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Bible Commentaries

Hengstenberg on John, Revelation, Ecclesiastes, Ezekiel & Psalms

Psalms 14

Psalms 14

The Psalmist begins with a lamentation regarding the frightful power and extent of corruption reigning in the world, Psalms 14:1-3. But the righteous, who have much to suffer from sin, must not therefore despair. As sure as there is a God in heaven, they shall bring upon themselves destruction. From the watchtower of faith, the Psalmist beholds with triumphant joy the overthrow of impiety, and the establishment of righteousness, Psalms 14:4-6. He closes with the wish, that the Lord would fulfil His purpose, and send salvation and deliverance to His people, and thereby give occasion to grateful joy, Psalms 14:7.

In the first part, the complaint relates to the corruption of the world by itself, without respect to the sufferings which thence arise to the “generation of the righteous.” But that the complaint is really closely related also to these sufferings,—that the Psalmist delineates the corruption of the world with respect to the difficult and apparently hopeless position into which the righteous are thereby brought, is evident from the second part, which is occupied throughout, not, after the manner of the prophets, with the judgments coming upon the wicked world in themselves, but only in so far as they affect the salvation of the righteous, and rescue them from the clutches of the wicked. Hence the aim of the Psalm is quite similar to that of Psalms 12; it is designed to administer consolation to the righteous, when tempted by the sight of the corruption of the world, and the ascendancy of wickedness, which appears to threaten their entire destruction. Should even the whole world be given up to corruption, and be in league against them, they may still comfort themselves with the thought, that God overcomes the world. Along with this, however, the Psalm contains a forcible warning to the ungodly. And that this is not to be excluded, is evident alone from the superscription of the corresponding (Psalms 53) 53d Psalm.

The absence of all special allusions renders it certain, that this Psalm also, like the many nearly related ones immediately preceding, was from the first destined by David for the general use of the Church. As regards those who call forth the complaint of the Psalm, and against whom the Lord is entreated, the reference of the Psalm is just as wide as the designation, “children of men,” can make it. Whether the corrupt children of men belonged outwardly to the people of God, or not, makes no difference. The former were not proper members of His Church. In the Pentateuch, the standing formula in respect to evil-doers is, “their soul is cut off from among their people,”—it is ipso facto separated, belongs no longer to the people of God, although the theocratic government might lack power and will to accomplish externally, also, the separation, as was constantly—for example, in Deuteronomy 13:5—enjoined in the words, “So shalt thou put the evil away from the midst of thee.” From this it is clear enough how the contrast between עמי and עמו , in Psalms 14:4, Psalms 14:7, and the children of men, is to be understood. The contrast is that between a righteous generation and a corrupt world, such as has existed in all ages, and will continue even to the end of the present constitution of things. De Wette and others would refer the Psalm exclusively to the relation of Israel to its heathenish oppressors. That the first part is unfavourable to this hypothesis, De Wette himself is forced to admit. Psalms 14:1-3, he remarks, “has quite the appearance of a general moral delineation.” Of a special reference to the heathen, there does not exist the smallest trace. It is not heathenish, but human corruption, that is described. This is confirmed also by the reference which the description bears to Genesis 6:12, “And God looked upon the earth, and behold it was corrupt; for all flesh had corrupted its way upon the earth;” comp. Genesis 6:5, “And the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great upon the earth.” This passage refers not to the heathen, but to mankind generally. How little the prophets and sacred bards were disposed to limit corruption merely to the heathen, and exempt Israel from it, might be shown by a great multitude of passages; but we shall produce only one, in which what is here said of the whole world is just as expressly said of Israel, Jeremiah 5:1, “Run ye to and fro through the streets of Jerusalem, and seek in the broad places thereof, if ye can find one, if there be one that executeth judgment and striveth after integrity, and I will pardon it.” That the view in question is not favoured by Psalms 14:4, “Who eat up My people like bread,” even De Wette is obliged to admit. He says, “The oppressors spoken of in Psalms 14:4 might well be sought among the Israelites.” That this not merely could be done, but that the native oppressors must not be excluded, appears from the following passage in Micah, which refers exclusively to the internal relations, Micah 3:2-3, “Who also eat the flesh of My people,” etc., which is obviously based on the verse in question, and does not comment upon, and carry out into detail, what is here only generally indicated. Comp. also the passage in Proverbs 30:14, which likewise refers to domestic enemies, “There is a generation, whose teeth are as swords, and their jaw-teeth as knives, to devour the poor from off the earth, and the needy from among men.” De Wette rests his view entirely upon Psalms 14:7, conceiving that the wish there expressed for a return from captivity, points to oppression of a political nature, and most naturally to the circumstances of the exiles under the Chaldeans. But our exposition will prove, that the verse contains not a word of a return from captivity, but only expresses a general wish, that God would have compassion on the misery of His people, whether inflicted by internal or by foreign wickedness.

