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Bible Commentaries

The Pulpit Commentaries

Psalms 14

Verses 1-7


IT has been strongly argued, from the mention of the "captivity" of God's people in Psalms 14:7, that this psalm was written during the sojourn in Babylon, and therefore not by David (De Wette). But "captivity" is often used metaphorically in Scripture (Job 42:10; Ezekiel 16:53; Romans 7:23; 2 Corinthians 10:5; Ephesians 4:8, etc.); and to "return to the captivity "—which is the expression used in Psalms 14:7—is simply to visit and relieve those who are oppressed. There is nothing, therefore, to prevent the psalm from being David's, as it is said to be in the title. With respect to the time in David's life whereto it is to be referred, Dr Kay's conjecture, which assigns it to the period of the flight from Absalom, may be accepted. The psalm is composed of two stanzas, one setting forth the wickedness of the ungodly (Psalms 14:1-3), the other announcing their coming discomfiture, and the relief and consequent joy of the oppressed (Psalms 14:4-7). (On the resemblance and differences between this psalm and Psalms 53:1-6; see the comment on Psalms 53:1-6.)

Psalms 14:1

The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God. An atheism is here depicted which goes beyond even that of Psalms 10:1-18. There the existence of God was not so much denied as his providence. Here his existence is not only denied, but denied in the very depths of the man's heart. He has contrived to convince himself of what he so much wishes. The psalmist regards such a state of mind as indicative of that utter perversity and folly which is implied in the term nabal (נָבַל). They are corrupt; literally, they have corrupted themselves (comp. Gem 6:12; Judges 2:19). Their atheism is accompanied by deep moral corruption. We have no right to say that this is always so; but the tendency of atheism to relax moral restraints is indisputable. They have done abominable works (comp. Psalms 10:3 and Psalms 10:4). There is none that doeth good; i.e. none among them. The psalmist does not intend his words to apply to the whole human race. He has in his mind a, " righteous generation" (Psalms 10:5), "God's people" (Psalms 10:4), whom he sets over against the wicked, both in this psalm and elsewhere universally (see Psalms 1:1-3; Psalms 2:12; Psalms 3:8; Psalms 4:3, etc.).

Psalms 14:2

The Lord looked down from heaven upon the children of men. Corruption having reached such a height as it had, God, is represented as looking down from heaven with a special object—to see if there were any that did understand, and seek God. To see, i.e; if among the crowd of the "abominable" doers spoken of in Psalms 14:1 there were any of a better spirit, and possessed of understanding, and willing to seek after God. But it was in vain. The result of his scrutiny appears in the next verse.

Psalms 14:3

They are all gone aside. Haccol (הַכֹּל), "the totality"—one and all of them had turned aside, like the Israelites at Sinai (Exodus 32:8); they had quitted the way of righteousness, and turned to wicked courses. The expression "denotes a general—all but universal-corruption" ('Speaker's Commentary'). They are all together become filthy; literally, sour, rancid—like milk that has turned, or butter that has become bad. There is none that doeth good, no, not one. St. Paul's application of this passage (Romans 3:10-12), to prove that "all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God" (verse 23), goes beyond the intention of the psalmist.

Psalms 14:4

Have all the workers of iniquity no knowledge? The exclamation is put in the mouth of God. Can it be possible that none of these evil-doers is aware of the results of evil-doing? Do they think to escape Divine retribution? The "wonder expresses the magnitude of their folly" (Hengstenberg). Who eat up my people as they eat bread. Reducing men to poverty, robbing them, and devouring their substance, is called, in Scripture, devouring the men themselves (see Proverbs 30:14; Isaiah 3:14; Micah 3:3). Those who are plundered and despoiled are compared to "bread" in Numbers 14:2. The Homeric δημοβόρος βασιλεὺς, adduced by Dr. Kay, is an instance of the same metaphor. And call not upon the Lord. This might have seemed scarcely to need mention, since "how shall they call on him in whom they have not believed?" (Romans 10:14). But it connects them definitely with the atheists of Numbers 14:1.

