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Psalm 14 Human Depravity

“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. The LORD looked down from heaven upon the children of men, to see if there were any that did understand, and seek God. They are all gone aside, they are all together become filthy: there is none that doeth good, no, not one. Have all the workers of iniquity no knowledge? who eat up my people as they eat bread, and call not upon the LORD. There were they in great fear: for God is in the generation of the righteous. Ye have shamed the counsel of the poor, because the LORD is his refuge. 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.” (Psalm 14, AV)

We have first a description of human depravity as universal, ver. 1–3; then a confident anticipation of destructive judgments on the incorrigibly wicked, ver. 4–6; and an earnest wish for the speedy deliverance of God’s elect from the evils of their natural condition and from the malice of their unconverted enemies, ver. 7.

There seems to be no reference to any particular historical occasion. The psalm was, no doubt, originally written to express the feelings of God’s people, in all times and places, with respect to the original depravity of all men, and the obstinate persistency in evil of the greater number. The points of resemblance and of difference between this psalm and the fifty-third will be considered in the exposition of the latter.

  1. To the Chief Musician, by David. The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God. They have done corruptly, they have done abominably (in) deed (or act); there is none doing good. Sin is constantly held up to view in Scripture as the height of folly, and the sinner as the fool by way of eminence. See Gen. 34:7, Josh. 7:15, Ps. 39:9 (8). The term is here collective and applied to the whole race, as appears from the plurals which follow, and the negative statement in the last clause. The preterites include the present, but suggest the additional idea, that the truth here asserted is the result of all previous experience and observations.—In his heart, to himself, if not to others, as above, in Ps. 10:11. That the error is one of the affections, and not merely of the understanding, is supposed by some to be implied in the use of the word heart, which is often used, however, to denote the mind or soul in general.—אֵין is properly a noun, and means nonentity or non-existence: “nothing of God,” or “no such thing as God.” It cannot be explained as a wish—“No God!” i.e. Oh that there were no God!—because אֵין in usage always includes the substantive verb, and denies the existence, or at least the presence, of the person or thing to which it is prefixed. This is also clear from the use of the same word in the last clause, where its sense is unambiguous.—The addition of the word act or deed shews that the atheism described is not merely theoretical but practical.—There is obvious allusion in this verse to the description of the general antediluvian corruption in Gen. 6:12. This makes it the more certain that the description here was not intended either for Jews or Gentiles, as such, but for wicked men of either class, and that Paul’s application of the words, in Rom. 3:10, 12, is perfectly legitimate, and not a mere accommodation of the Psalmist’s language to another purpose.

  2. Jehovah from heaven has looked down on the sons of man, to see if there were (one) acting wisely, seeking God. While the fool denies the being of a God, Jehovah’s eye is on him and his fellow-men. Yet even that omniscient eye can discern no exception to the general depravity and folly. The earnestness of the inspection is suggested by the verb in the first clause, which originally means to lean or bend over, and is peculiarly appropriate to the act of one gazing intently down upon a lower object. The force of the preterite tense is the same as in the preceding verse. The inquiry has been made already, and proved fruitless. It is no longer a doubtful question, but one definitively settled.—Acting wisely, in contrast to the atheistical folly mentioned in ver. 1. The test of wisdom is in seeking God, whether in the general religious sense of seeking his favor and communion with him, or in the special sense of seeking proofs of his existence. As if he had said, Even those who think there is no God, if they were wise, would seek one; but these fools take pleasure in the hideous negation. The image presented in this verse may be compared with that in Gen. 6:12, 11:5, 18:21. See also Ps. 33:13, 14.

  3. The whole has apostatized; together they have putrefied; there is none doing good; there is not even one. Total and universal corruption could not be more clearly expressed than by this accumulation of the strongest terms, in which, as Luther well observes, the Psalmist, not content with saying all, adds together, and then negatively, no not one. It is plain that he had no limitation or exception in his mind, but intended to describe the natural condition of all men, in the widest and most unrestricted sense. The whole, not merely all the individuals as such, but the entire race as a totality or ideal person.—The whole (race) has departed, not merely from the right way, but from God, instead of seeking him, as intimated in ver. 4. Together, not merely altogether or without exception, but in union and by one decisive act or event. The etymological import of the verb נאלחו is to turn sour, to spoil. It is applied to moral depravation not only here, but in Job 15:16. The Septuagint version of these words is quoted by Paul in Rom. 3:12, as a part of his scriptural description of human depravity, the rest of which is taken from Ps. 5:10 (9), 10:7, 36:2 (1), 140:4, Isa. 59:7, 8. Under the false impression that he meant to quote a single passage, some early Christian copyist appears to have introduced the whole into the Septuagint version of this psalm, where it is still found in the Codex Vaticanus, as well as in the Vulgate, and even in one or two Hebrew manuscripts of later date. The interpolation is also retained in the Anglican Psalter. It is evident, however, that the apostle’s argument is strengthened by the fact of his proofs being drawn, not from one, but several parts of the Old Testament.