Other expositors, as Stier, have been led, by opposition to the view just noticed, to assert, that the Psalm refers merely to the domestic conflict between the righteous and the wicked, that human corruption is described in Psalms 14:1-3, only in reference to its manifestations in Israel,—that the evil-doers, who ate up the people as bread, are to be sought only in Israel, and that it is only the wicked in Israel who are threatened with destruction, and from whom the righteous are to have deliverance. But this view is just as arbitrary as the other: the contrast throughout is that of the corrupt world and the righteous generation; and as this contrast manifested itself in what “the chosen” among Israel had to suffer from heathen malice, one cannot perceive with what justice this relation should be excluded.

The fatal alternative of a domestic conflict, or a reference to external, heathen oppressors, should at last be abandoned; we must cease to assume that our choice lies necessarily between either the one or the other. The men of God, elevated by His Spirit above a merely national point of view, contemplated heathenish and Israelitish wickedness as one whole, without suffering themselves to be deceived by the difference of costume. So also everywhere Moses, to whose command, “Thou shalt not have diverse weights in thy bag,” this here corresponds. Comp., for example, Deuteronomy 32.

From the preceding remarks, it is manifest that, with perfect propriety, Paul adduces, in Romans 10-12, a proof from this Psalm of the scripturalness of his position, that “Jews and heathens are all under sin.” He justly puts this passage, Psalms 14:1-3, at the head of his proof; for the Old Testament contains no passage in which the universality and depth of human corruption are painted in such vivid colours.

What has been alleged against the Davidic origin of the Psalm proceeds entirely on a false understanding of Psalms 14:7.

This Psalm recurs once again, with certain alterations, in Psalms 53. These alterations (with the exception, perhaps, of the omission of the “all,” in Psalms 53:4) have all the same character,—everywhere, in Psalms 53, is the rare, the uncommon, the strong, and the elevated, substituted for the common and the simple. The consideration of particulars will show this. The simple superscription of the 14th, “to the chief musician of David,” is enlarged in the (Psalms 53) 53rd by a twofold addition, and these additions both possess the character now mentioned. First, in regard to עַ ל־מַ חֲ לַ ת . That nothing is to be made out of these words, on the supposition that they designate an instrument or a melody, the remark of Ewald ( Poet. Books, P. i. p. 174) may suffice to show: “A word, on the meaning of which nothing whatever can be said.” We conceive that the words contain an enigmatical description of the subject and object, and translate: “concerning sickness.” This view is justified, 1. By its being the only one admissible in a grammatical point of view. The verb in Hebrew has no other signification than to be weal sick; and the very nearly related forms מַ חֲ לֶ ה and מַ חֲ לָ ה occur in the sense of sickness. Before it has been shown that מחלת cannot bear this signification, it is quite arbitrary to explain it out of the Ethiopian. 2. In the superscription of Psalms 88, where the same words are again used, they are connected with לְ עַ נּ וָ ת , which, according to the usage, and the עִ נּ ִ יתָ? , affligis, in Psalms 88:7, and the עֹ נִ י , in Psalms 88:9, can only be explained: “regarding the tribulation,” thus admirably comporting with: “concerning sickness.” The common exposition: “for singing,” must be abandoned as arbitrary. 3. The words, rendered as we have done, suit exceedingly well the purport of the Psalms which they designate. Psalms 53 is taken up with the spiritual sickness of the sons of men. Psalms 88 is the prayer of one visited by severe bodily sickness.

The second addition in the superscription is משכיל , a didactic Psalm (comp. on Psalms 32). This designation has been chosen with an ingenious reference to Psalms 14:2. The Psalm aims at bringing the unreasonable, who are there discoursed of, to sound reason. With that is connected its second aim, to instruct the sick, that is, sufferers, how to behave in sickness, and what remedies to apply. In the Psalm itself there is a pervading change in the substitution of Elohim everywhere for Jehovah. The reason of that is the following: It is not to be doubted that even, in Psalms 14 the sevenfold use of the name of God (thrice Elohim, and four times Jehovah) is not accidental, especially when the corresponding sevenfold number of the verses is taken into account, which, of evident purpose, is preserved also in Psalms 53, where the extended superscription forms a verse by itself (whereas we find combined in Psalms 53:6 [in Heb.] what in Psalms 14 forms two); and analogies, such as that in Psalms 29, where קול יהוה recurs seven times. Now, while in Psalms 14 the wish predominated to use the different names of God according to their different meanings, and according to the relation of the Psalm to the former one, united with which it formed a pair, in Psalms 53 another interest prevailed, namely, to render palpable the intentionalness of the sevenfold repetition by the uniformity of the name,—a design which was the more visibly accomplished, as the Elohim in some of its connections,—for example, “they call not upon Elohim,”—sounds rather strange.

