Psalm 14 Commentary: Introduction
Turn to Psalm 14.
In Psalm 14, David is meditating on this theme: Atheism. The lack of belief in and obedience to God. Atheism in its INTELLECTUAL, theoretical form. And atheism in its PRACTICAL form – in the way that it’s worked out in the lives of practically every single human being.
David notes the EVIL of both kinds of atheism and God’s final DEALING with atheism.
So, let’s meditate with David on Atheism.
Psalm 14 Commentary: Intellectual Atheism
In verses 1 through 3, David starts to ponder atheism. And he zeroes in on two different forms of this professed philosophy which most of mankind embraces.
First of all, we have verse 1. Let’s read that again.
The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God.
They are corrupt,
they have done abominable works,
there is none that doeth good.
So, here’s the intellectual, theoretical, philosophical approach to atheism. To flat out DENY that God exists. To claim that there is a total ABSENCE of God. And this term for “God” is “Elohim”. And that can certainly refer to the Lord, who is the true God. He’s the only real deity in reality. But it can also refer simply to the CONCEPT of “deity”. And so, verse 1 is fully acknowledging that there are some who take the position that no deity exists. Nothing created THE EVERYTHING that’s all around us. There is no such being. And because that’s the case, there’s no accountability to him or her or it or whatever it is.
And OUR society is filled with this kind of people. I grieve to say that many in my extended family have adopted this mindset – that there is no God – no deity. And in our society – maybe I can say in WESTERN CIVILIZATION – how do these men and women with an ATHEISTIC worldview – how are they ESTEEMED in our culture? Are they despised? Or are they exalted?
I think you’ll recognize that you find them in all sorts of prestigious positions in western civilization. They’re in ACADEMIA. They’re more and more in the halls of LEGISLATURES. In fact, I recently read an article that was kind of celebrating the fact that more congressmen are feeling comfortable with coming out – so to speak – as atheists. Like this is something to be proud of. It’s not as much of a stigma anymore. Further, people who hold to the profession that there is no God are the ones who are starring in everyone’s favorites movies and TV shows. They are the movers and shakers. They are the rich and famous. They’re the beautiful people of our society.
But what does God think of atheists? What does he call them? Verse 1. They are – FOOLS. The FOOL says in his heart “no God”. Now, that’s NOT very flattering. But it IS the truth. Only a fool will believe for a moment that there is no deity.
And when we speak of “fools” we’re not talking about STUPID people. These people are not necessarily intellectually incapable. People who make this claim can solve math problems. They can speak eloquently. They can engineer buildings and industrial equipment. They can balance their check books. INTELLECTUALLY, they can be all there.
But that’s not where their foolishness lies. Their foolishness isn’t necessarily reflected in their INTELLECT. It resides in their MORALS. They are natural men that don’t receive the things of the Spirit of God (1 Co). They look at the creation all around them, and they just CAN’T or simply WON’T put it together – that there must have been an awesome and powerful being who made all of this. That just doesn’t satisfy them.
So, only fools utterly deny the existence of deity. And – you know – what we believe affects our actions and behavior. And for some reason, that’s an assertion that even the highest in our nation attempt to deny these days – that what we THINK affects what we DO. I just don’t understand how people can deny that what one BELIEVES is going to affect his ACTIONS and BEHAVIOR. But it certainly does. And David goes on in Psalm 14 to expose the character of intellectual atheists. This group that outright denies the existence of God.
He says they’re CORRUPT. They’re SPOILED – not in the sense of being spoiled like a little child who always gets his desires. But SPOILED in the sense of what happens when you leave food out overnight or for a period of several days. I won’t give any illustrations. You and I both know that food left out spoils. It CORRUPTS. It’s what happened when the frogs and flies descended on everything in the land of Egypt right before the Exodus. They SPOILED everything they touched. And that’s a picture of the intellectual atheist. If you were to picture them as a piece of food – they would be something you would have no interest in approaching. Think of your reaction to coming across a container filled with what you thought was good and tasty food – only to discover that it’s spoiled and rotten. That’s God’s reaction to these people. He’s sickened by them. He finds them repulsive.
