Psalm 14 describes the condition of things and gives comfort to the righteous when they are surrounded by abounding unrighteousness. We see especially what things are like under atheism. In fact, atheism is specifically stated in the very first verse!
David probably altered his 53rd Psalm to produce Psalm 14 to make a better fit for the sanctuary liturgy.
The psalm is divided into three parts: 1) the universality of man’s apostasy; 2) the suicidal blindness of the workers of iniquity and Jehovah, His poor peoples’ refuge; 3) prayer for Israel’s joyful deliverance.
1. To the chief Musician, A Psalm of David. 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 what’s in this word, “fool?” We hear it in many places in the Bible – most notably in the Psalms and in Proverbs.
In the Old Testament a fool is not someone who is mentally deficient, but rather, a fool has moral issues. There are three Hebrew words that we can investigate: ‘iwwelet, kesil, and nabal.
‘Iwwelet indicates a person who is lacking in morals. In particular, it is a person who is insolent or rebellious. A type of person who is described by this word may have one or more of these traits: a quick temper, as opposed to one with wisdom who is slow to anger (Proverbs 14:9); being petulant and insisting that one has his own way are two more traits to look for.
Kesil is a moral term, as well. This is an obstinate person who continues to make the wrong choices — usually, the choices lead to destruction. This fool refuses to learn the proper ways or to concentrate on what is right. He also refuses to fear the Lord. Proverbs points to sexual sin in illustration of this kind of folly.
Nabal draws attention to a person’s inner disposition.This fool denies God; is closed to God, to morality and reason. This type of folly is illustrated by gross immorality such as homosexuality (Judges 19:23-24 and rape (2 Samuel 13:12). (Barnes)
Other meanings for nabal include:
1. to wilt or fade (Ps.18:45)
2. to fail; to come to nought; to become corpse (Ps. 79:2)
3. to act wickedly (Prov. 30:32)
4. to esteem lightly (Deut. 32:15)
5. to disgrace; to treat contumely (Nahum 3:6)
6. a shameful deed, crime (Judg. 19:23,24)
7. punishment (Job 42:8),
8. withered – one of withered intellect
and from the words of the Psalm, we can safely say that nabal is the Hebrew word that applies here.
According to the fool, there is no God. The fool says it in his heart – implying the fool doesn’t say it aloud for all to hear, but he says it to himself. When I was a kid, no one would voice this sentiment, even if they honestly believed it. In that case it was held in the heart and uttered in the company of like minded people who wouldn’t repeat one’s words. But today’s world has become so corrupt that it is no longer hidden, but held up to seen by all as if it were some kind of badge or medal. This world has become full of fools. Also, if the fool says it in his heart, it means that it is a conviction that he holds to be true.
Reading on, we see this type of fool is corrupt and has done things which are detestable and abhorrent. All who are this type of fool are no good — they are depraved. Note what Paul says about the general depravity of fallen man in Romans 3:10-12:
10. As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one:
11. There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God.
12. They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one.
When the heart holds onto atheism, then all of life becomes corrupt. Man is as corrupt and fallen as his ancestors. No one can do good when corruption is all about and within.
Let’s go on to verse 2:
2. The LORD looked down from heaven upon the children of men, to see if there were any that did understand, and seek God.
The Hebrew word here is shaqaph which implies “bending forward” and looking intently. The English translation of the verse puts the tense in the past, but it could also be taken to be in the present — a continuing activity. We’ll stay with the tense of the verse. God wanted to witness this for Himself! He wanted to see if any of His children understood. Understand what? Matthew Henry says that God wanted to see if any man understood his own self correctly. I think His purpose is to find out if any man understood himself to be what he is — that is if he was able to see himself objectively — to realize that he was truly a fool and an abomination in the eyes of God. He wanted to see if anyone was seeking Him and He wanted to see who was righteous and who was not. Perhaps it is as it was at the time of the flood or at the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah – God wanted to find out if there was any that were righteous enough to be spared.