In Psalms 53 Psalms 53:1, עול “crime,” is substituted for עלילה , “deed.” The “deed” is justified by the contrast with speaking in the heart; apart from this important reference, עול , as being the stronger, is at the same time the more characteristic; so that here, as is generally the case, each of the readings has its peculiar advantage. In Psalms 53:3, כלו is first substituted for the simple and also clear הכל , and it is not quite certain how the suffix should be explained. Then, instead of the common סר the very rare סג is substituted, which elsewhere occurs only twice in Kal. In this case a word is manifestly chosen, as nearly related as possible, both in writing and pronunciation, to the other,—just as Jeremiah appears fond of substituting words similarly written and spoken to those of the original; comp. Küper Ierem. libr. sacr. interpres. p. 14. In Psalms 53:5, to “there were they in great fear,” there is added, with the view of filling up and strengthening the picture, “where no fear;” and instead of the plain words, “for God is in the generation of the righteous,” are put the far more emphatic and highly poetical ones, “for God scatters the bones of him who encamps against thee,” prop. of thy besieger. So also in Psalms 53:6, the statement, “only put to shame the counsel of the wretched, for God is his refuge,” which stands, so to speak, on the defensive, is supplanted in Psalms 53 by another plainly offensive, and, as the form of address itself shows, much more lively, “thou dost put to shame, for God rejects them.” Finally, in Ps 53:7, for the singular ישועת the rarer and more emphatic plural is substituted.

From the representation now given, it is clear that we can never adopt any such account of the origin of the variations in the two Psalms as that espoused by Ewald, who supposes a reader to have rectified for himself, as well as he could, the text of a manuscript that had become illegible. It is not less clear, that the variations could not have sprung from traditional usage. They all belong to one author, who made them with consideration and method. That it was David himself, appears to be indicated by the superscription of Psalms 53, which ascribes the Psalm also in that form of it to him; and it is impossible to bring forward any well-grounded proof against it.

When the collectors gave a place to both forms, the original and the altered, they certainly acted in the spirit of the author of the changes himself, who did not intend by the one form, to set aside the other, but only claimed for it a place beside the other. Each of the two forms has its peculiar beauties and characteristics; and it is most justly remarked by Venema, that no variation occurs, which does not provide a sense excellent in both Psalms, and suited to the scope.”

Verse 1

Ver. 1. The fool speaks in his heart, God is not:—not: “it is only the fool that speaks in his heart:” “whosoever speaks thus in his heart is a fool;” but: the whole world is full of fools, who speak, or, the fools, of whom the world is full, speak. The Psalmist describes the reigning folly first, according to its internal root in the mind (Muis: orditur a fonte omnium scelerum impietate), and then passes on to describe its manifestations in deed. נבל stands here in its original signification, which, indeed, it never loses, if we examine carefully. For, even when it is used of crimes, these are always contemplated in the light of folly. David designates those who, with a renunciation of all fear of God, give themselves up to unrighteousness, as blinded fools, in silent contrast to the judgment of the world, and their own, which magnifies them as great spirits, and people of distinguished talent. That נבל is used here in its original signification, appears also from the expression in Psalms 14:4, “know they not,” which refers back to this. Their whole course is folly, because it proceeds upon the supposition that God is not, does not see and recompense. It is not less apparent from the opposite משכיל in Psalms 14:2, and from the designation of the Psalm as משכיל in Psalms 53. The fools ought by this Psalm to be made wise. It is, therefore, quite wrong, when De Wette renders נבל by ungodly, and when Sachs, in bad taste also, does it by the rogue. The pious and just of Scripture is, at the same time, the wise man, because his frame of mind and his conduct rest upon and are followed by a right insight into the nature of things. This, however, does not imply that the piety and godliness of Scripture are interchangeable ideas, but the spheres of both, and of the qualities opposed to them, continue strictly separate. The discourse here is not of the atheism of the understanding, but of the atheism of the heart (he speaks in his heart), whose sphere is an infinitely greater one than that of the former. The world is well nigh given up to the former, although the number of theoretical deniers of God is but small, and with it also the righteous has still constantly to fight. Luther: “The prophet speaks here in the Spirit, sees no person in an outward point of view, goes to the bottom of the reins and hearts, and says: The fool speaks, there is no God, not with the mouth, gesture, appearance, and other external signs—for in such respects he often boasts before the true lovers of God, that he knows God—but in heart, that is, in his inward sentiments. These in the ungodly are darkened: thereupon follows blindness of understanding, so that he can neither think rightly of God, nor speak, nor direct his conduct properly. Accordingly, those alone have God, who believe in God not with an hypocritical faith. All besides are fools; they say in their hearts: There is no God.”