So, the CHARACTER of intellectual atheists is spoiled. Their DEEDS are also bad. They’re “abominable”. That word “abominable” is used by the Lord in 2 Kings to explain to us why he had to deport Israel and Judah. He did it because of their ABOMINABLE, offensive, sickening deeds. And in particular, these two nations of his were eventually practicing the sins of the Amorites, whom the Lord drove out from before his people because he couldn’t stand THEIR sin anymore. The Amorites’ deeds were deeply offensive to God. They’re the kind of deeds that provoke God to severely punish an entire nation. And these are the kinds of deeds that intellectual atheism produces.
And finally, with intellectual atheists, just as they say that there is an ABSENCE of deity – so too God says that there is an ABSENCE among them of anyone who does good. Any “good-doer” – just can’t find them among this group.
And that’s something to take note of and ponder for a moment. How can David say that there is none who does good among this group? I mean – today, intellectual atheists I suppose participate in some actions that we could consider “good”. And even in David’s day, I assume that many of the people worked and supported their families. I mean, that seems good. So then, how can we say that among them there is not ONE who does good?
I think it has to do with what God sees as good. Good deeds apart from a good heart — throughout the entire Scripture — are never encouraged by God. God in Isaiah – for example – takes to task those who celebrated new moons and Sabbaths. And there was NOTHING wrong with those activities. In fact, that kind of celebration was REQUIRED by God himself. What WAS wrong was the people’s hearts. They drew near to God with their lips ONLY. But their HEARTS were far from him. And so I think that’s why God can say that among the group of intellectual atheists, there is ultimately not a single one who does good. Their hearts are all so full of sin and selfishness.
Now, the reality is that most people AREN’T intellectual atheists. They weren’t in the time of David, either. You think of all the mentions in the Old Testament of national deities outside of Israel. You have Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians and Chemosh the god of Moab and Milcom the god of the Ammonites. These false deities were all associated with individual nations. It’s hard to think of a nation in the Old Testament that didn’t have at least one national deity. The Babylonians and Assyrians even had them. So did the Egyptians. So in the Bible, there’s no lack of gods and the worship of those gods.
And the same is generally true even today. I mean, you do have countries like China which is officially atheistic. But in the course of history, this is a relatively recent phenomenon. That’s why when missionaries come through and talk about the makeup of a particular country that they’re going to – religiously-speaking – you see the percentages of each individual RELIGION in that country. Most countries are not predominately atheistic.
Even in this nation in which we live, if you check something like the CIA World Factbook, you’ll find that over 51% of our nation identifies as PROTESTANT – not just Christian. And only about 12% consider themselves to be in the “unaffiliated” or “none” categories.
Psalm 14 Commentary: Practical Atheism
My point is that it’s not the OVERWHELMING MAJORITY of people who claim to be the type of intellectual atheists that we just saw in the first verse of this psalm. And I think that’s why David moves in verses 2 and 3 to meditate NOT on those who are atheists INTELLECTUALLY, but to those who are atheists PRACTICALLY. Let’s re-read verses 2 and 3.
2 The LORD looked down from heaven upon the children of men,
to see if there were any that did understand, and seek God.
3 They are all gone aside,
they are all together become filthy:
there is none that doeth good, no, not one.
Now, in verse 2 we have the Lord looking down. And this word often carries somewhat of a foreboding undertone.
The angels who came to Abraham right before the destruction of Sodom LOOKED DOWN upon that city. And we know what happened after that.
God in the Red Sea – when his people were fleeing from Egypt and God’s pillar of cloud separated Israel from Egypt – right before God was going to overthrow Pharaoh’s army in the Red Sea – he LOOKED DOWN from the pillar at the Egyptian army. And you know what happened after that.
Balaam who was hired to curse Israel, LOOKED DOWN at them. And thankfully what happened next was God’s protection for his people – at least from the curse that Balaam wanted to pronounce against Israel. But we know that Balaam advised Balak to tempt Israel into sinning. So, again, another foreboding scene.
So, when God is looking down at these people, you might suspect that something similar might happen here. But there’s no fire and brimstone. No letting loose of the waters of the sea. God’s judgement in this scene is not catastrophic or miraculous. But God’s judgement is present.
