David begins with a description of practical atheism. Three words for “fool” in Hebrew all relate to moral orientation rather than intellectual beliefs. This denial of God isn’t philosophical atheism, but rather, pragmatic deism. The fool, therefore, is anyone who lives as if God doesn’t exist. (v.
Scripture doesn’t repeat itself verbatim often and Psalm 14 is one of the rare cases in which Scripture repeats itself 3 times. Psalm 53 is the first repetition with a few modifications and the Apostle Paul quotes the Psalm at length in Romans 3 concerning human depravity. God’s Word uttered a single time demands no less of our attention than words he repeats. Nonetheless, we ought to pay special attention to Words God considered worth repeating.
Our text for today is Psalm 14. These are God’s Words.
14 To the choirmaster. Of David.
1 The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.”
They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds;
there is none who does good.
2 The Lord looks down from heaven on the children of man, to see if there are any who understand,
who seek after God.
3 They have all turned aside; together they have become corrupt; there is none who does good, not even one.
4 Have they no knowledge, all the evildoers
who eat up my people as they eat bread
and do not call upon the Lord?
5 There they are in great terror,
for God is with the generation of the righteous.
6 You would shame the plans of the poor,
but the Lord is his refuge.
7 Oh, that salvation for Israel would come out of Zion!
When the Lord restores the fortunes of his people,
let Jacob rejoice, let Israel be glad.
SUMMARY OF THE TEXT
It’s quite possible that the bulk of the Psalm was written by David and the final lines were later additions during Israel’s exile in Babylon. The restoration of God’s people features heavily in the Prophets.
David begins with a description of practical atheism. Three words for “fool” in Hebrew all relate to moral orientation rather than intellectual beliefs. This denial of God isn’t philosophical atheism, but rather, pragmatic deism. The fool, therefore, is anyone who lives as if God doesn’t exist. (v. 1) For this reason, instead of the word “fool,” one commentator chose the word, “scoundrel.”
And, how bad off is the world of men? So bad that when God opens the window of heaven and peers down, not even divine omniscience is able to find a single person seeking after God. (v. 2) God looks down to see if anyone is looking up.
Everyone has become corrupt. It’s a Hebrew word often applied to the souring of milk. All have turned aside from obedient living. Notice again the moral orientation of this Psalm, rather than the intellectual orientation. (v 3)
God asks a rhetorical question because he already knows the answer, “Doesn’t anyone know God?” No, instead, the practical atheists are like contract killers: they’re able to eat the poor as easily as they eat a steak dinner. Self-inflicted spiritual blindness produces callused moral indifference. (v. 4)
Verses 5 & 6 tell us why the unrighteous are unnerved and why the righteous, though oppressed, are calm: The Lord is in the midst of his people and the people are in the midst of God’s refuge. He is in us, and we are in him.
Psalm 14 ends with a prayer for deliverance: Zion is the place of God’s dwelling and rule—and when salvation comes from Zion, God’s people will be restored. This is a cause for great celebration even now. (v. 7)
THE TRUE NATURE OF ATHEISM
Surprisingly, the Scriptures almost never address philosophical atheism. In fact, Scripture teaches us that knowledge of God’s existence is baked-into creation. Eternity is written into our hearts (Eccl. 3:11) God’s existence and his attributes are so manifestly obvious in the created order that no one can claim ignorance (Romans 1:19-20) To the philosophical atheist, the Bible says, “Are you kidding me?”
The Scriptures do, however, address an atheism of a more practical nature. Psalm 14 and Romans 1 both teach that atheism is living as if God didn’t exist—and any philosophical arguments against God’s reality are simply efforts to suppress the truth so that we don’t have to change our behavior.
And this kind of lawless living doesn’t just show up in pagan Gentiles, it shows up in Judaism and Christianity too. Even those who grant the philosophical reality of God can be guilty of living as if he doesn’t exist. In fact, Psalm 14 is more a critique of widespread faithlessness within God’s own people, than the nations surrounding them.
This Psalm produces in us a kind of hopelessness. None is righteous. None seek after God. This isn’t hyperbole; it’s realism. This is the Reformed (and Biblical) doctrine of total, or radical, depravity. Everyone is running from God. Some of us run from him through rule-keeping religion, others through rule-shattering rebellion. But no one is born loving God for his own sake.
As we keep the moral orientation of this Psalm in our sights, we see what’s fundamentally wrong with all of us. Our problem isn’t one of knowledge, but of the desires and the will. We don’t find God for the same reason a thief doesn’t find a police officer. (Romans 1) We don’t keep our own self-legislated laws either. (Romans 2)
In the end, there are only two options: keep running pell-mell into all your slippery sins. Refuse to believe that God knows your name and sees everything you do. And in the end, as Lewis said, “that Face which is the terror of the universe will be turned upon you, inflicting shame that can never be disguised.” Or you can turn around acknowledging you’ve broken all your laws and all of his, and you will find the arms of Christ spread wide and nailed to a cross. God will look down from heaven, and that same Face which is the delight of the universe will be turned on you, conferring glory inexpressible.
Because God mercifully forgives and transforms sinners, it is possible, and obligatory for those redeemed from their depravity to begin trusting God and obeying his commands. And this makes them an irresistible target.
The Scriptures, from Genesis to James, teach an antagonism between the offspring of the serpent and the worshippers of the Lamb; between the flesh and the Spirit, and between the world and the church. It is unavoidable. (Gen. 3:15; James 4:4; 2 Cor. 6:14-16; 1 John 2:15)
Why does the church come under attack? Because God is in our midst. When the people down in the village who hate the king cannot get up the mountain into the castle to attack the king what do they do? They tar and feather his image down in the village.
Church, prepare yourself. You cannot serve worship and serve the Lord and avoid the castigation of those who hate him. If you love respectability in the eyes of the world, you will compromise. And if you love your own peace and quiet too much, you’ll retaliate against mistreatment in the flesh.
As we stand and work for the truth, we must do so refusing to make a name for ourselves and refusing to return evil for evil. Don’t take the bait of respectability on the one hand or retaliation on the other. When we are reviled for serving Christ, then we are most blessed. (Matt. 5:10-12)