Psalm 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.
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(5) Where no fear was.—This—the most interesting variation from Psalms 14—appears plainly to have been inserted to bring the Psalm into harmony with some circumstance belonging to the time for which it was adapted, but to which we have no clue. As to the choice among the various explanations that have been given of it, we must remark that the one which takes “fear” in a good sense (“Then were they in great fright where there was no fear of God”) is excluded by the fact that the same word is employed in both clauses; and, as elsewhere pāchad is used of a “cause of terror,” we may render, There were they in great fear, where there was no cause for fear.

Apparently, from the immediate context, this statement is made not of the enemies of Israel, but of Israel itself, and was so constantly applicable to a people supposed to be living under the immediate protection of God, and yet liable to sudden panics, that we need not try to recover the precise event referred to.

Of him that encampeth against thee.—Literally, of thy besiegers. The bones of the beleaguering host lie bleaching on the sand. But the text seems to have suffered. The LXX. and Vulg. have “the bones of them that please men,” and a comparison with Psalm 14:5-6 shows such a similarity of letters, with difference of meaning, that both texts look like different attempts to restore some faded MS. Many attempts have been made to restore the original, but none eminently satisfactory.

Psalm 53:5. Where no fear was — Where there was no great or sufficient cause of fear. They who designed to secure themselves from all fear and danger, by their contempt of God, and by the persecution of good men, and by other wicked courses, were, by these means, filled with the terrors which they sought to avoid. For God hath scattered the bones, &c. —

Hath not only broken the bones, that is, their strength and force, which are often signified by bones; but also dispersed them hither and thither, so that there is no hope of a restoration. Of him that encampeth against thee — That is, against thy people, expressed Psalm 53:4, or Israel, or Zion, as it is in the next verse. Many refer this to Sheba, who blew the trumpet of rebellion afresh, 2 Samuel 20:2, and who, being left at last to shift for himself, was shut up in the city of Abel, and there taken and beheaded; after which, it is thought, his body was exposed to the fowls of the air, or the wild beasts, insomuch that his bones were at last scattered. Thou hast put them to shame — Thou, O Zion, or Jerusalem, or thou church of God, for the great and strange disappointment of their hopes and confidence; because God hath despised them — Or rejected them. Therefore it is no wonder if they could not stand before thee.

53:1-6 The corruption of man by nature. - This psalm is almost the same as the 14th. The scope of it is to convince us of our sins. God, by the psalmist, here shows us how bad we are, and proves this by his own certain knowledge. He speaks terror to persecutors, the worst of sinners. He speaks encouragement to God's persecuted people. How comes it that men are so bad? Because there is no fear of God before their eyes. Men's bad practices flow from their bad principles; if they profess to know God, yet in works, because in thoughts, they deny him. See the folly of sin; he is a fool, in the account of God, whose judgment we are sure is right, that harbours such corrupt thoughts. And see the fruit of sin; to what it brings men, when their hearts are hardened through the deceitfulness of sin. See also the faith of the saints, and their hope and power as to the cure of this great evil. There will come a Saviour, a great salvation, a salvation from sin. God will save his church from its enemies. He will save all believers from their own sins, that they may not be led captive by them, which will be everlasting joy to them. From this work the Redeemer had his name JESUS, for he shall save his people from their sins, Mt 1:21.There were they in great fear ... - Margin, as in Hebrew, "they feared a fear." For the general meaning of the verse, see the notes at Psalm 14:5. There is, however, an important change introduced here - the most important in the psalm. The general sentiment of two verses Psalm 14:5-6 in Psalm 14:1-7 is here compressed into one, and yet with such an important change as to show that it was by design, and apparently to adapt it to some new circumstance. The solution of this would seem to be that the original form Psalm 14:1-7 was suited to some occasion then present to the mind of the writer, and that some new event occurred to which the general sentiment in the psalm might be easily applied (or which would express that as well as could be done by an entirely new composition), but that, in order to adapt it to this new purpose, it would be proper to insert some expression more particularly referring to the event.

