The Fourteenth and Fifty-Third

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This is part four of an ongoing series where every 10 weeks we examine the Psalms greatest hits. Below is Psalm 14 and the changes that 53 includes.

The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.”
    They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds;
    there is none who does good.

2 The Lord looks down from heaven on the children of man,
    to see if there are any who understand,
    who seek after God.

They have all turned aside; together they have become corrupt;
    there is none who does good,
    not even one.

Have they no knowledge, all the evildoers
    who eat up my people as they eat bread
    and do not call upon the Lord?

There they are in great terror,
    for God is with the generation of the righteous.
You would shame the plans of the poor,
    but the Lord is his refuge.

NOTE: Psalm 53 substitutes v.5 with this version: (“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.

7 Oh, that salvation for Israel would come out of Zion!
    When the Lord restores the fortunes of his people,
    let Jacob rejoice, let Israel be glad.

I’m going to begin by asking you to pay attention to how these Psalms “TRIGGER” you. If you don’t, these words will easily fold tightly within our default, binary mental framework. Once this happens, the big message is forever lost on us as we retreat into our tribes and use these words to separate ourselves from others.

How many times has this verse been used against Atheism? I’ve seen this quoted on Youtube videos of Richard Dawkins or other scientists as a heartless jab as if the recipients were somehow injured by these words.

David’s understanding of Israel within these texts was clearly tribal and dualistic. Often, as in this Psalm, Old Testament writings depict a two-story framework of God up there and us down here. Because the text is “descriptive” of how the author understood it, does not mean it is “prescriptive” for how it should be understood today. This is not the intent of the text and if we jump on these rails, we soon run out of track. This is a common mistake of bible teachers.

This is proved out by the Apostle Paul. In Romans 3:9 when he says words prior to quoting this Psalm:

“What then? Are we Jews any better off? No, not at all. For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin,”

Paul, as a devout Jewish scribe, illuminates the greater message, namely, that God is doing a new thing by uniting all people (religious and otherwise) at the bottom of the cess pool. It’s not as though religious people are any more righteous than those who reject God. In fact, scripture depicts over and over how God’s own people continually reject the God they claim to love.

Let that sink in for a minute.

This makes the “FOOL” not only the unbeliever, but the believer as well. Yes, in the mind of David, Israel is understood to be those on God’s team. Sure, modern Christians like to import their own colonization and superiority into the idea of God’s chosen people. We must remember that Paul later proves that Gentiles (non-Jews, heathen) are “grafted in” to Israel and the promise. Keep in mind that Israel is the re-naming of Jacob a “trickster” into a “striver with God”… not exactly a description of perfect obedience.

“…for not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel…” (Romans 6:9)

To receive this text deep with the heart, we must lay down our tribal distinctions and look squarely into the mirror at the fool looking back at us who has doubts about the existence of God. Otherness disease seeps into our soul and yearns for these critiques to land on someone we think more deserving. To eschew this sobering self-criticism is to also move aside the hope contained in David’s final words, leaving the dodger in despair.

Oh, that salvation for Israel would come out of Zion!
    When the Lord restores the fortunes of his people,

RESTORATION!!!!! That is what the promise is all about. The ethos of God is not retribution, but restoration. Salvation is not conversion, its completion. In our most honest moments of self-examination, we desperately want this to be true, we need this to be true. Thank God it is. Thank God our religions got this all wrong and a new way has been revealed!

The beauty is that if we can see ourselves as the fool, then we are already undergoing the renovation. The sledgehammer of demolition lovingly awaits those who think others are worse than themselves. This is the terror of not knowing oneself.

The great irony is this:

The FOOL is in despair by not willing to be the fool.