the world.  Those that do not seek God do not understand; they are like the brute-beasts that have no understanding; for man is distinguished from the brutes, not so much by the powers of reason as by a capacity for religion.


“The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God.” The seat of atheism is not in the head, but in the heart.  And men keep on boasting of it in the hope of making themselves believe it, and in order to keep their courage up.  Atheism is linked with depravity and degradation, sometimes as cause, sometimes as effect.  Therefore it is not surprising that those who say, “There is no Elohim” are corrupt, and doing abominable inequity.  There is none of them who does good. The forces of atheism are already marching across the world.  Nearly one billion people already live under regimes which have atheism as their cardinal political principle. The agents of imperial atheism are hard at work everywhere spreading the gospel of unbelief.  For example, the communist vision is simply the vision of man without God.


Lenin declared: “Our propaganda necessarily includes the propagation of atheism.  The Marxist must be the enemy of religion.” The communists have officially abolished God from their lands.  They line up to worship a mummified corpse in the Kremlin.  They can be seen in Red Square, even in midwinter, when temperatures reach 40° below zero, waiting to enter the mausoleum to gaze at the corpse of a dead man.  Communists have abolished God, and the poison of atheism spreads steadily around the world.



  1. His False Conduct


Corrupt are they, and have done abominable iniquity.” Twentieth century society is preparing itself for the coming of the man of sin—the man who will embody, promote, and glorify every lustful passion of the human heart.


We are living in the day of the topless bar and gay marriage.  We are already in the grip of wholesale immorality.  Babies are aborted at an alarming rate, and their tiny body parts sold for a profit.  The world is in the grip of a terrifying AIDS epidemic.  Pornography and prostitution is big business.  And all of this is happening with the Church still here, still praying, the Holy Spirit still holding back the worst of it, and the seals as yet intact upon the seven sealed scroll.


The world is right for the coming of the man of sin.  When he is finally unveiled the foolish man, given to foul conduct, will think the man of sin to be the greatest most enlightened leader the world has ever known . . .  the super humanist and God-hater.



  1. His Faulty Character


“Every one of them is gone back: they are altogether become filthy; there is none that doeth good, no, not one.”



“There is none that doeth good.” A strong vein of lawlessness, lust, and wickedness lies in every human heart.  The cities of San Francisco and Los Angeles are in deadly danger—all the more deadly because it is not visible.  They set upon a geological fault line which runs for many miles beneath the surface.  Down below subterranean forces are at work.  Earthquakes of terrifying magnitude could break out, annihilating the cities along the California Coast.  The human heart has just such a hidden fault line running through it.  It can, and sometimes does, erupt with shocking violence.  One of these days the devil, the beast, and the false prophet will line up and exert a diabolical pull on human hearts, on human life, and society.  Then there will be an eruption of wickedness on this planet as has never been seen before


So there he is, the foolish man, with his false concepts, foul conduct, and faulty character waiting for the coming of the devil’s messiah.  That is one kind of man who will hail the arrival of the beast.  The psalmist goes on to describe another kind.



  1. The Forgetful Man (53:2)


“God looked down from heaven upon the children of men, to see if there were any that did understand, that did seek God.”


In Psalm 14 this is a general indictment of the human race.  In Psalm 53 it underscores conditions on earth after the Church is raptured, when the world unites to crown the son of perdition as ruler of the world.  The prophet vividly pictures the Lord from His exalted heavenly throne looking down upon Israel (God is concerned for His world) to convince Himself that the situation of His people is sufficiently serious to warrant His interference.  He cannot find one who, left to himself, would have the wisdom to fear the Lord.  Apart from the prior ministry of the Holy Spirit, no one would seek God.  Is Israel as bad as all this?


The conditions leading up to an eruption of wickedness on the earth will be dreadful and dramatic.  There will be wars and famines, pestilences and earthquakes, persecutions and ecological disasters.  People will have a ready explanation for these things.  They will blame them on nature and on international unrest.  They will not see God’s hand in them, for they neither understand nor seek God.  Instead, when the devil’s messiah is unveiled and with miracles backing his claims to be Messiah, they will rush off to Rome to crown him Caesar of the west and then to Babylon to crown him emperor of the world.