Psalms 14:5

There were they in great fear. "There"—in the midst of their evil-doing, while they are devouring God's people—a sudden terror seizes on them. Psalms 53:5 adds, "Where no fear was," which seems to imply a panic terror, like that which seized the Syrians when they were besieging Samaria (2 Kings 7:6, 2 Kings 7:7). For God is in the generation of the righteous. God's people cannot be attacked without provoking him; they ere in him, and he in them; he will assuredly come to their relief.

Psalms 14:6

Ye have shamed the counsel of the poor, because the Lord is his Refuge. The sense is obscure. Some translate, "Ye may shame the counsel of the poor (i.e. put it to shame, baffle it); but in vain; for the poor have a sure Refuge," and the ultimate triumph will belong to them. Others, "Ye pour contempt on the poor man's counsel," or "resolve," because "the Lord is his Refuge;" i.e. ye contemn it, and deride it, just because it rests wholly on a belief in God, which you regard as folly (see Psalms 14:1).

Psalms 14:7

Oh that the salvation of Israel were come out of Zion! The salvation of the "righteous generation" (Psalms 14:5), the "true Israel," is sure to come. Oh that it were come already! It will proceed "out of Zion," since God's Name is set there. The ark of the covenant had been already set up in the place which it was thenceforth to occupy (see 2 Samuel 6:12-17). David's reign in Jerusalem is begun. When the Lord bringeth back the captivity of his people; either, when the Lord turneth the ill fortune of his people, or, when the Lord returneth to the captivity of his people; i.e. when he no longer turns away from their sufferings and afflictions, but turns towards them, and lifts up the light of his countenance upon them, then Jacob shall rejoice, and Israel shall be glad. (For the union of these two names, see Psalms 78:21, Psalms 78:71; Psalms 105:23; Psalms 135:4, etc.) God's people shall celebrate their deliverance with a psalm of thanksgiving.


Psalms 14:1

The fool's creed, and its consequences.

"The fool hath said," etc. This is very plain speaking. Bible writers are not wont to wrap their meaning in soft phrases. They utter truth in words clear as sunbeams, keen as lightning. This word "fool" refers to character rather than understanding. The psalmist has in his eye one blinded by worldliness or besotted with vice, who can see no charm in virtue, no beauty in holiness, no loveliness, grandeur, attractiveness, in Divine truth. "The fool's creed," as it has been called, is not the conclusion of his reason, but the practical language of a lawless, selfish life. On this very account it is objected that this is not only a harsh, ]out an unjust judgment, if it be taken to mean that none but fools say, "There is no God." Wise men, it is affirmed, are to be found saying the same thing.

I. THIS CLAIM REQUIRES OUR CAREFUL CONSIDERATION. For our first duty is to be just. An unjust Christian is a living contradiction.

1. Now, it is at all events clear that any one who should affirm positively, as a truth men may be certain of, that "there is no God," would be guilty of stupendous folly. Whether the evidence that God exists be adequate and convincing or no, there can be no contrary evidence. To be entitled to assert that God does not exist, a man must possess at least one attribute of Deity—omniscience.

2. Therefore thoughtful sceptics in our own day do not venture on this tremendous assertion. They disclaim the name "atheists," and call themselves "agnostics;" q.d. persons who do not pretend to assert or deny the Divine existence, but simply maintain that the Cause of all things is altogether unknown and unknowable. Let us be honest, and not confuse things with a mist of words. Practically, agnosticism and atheism come to the same result. "The ungodly," in Scripture language, are not merely the openly vicious or violently wicked; they are those who do not fear, love, trust, obey God; who do not know God (1 John 4:8). Practically, therefore, the agnostic, who may be wise in all worldly wisdom; cultured, virtuous, benevolent; takes sides in the great warfare and journey of life, with the fool. If the agnostic be right, Moses, David, Isaiah, and all the ancient prophets; St. Paul, St. John, and all the apostles; St. Stephen and all the martyrs; with the greatest champions of justice and benevolence in all ages,—followed cunningly devised fables; Jesus Christ founded his religion and his Church on an illusion. The fool has in his blindness stumbled on the truth hid from the best and wisest in all ages: "There is no God!"