The principal of these additions is found in the verse before us. In Psalm 14:5-6, the language is, "There were they in great fear, for God is in the generation of the righteous; ye have shamed the counsel of the poor, because the Lord is his refuge." In the psalm before us, the language is, "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." "Where no fear was." The reference here, as in Psalm 14:5, is to the fear or consternation of the people of God on account of the designs and efforts of the wicked. They were apprehensive of being overthrown by the wicked. The design of the psalmist in both cases is to show that there was no occasion for that fear. In Psalm 14:5, he shows it by saying that "God is in the congregation of the righteous." In the psalm before us fie says expressly that there was no ground for that fear - "where no fear was," - and he adds, as a reason, that God had "scattered the bones" of them "that encamped against" them. That is, though there seemed to be occasion for fear - though those enemies were formidable in numbers and in power - yet God was their friend, and he had now showed them that they had no real occasion for alarm by dispersing those foes.

For God hath scattered the bones of him that encampeth against thee - Of the besieger. This, as already intimated, would seem to have been introduced in order to adapt the psalm to the particular circumstances of the occasion when it was revised. From this clause, as well as others, it appears probable that the particular occasion contemplated in the revision of the psalm was an attack on Jerusalem, or a siege of the city - an attack which had been repelled, or a siege which the enemy had been compelled to raise. That is, they had been overthrown, and their bones had been scattered, unburied, on the ground. The whole language of Psalm 14:1-7, thus modified, would be well suited to such an occurrence. The general description of atheism and wickedness in Psalm 14:1-7 would be appropriate in reference to such an attempt on the city - for those who made the attack might well be represented as practically saying that there was no God; as being corrupt and abominable; as bent on iniquity; as polluted and defiled; and as attempting to eat up the people of God as they eat bread; and as those who did not call upon God. The verse before us would describe them as discomfited, and as being scattered in slaughtered heaps upon the earth.

Thou hast put them to shame - That is, they had been put to shame by being overthrown; by being unsuccessful in their attempt. The word "thou" here must be understood as referring to God.

Because God hath despised them - He has wholly disapproved their character, and he has "despised "their attempts; that is, he has shown that they were not formidable or to be feared. They were efforts which might be looked on with contempt, and he had evinced this by showing how easily they could be overthrown.

5. Instead of assurances of God's presence with the pious, and a complaint of the wicked, Ps 14:5, 6 portrays the ruin of the latter, whose "bones" even "are scattered" (compare Ps 141:7), and who are put to shame as contemptuously rejected of God. Where no fear was, i.e. where there was no great nor sufficient cause of fear. See Leviticus 26:36 Deu 28:65 Job 15:21 Proverbs 28:1. They who designed to secure themselves from all fear and danger by their contempt of God, and by the persecution of good men, and by other wicked courses, were by those means filled with the terrors which they sought to avoid.

Hath scattered the bones; hath not only broken their bones, i.e. their strength and force, which is oft noted by the bones, as Psalm 6:2 31:10 51:8, but also dispersed them hither and thither, so as there is no hopes of a reunion and restoration.

Against thee, i.e. against my people, expressed, Psalm 53:4, or Israel, or Zion, as it is in the next verse.

Thou, O Zion, or Jerusalem, which they besiege,

hast put them to shame, for the great and strange disappointment of their hopes and confidence. It was a great reproach to them, for such numerous and mighty forces to be baffled and conquered by those whom they thought to swallow up at a morsel.

Despised them; or, rejected them; cursed them. Therefore it is no wonder if they could not stand before thee.

There were they in great, fear, where no fear was,.... Before; neither of God nor man, nor any dread of punishment, but the utmost security, Revelation 18:7; also See Gill on Psalm 14:5;

for God hath scattered the bones of him that encampeth against thee; either against Christ, or against his church and people; who set themselves against the person, office, and grace of Christ, and seek to distress and destroy his interest: "the bones of such God will scatter": that is, he will destroy antichrist and his armies, which are his strength, as the bones are the strength of the human body; and make such a carnage of them, that the fowls of the air shall eat their flesh, and their bones shall be scattered here and there; see Revelation 19:17. So the Targum,

"for God scatters the strength of the armies of the wicked.''

