Psalm 53: Fools Deny Their God within Them (Carlill)

I returned to Adam Carlill’s excellent Psalms for the Common Era to get his take on the difficult Psalm 53. This Psalm (and its nearly identical twin, Psalm 14) is full of rancor, claiming that foolish humans are godless, corrupt, and warring, and will eventually face God’s wrath, their scattered bones telling the tale of their judgment. Heavy stuff. Adam’s metrical rendering of this Psalm retains its themes but uses language that allows us to enter into it more easily.

I decided to accompany the text with Baroque-flavored music. It’s outside the norm of congregational songs, but I think it’s quite singable. The melody is relatively simple, while the harmonies and bass line scurry around it with all the fury of Psalm 53’s evildoers. I especially like how the final half verse shifts to a major key, letting the accusations and anger of the previous verses give way to a final note of hope.

Sheet music is available here.

Fools deny their God within them,
while they work unrighteous mayhem;
there is no-one virtuous.

Then our God from heaven descended,
and our nature comprehended:
was there thought or thirst for God?

All have gone astray together,
fraudulent in their endeavour,
no-one upright here at all.

Wicked-doers have no knowledge,
as they swallow those in bondage.
They do not proclaim their God.

All the wicked shall be daunted,
and by fear and terror haunted,
shattered bones and empty camps.

You, my God, have scorned the vicious,
and their cruel, vain, ambitious
plans; you have rejected them.

Who will give relief from Zion,
freeing captives from their prison?
May his people all rejoice!

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