II. Supposing this ghastly denial to be, not the fool's, but the wise man's creed—the nearest approach to truth we can make on the greatest of all questions: let us reflect a little on the consequences. Truth, it may be said, is truth, whatever be the consequences. That is so. But consequences may be a test of truth. Unless truth leads to happiness and goodness, life is aimless wandering, and human nature a lie.

1. "No God!" Then Divine providence is a fiction. No wise plan or gracious purpose lives through each life, or through the history of the race. No eye watches over us with unsleeping care. No hand is on the helm of human affairs. We thought that the steps of a good man were ordered by the Lord; that he was the Ruler of nations, King of kings, and Friend of the widow and fatherless. These ideas must be given up as idle dreams. Law—a meaningless word, if there be no Supreme Will or Organizing Mind; and chance—the jumble of misconnected causes—rule all.

2. "No God!" Then prayer must be an illusion. We thought that when the poor man cried, the Lord heard him; that when we east our care on him, he cared for us; that it was as easy for him to grant his children's requests, without any interference with the laws of his universe, as for a mother to give her child bread. All the laws of the universe went to the making of the loaf—not to disable, but to enable her to grant her child's prayer. If there be no God, or none we can know, prayer is of all delusions the most vain.

3. "No God! Then there is no pardon for sin. Conscience must bear its awful burden: the heart's deepest wound must bleed without balm; the tears of repentance must be frozen at their source by the terrible thought—there is no forgiveness!

4. "No God!" Then human life is degraded inexpressibly. It has no supreme purpose—no aim beyond or above itself. Human reason can draw no light or strength from wisdom higher than its own. History has no goal.

5. "No God!" Then sorrow is comfortless, No voice has a right to say," Come unto me, and I will give you rest." You must bear your burden in your own strength. Death and darkness close all.

6. "No God!" Then there is as wisdom higher than man's; no strength stronger; no love deeper. No communion with an unseen, ever-present Friend and Helper, to lift our life above this world. No fountain of hope, purity, wisdom, for humanity. No common object of trust or centre of unity for mankind. Is it reasonable to think that it is truth which leads us into this pathless, sunless desert of despair? Is it falsehood that has inspired the teaching of apostles and prophets, nerved the courage of martyrs, sanctified the genius and learning of some of the noblest intellects, inspired the purest and most loving and lovely lives; that is the salt of goodness in daily life, the lamp of home, the victory' over death, the comfort of bereaved hearts? Or is it the truest as well as highest instinct in our nature that answers to the voice (Isaiah 41:10, Isaiah 41:13; Isaiah 43:11, Isaiah 43:13, Isaiah 43:25)?


Psalms 14:1-7

The depravity of a godless world, viewed by God.

This psalm is given us twice—as the fourteenth and the fifty-third. It is one of those which assumes a revelation of God as a redeeming God, and also the existence of a redeemed people of God. And by way of consequence it assumes the necessity of a Divine redemption in order to bring about "the generation of the righteous." This could only have come about by Divine grace and by Divine power. Hence the very manifest distinction noted in the psalm between "the children of men" (Psalms 14:2) and the people of God (Psalms 14:4). The central part of the third chapter of the Epistle to the Romans is a commentary on this psalm by one of the most richly inspired penmen. When God saw, as with his all-piercing gaze he looked down from heaven, that among "the children. of men" there was absolutely not one righteous, no, not one—manifestly, a "generation of the righteous" could never have existed save for a gracious redemption and regeneration from above. And while the Apostle Paul develops from this description of the world, man's absolute need of a Divine interposition, we, in expounding the psalm itself, must work distinctly on its own lines, showing the state of things in the world on which the eye of God rested, and also how far that state of things exists in it still. The expositor must also take up the Christian standpoint, and show when and for what purpose the Lord looked down on such a sight.