  1. The Filthy Man (53:3)


“Every one of them is gone back: they are altogether become filthy; there is none that doeth good, no, not one.”


The situation is indeed desperate, and the verdict is given as though God Himself were speaking through the prophet: “Every one of them is gone back: they are altogether become filthy.” It will be as it was in the days of Noah when “every imagination of the thoughts of men’s hearts was only evil continually” (Genesis 6:5).  The human race will abandon all moral principles and God will abandon the human race to every form of vice.  The filthy man will find a ready ally in the beast, for he will not oppose sin but will condone and even crown it. Sin will be the very cornerstone of his character.  He will be the visible expression of Satan; the diabolical nature, person, and personality of the evil one will be given bodily expression in the person of the beast.  He will be the incarnation of every filthy practice to which the unregenerate heart of men is prone.  The devil’s messiah will draw the foolish man, the forgetful man, and the filthy man to himself, as a magnet draws steel.


The filthy man is here—there should be enough evidence to prove it in the daily news reports—and it is one of the evil effects of atheism. We should look at this psalm as a warning to the elect of God to watch for the signs of the impending Rapture, for He will remove His Church before filthy men are unobstructed in their persecution of Christians.


“There is none that doeth good, no, not one.” They have all turned aside from the living God.  They have all become depraved.  Not one does good in the sense of something that can gain favor or merit with the Lord.



  1. The Fierce Man (53:4)


“Have the workers of iniquity no knowledge? who eat up my people as they eat bread: they have not called upon God.”


The Lord is still speaking, taking one last look at the world He is about to judge.  He sees, standing with the others, the fierce man: “Have the workers of iniquity no knowledge? who eat up my people as they eat bread: they have not called upon God” (v. 4); they never feel the need of speaking to God in prayerThe cruelty of atheism can be seen in the expression “who eat up my people as they eat bread.” The person who does not care for God is not likely to care much for men.  The prayerless man is basically an atheist: “he calls not upon the Lord.”


We are told in verse 6 that God’s people Israel are now in exile in Babylon.  Their sin has brought them to this disastrous situation.  Only God therefore can act to save them and bring them home, since it is only God who can redeem a sinful people.


The world is full of fierce men today—men who do not hesitate to maim and to kill, who delight in violence, who would start a war or spark a revolution without the slightest qualm of conscience.  The whole communist movement is being directed by fierce men who routinely use violence as a weapon for furthering their plans.  The terrorists who hijack planes and bomb schools are fierce men without conscience.


During the great tribulation, the beast will need fierce men, those addicted to committing atrocities. The beast will need executioners, soldiers, enforcers.  He will turn fierce men lose upon the Jew and upon those believers still to be found on earth.  He will recruit those who “eat up” God’s people like bread, those who have “no knowledge,” the man who does not “call upon God.” Nevertheless, in the book of Revelation we are told that in a coming day—when Jesus sets up His kingdom—this bent toward violence will come to an end. 


So then, we live in a wicked world.  It has always been a wicked world, but as Paul reminds us, at the end of the age “evil men and seducers will wax worse and worse” (2 Timothy 3:13).  There you have it—so many people today say that everything is getting better—but you know and I know that is not true, instead, it’s getting “worse and worse” it’s not going to get any better. 


CONSIDER ISRAEL. Who is responsible for this degenerate condition in Israel in David’s day?  Why has there been this low moral decline?  David lays it definitely at the door of the corrupt and irresponsible priesthood.  His words remind us vividly of Hosea’s penetrating criticism of the priesthood of pre-exilic Israel, who had “forgotten the teaching of God” and “set their heart on their iniquity” (4:6, 8).  It likewise recalls Malachi’s charge that the priesthood of the fifth century b.c. had corrupted the Levitical (priestly) covenant (2:8).  The psalmist points out the faults of the priests.  They are themselves wicked men, and their conduct puts stumbling blocks in the path of the common people who look to them for spiritual leadership. They obtain their livelihood from the sacrificial offerings, “the bread of God,” presented at the Temple by the people.