He looks down at the sons of Adam – at mankind in general. And he’s wondering if there are any that understand and seek God.
This understanding here is something that we’re told that Israel gained when they returned to the land after their exile and started reading the Law of the Lord. So, understanding can come from God’s word. This understanding is further something that God LAMENTED all the way back in Deuteronomy that his people lacked. This kind of understanding can also be called spiritual insight. Does anyone have this among the mortals of the earth? That’s what God wants to find out.
And do they SEEK God? Are they interested in him? Do they inquire about him? Does any one of these mortals on earth take an interest in the true God? Because they have all sorts of gods. And they seem pretty devoted to him or them. They sometimes CUT themselves to appease these gods. They sometimes offer their CHILDREN in sacrifice to these gods. They will KILL in the name of their gods.
There are many who seek what they think of as “God”. The FOOL takes the intellectual atheist route and boldly claims that there is NO God. But MANY aren’t like that. MOST aren’t like that. Among the sons of Adam, then, surely there must be some that understand and seek God! The true and living God!
Among these people, are there any that truly SEEK God and have spiritual UNDERSTANDING? Here’s David’s conclusion in verse 3. “NO”
They’ve turned aside. They’re morally corrupt. No one does good. Notice the UNIVERSALITY of these statements. “All”. “All”. “None”. “No, not one”. But surely there’s ONE among the sons of Adam that seeks God. Nope. Surely there’s ONE that does good. God doesn’t think so.
Well then, why are they making all those idols and engaging in all those religious activities? Romans 1 tells us that they pursue idols exactly BECAUSE they don’t want to seek God. They are RUNNING from God. And so they exchange God’s glory for idols of animals or birds or whatever else. The abundance of idols doesn’t indicate sincere seeking after God. It portrays just the opposite.
This group then is not made up of those who in their mind and heart try to convince themselves that there is no God. And nevertheless, this group consists of atheists – PRACTICAL atheists. They’re atheists – not in their MIND and HEART so much as in their PRACTICES. They claim to believe a god. But their lives don’t testify to a genuine seeking after and understanding of God – the true God – the Lord.
I mean, just look at the similarities of these two groups in the text. Among those in verse 1 who take the official position that God does not exist – there is not one who does good.
Among the broader sons of Adam – most of whom would profess some belief in and allegiance to a god or many gods the same in true. There is none who does good – not even one. So, this conclusion applies to both groups. None of them do good.
And so we see that whether we’re talking about intellectual atheists or practical atheists, God isn’t finding anything good among them. He’s not finding ANY who seek him. ANY who have spiritual understanding and insight.
Psalm 14 Commentary: Senselessness of Atheism
And based on these realities, David marvels at the SENSELESSNESS of these people in verses 4-6. He says…
4 Have all the workers of iniquity no knowledge?
who eat up my people as they eat bread, and call not upon the LORD.
5 There were they in great fear:
for God is in the generation of the righteous.
6 Ye have shamed the counsel of the poor,
because the LORD is his refuge.
So, these atheists, intellectual and practical, are referred to as WORKERS OF INIQUITY. That’s what they do. They practice SIN. Remember? There’s none that do good? If you’re not doing good, what are you doing? Yeah, you’re sinning.
And David accuses them of EATING God’s people. This is – I hope – figurative. The atheists aren’t necessarily cannibals. But they metaphorically EAT God’s people. They destroy them and they’re no more – just like what happens to food when one eats it. Just like when someone scarfs down some bread. It’s there one moment and gone the next.
And these atheists don’t think much of this unjust activity of theirs. How guilty does a person who eats bread feel? Well, if you’re on a low-carb diet or whatever then maybe you might feel a twinge of guilt if you eat bread. But by and large people don’t feel like eating bread is morally wrong or even something that’s not the best, morally speaking. And that’s just how these atheistic workers of iniquity feel as they’re abusing God’s people and destroying them.
And so it’s no surprise that this group doesn’t CALL UPON THE LORD. No – they prefer their idols — if they’re practical atheists — or they take comfort in their mantra “NO GOD” — if they’re intellectual atheists. But it NEVER occurs to them to CALL UPON THE LORD. The true God.