I. A FEARFUL SIGHT ON WHICH "THE LORD LOOKED DOWN? To what precise period of time the psalm refers, we have no means of knowing; nor at what exact period it was written. This, however, is of no consequence. Every point specified here can. be verified now.

1. The depravity of man had vented itself in the most egregious folly, even in the denial, of God. There is ample room for the Christian teacher to expose the folly of such denial quite irrespectively of his theory of creation, be it the evolutionary one or no. £ Either way, the

(1) teleological,

(2) cosmological, and

(3) ontological proofs remain the same;

in fact, the teleological proof is receiving abundant and amazing illustrations in modern discovery; so much so that its power again and again "overwhelmed" Mr. Darwin himself. The argument in Paley's 'Natural. Theology ' may need resetting, but in substance has lost none of its force. While Mr. Herbert Spencer's statement, that we know with undoubting certainty that there is "an infinite and eternal Energy from which everything proceeds" is one of which the Christian advocate may make large and effective use. That there is a God all Nature cries aloud in all her works. And not till a man is a "nabal," "a fool," a withered, sapless being, does he come to deny the Divine existence. Such denial has, however, not yet ceased. On the contrary, it has assumed in our days a boldness not even contemplated by the psalmist himself. There is

(1) practical atheism, where men profess to know God, while in works they deny him;

(2) agnosticism;

(3) theoretical atheism, and even anti-theism;

(4) and in some of the works of positivists, £ it is even reckoned as a virtue for men to have no fear of God before their eyes I

2. Such atheism is the most striking and grievous folly.

(1) It is irrational.

(2) It is corrupting.

(3) It breaks out into abominable acts.

(4) In the course of its evolution, it makes aggressions on and even mocks at theology, religion, and religions people.

(5) It will gradually dry up entirely the springs of social virtue. It may not do this in the first generation, if the denier of God has first been cast by early Christian teaching in the mould of social morality and goodness; but let generation after generation of atheists arise, and it will be seen that when the ties are snapped which bind men to their God, the ties which bind man to man are cut asunder as well!

3. Such atheism is fearfully widespread among "the children of men." "None that did understand, that did seek God." It is common among

(1) the irreligious;

(2) the free-thinkers;

(3) philosophers, under the guise of philosophy;

(4) scientific men, under the guise of science. The fact is, atheism is of the heart, not of the head. "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked," and turns the very arguments which prove the Divine existence into an excuse for denying it! Its cry is, "Let us break their bands asunder, and cast away their cords from us!" How grievous and terrible a sight is a world like this! How loathsome to infinite purity, when men are altogether become unprofitable, when there is "not one that doeth good, no, not one." Every expression in the psalm should be critically examined: they are all "gone aside;" they are all together become "filthy," "stinking," "corrupt," etc. There is a marvellous variety of words in the Hebrew for moral corruption. Nowhere in the whole world was the sense of sin, as sin, so deep as among the Hebrews. How was this? It will be seen how it was when we study our second question.

II. WHEN AND FOR WHAT PURPOSE DID THE LORD LOOK DOWN ON THIS MASS OF EVIL? The meaning of the psalmist could not go beyond the range of his inspiration and enlightenment. We live in a later age; the light is brighter now than then; and therefore the preacher will fall short alike of his privileges and of his mission, if he does not open up from this point more truth than it was possible for the psalmist to know.

1. In an early stage of the world, God looked down on it to punish its iniquity. The Deluge. Sodom and Gomorrah. The desolations which have come on Egypt, Babylon, Tyro, Edom, Ammon, Moab, Philistia, Jerusalem. And when great calamities come, the most irreligious men become the greatest cowards. "There were they in great fear, where no fear was."