They are corrupt, abominable in their actions, there is none that does good. The relation of this second part to the first was explained quite correctly by Luther, according to whom “the other evil” is here described, “which is a flowing stream, issuing with force out of the spring of unbelief.” Atheism of the heart has corruption of life for its inseparable attendant. It is a question how עלילה , and the corresponding עול in Psalms 53, is to be construed—whether, with most expositors, as an accus. governed by השחיתו and התעיבו , “they make their conduct corrupt, abominable,” or as a mere appended accus. which defines more narrowly the sphere of the two verbs, “as to action, crime” (on such accusatives, see Ewald, Small Gr. § 512); as already Luther here: “with their nature,” in Psalms 53 : “in their evil nature.” The latter construction is favoured first of all by the circumstance, that the contrast between actions and heart, which the Psalmist obviously had in view, and for expressing which עלילה is used, becomes more prominent. Then, according to the other view, we should have expected the plural with the suff., instead of the sing. without the suff.,—comp. השחיתו עלילותם in Zephaniah 3:7. It is also a confirmation of the same view, that השחית has only exceptionally an accus. after it; as a rule, it stands absolutely in the sense of acting corruptly—comp. upon this and similar verbs in Hiph., Ewald, p. 189; but התעיב , in the only two other places where it occurs, 1 Kings 21:26, Ezekiel 16:52, has the signification of acting abominably, not of making abominable. עול also, “injustice, crime,” does not well suit either of the verbs in the sense of corrupting, making abominable. That השחיתו contains an allusion to Genesis 6:12, where the corruption of men before the flood is described with the same word, we can entertain the less doubt, as in Psalms 14:2 a still more manifest reference is found to that passage. Luther: “He describes the race of the ungodly as equally corrupt then, with what they were at that time.” The Preterites in this verse, and the following one, are to be understood just as in Psalms 11:4, Psalms 10:3, and to be rendered by the Present. The sense and the connection of the Psalm are quite destroyed, if we translate, with Ewald and Hitzig: “he spoke, etc.”

Verse 2

Ver. 2. The Lord looks down from heaven upon the children of men, that he may see whether there be one that acts wisely; that seeks God. That David represents the Lord as looking down from heaven, and finding no fearer of God on the earth, is done for a double reason. First, the greatness and universality of the reigning corruption are thereby well brought out. Not merely the short-sighted eye of man, but God’s all-seeing, all penetrating glance, can find no piety upon earth. Michaelis Ex infallibili dei judicio et scrutinio. This reference is the leading one. But, at the same time, by way of contrast to the delusion of those forgetters of God, who shut Him up in heaven, and do not let Him trouble Himself with earthly things, the representation points to the fact, that His all-ruling providence is ever active, that He continually looks out from the high watchtower, the heavens, upon the actions of men, in order to hurl down, in His own time, judgments upon the wicked—a truth full of consolation to the fearers of God, full of terror to the ungodly. According to the latter reference, the clause, “The Lord looks down from heaven,” forms a contrast to the words of the fools; “There is no God,” and prepares for the catastrophe described in Psalms 14:4-6. Both references were noticed by Luther: “This is spoken against the folly of fools, who say that there is no God. As if he would say: There is not only a God, but also a God who sees, nay, who sees all; i.e. He penetrates all with His eye, there is nothing too far removed, or too deeply concealed, for Him to grasp. Next, in order that no one might think that these fools, and such as corrupt their ways, were only a handful of people, among whom alone none could be found who did good, he extends his declaration far and wide to all, saying: The Lord looked down from heaven, whence He beholds all people upon earth, and from Him no one is concealed. So that he had in view. Genesis 6:12, where the whole earth is said to be corrupt.” Besides this passage, there are two others, which come into view as a type of the representation given—the first of which is Genesis 11:5, “And the Lord came down from heaven to see the city and the tower, which the children of men builded,” from which the expression, “children of men,” seems to have been derived; and the other is Genesis 18:21. Very suitably is Elohim, whose existence the ungodly deny, set over against Jehovah, who looks down from heaven. They deny, forsooth, the existence of a deity; but there is a living, and in the highest sense personal God, who lives and beholds. משכיל , one who acts prudently, forms the contrast to: they act corruptly, abominably, just as: “God looks down to see,” stands in opposition to the fool, who says: “There is no God;” so that in this way the order of the first verse is here reversed. משכיל signifies, not to be prudent, and still less to be pious, but is always used of the conduct, to act prudently, reasonably. The wicked man, while following, instead of the law of God, his own perverse inclinations and desires, treads reason under foot by his actions, does in his waywardness what profits not, and what hands him over to destruction. That the very common phrase, דרש אלהים , can only signify, to seek God, is clear from the counter expression of finding in Deuteronomy 4:29, “Thou shalt find the Lord, if thou seek Him with all thy heart and with all thy soul,” comp. Jeremiah 29:13; 2 Chronicles 15:2. To seek God, designates the desire of the heart after Him, the longing directed towards Him. The wicked do not seek God; they flee and shun Him as their greatest enemy; but whosoever does not seek God, him God visits with His punishment. The Elohim has here already acquired the nature of a proper name. Hence the את , though the article is awanting. This particle never occurs except before definite nouns. The examples of the contrary, which Ewald still retains, fall away on closer examination.