Kimchi interprets it of the bones of the nations that shall encamp against Jerusalem, in the days of Gog; see Revelation 20:8; and Aben Ezra observes, that "thee" respects either God or the Messiah;

thou hast put them to shame; this is either an address of the psalmist unto God, declaring what he had done; or rather of God the Father to his Son Christ Jesus; and so Kimchi and Ben Melech say this refers to the Messiah: and it may be expressive of the shame and confusion that antichrist and his followers will be thrown into, when they shall make war with the Lamb, and he shall overcome them, Revelation 17:14;

because God hath despised them; or rejected them as reprobates; given them up to a reprobate mind; and being ungodly men, has before ordained them to this condemnation. The Targum is,

"for the Word of the Lord hath rejected them;''

as filthy, loathsome, and abominable, and cast them alive into the lake of fire, Revelation 19:20.

There were they in great fear, where no {e} fear was: for God hath scattered the {f} bones of him that encampeth against thee: thou hast put them to shame, because God hath despised them.

(e) When they thought there was no opportunity to fear, the sudden vengeance of God lighted on them.

(f) No matter how great the enemies power is, or fearful the danger, yet God delivers his in due time.

5. There points to some signal instance in which panic terror and overwhelming calamity overtook the ‘workers of iniquity’ who came to devour the people of God. They were seized with a supernaturally inspired terror, where there was no natural cause for panic. Cp. 1 Samuel 14:15; 2 Kings 7:6; 2 Kings 19:7; 2 Kings 19:35.

for God hath scattered &c.] The bones of Israel’s enemies lie bleaching on the plain, where their bodies were left unburied (Ezekiel 6:5). This cannot be an anticipation of some further defeat. It must rather be an allusion to some historic event; and it at once suggests the annihilation of Sennacherib’s great army. Probably the text was intentionally altered in this recension in order to introduce a reference to the most famous example in later times of the discomfiture of worldly arrogance venturing to measure its strength with Jehovah.

against thee] The people of God are addressed.

thou hast put them to shame] Cp. 2 Kings 19:20 ff.

hath despised them] R.V. rejected them, as the word is often rendered elsewhere. But despised better expresses the contempt for the enemies of His people which is meant. Cp. Jdg 9:38; Isaiah 33:8. In their folly they said in their heart, ‘There is no God’ (cp. 2 Kings 18:35); and this catastrophe which they are powerless to avert is His answer to their blasphemy. Cp. Psalm 2:4-5. For the widely different reading of Psalm 14:5-6 see notes there.

Verse 5. - There were they in great fear, where no fear was. So long a phrase as "where no fear was" (לא־היה כּחד) can scarcely have "fallen out," and must have been added intentionally to mark that, on the occasion in connection with which the revision was made, there had been no ground at all for the panic. For God hath scattered the bones of him that encampeth against thee. This clause takes the place of the following in Psalm 14.: "For God is in the generation of the righteous" - a very considerable change, which must certainly have been intentional. On the second occasion whereto the psalm was made applicable, there must have been a very great catastrophe - some vast slaughter of an enemy who had been at open war with Israel. Sennacherib is suggested (Canon Cook). Thou hast put them to shams, because God hath despised them. The clause in Psalm 14. which this replaces runs as follows: "Ye have shamed the counsel of the poor, because the Lord is his Refuge." Here again, both the phrases used, and the whole tenor of the thought in either case, are different. Psalm 53:5The last two lines of this tristich are in letters so similar to the two distichs of Psalm 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 equals אשׁר שׁם, Psalm 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 (1 Samuel 14:15), a God-wrought panic. Such as the case with the host of the confederates in the days of Jehoshaphat (2 Chronicles 20:22-24); such also with the army of Sennacherib before Jerusalem (Isaiah 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, Psalm 141:7; Ezekiel 6:5) of thy besieger, i.e., of him who had encamped against thee. חנך .eeht tsniaga instead of חנך equals 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 (Deuteronomy 6:17; Isaiah 30:19; Isaiah 55:5, and even out of pause in Jeremiah 23:37), and with the infinitive (Deuteronomy 28:24; Ezekiel 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 Psalm 53:5 receives a reference to the foreign foes of Israel originally alien to the Psalm, so that consequently Micah 3:3 is no longer a parallel passage, but passages like Numbers 14:9, our bread are they (the inhabitants of Canaan); and Jeremiah 30:16, all they that devour thee shall be devoured.

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