2. God looked on the wickedness of the sons of men, and resolved to call out therefrom a people for himself. (Cf. Isaiah 51:1, Isaiah 51:2, Hebrew.) God called Abraham; and how his people became a family, a tribe, and a nation, the roll of sacred history records. And it is owing to this that the psalmist refers to "the generation of the righteous" (verse 5), in distinction from "the children of men" (verse 2). Hence it is and has ever been the case, that, however prevalent the depravity of men may have become, there have ever been some trusting hearts who have found their refuge in God. £

3. God instituted a priesthood and sacrifices to instruct his people in the dread evil of sin. The whole Levitical institute means this, and nothing less than this. The Law was a "child-guide," which took men to school, and taught them that nothing was right with men till they were right with God.

4. God established a prophetic order, which should declaim against sin. (See Isaiah 59:1-20, specially the fifteenth verse.) The mission of all the prophets was to speak for God, and uphold his claims before the people. And as they prophesied, God's treatment of the world's sin was being unfolded, as we see in the chapter from Isaiah to which we have just referred.

5. In the fulness of the times, God sent forth his Son, who by his death should atone for sin, and who by his Spirit should conquer sin. This, then, is like a God. We might have expected, from the psalmist's words, that God would take vengeance on the sinner and crush him. But no. He is a just God and a Saviour; condemning sin and saving the sinner (Romans 3:1-31.).

6. God has created in the hearts of his own a yearning after salvation and righteousness, which is in itself a prophecy of God's ultimate triumph over sin, and of a time when the anguish of his people shall give place to joy (verse 7)! These desires of the holy are prophetic germs. The aspiration in the closing verse of the psalm £ is one the fulfilment of which has been going on ever since, and will, till the Redeemer who has come out of Zion shall have completed his saving work.—C.


Psalms 14:1-7

Right views of God's government.

I. In considering God's moral government of the world, we should be careful to TAKE THE RIGHT STANDPOINT. Much depends on the way we look at things. We may be too near or too far off; we may lean too much to the one side or to the other. Here the standpoint is not earth, but "heaven." This is the perfect state. Here we take our place by the side of God, and look at things in the light of his truth. If we have the Spirit of Christ, the true Son of man, then, though on earth, we shall yet be "in heaven" (John 3:13).

II. Another thing is that we should have regard to the TRUE STANDARD OF JUDGMENT. (Psalms 14:2.) Much is being done to find out about the people who lived in the ages that are past; but we have to do more with the present day. Wise governments make inquiry as to population and the condition of the people—materially, intellectually, and socially. Here God is represented as holding inquest, and the chief concern is as to the moral condition of men. Religion is put first. If men are fight with God, then all is right. The standard by which things are measured is the Law of God. How do men stand to God? Do they believe in God? What is the state of their mind and affections with reference to God? "To see if there be any that understand, and seek God." It is not what other men think of us, nor is it what we think of ourselves, that is of importance, but the supreme thing is what God thinks of us.

III. We are thus led to apprehend THE JUST RETRIBUTION IMPENDING. (Psalms 14:2-6.) Life presents a varied aspect. But when we look at it in the light of God, society divides itself into two great parties—the wicked and the righteous.

1. There is marked diversity of character. Contrasted with the righteous—"my people," as God calls them in his love and grace there are the multitude who have gone aside, and who have waxed worse and worse, in their corruption and ungodly deeds. In this psalm there is something like a climax. In Psalms 10:1-18. we have the ungodly, or fool, hugging himself in his fancied security, and saying, "I shall not be moved." Then in Psalms 11:1-7. there is an advance to a bold denial of God's omniscience and justice: "The foundations are destroyed." Then in Psalms 12:1-8. there is a further and still more fearful stride, in daring defiance of God: "Our lips are our own: who is Lord over us?" From this it is but a step to sit down "in the seat of the scornful," and to cry out in derision, "There is no God!"