  1. A Warring World (53:5)


“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.”


This verse takes us to the end of the coming judgment age.  The beasts fleeting day of empire will have run its course and the world become a charnel [a building or chamber in which bodies or bones are deposited] house of corpses.  The beast will have had his fling and a terrible fling it will be.  But the tide will have turned.  The eastern nations will have broken away and mobilized against Him.  The world’s armies will be drawn by forces quite beyond man’s control to the plains of Megiddo.  Suddenly the sign of the Son of man will appear in Heaven.  There is about to be an invasion from outer space.  The armies of the earth will unite at the last moment to prevent, if possible, the return of Christ to earth.  The psalmist describes three things about this climax. 


  1. The Dread Which Overtakes the Foe
  2. The Defeat Which Overtakes the Foe
  3. The Disgrace Which Overtakes the Foe



  1. The Dread Which Overtakes the Foe


“There were they in great fear.” Despite all the persuasive oratory of the false prophet and the beast, despite the compelling power of the three frog like evil spirits which will have drawn earth’s mobilized millions two Megiddo, despite satanic assurance that this impending invasion can be repelled, men (foolish evildoers) will be overcome with dread and faint from fear even though there is no good reason for it.  Biblical examples abound of instances when God’s people are threatened but where God delivers them by creating panic within the enemy camp (Judges 7:19-22; 1 Samuel 7:10-11; 14:13-15).  Yet it seems that wicked people never learn (v. 4).


Perhaps that fear will be caused by the sudden arrival over the battlefield of countless flocks of carrion birds, God’s undertakers, to consume the dead.  Perhaps it will be the sudden rending of the sky and the dazzling site of the Son of God on His milk-white horse.  But this we know, terror will seize the men formed in battle array.  “There were they in great fear.” Whatever the cause, the effect will be plainly seen: the boastful armies of the earth paralyzed with fear.


  1. The Defeat Which Overtakes the Foe


There is only one thing for God to do—DESTROY THE HERETICS!  The judgment has been announced.  We cannot soften it by assuming it to be doom falling on a few dangerous apostates, or even on a sizable segment of the arrogantly evil whom we might very well do without.  Our poet has found one fool and gone on to discover that God has been unable to find a single wise man.  Stupidity and godlessness have become universal corruption, abominable inequity, depravity, and figurative cannibalism!


“For God hath scattered the bones of him that encampeth against thee.” The time will come for God to make full reckoning with those who have persecuted the Jews and the people of God.  The psalmist foresees the bones of Israel’s enemies bleached by the sun and scattered all over the place, so that there is no hope of a gathering and restoration.  It was a great reproach to them, for such a numerous and mighty force to be baffled and conquered by those whom they thought could be swallowed up like morsels of food.  The image we get is of the aftermath of a great battle that has left vast numbers of unburied dead as the result of an utter defeat—quite a grim outlook for those who oppose God and his people.  Note: for a body to remain unburied was a great disgrace in the ancient Near East, even an executed criminal was supposed to have a decent burial (Deuteronomy 21:23; see 2 Kings 23:14; Ezekiel 6:5).  Armageddon will spell total defeat for the forces of wickedness which have held the planet in bondage for so long.  One moment the vast arena will be filled with troops gathered from every nation under Heaven; the next moment they will all be dead.  One word from the lips of the Lord and, Sennacherib’s host, the armies of the beast and of the Kings of the east will be no more.


The destruction of the wicked is expressed in the past tense, most likely to stress the certainty of their downfall. 



