Psalm 14 is hard to classify. In some ways, it’s like a lamentation, because the psalmist is lamenting the state of the world and how all have turned aside and have become corrupt and there’s no one who does good. He’s lamenting the state of the world. However, unlike a regular lamentation, he’s not appealing to the Lord for help.
And so, some commentators suggest it’s a wisdom psalm. Wisdom psalms draw a contrast between wisdom and folly and between those who live according to God’s word, which is where wisdom is found, and those who rely on the counsel of the ungodly, which is foolishness. Psalm 1, for instance, is a wisdom psalm, because it contrasts the way of the righteous and the way of the wicked; and it commends the way of the righteous to us, because that way leads to life. Well, Psalm 14 speaks to us of the foolishness of those who say there is no God. However, it’s not really a wisdom psalm, because instead of contrasting wisdom and folly, the psalmist is merely complaining about the wicked who are foolish.
And so, this psalm is hard to classify and one of the commentators concludes that it’s a unique composition that draws on many features of different types of psalms. However, while it’s true that not many other psalms are like this one, nevertheless virtually the whole of Psalm 14 is repeated again in Psalm 53. If you compare those two psalms, you’ll discover that there’s very little difference between them. And the words of this psalm are also familiar to us, because Paul quotes from this psalm in Romans 3, where he’s drawing to a conclusion his argument that there’s no difference between Jews and Gentiles, for all have sinned and fallen short of God’s glory.
The psalm can be divided into three main parts. In verses 1 to 3 the psalmist describes the fool. In verses 4 to 6 he speaks about how the Lord will defend his people and terrify the fools. And in verse 7 he longs for the day of salvation to come.
Verses 1 to 3
Let’s turn to verse 1 to 3, where the psalmist describes the fool who says in his heart that there is no God. Foolishness in the Bible is not so much a matter of the intellect and it’s not a matter of education. The fool is not someone who is necessarily stupid or whose education has been limited and who hasn’t passed any exams. No, foolishness in the Bible is a matter of the heart and the will, not the head. The foolish person is a wicked person, who has rejected the Lord and his word. The fool lives a godless life and lives as if there is no God.
Of course, what the fool believes in his heart may be very different from what he says with his lips. Isn’t it a common complaint in the Bible that some people worship God with their lips, but their hearts are far from the Lord? They might come to church to worship God, but the rest of the week they live as if there is no God. And so, in the psalm, the fool is someone who says ‘in his heart’ that there is no God. No matter what he might confess with his mouth, in his heart he denies the Lord and so lives as if there is no God. In his daily life, he disregards the Lord and his word.
And since he disregards the Lord and his word, the fool is corrupt and the deeds of fools are vile. The same word for ‘corrupt’ was used back in Genesis 6 to describe the state of the world before the flood. In those days, the world was corrupt in God’s sight. And when God saw how corrupt the earth had become and how the people had corrupted their ways, he decided to put an end to it. That’s how things were before the flood; and that’s what the psalmist is describing here. The foolish person, the ungodly person, is morally and spiritually corrupt and ruined and their deeds are vile and they do not do any good.
Now, theologians sometimes talk about ‘civil righteousness’. By that phrase, they’re making the point that unbelievers are able to do good deeds: deeds which everyone around them would acknowledge as good and praiseworthy. An unbelieving man is able to love his wife and his children and he might be kind to the poor. Those are good things to do. However, while in the eyes of the world, this unbelieving man is able to do many good things, nevertheless in the sight of the Lord, his deeds are evil, because they’re spoiled by sin and unbelief; and when he does good, he’s not doing it for the glory of God. And that’s perhaps the best way to understand what we read at the end of verse 1. The foolish person may, in the eyes of the world, do many good things. But in the sight of the Lord, he does not do any good, because even his best deeds are spoiled by his sin and unbelief.
