Notes on the Bible, by Albert Barnes, , at sacred-texts.com
This purports to be one of David's psalms, and there is no reason to doubt the correctness of the superscription. Yet we are entirely ignorant of the time and the circumstances of its composition. There is nothing in the psalm that throws any light on this point, and conjecture would be vain. It would seem to have been composed under the influence of an affecting conviction of the depth and extent of human depravity, and in view of prevalent impiety and neglect of God; but such a state of things was not confined to any one period of the life of David, as it is not to any one country or period of the world. Unhappily there has been no country and no age in which, in view of existing facts, such a psalm as this might not have been composed; or in which the entire proof on which the psalmist relies to support his melancholy conclusions, might not have been found.
The psalm embraces the following points:
I. A statement of prevalent depravity, particularly in denying the existence of God, or in expressing the wish that there were no God, Psa 14:1.
II. The evidence of this, Psa 14:2-4. This is found in two things:
(a) first, in the representation that the Lord looked down from heaven for the very purpose of ascertaining whether there were any that "understood and sought after God," and that the result of this investigation was that all had gone aside, and had become defiled with sin, Psa 14:2-3.
(b) The second proof is a prevailing disposition on the part of the wicked to judge severely of the conduct of God's people; to magnify their errors and faults; to make use of their imperfections to sustain themselves in their own course of life - represented by their "eating up the sins of God's people as they eat bread," Psa 14:4.
There was all utter want of kindness and charity in regard to the imperfections of others; and a desire to find the people of God so offending that they could, by "their" imperfections and faults, sustain and vindicate their own conduct in neglecting religion. The idea is that, in their apprehension, the religion of such persons was not desirable - that the God whom they professed to serve could not be God.
III. Yet, the psalmist says, they were not wholly calm and satisfied with the conclusion which they were endeavoring to reach, that there was no God. Notwithstanding their expressed wish or desire Psa 14:1, that there was, or that there might be no God, their minds were not at ease in that conclusion or desire.
They were, says the psalmist, "in great fear," for there was evidence which they could not deny or resist that God was "in the generation of the righteous," or that there was a God such as the righteous served, Psa 14:5. This evidence was found in the manifestation of his favor toward them; in his interposition in their behalf, in the proof which could not be resisted or denied that he was their friend. These facts produced "fear" or apprehension in the minds of the wicked, notwithstanding all their efforts to be calm.
IV. The psalmist says that their course was designed to bring shame upon the counsel or purposes of the "poor" (that is, the people of God, who were mainly among the poor, or the humble and oppressed classes of the community) - because they regarded God as their refuge, Psa 14:6. As God was their only refuge, as they had no human hope or reliance, as all their hope would fail if their hope in God failed, so the attempt to show that there was no God was adapted and designed to overwhelm them with shame and confusion - still more to aggravate their sufferings by taking away their only hope, and leaving them to die. Their religion was their only consolation and the purpose of those who wished that there were no God was to take even this last comfort away.
V. The psalm closes, in view of these thoughts, with an earnest prayer that God would interpose to deliver his poor and oppressed people, and with the statement that when this should occur, his people would rejoice, Psa 14:7. Instead of their low and oppressed condition - a condition wherein their enemies triumphed over them, and endeavored still further to aggravate their sorrows by taking away even their faith in God - they would rejoice in him, and in the full proof of his existence and of his favor toward them.
The psalm, therefore, is designed to describe a condition of things in which wickedness abounds, and when it takes this form - an attempt to show that there is no God; that is, when there is a prevalence of atheism, and when the design of this is to aggravate the sufferings and the trials of the professed friends by unsettling their faith in the divine existence.
The title is the same as in Psa 11:1-7; Psa 12:1-8. Compare the note at the title to Psa 4:1-8.
