In Psalm 53, God speaks twice, because it is an almost verbatim repetition of the fourteenth Psalm, and this is surely intended for our careful notice and encouragement. So we should read these two Psalms together.
The first thing we see is this often-used definition of the fool, the one who says his heart ‘there is no God’. The world may think they excel in wisdom and cleverness, and often they succeed through sheer ruthlessness and cunning, exercising their minds in all kinds of evil schemes, and using their intellect to find ways of shutting out God by despising Him and mocking His name. But in God’s estimation, they are fools. He looks down from heaven to see if any are truly wise, and finds none – the Psalmist by this cannot mean every single person, because later he talks about God’s people, those who will be rescued and whose fortunes will be restored, to the sound of rejoicing. So there is a faithful remnant.
Yet evil men, the fools of verse 1, continue to press down hard on God’s people, eating them like bread, says the Psalmist. To the mocker, nothing seems more irrational than for believers to trust in a God who seems to give no relief – they judge God only according to what they see of His grace in present circumstances, in the moment. And so they sarcastically jeer at God’s people for their groundless confidence, for hoping in a God who seems to give no sign of help as they sink under their calamities.
But the Psalmist ends with words of encouragement that we should ponder in our hearts. The first is that there can be no higher wisdom than to depend on God, and to rest in the certain hope of our salvation. Then he encourages us to continue faithfully in prayer while we suffer under heavy burdens and endure the scorn of fools – Zion is the place from which God had promised to hear the prayers of his servants, and David says that this is where our help will come from, so we should be constant in prayer. Then we are assured that in the end, the fool will face nothing but terror and destruction of a kind they have never known before. We understand that God takes no pleasure in the death of sinners (Ezekiel 18:23) and neither should we, but their certain end takes the sting out of their mockery and oppression.
Lastly, under all these trials, David thinks not just of himself, but of the whole body of believers, of Israel. Today, even while we are overcome with our own sorrows, let us not neglect the hardships of our brothers and sisters in Christ. Let us pray for each other, encourage each other, and build each other up as we contend for the faith, running like athletes, labouring like farmers, instructing like teachers, fighting like soldiers. For we are one body, and on the last day, we shall together be presented as the perfect, spotless and glorious bride of the Lamb. “They that sow in tears shall reap in joy” (Psalm 126:5)