Verse 3

Ver. 3. All are gone aside, they are together corrupt; there is not that does good, not even one. It may be asked, how this charge of a corruption extending through the whole of humanity can be reconciled with Psalms 14:5, where mention is made of a righteous generation. This can only be accounted for by the supposition, that in view of the monstrous corruption, which had spread itself among men, the author overlooked the few righteous persons; so that his words are to be taken with some limitation, as is done by himself subsequently. Comp. what we have already said on a quite similar statement in Psalms 12. Others, as Calvin, understand by the “children of men,” Psalms 14:2, the whole of humanity in its natural condition, as opposed to the children of God, who, through the Spirit, have been delivered from the general corruption. But it is quite improbable, that the expression, “children of men,” should be used in this sense without being elucidated by the contrast. Substantially, indeed, this view is certainly the correct one; for the few righteous persons, whom the Psalmist excepts from the corrupt mass, are such by the grace of God. Besides, these must have been proportionally very few; otherwise the Psalmist could not have represented the corruption as so all-pervading. Luther: “See how many redundant words he uses, that he may comprehend all men in the charge, and except none. First, he says all; afterwards, once and again, that there is not so much as one.” There is an emphasis in the הכל , “the allness;” the whole of humanity is, as it were, a corrupt mass. The expression, “to go aside,” is more closely defined by the contrast in which it stands with “seeking the Lord,” just as the being corrupt, and the not doing good, forms the contrast to משכיל . In the delineation of the fool, godliness and immoral conduct are constantly linked together; and in such a way, indeed, that the next pair always begins with the same member with which the preceding one had closed. The acting prudently, answers to the acting corruptly—the all going away, to the seeking of God—the evil-doers, who eat up my people, to the being corrupt, and no one doing good. The last member of the description: “They call not upon the Lord,” corresponds to the first: “He says in his heart, There is no God.” The whole chain is broken, if to the words, “all are gone aside,” we supply, instead of God, “from the right way.”—אלח , originally to be sour, to corrupt, here as in Job 15:16, in a moral sense.

At the end of this verse, some critical helps—in particular, the Cod. Vat., the LXX., and Vulgate—introduce a longer addition, which manifestly owes its origin to Romans 3:13-18. There other declarations from the Old Testament, bearing on the same subject, are added to the citation made from our Psalm. And while it has been overlooked, that the Apostle does not confine his citations to our Psalm, but professes to give passages of Scripture in general, it has been thought that an addition should be made to the Psalm on his authority.

Verse 4

Ver. 4. Know not, then, all evil-doers, who eat my people as bread, and call not upon the Lord? The Psalmist begins the second part with an expression of wonder at the great blindness of the fools, who do not see what lies before their very eyes, and what is depicted in lively colours in Psalms 14:5 and Psalms 14:6. The designation of the fools as evil-doers, who eat up the people of God, and call not on the Lord, sums up the contents, Psalms 14:1-3, but substitutes for their evil actions generally, their shameful conduct toward the people of God, as the species in the genus, which came particularly under consideration, according to the design of the Psalm as unfolded in the introduction. The “all” appears only to serve the purpose of joining this to the preceding context, and because otherwise of little use, it is dropt in Psalms 53 : “Know not, then, all those evil-doers,” that whole troop of miscreants. “We must not, with Claus and others, take ידע precisely in the sense of “having right knowledge,” being wise and prudent. The object is rather left out in consequence of the emotional style, and is to be supplied from the context. This is everywhere, and without exception, the case, where the ידע appears to stand absolutely. The deficiency here is to be supplied from that, which was already indicated in Psalms 14:2, according to which the Lord from heaven looks upon all the children of men, and from what is expressly said in Psalms 14:5, with which that here may be united by a colon. Quite correctly already Luther: “Will they then not once perceive, that they are such people as occa-sion sorrow to themselves?” The question of wonder expresses the magnitude of their folly. The current exposition is: “Will not all evil-doers suffer for it?” But this exposition, in any case, needs modification. ידע never signifies exactly to suffer punishment, but only “to become wise through experience.” Even in this sense, it is never used quite so absolutely as it would be here. Adopting it, we should have expected the Fut. instead of the Pret., which also several expositors, after the example of the LXX. and Vulgate, would substitute here. And, finally, the first-mentioned exposition is put beyond doubt by the manifest reference of the expression, “They know not,” to that of Psalms 14:1, “The fool.”