The fool - The word "fool" is often used in the Scriptures to denote a wicked man - as sin is the essence of folly. Compare Job 2:10; Psa 74:18; Gen 34:7; Deu 22:21. The Hebrew word is rendered "vile person" in Isa 32:5-6. Elsewhere it is rendered "fool, foolish," and "foolish man." It is designed to convey the idea that wickedness or impiety is essential folly, or to use a term in describing the wicked which will, perhaps, more than any other, make the mind averse to the sin - for there is many a man who would see more in the word "fool" to be hated than in the word "wicked;" who would rather be called a "sinner" than a "fool."
Hath said - That is, has "thought," for the reference is to what is passing in his mind.
In his heart - See the note at Psa 10:11. He may not have said this to others; he may not have taken the position openly before the world that there is no God, but such a thought has passed through his mind, and he has cherished it; and such a thought, either as a matter of belief or of desire, is at the foundation of his conduct. He "acts" as if such were his belief or his wish.
There is no God - The words "there is" are not in the original. The literal rendering would be either "no God," "nothing of God," or "God is not." The idea is that, in his apprehension, there is no such thing as God, or no such being as God. The more correct idea in the passage is, that this was the belief of him who is here called a "fool;" and it is doubtful whether the language would convey the idea of desire - or of a wish that this might be so; but still there can be no doubt that such is the wish or desire of the wicked, and that they listen eagerly to any suggestions or arguments which, in their apprehension, would go to demonstrate that there is no such being as God. The exact state of mind, however, indicated by the languaqe here, undoubtedly is that such was the opinion or the belief of him who is here called a fool. If this is the true interpretation, then the passage would prove that there have been people who were atheists. The passage would prove, also, in its connection, that such a belief was closely linked, either as a cause or a consequent, with a corrupt life, for this statement immediately follows in regard to the character of those who are represented as saying that there is no God. As a matter of fact, the belief that there is no God is commonly founded on the desire to lead a wicked life; or, the opinion that there is no God is embraced by those who in fact lead such a life, with a desire to sustain themselves in their depravity, and to avoid the fear of future retribution. A man who wishes to lead an upright life, desires to find evidence that there is a God, and to such a man nothing would be more dark and distressing than anything which would compel him to doubt the fact of God's existence. It is only a wicked man who finds pleasure in an argument to prove that there is no God, and the wish that there were no God springs up only in a bad heart.
They are corrupt - That is, they have done corruptly; or, their conduct is corrupt. "They have done abominable works." They have done that which is to be abominated or abhorred; that which is to be detested, and which is fitted to fill the mind with horror.
There is none that doeth good - Depravity is universal. All have fallen into sin; all fail to do good. None are found who are disposed to worship their Maker, and to keep his laws. This was originally spoken, undoubtedly, with reference to the age in which the psalmist lived; but it is applied by the apostle Paul, Rom 3:10 (see the note at that passage), as an argument for the universal depravity of mankind.
The Lord looked down from heaven - The original word here - שׁקף shâqaph - conveys the idea of "bending forward," and hence, of an intense and anxious looking, as we bend forward when we wish to examine anything with attention, or when we look out for one who is expected to come. The idea is that God looked intently, or so as to secure a close examination, upon the children of men, for the express purpose of ascertaining whether there were any that were good. He looked at all men; he examined all their pretensions to goodness, and he saw none who could be regarded as exempt from the charge of depravity. Nothing could more clearly prove the doctrine of universal depravity than to say that an Omniscient God made "an express examination" on this very point, that he looked over all the world, and that in the multitudes which passed under the notice of his eye not "one" could be found who could be pronounced righteous. If God could not find such an one, assuredly man cannot.
Upon the children of men - Upon mankind; upon the human race. They are called "children," or "sons" (Hebrew), because they are all the descendants of the man that God created - of Adam. Indeed the original word here is "Adam" - אדם 'âdâm. And it may be questionable whether, since this became in fact a proper name, designating the first man, it would not have been proper to retain the idea in the translation - "the sons of Adam;" that is, all his descendants. The phrase occurs frequently to denote the human race, Deu 32:8; Psa 11:4; Psa 21:10; Psa 31:19; Psa 36:7; Psa 57:4; et soepe.
