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Biblical Commentary on the Old Testament, by Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsh, [1857-78], at

Psalms Chapter 53


psa 53:0

Elohimic Variation of the Jahve - Psa 14:1-7

Psa 52:1-9 and Psa 53:1-6, which are most closely related by occasion, contents, and expression, are separated by the insertion of Psa 53:1-6, in which the individual character of Psa 52:1-9, the description of moral corruption and the announcement of the divine curse, is generalized. Psa 53:1-6 also belongs to this series according to its species of poetic composition; for the inscription runs: To the Precentor, after Machalath, a Maskı̂l of David. The formula על־מחלת recurs in Psa 88:1 with the addition of לענּות. Since Ps 88 is the gloomiest of all the Psalms, and Psa 53:1-6, although having a bright border, is still also a dark picture, the signification of מחלה, laxness (root חל, opp. מר), sickness, sorrow, which is capable of being supported by Exo 15:26, must be retained. על־מחלת signifies after a sad tone or manner; whether it be that מחלת itself (with the ancient dialectic feminine termination, like נגינת, Psa 61:1) is a name for such an elegiac kind of melody, or that it was thereby designed to indicate the initial word of some popular song. In the latter case מחלת is the construct form, the standard song beginning מחלת לב or some such way. The signification to be sweet (Aramaic) and melodious (Aethiopic), which the root חלי obtains in the dialects, is foreign to Hebrew. It is altogether inadmissible to combine מחלת with Arab. mahlt, ease, comfort (Germ. Gemהchlichkeit, cf. mהchlich, easily, slowly, with mהhlich, by degrees), as Hitzig does; since מחל, Rabbinic, to pardon, coincides more readily with מחה, Psa 51:3, Psa 51:11. So that we may regard machalath as equivalent to mesto, not piano or andante.

That the two texts, Psa 14:1-7 and Psa 53:1-6, are "vestiges of an original identity" (Hupfeld) is not established: Psa 53:1-6 is a later variation of Psa 14:1-7. The musical designation, common only to the earlier Psalms, at once dissuades one from coming down beyond the time of Jehoshaphat or Hezekiah. Moreover, we have here a manifest instance that even Psalms which are composed upon the model of, or are variations of Davidic Psalms, were without any hesitation inscribed לדוד.

Beside the critical problem, all that remains here for the exegesis is merely the discussion of anything peculiar in the deviations in the form of the text.

Psalms 53:1

psa 53:1

The well-grounded asyndeton השׁהיתוּ התעיבוּ is here dismissed; and the expression is rendered more bombastic by the use of עול instead of עלילה. עול (the masculine to עולה), pravitas, is the accusative of the object (cf. Eze 16:52) to both verbs, which give it a twofold superlative attributive notion. Moreover, here השׁחיתו is accented with Mugrash in our printed texts instead of Tarcha. One Mugrash after another is contrary to all rule.

Psalms 53:2

psa 53:2

In both recensions of the Psalm the name of God occurs seven times. In Psa 14:1-7 it reads three times Elohim and four times Jahve; in the Psalm before us it is all seven times Elohim, which in this instance is a proper name of equal dignity with the name Jahve. Since the mingling of the two names in Psa 14:1-7 is perfectly intentional, inasmuch as Elohim in Psa 53:1, Psa 53:2 describes God as a Being most highly exalted and to be reverentially acknowledged, and in Psa 52:5 as the Being who is present among men in the righteous generation and who is mighty in their weakness, it becomes clear that David himself cannot be the author of this levelling change, which is carried out more rigidly than the Elohimic character of the Psalm really demands.

Psalms 53:3

psa 53:3

Instead of הכּל, the totality, we have כּלּו, which denotes each individual of the whole, to which the suffix, that has almost vanished (Psa 29:9) from the genius of the language, refers. And instead of סר, the more elegant סג, without any distinction in the meaning.

Psalms 53:4

psa 53:4

Here in the first line the word כּל־, which, as in Psa 5:6; Psa 6:9, is in its right place, is wanting. In Psa 14:1-7 there then follow, instead of two tristichs, two distichs, which are perhaps each mutilated by the loss of a line. The writer who has retouched the Psalm has restored the tristichic symmetry that had been lost sight of, but he has adopted rather violent means: inasmuch as he has fused down the two distichs into a single tristich, which is as closely as possible adapted to the sound of their letters.

Psalms 53:5

psa 53:5

The last two lines of this tristich are in letters so similar to the two distichs of Psa 14:1-7, that they look like an attempt at the restoration of some faded manuscript. Nevertheless, such a close following of the sound of the letters of the original, and such a changing of the same by means of an interchange of letters, is also to be found elsewhere (more especially in Jeremiah, and e.g., also in the relation of the Second Epistle of Peter to Jude). And the two lines sound so complete in themselves and full of life, that this way of accounting for their origin takes too low an estimate of them. A later poet, perhaps belonging to the time of Jehoshaphat or Hezekiah, has here adapted the Davidic Psalm to some terrible catastrophe that has just taken place, and given a special character to the universal announcement of judgment. The addition of לא־היה פּחד (supply אשׁר = אשׁר שׁם, Psa 84:4) is meant to imply that fear of judgment had seized upon the enemies of the people of God, when no fear, i.e., no outward ground for fear, existed; it was therefore חרדּת אלהים (Sa1 14:15), a God-wrought panic. Such as the case with the host of the confederates in the days of Jehoshaphat (Ch2 20:22-24); such also with the army of Sennacherib before Jerusalem (Isa 37:36). כּי gives the proof in support of this fright from the working of the divine power. The words are addressed to the people of God: Elohim hath scattered the bones (so that unburied they lie like dirt upon the plain a prey to wild beasts, Psa 141:7; Eze 6:5) of thy besieger, i.e., of him who had encamped against thee. חנך .eeht tsniaga instead of חנך = חנה עליך.

(Note: So it has been explained by Menachem; whereas Dunash wrongly takes the ך of חנך as part of the root, overlooking the fact that with the suffix it ought rather to have been חנך instead of חנך. It is true that within the province of the verb âch does occur as a pausal masculine suffix instead of écha, with the preterite (Deu 6:17; Isa 30:19; Isa 55:5, and even out of pause in Jer 23:37), and with the infinitive (Deu 28:24; Eze 28:15), but only in the passage before us with the participle. Attached to the participle this masculine suffix closely approximates to the Aramaic; with proper substantives there are no examples of it found in Hebrew. Simson ha-Nakdan, in his חבור הקונים (a MS in Leipzig University Library, fol. 29b), correctly observes that forms like שׁמך, עמּך, are not biblical Hebrew, but Aramaic, and are only found in the language of the Talmud, formed by a mingling of the Hebrew and Aramaic.)

By the might of his God, who has overthrown them, the enemies of His people, Israel has put them to shame, i.e., brought to nought in a way most shameful to them, the project of those who were so sure of victory, who imagined they could devour Israel as easily and comfortably as bread. It is clear that in this connection even Psa 53:5 receives a reference to the foreign foes of Israel originally alien to the Psalm, so that consequently Mic 3:3 is no longer a parallel passage, but passages like Num 14:9, our bread are they (the inhabitants of Canaan); and Jer 30:16, all they that devour thee shall be devoured.

Psalms 53:6

psa 53:6

The two texts now again coincide. Instead of ישׁוּעת, we here have ישׁעות; the expression is strengthened, the plural signifies entire, full, and final salvation.

Next: Psalms Chapter 54