Introduction to Psalm 53

To the chief Musician upon Mahalath, Maschil, [A Psalm] of David. The word "mahalath" is only used here and in Psalms 88:1. Some, with Aben Ezra, take it to be the first word of a song, to the tune of which this psalm was set; others, with Jarchi, that it is the name of a musical instrument on which it was sung; a hollow instrument; of the same nature with "nehiloth", See Gill on "Psalms 5:1", title. Though it may relate to the argument or subject matter of the psalm, and be rendered, "concerning sickness" or "infirmity" {e}; and, as Jarchi observes, some interpret it, "concerning the sickness or weakness of Israel", when the temple was destroyed. But it seems much better to understand it of the sickness and disease of sin, and the weakness following upon that, to which all mankind are subject; since the psalm manifestly treats of the general corruption and depravity of human nature. This psalm is the same with Psalms 14:1, and is expressed in the same words, with some little difference; the reason of its repetition is variously conjectured. Some think that the compiler of the book of Psalms, observing various readings in it occasioned by copying, thought fit to insert it both ways; but it is most likely to be composed by David himself, at different times, and it may be on different occasions, and with different views. Some think the former, namely the fourteenth psalm, was written concerning Nabal, and this concerning Doeg; according to Jarchi, that was concerning Nebuchadnezzar, this concerning Titus Vespasian; or, as others think, Antiochus Epiphanes. Kimchi is of opinion that this psalm, being placed between one that relates to Doeg, and another that refers to the Ziphites, points at the likeness there is between the case of David and the Messiah; that as David had many who sought to ensnare him, yet God rewarded them, and established him in the kingdom; so it will be with the Messiah: but it is much more reasonable with others to conclude, that it is repeated either because of the importance of it; because that as the former may refer to the corruption of the Jews in the times of David, this to the corruption of men in the times of Christ and his apostles, and under the Gospel dispensation, until the second coming of Christ, especially under the reign of antichrist. The argument of the psalm, according to the Syriac version, is concerning Ahithophel, who gave counsel to Absalom to pursue his father David and kill him: and, according to the Arabic version, it is a prophecy concerning Babel and Sennacherib; so Theodoret: but rather concerning mystical Babylon, and the man of sin.

{e} tlxm le "de miseria", Tigurine version, "vel infirmitate"; so Ainsworth.