This Psalm is a variation from Psalms 14. Which was the original, or whether both are not corruptions of some lost original, are questions involving minute comparisons and examinations of the Hebrew text, and possibly do not admit of satisfactory answers. Instead of “Jehovah” in Psalms 14, Psalms 53 has Elohîm, according to the style of this part of the collection. The other differences are discussed in the Notes. (See Introduction and Notes to Psalms 14)
Title.—See title, Psalms 4.
Upon Mahalath.—One of the most perplexing of the perplexing inscriptions. We have a choice of explanations from derivation between upon a flute, and after the manner of sickness. The word occurs again in the Title of Psalms 88, with the addition of “to sing.” It is against the analogy supplied by other inscriptions to refer this to the sad nature of the contents of the Psalm, though in the case of Psalms 88 such an interpretation would be very appropriate and not inappropriate here. As in other cases, we look for some musical direction here, and if we take the root, meaning “sick” or “sad,” we must render “to a sad strain,” or “to the tune of a song beginning with the word ‘sadness.’”
Iniquity.—Instead of the general term, “doings,” in Psalms 14, as if the adapter of the Psalm felt that a word applicable to good as well as evil was not strong enough to express the hideousness of the profanity.
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.