To see if there were any that did understand - If there were one acting wisely - to wit, in seeking God. "Acting wisely" here stands in contrast with the folly referred to in the first verse. Religion is always represented in the Scriptures as true wisdom.
And seek God - The knowledge of him; his favor and friendship. Wisdom is shown by a "desire" to become acquainted with the being and perfections of God, as well as in the actual possession of that knowledge; and in no way can the true character of man be better determined than by the actual interest which is felt in becoming acquainted with the character of him who made and who governs the universe. It is one of the clearest proofs of human depravity that there is no prevailing desire among people thus to ascertain the character of God.
They are all gone aside - This verse states the result of the divine investigation referred to in the previous verse. The result, as seen by God himself, was, that "all" were seen to have gone aside, and to have become filthy. The word rendered "gone aside" means properly to go off, to turn aside or away, to depart; as, for example, to turn out of the right way or path, Exo 32:8. Then it means to turn away from God; to fall away from his worship; to apostatize, Sa1 12:20; Kg2 18:6; Ch2 25:27. This is the idea here - that they had all apostatized from the living God. The word "all" in the circumstances makes the statement as universal as it can be made; and no term could be used more clearly affirming the doctrine of universal depravity.
They are all together become filthy - The word "all" here is supplied by the translators. It was not necessary, however, to introduce it in order that the idea of universal depravity might be expressed, for that is implied in the word rendered "together," יחדו yachedâv. That word properly conveys the idea that the same character or conduct pervaded all, or that the same thing might be expressed of all those referred to. They were united in this thing - that they bad become defiled or filthy. The word is used with reference to "persons," as meaning that they are all "in one place," Gen 13:6; Gen 22:6; or to "events," as meaning that they occurred at one time, Psa 4:8. They were all as one. Compare Ch1 10:6. The idea is that, in respect to the statement made, they were alike. What would describe one would describe all. The word rendered "become filthy" is, in the margin, rendered "stinking." In Arabic the word means to become "sharp," or "sour" as milk; and hence, the idea of becoming corrupt in a moral sense. Gesenius, Lexicon. The word is found only here, and in the parallel Psa 53:3, and in Job 15:16, in each of which places it is rendered "filthy." It relates here to character, and means that their character was morally corrupt or defiled. The term is often used in that sense now.
There is none that doeth good, no, not one - Nothing could more clearly express the idea of universal depravity than this expression. It is not merely that no one could be found who did good, but the expression is repeated to give emphasis to the statement. This entire passage is quoted in Rom 3:10-12, in proof of the doctrine of universal depravity. See the note at that passage.
Have all the workers of iniquity no knowledge? - literally, "Do they not know, all the workers of iniquity, eating my people, they eat bread; Jehovah they call not." The several statements in this verse in confirmation of the fact of their depravity are:
(a) that they have no knowledge of God;
(b) that they find pleasure in the errors and imperfections of the people of God - sustaining themselves in their own wickedness by the fact that the professed friends of God are inconsistent in their lives; and
(c) that they do not call on the name of the Lord, or that they offer no worship to him.
The whole verse might have been, and should have been put in the form of a question. The first statement implied in the question is, that they have "no knowledge." This can be regarded as a proof of guilt only
(1) as they have opportunities of obtaining knowledge;
(2) as they neglect to improve those opportunities, and remain in voluntary ignorance; and
(3) as they do this from a design to practice wickedness.
See this argument stated at length by the apostle Paul in Rom 1:19-28. Compare the note at that passage. This proof of human depravity is everywhere manifested still in the world - in the fact that men have the opportunities of gaining the knowledge of God if they chose to do it; in the fact that they voluntarily neglect those opportunities; and in the fact that the reason of this is that they love iniquity.