Who eat up my people as bread. By עמי the Psalmist means the people of God, who belong to him, so far as he does to them. There is no ground for supposing, with Claus and others, that Jehovah speaks ; the contrary seems to be implied by the Lord being; spoken of in the third person in the last clause, as, throughout the Psalm, He is nowhere introduced as speaking. In the parallel passage, too, of Micah 3:3, “Who also eat the flesh of my people,” it is not Jehovah that speaks, but the prophet; and עמי occurs likewise of the people of the prophet twice in Isaiah 3:12. By naming the people his people, the Psalmist shows how much he laid the shameful conduct of the wicked towards them to heart. In regard to the eating of the people, it is remarked by Augustine: “Those eat the people, who draw only profit from them, and who do not employ their office for the glory of God, and the salvation of those over whom they are placed.” The expression, “as bread,” indicates the heartless indifference of the eaters: he who eats bread never thinks that he is doing wrong. We must not explain, “As they eat bread”—which would either require us to supply כאשר and that is not at all allowable, or to suppose that the comparison clause is loosely placed;—against this interpretation, קראו , which connects itself, not with אכלי , but with אכלו , and which requires us to conceive of אשר as standing before אכלי , is decisive. We must rather expound: “Who eating my people, eat bread;” so that the people themselves are described as bread, namely, in a spiritual sense, what in spiritual things corresponds to bread. The exposition of Luther, Claus, and others: “Eating my people, they eat food,” they find nourishment therein, gives a tame meaning. The simple אכלו עמי would then be more expressive. Even Calvin remarks, that the matter of the verse is more appropriate to the degenerate members of the Church of God, than to heathenish enemies. The abominableness lay precisely in this, that the shepherds spared not their own flock, and that the subjects of Jehovah concerned not themselves about their king. The not calling upon God, is a periphrasis for ungodliness. For without calling upon God, fear of God is inconceivable. The Psalmist here connects impiety with unrighteousness toward men, as its inseparable attendant; the latter, indeed, necessarily follows on the former. We have already pointed out, that the words, “They call not upon the Lord,” correspond to the earlier descriptions of ungodliness, through “saying in their heart, There is no God, not seeking God, and turning away from Him.

Verse 5

Ver. 5. There, terror overtakes them; for God is among the righteous generation. Instead of there, many put then, at the time when punishment alights on them. But the particle שם always denotes in Hebrew, place, never, as in Arabic, time. Others retain the usual signification of the word, and expound: There, in the very place where they have committed their crimes, shall their punishment surprise them. It is best explained by Calvin, who supposes that the Psalmist intended only to mark the certainty of the punishment, pointing to it, as it were, with his finger. The שם , as well as the Pret. פחדו , is a testimony to the strength of the Psalmist’s faith, who sets the judgment to come on the wicked as vividly before his eyes, as if it were actually present. The same strength of faith discovers itself also in the wondering question, “Know they not?” in the preceding verse.

For God is in the righteous generation,

He is found amongst them as helper and deliverer. Falsely, Luther: But God is in the righteous generation. God’s being in the righteous generation, is the ground of the destruction, which He suspends over their oppressors. Hence also we must not supply, with Claus: “but not with and among them, the ungodly.”

