Déjà vu all over again. I’m not sure about the “all over again” part of Yogi Berra’s famous saying, but when I’ve preached at churches that have 3 worship services in a row on Sunday morning, I’ve had a déjà vu experience. Obviously, the first time I preach the sermon it’s all new. The second time is normally a better sermon because I’ve had the opportunity to see what needs changing or adjusting. When I preach the same sermon for the third time, however, I am plagued with the thought that I’ve already told this congregation what I’m saying and thus needlessly repeating myself.
As we read through the Psalms, this feeling of somehow going over the same material will not likely occur in Psalm 14, but it should hit you when you get to Psalm 53. Take a moment and read both Psalms…. Now that you’ve read them, you can appreciate that Psalm 53 is almost a carbon copy of Psalm 14. Almost.
(For our younger readers, “carbon copy” is an old fashioned way of saying “identical” – ask your parents about this and then feel free to marvel, and even snigger, at their ancient ways.)
The most significant difference is found by comparing 14:5-6 and 53:5. It is not the disparity located here that catches my interest, however; my interest is piqued by the use of God’s name. Did you notice the references to God? In Ps. 14, God is named 7 times – 4 times as LORD and 3 times as God. In Ps. 53, God is named 7 times as well, but only ever as “God”. To be clear, the name LORD, when it is written that way in English translations, signifies God’s special covenant name. The name he revealed to Moses at the burning bush in Exodus 3. The name “God”, however, is used in a more generic sense. So, why make use of God’s special covenant name in Psalm 14, but not in Psalm 53?
One explanation is that the same message is directed to two distinct groups of people. Psalm 14 may have in view people who have received God’s revelation (particularly Jews in David’s day), but who have turned away from the Lord, and thus David speaks in somewhat more personal terms through the use God’s covenant name (LORD). Ps. 53, however, may be addressing broader humanity (people who have little or no knowledge of God and his revelation) and so David has no reason to use God’s personal / covenantal name when pointing out people’s folly even as he seeks to draw them towards the One who can change their hearts.
I haven’t made up my mind about this explanation yet, but I do like the fact that this fits with Paul’s argument in Romans 1-3. In that passage, Paul lays bare the foolish hearts of all people, Jews first and then Gentiles, and then sums up his point by quoting Psalm 14 / 53. Truly, all have sinned.