Theme: Fools and Their Folly
In this week’s lessons we look carefully at both what sin is and what it does, and then contrast that with our need for the Savior, who alone can deliver us from our sin.
Scripture: Psalm 53:1-6
The only significant variation in Psalm 53 is verse 5, which replaces verses 5 and 6 of Psalm 14. The earlier psalm seems to be addressing fools in Israel, saying, “There they are, overwhelmed with dread, for God is present in the company of the righteous. You evildoers frustrate the plans of the poor, but the LORD is their refuge.” The later psalm is addressing evildoers who have attacked Israel, presumably Gentiles, whom it refers to saying, “There they were, overwhelmed with dread, where there was nothing to dread. God scattered the bones of those who attacked you, you put them to shame, for God despised them.”
We can only guess what specific incident this refers to, but something like the scattering of the armies of Sennacherib in the days of Hezekiah and Isaiah would explain it well (cf. 2 Kings 18, 19). If verse 5 does refer to the defeat of alien armies in the time of one of these kings, then a later poet probably altered David’s original psalm to apply it more intently and specifically to the new situation.
That is not our situation, of course. So if the psalm is to speak to us, it needs to speak in a different way. When we studied Psalm 14, I looked at Paul’s use of verses 1-3 in Romans and followed his analysis of the way the human race has rejected God. In that analysis the fool is one who knows that God exists because of God’s revelation of himself in nature but who suppresses that knowledge because he does not want to acknowledge God. That is sin, of course. So recognizing that it is sin, we could define a fool by saying, “A fool is anyone who sins,” acting as if there is no God. If we do this (it is a good analysis), we can look at the psalm for what it has to teach about sin, considering its nature, fruit and consequences.
Matthew Henry does that. He finds eight points in the psalm, seven of which have to do with sin and the eighth, by contrast, with the faith of the saints. All begin with the letter “f.” I am adopting his outline for what follows.2
The fact of sin. Henry begins with the reality of sin, arguing his point from the fact that “God looks down from heaven” and sees it (v. 2). You and I do not always see sin, and the chief reason for our blindness is that we choose to close our eyes to transgressions. We often do that with others, turning a blind eye to their actions. We nearly always do it with ourselves. If we are confronted with the reality of our sin, we defend ourselves by such excuses as, “I didn’t mean to do it,” “You don’t understand what happened,” “It wasn’t really like that,” “It wasn’t my fault” or “You should see what the other person did to me first.” In other words, we pretend either that the act was not sin or that it was justified.
In the Garden of Eden, on the occasion of the first sin, Adam tried to deny his fault by blaming Eve: “The woman you put here with me—she gave me some fruit from the tree, and l ate it” (Gen. 3:12). And Eve blamed Satan: “The serpent deceived me, and I ate” (v. 13).
The problem with denial is that we are not the court of last appeal. In fact, we are not even judges. We are the accused, and the one who knows the facts of the case, prepares the indictment, handles the prosecution and renders the ultimate judgment is God. The omniscient God sees perfectly and knows all things. Before him all hearts are open, all desires known, and it is he who says, “Everyone has turned away, they have together become corrupt; there is no one who does good, not even one” (Ps. 14:3). It will do us no good to pretend that sin is not sin or that we are not sinners, as long as God is on his throne.
How does the Bible define a fool? Look up as many verses about fools as you can find, and write down what Scripture teaches.
How does the biblical understanding of a fool differ from our society’s view?
Reflection: Describe some of the excuses we use to deny the fact that sin is serious. How does that affect our understanding of who God is?
2Matthew Henry, Commentary on the Whole Bible, vol. 3, Job to Song of Solomon (New York, London and Edinburgh: Revell, n.d.), p. 439.