  4. Do they not know, all (these) workers of iniquity, eating my people (as) they eat bread, (and) on Jehovah call not? The question is elliptical: the object of the verb must be supplied from the context. Do they not know that they are thus corrupt and estranged from God, and therefore objects of his wrath? Is it because they do not know this or believe it, that they thus presume to oppress and persecute his people? The figure of devouring occurs often elsewhere, e.g. Prov. 30:14, Mic. 3:3, Hab. 3:14. See below, on Ps. 27:2 (1). As they eat bread may either mean for their support—living on the plunder and oppression of my people; or for pleasure—feeding on them with delight; or with indifference and as little sense of guilt as when they take their ordinary fond.—Call not on Jehovah, do not worship him, as they were before said not to seek him, nor even to acknowledge his existence, all which are periphrastical descriptions of the wicked as a class. The general description of their wickedness is here exchanged for a specific charge, that of persecuting the righteous. The mention of two classes here is not at variance with the universal terms of the preceding context, nor does it render any limitation of those terms necessary. All men are alike “children of wrath,” but some are elected to be “vessels of mercy,” and thereby become objects of hatred to the unconverted mass who still represent the race in its apostasy from God.—My people does not make it necessary to regard these as the words of God himself, who is nowhere introduced as speaking in this psalm, and is spoken of in the third person in the very next clause. The Psalmist, as a member of the body, calls it his, and the same form of expression occurs elsewhere. See 1 Sam. 5:10, Isa. 3:12, 53:8, Micah 3:3.—For the meaning of the phrase, workers of iniquity, see above, on Ps. 5:6 (5).

  5. There have they feared a fear, for God (is) in the righteous generation. A later period is now present to his view. They who seemed incapable of fear have now began to be afraid at last. There, without any change of place or outward situation. Where they before denied the being of a God, even there they have began to fear. See below, on Ps. 36:13 (12). The reason is given in the next clause. God, though denied by them, exists and is present, and will manifest his presence by the protection and deliverance of his people. Feared a fear, is a common Hebrew idiom for greatly feared, were sore afraid. Generation, contemporary race, as in Ps. 12:8 (7).

  6. The plan (or counsel) of the sufferer (the afflicted) ye will shame, because Jehovah is his refuge. The workers of iniquity are here addressed directly. The sufferer is the persecuted innocent. Poor is too restricted a translation. See above, on Ps. 9:13, 19 (12, 18). The plan or counsel is described in the last clause, to wit, that of trusting in Jehovah. This very trust is an object of contempt to the wicked. Until they are made to fear by the manifestation of God’s presence with his people, they will continue to despise it. The Psalmist here seems to revert to the interval which should precede the divine interposition. As if he had said, You will one day be made to fear, but in the mean time you will shame the counsel of the poor. Some, however, give תבישו its usual sense of putting to shame, disappointing, and understand the clause as an ironical concession: you may shame his counsel if you can.

  7. Who will give out of Zion salvation to Israel, in Jehovah’s returning the captivity of his people? Let Jacob exult, let Israel joy! The phrase who will give is an idiomatic optative in Hebrew, equivalent to Oh that with a verb, and Oh for with a noun in English. Oh for the salvation of Israel! Or, Oh that the salvation of Israel (might come) out of Zion, as the earthly residence of God and seat of the theocracy. The same local designation is connected with the prayer or promise of divine help, in Ps. 3:5 (4), 20:3 (2), 128:5, 134:3. (Compare Ps. 28:2). This shews that the psalm does not belong to the period of the Babylonish exile, and that the captivity referred to is not literal, but a metaphorical description of distress, as in the case of Job (42:10). The same idea is elsewhere expressed by the figure of confinement and incarceration (Ps. 142:8, Isa. 42:7, 49:9). The sense remains essentially the same in this case, whether the verb return be transitive or intransitive. Most interpreters prefer the former sense, and understand the clause to mean, “in Jehovah’s bringing back the captivity of his people.” But as שׁוּב in every other combination means to come back, and, like other verbs of motion, often governs a noun of place directly (Exod. 4:19, 20, Num. 10:36), it is better to understand the words as meaning that the salvation wished for would consist in God’s revisiting his captive or afflicted people. The sense is also admissible, if not necessary, in such places as Deut. 30:3, Ps. 85:5 (4), Isa. 52:8, Hos. 6:11, Nah. 2:3 (2). Let Jacob shout (for joy)! This is both an exhortation and a wish, but the latter is the prominent idea, as the parallelism of the clauses shews. Oh that the salvation of Israel were come! corresponds exactly to, May Jacob exult, may Israel be glad! The common version is forbidden by the optative form (יָגֵל) of the Hebrew verb, and by the masoretic interpunction, which connects in the Lord’s returning, &c., not with what follows as a specification of time, but with what goes before as an explanatory clause. The whole may be paraphrased as follows: “Oh that Jehovah, from his throne in Zion, would grant salvation to his, people, by revisiting them in their captive and forsaken state, and that occasion of rejoicing might be thus afforded to the church!” Or more closely thus: “Oh may Israel’s salvation (soon) come forth from Zion, in Jehovah’s return to the captivity of his people! (In such a restoration) may Jacob (soon have reason to) exult and Israel (to) triumph!”[1]


[1] Alexander, J. A. (1864). The Psalms Translated and Explained (pp. 60–63). Edinburgh: Andrew Elliot; James Thin. (Public Domain)

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