And, of course, when the psalmist says ‘there is no one’ who does good, he means there is no one who is foolish and ungodly who does any good. Later on in the psalm, he’ll refer to ‘the righteous’. So, God’s people — those who are righteous by faith — are different from the fools who say in their hearts there is no God. God accepts the deeds of the righteous, who trust in him and his promises, but he rejects the deeds of the fools who say there is no God.
And so, according to verse 2, the Lord looks down from heaven on the sons of men to see if there are any who understand. When the psalmist says that the Lord looks down from heaven, he’s reminding us of God’s greatness, because he’s the one who is over all and he rules and reigns from heaven above. And he’s looking down on the fools who say there is no God to see if there are any who understand or who seek him. Have any of them come to realise that there is a God in heaven above who deserves their praise? Have any of the woken up to the fact that there is a God? Are they now trying to find him? Are there any like that among the fools?
So, the Lord looks down from heaven, but he sees that they have all turned aside and they have all become corrupt and not even one of them is able to do any good. They’re not able to do any good, because even their best deeds are spoiled and corrupted by their sin and their unbelief and because none of them are aiming at God’s glory.
Verses 4 to 6
The psalmist describes the fool in verses 1 to 3. And in verses 4 to 6 he speaks about how the Lord will defend his people and terrify the fools.
I think we should take verse 4 as the words of the Lord. The Lord himself is speaking about the fools who say there is no God. And the Lord describes them as ‘evildoers’ who ‘devour my people as men eat bread’. Well, how do men eat bread? Well, they tear it apart and they chew it up and they keep going until nothing is left. And so, the Lord is complaining that these evildoers, these foolish people who say there is no God, are destroying God’s people.
And they’re not calling on the Lord. Calling on the Lord means worshipping the Lord. So, these evildoers are not doing what they were made to do, which is to worship and glorify the God who made us.
‘Will they never learn?’ the Lord asks at the beginning of verse 4. Well, they will not learn, because they’re fools, who have rejected the Lord and who are living their lives as if there is no God.
But though they want to destroy God’s people, the Lord is present in the company of the righteous; and the Lord is the refuge of his people. You see, while the world is full of fools who say there is no God, and everything they do is wicked in his sight, the Lord has set apart a people for himself. While they too are sinners, they have been accepted as righteous in God’s sight through faith in his promises. By believing, they have been declared right with God and he has pardoned their sins. And the Lord is with his people to protect them and to keep them. Whenever they’re under attack from evildoers, they know they can turn to the Lord for help and that the Lord will never leave them or forsake them. And the psalmist anticipates a time when the fools who say there is no God will be overwhelmed with dread, because the Lord who is present with his people will intervene on behalf of his people to save them from their enemies and to judge and to condemn the wicked. And so, the psalmist anticipates a time when the wicked will be filled with dread, because of the Lord.
We come to verse 7 in which the psalmist longs for the day of salvation to come, when the Lord will come to save his people from the hands of the foolish evildoers who say there is no God. And God’s salvation will come out of Zion. Zion, of course, is the mountain on which the city of Jerusalem is built. And the Lord will come and will restore the fortunes of his people. And his people will rejoice and be glad. His people are referred to as Jacob and Israel, because Jacob was the father of the twelve tribes of Israel, who were God’s people in Old Testament times.
And, of course, God’s salvation has come out of Zion, because the Lord Jesus, who is the only Saviour of the world, entered Jerusalem all those years ago to suffer and die to save his people. The Lord Jesus suffered and died at the hands of wicked and evil men who were very foolish, because they did not believe in him or acknowledge him to be God. And they killed him, by nailing him to a cross. But he was raised from the grave and exalted to heaven to give salvation to his people: to all who believe in his name. And he has promised to be with his people and never to leave or forsake us, because he’s with us by his Spirit, whom he has sent from heaven to dwell in our hearts. And since we believe that the Lord is with us and he is our refuge, then we can rely on him for the help we need when the world hates us and despises us because we believe in the God they deny.