2. But as there is diversity of character, so there will also be diversity of retribution. Judgment will be according to righteousness. Reason is appealed to (Psalms 12:4). In wonder and pity, the question is asked, "Are they so senseless as not to see the consequences of their own wrong-doing?" But their stupidity and stubbornness will not stop the progress of events. Conscience is also appealed to (Psalms 12:5). The term "there" brings the scene before us with the vividness of a picture. We see these wicked men "there" in their places; "there," in the midst of their works and their pleasures; "there," where they are priding themselves on their strength and their conquests; and "there" the hand of God seizes them, and they are stricken with terror (Leviticus 26:36). And what conscience confesses, experience confirms (Psalms 12:6). The uneasy sense, that, after all, God is on the side of the righteous, causes fear, and events are continually occurring which go to prove that the fear is well-grounded. The nearer we come to God, the fuller our sympathy with God, the more complete our trust in God, the better shall we be able to judge as to God's doings. In God's light we shall see light. God's interest in man will be clear; God's holy grief because of the folly and wickedness of man, will be evident; and bright and enlivening as the outshining of the sun from the midst of clouds and darkness will be the love of God for his people, and his tender and abiding care of them through all the vicissitudes of their earthly life. The wicked dishonour God by their distrust and their scorn. Let us honour God by our faith in his eternal love and goodness, and by our unceasing prayer that his salvation may come to all nations. "Alleluia! Salvation, and glory, and honour, and power unto the Lord our God!"—W.F.


Psalms 14:1-7

Conflict between God and the wicked.

The psalmist beans by lamenting the extent and the power of the atheism which reigns among men (Psalms 14:1-3). But the righteous who have to suffer much on account of it, must not therefore despair; fools shall certainly bring destruction upon themselves (Psalms 14:4-6). He closes with the prayer that God would send deliverance to his people (Psalms 14:7).

I. ATHEISM. (Psalms 14:1-3.)

1. Atheism in the thought and in the desires. (Psalms 14:1.) The "heart" in the Old Testament is not only the seat of desire, but of thought also. But it is more easy for a bad man to wish there were no God, than honestly to think it.

2. Atheism in conduct. This is described under a positive and negative aspect. Corrupt conduct—they are gone away from the right path into every wrong way; especially they prey upon the righteous as they would eat bread; i.e. it is as natural for them to be cruel and unjust towards them as it is to eat bread. They have tried to defeat the counsels of the poor. The negative aspect is that not any of them did good, nor did they seek God or call upon the Lord. God was wholly shut out of their lives and thoughts.

II. THE INCREDIBLE IGNORANCE OF ATHEISM. The "fool" hath said. "The fool" expresses the climax of imbecility. "Have all the workers of iniquity no knowledge," etc.?

1. He is ignorant of God's all-seeing scrutiny of the human race. (Psalms 14:2.) In Genesis 11:5 it is said, "The Lord came down from heaven, to see the city and the tower," etc. Men from a very early period have had this thought of God's perfect knowledge of human affairs.

2. They have had experiences which filled them with great fear. (Genesis 11:5.) God was in the righteous generation; where they thought themselves safe, there they began suddenly to be afraid. The discourse here is of Divine judgments actually inflicted.

3. They have been frustrated in their best-laid plans. (Genesis 11:6.) "Whatsoever the pious man plans to do for the glory of God, the children of the world seek to frustrate; but in the final issue their attempt is futile; for Jehovah is his Refuge." This is the meaning; and their defeat should have taught them who was on the side of the righteous.

III. THE PRAYER SPRINGING OUT OF THIS CONFLICT BETWEEN GOD AND THE WICKED. (Genesis 11:7.) Prayer for the speedy deliverance of God's people. This is the perpetual cry of the Church.—S.

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Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Psalms 14". The Pulpit Commentary. 1897.