God still does this today. He is looking at us intently, watching and taking note of our thoughts, words and deeds. He does take an interest in us and our lives and in what we are doing. In support of this is the fact that the word “Lord” is used. We learned that Lord is the English version of the name Jehovah. In doing so, he becomes a personal God – faithful to His promises and His threats. Then look again at the end of that verse. He reverts back to God, i.e., Elohim or God in all His power. This is God without his personality or moral attributes.
For more on the man who understands and therefore acts on true wisdom see Psalm 111:10 and Daniel 12:10.
3. They are all gone aside, they are all together become filthy: there is none that doeth good, no, not one.
All mankind has left the belief in God and taken other paths — all are apostate — and none do anything that is of any good. This is the state of all of us. We are all fallen creatures and cannot do any good of our own will. We need God to work in us and then we are able to do good, but it is only by God’s work in us.
Continuing into verse 4, we see a sort of definition of these fools.
4. Have all the workers of iniquity no knowledge? who eat up my people as they eat bread, and call not upon the LORD.
The psalmist is now calling the fool a “worker of iniquity” — a term we have seen in other psalms. These workers of iniquity have no knowledge, that is to say no knowledge of God, and I think they have no interest in obtaining any knowledge of God. After all, if one was to seek knowledge of God, one just might be convicted of the sins he is committing have to change all the fun he is having!
Bread is pretty much a staple in life — something that people need to survive, people like it and it is relatively easy to store and to eat. So the next phrase indicates that the worker of iniquity enjoys finding all the faults of those who follow God. He looks for every error, every misstep, every fault and imperfection in the child of God. He is always ready to bring those faults and imperfections to light. In short, the worker of iniquity eats up the righteous.
Finally, the worker of iniquity never calls on God in prayer for any reason. His world may be crumbling around him, but he will not consult God or ask Him for help. He may be staring death in the face, but he doesn’t consider relying in the Creator and Sustainer. This is, essentially, denying God. This fool is trying to live as if there were no God. It is from this basic denial of God, which is a sin, that all other sins grow.
Verse 5 starts with phrase: “There were they in great fear…” An interesting phrase that I have trouble understanding. Matthew Henry explains that when they persecuted the people of God, their consciences condemned them for it and filled them with terror. Albert Barnes attributes the fear to the fact that they could not be calm in their belief that there is no God.
5. There were they in great fear: for God is in the generation of the righteous.
The second part of the verse can help us see what was meant: The fools are seeing that in those who follow God, (i.e., the generation of the righteous), have God inside them. This appears to be at least something they understand – or not – perhaps they just see something different about the follower of God and it puts the heebie-jeebies in them. I think I have to side with Barnes on this one. The fool sees some characteristic in the believer that he does not see in anyone else and someplace in his mind he knows it is God. Therefore, the fool knows because of this that there is a God despite what he wants to believe or admit and the thought or prospect frankly scares him.
Verse 6 confirms this interpretation:
6. Ye have shamed the counsel of the poor, because the LORD is his refuge.
We see here that the fool truly has cause to fear because in his actions he has laughed at, mocked or treated with derision those who put their trust in the Lord. In the Psalms, we see the term “the poor” used for those who are downtrodden and abused — quite often the poor are those who are persecuted because of their trust in Yahweh. Quite often it is the poor and not the rich who do place their trust in God.
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.
The psalmist here expresses his desire for relief for the people of God; for their deliverance because of the overwhelming sin and the practice of atheism around them. He is asking that it come from out of Zion — the place where God dwells — so he wants God to be the deliverer. When this happens — when Yahweh delivers His people out of the bondage the atheists and fools have put them under, then will His people rejoice.
Finally, Barnes says this will not only be true when they are redeemed are in heaven, but they can be happy, now, in the present with the prospect and certainty that they will obtain complete salvation.