Who eat up my people as they eat bread - They sustain themselves in their own course of life by the imperfections of the people of God. That is, they make use of their inconsistencies to confirm themselves in the belief that there is no God. They argue that a religion which produces no better fruits than what is seen in the lives of its professed friends can be of no value, or cannot be genuine; that if a professed belief in God produces no happier results than are found in their lives, it could be of no advantage to worship God; that they are themselves as good as those are who profess to be religious, and that, therefore, there can be no evidence from the lives of the professed friends of God that religion is either true or of any value. No inconsiderable part of the evidence in favor of religion, it is intended, shall be derived from the lives of its friends; and when that evidence is not furnished, of course no small part of the proof of its reality and value is lost. Hence, so much importance is attached everywhere in the Bible to the necessity of a consistent life on the part of the professed friends of religion. Compare Isa 43:10. The words "my people" here are properly to be regarded as the words of the psalmist, identifying himself with the people of God, and speaking of them thus as "his own people." Thus one speaks of his own family or his own friends. Compare Rut 1:16. Or this may be spoken by David, considered as the head or ruler of the nation, and he may thus speak of the people of God as his people. The connection does not allow of the construction which would refer the words to God.
And call not upon the Lord - They do not worship Yahweh. They give this evidence of wickedness that they do not pray; that they do not invoke the blessing of their Maker; that they do not publicly acknowledge him as God. It is remarkable that this is placed as the last or the crowning thing in the evidence of their depravity; and if rightly considered, it is so. To one who should look at things as they are; to one who sees all the claims and obligations which rest upon mankind; to one who appreciates his own guilt, his dependance, and his exposure to death and woe; to one who understands aright why man was made - there can be no more striking proof of human depravity than in the fact that a man in no way acknowledges his Maker - that he renders him no homage - that he never supplicates his favor - never deprecates his wrath - that, amidst the trials, the temptations, the perils of life, he endeavors to make his way through the world "as if there were no God." The highest crime that Gabriel could commit would be to renounce all allegiance to his Maker, and henceforward to live as if there were no God. All other iniquities that he might commit would spring out of that, and would be secondary to that. The great sin of man consists in renouncing God, and attempting to live as if there were no Supreme Being to whom he owes allegiance. All other sins spring out of that, and are subordinate to it.
There were they in great fear - Margin, as in Hebrew, "they feared a fear." The idea is, that they were in great terror or consternation. They were not calm in their belief that there was no God. They endeavored to be. They wished to satisfy themselves that there was no God, and that they had nothing to dread. But they could not do this. In spite of all their efforts, there was such proof of his existence, and of his being the friend of the righteous, and consequently the enemy of such as they themselves were, as to fill their minds with alarm. People cannot, by an effort of will, get rid of the evidence that there is a God. In the face of all their attempts to convince themselves of this, the demonstration of his existence will press upon them, and will often fill their minds with terror.
For God is in the generation of the righteous - The word "generation" here, as applied to the righteous, seems to refer to them as a "race," or as a "class" of people. Compare Psa 24:6; Psa 73:15; Psa 112:2. It commonly in the Scriptures refers to a certain age or duration, as it is used by us, reckoning an age or generation as about thirty or forty years (compare Job 42:16); but in the use of the term before us the idea of an "age" is dropped, and the righteous are spoken of merely as a "class" or "race" of persons. The idea here is, that there were such manifest proofs that God was among the righteous, and that he was their friend, that the wicked could not resist the force of that evidence, however much they might desire it, and however much they might wish to arrive at the conclusion that there was no God. The evidence that he was among the righteous would, of course, alarm them, because the very fact that he was the friend of the righteous demonstrated that he must be the enemy of the wicked, and, of course, that they were exposed to his wrath.
Ye have shamed - The address here is made directly to the wicked themselves, to show them the baseness of their own conduct, and, perhaps, in connection with the previous verse, to show them what occasion they had for fear. The idea in the verse seems to be, that as God was the protector of the "poor" who had come to him for "refuge," and as they had "shamed the counsel of the poor" who had done this, they had real occasion for alarm. The phrase "ye have shamed" seems to mean that they had "despised" it, or had treated it with derision, that is, they had laughed at, or had mocked the purpose of the poor in putting their trust in Yahweh.