  1. The Disgrace Which Overtakes the Foe


“Thou hast put them to shame, because God hath despised them.” Where then will be all the boastings and blasphemies of the beast?  Where are all his fine promises of glory?  He will be dragged from his tent along with the false prophet—profane and godless men—rejected, humiliated, and destroyed by the Lord.  Satan will already be in chains.  The beast will be hauled up to the Lord’s pavilion to stand there for a moment, a deflated windbag, shaking before the blazing wrath of the Lamb.  There they will be, face to face at last; the beast, the dragon, and the Lamb.  Then beast and false prophet will be cast into the lake of fire.  Their last shrieks will still be heard as the fierce flames close on them forever.



  1. A Wonderful World (53:6)


“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.”


The words of the prophet come to an end at verse five and are followed by a brief pause. Then comes the prayer sung by the choir.  It is the most distinctive thing in the psalm and is sung in the form of a lament.  It is an intense, passionate prayer for a change of fortune for the people of God.  The psalmist is convinced that God alone can bring about such a turnaround in Israel’s future, by which the now backslidden community will become a righteous people.  And he thinks that this turnaround in fortunes must originate in Zion, where the Lord dwells.  The implication is that a transformed Temple priesthood calling upon God’s name, teaching the people the true knowledge of God (Malachi 2:6), and turning them from inequity, can prepare the ground spiritually for this great consummation.  Thus sings the choir:


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!



In a sudden surging of the Spirit in his soul, the psalmist sees the great sight—the coming of Jesus to reign!  He is the Deliverer who will come out of Zion (Romans 11:26) and save all believing Israel.  In that day Israel will be restored, Jacob will rejoice and Israel will be glad; for Megiddo is the prelude to the millennium.  There are three elements that make up this wonderful world to be.



  1. Salvation



“Oh that the salvation of Israel were come out of Zion!” The figure of speech conveyed by that first word Oh!  is called an “ecphonesis,” defined in The Companion Bible as “a word or words prompted by emotion.” This last verse is an emotional outburst; containing the Divine answer to the Atheist.  Even now the existence of God’s ancient people is a marvelous reply to the taunts of His foes; but how dumb and silenced they will be when they see Israel restored as a nation, and when the saints shall possess the earth!  “Oh that the salvation of Israel were come out of Zion” [that is to say, from God present in Israel’s midst], for once God has re-established His people in Jerusalem, Israel might again receive the strength to seek the salvation of the world!  This is a prayer which benefits every instance of depressed spiritual life. 


The psalmist is thrilled with the prospect of God’s salvation.  The word translated salvation is a plural: “Oh that the salvation of Israel were come out of Zion.” For just as our individual salvations from sin is a plural salvation—from the penalty, power, and presence of sin—so Israel’s salvation is plural.  It will be a spiritual salvation, for they will look on Him whom they pierced and crowned Christ, Savior, and Lord; it will be a strategic salvation, for their massed enemies will be annihilated; and it will be a social salvation, for the whole structure of life on this planet will be changed.



  1. Security


“God bringeth back the captivity of his people,” or, as one translator puts it: “God turns the fortunes of His people.” That is, God restores the prosperity of His people.  The day is coming when no nation on earth will dare to threaten Israel.  God’s people not only will be saved, they will be secured.


How can anyone say that God is through with the nation of Israel after reading, “When God bringeth back the captivity of his people, Jacob shall rejoice, and Israel shall be glad.” To deny that God has a future purpose for Israel is to deny the inerrancy and inspiration of Scripture. 



  1. Song


“Jacob shall rejoice, and Israel shall be glad.” Salvation!  Security!  Song!  What a day it will be!  The deliverance envisioned is clearly national and millennial.  It perfectly illustrates, however, what God offers to us today in a higher, loftier, spiritual sense.  We live in a wicked, warring world—different only in degree, not in kind, from the world of the beast.  Into this world Jesus once came.  And today He offers to all salvation, security, song!  “There!” says David.  “Send that to the chief Musician.  Let us put this psalm in the hymnbook of the choir.” This psalm is essentially a sermon, but it is a sermon set to music—one of the best ways to drill truth home to our minds.