After the words פחדו פחד , there is added in Psalms 53. לא היה פחד , where no fear was, i.e. in the midst of their prosperity, whilst in a human way nothing of the kind could have been looked for, suddenly. Venema: “Where they were securely indulging themselves, there they began suddenly to be afraid, and so were unexpectedly overwhelmed.” Others, incorrectly, and quite unsuitably to the context: “They fall into a blind, groundless fear.” The discourse here is not of the remorse of conscience, but of Divine judgments actually inflicted. We are not, therefore, to refer to such passages as Leviticus 26:17, Leviticus 26:36; Proverbs 28:1, where God threatens the transgressors of His law, that they would flee when no one pursued them, would be frightened by the rustle of a falling leaf; but to such passages as Job 15:21, “The sound of terrors is in his ears, in prosperity the destroyer shall come upon him,” and 1 Thessalonians 5:3, “When they shall say, Peace and safety, then sudden destruction cometh on them.” The sudden and unexpected nature of the destruction of the wicked, overtaking them while they are still in great prosperity, is constantly brought forward in the Psalms. It is further added in Psalms 53 : כּ ִ י־אֱ לֹ הִ ים פּ ִ זּ ַ ר עַ צְ מוֹ ת חֹ נָ ךְ? , “for God scatters the bones of those who encamp against thee,” substituting these words for the last member of our verse. חֹ נָ ךְ? , pausal-form for חֹ נְ ךָ? , of the besieging thee, is partic. of חנה to besiege. It is generally construed with על . The construction found here is to be explained thus, that חנה , “he who encamps,” stands for “the besieger;” comp. קמי for קמים עלי in Psalms 39. The oppression of the pious, by the ungodly, appears here under the image of a siege, which God raises by shattering the besieging enemies, so that their bones, formerly the seat of their strength, cover the field of battle. This addition renders unquestionable the soundness of the exposition given by us of the preceding words. For how could it assign the ground thereof, if a baseless fear in them were spoken of? “In the midst of their security, destruction overtakes them,— for, O righteous generation, God annihilates your adversaries.” According to this view, the changes in Psalms 53 would not touch the essential meaning. The addition: where no fear was, serves only to complete the picture, and is in substance contained in the preceding words, where already the state of the ungodly is described as one of such perfect security and untroubled prosperity, that they no longer thought there could be a God at all. And in the second member both Psalms contain the same fundamental thought, that God interposes for the good of His people against the wicked, only in Psalms 53 the destruction wrought in their behalf is delineated in striking colours. To the expression, “He scatters the bones,” there is a verbal paral. in Psalms 141:7.

Verse 6

Ver. 6. Put to shame the counsel of the poor, for God is his refuge. The address is to the enemies. These the Psalmist, in the full strength of faith, tells that he does not grudge the triumph of succeeding in defeating the plans for delivering the oppressed servants of God. For such joy will soon be annihilated, inasmuch as the righteous have on their side a mighty helper, mightier than themselves. בוש in Hiph. to shame, to put to sham e. Various commentators render mock only; but this meaning is unwarranted. That the כי is not, after Luther’s example, to be explained by but, is obvious; and, consequently, it is certain that we must render, not, “ye put to shame,” but, “shame only, I will not hinder you.” The כי assigns the reason why the enemies may put to shame the counsels of the poor. In Psalms 53 we have, corresponding to these words, הבישתה כי אלהים מאסם , thou shamest, viz. thine enemy, him who encamps against thee (the naming of the object was unnecessary, because sufficiently plain from the preceding context), for the Lord has rejected them. The righteous man, or the righteous generation, is addressed; in חהךְ? also it had been addressed. In point of sense, these words are almost of one import with ours. Both passages contain the firm hope of deliverance, on the ground that the Lord could not fail to give to righteousness the victory over wickedness.