The counsel - The purpose, the plan, the act - of the poor; that is, in putting their trust in the Lord. They had derided this as vain and foolish, since they maintained that there was no God Psa 14:1. They therefore regarded such an act as mere illusion.
The poor - The righteous, considered as poor, or as afflicted. The word here rendered "poor" - עני ‛ânı̂y - means more properly, afflicted, distressed, needy. It is often rendered "afflicted," Job 34:28; Psa 18:27; Psa 22:24; Psa 25:16; Psa 82:3; et al. in Psa 9:12; Psa 10:12 it is rendered "humble." The common rendering, however, is "poor," but it refers properly to the righteous, with the idea that they are afflicted, needy, and in humble circumstances. This is the idea here. The wicked had derided those who, in circumstances of poverty, depression, want, trial, had no other resource, and who had sought their comfort in God. These reproaches tended to take away their last consolation, and to cover them with confusion; it was proper, therefore, that they who had done this should be overwhelmed with fear. If there is anything which deserves punishment it is the act which would take away from the world the last hope of the wretched - "that there is a God."
Because the Lord is his refuge - He has made the Lord his refuge. In his poverty, affliction, and trouble, he has come to God, and put his trust in him. This source of comfort, the doctrine of the wicked - that there "was no God" - tended to destroy. Atheism cuts off every hope of man, and leaves the wretched to despair. It would put out the last light that gleams on the earth, and cover the world with total and eternal night.
Oh that the salvation of Israel - Margin, "Who will give," etc. The Hebrew literally is, "Who will give out of Zion salvation to Israel?" The word "Israel" refers primarily to the Hebrew people, and then it is used generally to denote the people of God. The wish here expressed is in view of the facts referred to in the previous verses - the general prevalence of iniquity and of practical atheism, and the sufferings of the people of God on that account. This state of things suggests the earnest desire that from all such evils the people of God might be delivered. The expression in the original, as in the margin, "Who will give," is a common expression in Hebrew, and means the same as in our translation, "Oh that." It is expressive of an earnest desire, as if the thing were in the hand of another, that he would impart that blessing or favor.
Out of Zion - On the word "Zion," see the note at Isa 1:8. It is referred to here, as it is often, as the seat or dwelling-place of God; the place from where he issued his commands, and from where he put forth his power. Thus in Psa 3:4, "He heard me out of his holy hill." Psa 20:2, "the Lord ... strengthen thee out of Zion." Psa 128:5, "the Lord shall bless thee out of Zion." Here the phrase expresses a wish that God, who had his dwelling in Zion, would put forth his power in granting complete deliverance to his people.
When the Lord bringeth back - literally, "In Yahweh's bringing back the captivity of his people." That is, the particular salvation which the psalmist prayed for was that Yahweh would return the captivity of his people, or restore them from captivity.
The captivity of his people - This is "language" taken from a captivity in a foreign land. It is not necessary, however, to suppose that any such literal captivity is here referred to, nor would it be necessary to infer from this that the psalm was written in the Babylonian captivity, or in any other particular exile of the Hebrew people. The truth was, that the Hebrews were often in this state (see the Book of Judges, "passim"), and this language came to be the common method of expressing any condition of oppression and trouble, or of a low state of religion in the land. Compare Job 42:10.
Jacob shall rejoice - Another name for the Hebrew people, as descended from Jacob, Isa 2:3; Isa 41:21; Isa 10:21; Isa 14:1; Amo 7:2; et soepe. Prof. Alexander renders this, "Let Jacob exult; let Israel joy." The idea seems to be, that such a restoration would give great joy to the people of God, and the language expresses a desire that this might soon occur - perhaps expressing the idea also that in the certainty of such an ultimate restoration, such a complete salvation, the people of God might now rejoice. Thus, too, it will not only be true that the redeemed will be happy in heaven, but they may exult even now in the prospect, the certainty, that they will obtain complete salvation.