And David asks rhetorically whether these people HAVE NO KNOWLEDGE. Knowledge of what? Again, they might be wise in a WORLDLY way. But this knowledge is speaking of SPIRITUAL knowledge. And atheists don’t have it. And in particular, they don’t know or believe the realities described in verse 5.
Where it says — THERE (spatial) – or THEN (temporal) – this word can refer to either concept. I’d like to take it as temporal. At some future point THEN these atheists will be in great fear. They don’t understand this yet. But they will SOMEDAY. They will “dread (verb) dread (noun)” in the Hebrew. Well, WHY will they dread? WHAT are they going to dread?
This. That the Lord is in the generation of the righteous. The ones that they destroy as if they were just eating bread. God is among those people. God doesn’t ignore their affliction at the hands of the atheistic workers of iniquity. And if God isn’t going to ignore the mistreatment, then you know he’s going to put a stop to it and judge these atheists who oppress God’s people.
So then, considering the future judgement of intellectual and practical atheists, in verse 6 David in his mind turns to the atheists and no longer uses the third person to speak OF them. He uses the second person to speak TO them. He tells them that the Lord is the REFUGE of the righteous – of God’s people – these POOR ones. Again, this word “poor” doesn’t refer ONLY or even NECESSARILY to their ECONOMIC status. These ARE men who are afflicted and needy. But WHY are they afflicted and needy? Because they’re being metaphorically eaten like bread! Atheists are attacking them and destroying them. But these attacking workers of iniquity don’t know that God is in the generation of the righteous. AND he’s the refuge of these people. These poor, righteous, people of God WILL find protection and safety in the Lord. The atheists will find DREAD. The righteous will find PROTECTION. BOTH coming from the Lord.
Psalm 14 Commentary: Ultimate Judgement of Atheism
Well, when will these realities finally take place? When will the wicked be put in great dread and the righteous ultimately be lifted to safety? Verse 7.
7 Oh that the salvation of Israel were come out of Zion!
when the LORD bringeth back the captivity of his people,
Jacob shall rejoice, and Israel shall be glad.
This is what David yearns for. The salvation of Israel. The Yeshua of Israel. And he wants it to come out of Zion. Why? What was in Zion? I believe that he’s thinking about the king of Israel. And David’s the king of Israel at this point. But it makes me think that he’s looking forward to one who would come after him and be the salvation of Israel. Then, I think we have here is the anticipation in David’s heart of a coming Messiah. I mean, who else could do what the next line describes?
Bring back the captivity of the Lord’s people. And that makes it sound like the exile had already happened. And of course it hadn’t in David’s time. And so, another way to translate this is that the Lord will “restore the fortunes” of his people. That’s what David was counting on happening when Messiah came. That the Lord – through the Messiah – would restore the fortunes of Israel.
And of course at that point, with atheists dealt-with by Messiah and his oppressed people’s fortunes restored – Jacob and Israel would rejoice. And our translation translates that verb SHALL as a future tense. But the verb in Hebrew is something more forceful. MAY JACOB REJOICE! MAY ISRAEL BE GLAD! Come on folks! Get excited about this possibility! Messiah’s coming and he’ll restore your fortunes, Israel! Be glad!
And we know from the book of Romans in those first three chapters – that all have sinned. Romans 3 even quotes THIS psalm and declares that there is not a single one who does good. No – not one! Everyone is under sin. Everyone — left to his own devices – is a practical or intellectual atheist.
But now Messiah HAS come. And Israel for the most part DIDN’T rejoice or be glad. They crucified him. And so atheists still run rampant and oppress God’s people.
But one day the Lord Jesus the Messiah will return for good. He’ll restore the fortunes of his people. Atheists will no longer oppress – I’m pretty sure they won’t even exist anymore, with Jesus literally physically ruling from Jerusalem over the entire world. You can’t have atheism existing in that kind of an environment. I mean, when God is ruling physically from a city on earth, sitting on a literal throne, who’s going to be able to claim that he doesn’t exist?
Oh that the salvation of Israel were come out of Zion. That’ll be the end of Atheism as we know it. Praise God.
Very well done Paul! I pray your unsaved family members might come to know “so great salvation” in the Lord Jesus Christ. Excellent work on Psalm 14!
Thank you, Pat.