Verse 7

Ver. 7. The Psalmist closes by expressing his desire after the previously promised salvation of God, in the destruction of the Church’s enemies. Oh that the salvation of Israel were come out of Zion, and the Lord returned to the imprisonment of His people! Then let Jacob rejoice, and Israel be glad. The first clause is literally: Who will give from Zion the deliverance of Israel? The מי יתן , who will give, is confessedly used with the force of the optative, as if it were: might it but come. From Zion, because there the Lord was enthroned in His sanctuary, as King of His people. It is quite erroneously supposed by De Wette, that the Psalmist must have been far from his native land, and looking towards it. The expectation of help from Zion is found continually in those Psalms, which were unquestionably David’s, and in those which were certainly composed after the captivity; comp., for example, Psalms 3:4, Psalms 28:2, Psalms 20:2, Psalms 128:5, Psalms 134:3. When the pious Psalmists utter this expectation, they remind God that it is His obligation to help, since, as the Head of the Divine kingdom, He cannot abandon it to the devastations of the impious. If the Psalm had belonged to the period of the captivity, the Psalmist could not have looked for salvation from Zion. For the kingdom of God had no longer its centre there, after the destruction of the temple, as Ezekiel indicated, Ezekiel 11:22, by causing the Shekinah, the symbol of God’s indwelling presence, solemnly to depart from the temple. When Daniel also, after the destruction of the temple, turned his face in prayer toward Jerusalem, he did so only in reference to what had once been there, and what should be there again. He did not expect help out of Zion, but he directed his face thither, simply because, in his view, the city was holy, where the temple had stood, and where again a temple was to be reared. The only passage that De Wette can adduce as a proof that, even in exile, help was expected out of Zion, is Psalms 121:1; and this is such only on the arbitrary supposition, that the Psalm belongs to the times of the captivity, the groundlessness of which is proved by the very commencement: “I lift mine eyes to the hills, from whence cometh my help.” So here also the words under consideration show that the Psalm could not have been composed, according to the modern hypothesis, in exile; and every interpretation of the following words which proceeds upon that hypothesis, must appear inadmissible. The words, “in the returning of the Lord to the imprisonment of His people,” announce more immediately the way and manner in which the salvation of Israel should come out of Zion. It comes thus,—that the Lord, who is throned in Zion, takes compassion on the misery of His people, and returns to them in the manifestations of His grace. Modern commentators for the most part expound: “When the Lord brings back the prisoners of His people.” They then draw from this a proof that the Psalm could not be the production of David, but must have been composed during the captivity. Others, who still ascribe it to David, have been led thereby to consider our verse as a later addition, as was done also by the present writer, Beitr. p. 142,—a supposition which is the less probable, as this verse is found also in Psalms 53, and as thereby the sevenfold use of the name of God would be lost. But the whole exposition is demonstrably false; for, 1. שוב never has the signification of to bring back, it never is used transitively, but always means to return; comp. Beitr. p. 104. 2. It is alleged, without the least proof, that שבות , signifies the prisoners; whereas, wherever it occurs, excepting in this form of expression, it rather denotes the captivity, the status captivitatis. 3. The entire phrase is unquestionably used in many other places, in a general way, of “grace, favour,”—imprisonment, captivity, an image of misery, as very often the prison, Psalms 142:7, bands, cords; comp., for example, Isaiah 42:7, Isaiah 49:9 etc. So Job 42:10, “And the Lord turned the captivity (prop., turned himself to the prison) of Job,” though certainly, Job was never confined. Then Jeremiah 30:18, “I turn myself to the captivity of Jacob’s tents,” for, to their mournful condition, as the tents cannot be considered there as imprisoned. Ezekiel 16:53, “I will return to their captivity, the captivity of Sodom and her daughters,” etc. q. d. I will take pity on their misery; for certainly Sodom and the other cities of the plain of Jordan were not carried away into captivity, but were wholly annihilated; comp. the investigations in my Beitr. P. ii. p. 104 ss. On the other hand, there is not to be found one place in which the form of expression can be shown to have been used in reference to the exiles. 4. The original foundation of all the passages where this expression occurs, is that of Deuteronomy 30:3, “And the Lord thy God returns to thy prisonhouse, or captivity.” But that there שוב is employed in its common signification of returning, and has the goal of the return beside it in the accus., is clear as day. In Deuteronomy 30:1-6 alone the word occurs no fewer than six times: of these, it is generally admitted to be five times used in the sense of returning, and why should it in one case alone signify to bring back? Now, if we add to this the special grounds which, in our Psalm, stand in the way of a reference to the bringing back from captivity,—to wit, the desire of help from Zion; the entire remaining contents of the Psalm, which do not allude in the slightest way to the times of the captivity, but rather concern relations of a general kind, common to all ages; and, finally, the superscription—we cannot entertain the least doubt of the alone correctness of the explanation, “when the Lord returns to the captivity, i.e. the misery of His people” (the accus. being used, as is customary in verbs of motion; comp. Exodus 4:19-20; Numbers 10:36; Psalms 85:4; Nahum 3). But to express his wish that the Lord might have compassion on the wretchedness of His Church, in a Psalm destined for the use of the pious in all ages, David had the more occasion, the greater the disorders had been, of which he himself had been a witness in the times of Saul and Absalom. The wish here expressed found its highest fulfilment in Christ; and in this case also the highest stage thereof is reserved for the future, when the triumphant Church shall take the place of the militant. Till then, we shall have occasion enough to make the wish of the pious Psalmist our own. Amid the joy which arises from lower fulfilments, the longing after the last and highest can never be extinguished. יגל and ישמח , on account of the form of the first, and from a comparison with Psalms 13:6,—to similarity with which this Psalm, in all probability, owes its position,—are to be taken as a wish and demand: “Then let Jacob exult, let Israel rejoice.”

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Bibliographical Information
Hengstenberg, Ernst. "Commentary on Psalms 14". Hengstenberg on John, Revelation, Ecclesiastes, Ezekiel & Psalms.