2. Jehovah looked down from heaven upon the children of men, to see whether there were any that did understand, and seek after God. 3. Every one of them has gone aside, they have altogether become putrid, [or rotten;] there is none that doeth good, not even one,
2. Jehovah looked down from heaven. God himself is here introduced as speaking on the subject of human depravity, and this renders the discourse of David more emphatic than if he had pronounced the sentence in his own person. When God is exhibited to us as sitting on his throne to take cognisance of the conduct of men, unless we are stupified in an extraordinary degree, his majesty must strike us with terror. The effect of the habit of sinning is, that men grow hardened in their sins, and discern nothing, as if they were enveloped in thick darkness. David, therefore, to teach them that they gain nothing by flattering and deceiving themselves as they do, when wickedness reigns in the world with impunity, testifies that God looks down from heaven, and casts his eyes on all sides, for the purpose of knowing what is done among men. God, it is true, has no need to make inquisition or search; but when he compares himself to an earthly judge, it is in adaptation to our limited capacity, and to enable us gradually to form some apprehension of his secret providence, which our reason cannot all at once comprehend. Would to God that this manner of speaking had the effect of teaching us to summon ourselves before his tribunal; and that, while the world are flattering themselves, and the reprobate are trying to bury their sins in forgetfulness by their want of thought, hypocrisy, or shamelessness, and are blinded in their obstinacy as if they were intoxicated, we might be led to shake off all indifference and stupidity by reflecting on this truth, that God, notwithstanding, looks down from his high throne in heaven, and beholds what is going on here below!
To see if there were any that did understand. As the whole economy of a good and righteous life depends upon our being governed and directed by the light of understanding, David has justly taught us in the beginning of the psalm, that folly is the root of all wickedness. And in this clause he also very justly declares, that the commencement of integrity and uprightness of life consists in an enlightened and sound mind. But as the greater part misapply their intellectual powers to deceitful purposes, David immediately after defines, in one word, what true understanding is, namely, that it consists in seeking after God; by which he means, that unless men devote themselves wholly to God, their life cannot be well ordered. Some understand the word lyksm, maskil, which we translated, that did understand, in too restricted a sense; whereas David declares that the reprobate are utterly destitute of all reason and judgment.
Every one of them has gone aside. Some translate the word ro, sar, which is here used, to stink,1 as if the reading were, Every one of them emits an offensive odour, that it may correspond in meaning with the verb in the next clause, which in Hebrew signifies to become putrid or rotten. But there is no necessity for explaining the two words in the same way, as if the same thing were repeated twice. The interpretation is more appropriate, which supposes that men are here condemned as guilty of a detestable revolt, inasmuch as they are estranged from God, or have departed far from him; and that afterwards there is pointed out the disgusting corruption or putrescence of their whole life, as if nothing could proceed from apostates but what smells rank of rottenness and infection. The Hebrew word ro, sar, is almost universally taken in this sense. In the 53rd Psalm, the word go, sag, is used, which signifies the same thing. In short, David declares that all men are so carried away by their capricious lusts, that nothing is to be found either of purity or integrity in their whole life. This, therefore, is defection so complete, that it extinguishes all godliness. Besides, David here not only censures a portion of the people, but pronounces them all to be equally involved in the same condemnation. This was, indeed, a prodigy well fitted to excite abhorrence, that all the children of Abraham, whom God had chosen to be his peculiar people, were so corrupt from the least to the greatest.
But it might be asked, how David makes no exception, how he declares that not a righteous person remains, not even one, when, nevertheless, he informs us, a little after, that the poor and afflicted put their trust in God? Again, it might be asked, if all were wicked, who was that Israel whose future redemption he celebrates in the end of the psalm? Nay, as he himself was one of the body of that people, why does he not at least except himself? I answer:It is against the carnal and degenerate body of the Israelitish nation that he here inveighs, and the small number constituting the seed which God had set apart for himself is not included among them. This is the reason why Paul, in his Epistle to the Romans 3:10, extends this sentence to all mankind. David, it is true, deplores the disordered and desolate state of matters under the reign of Saul. At the same time, however, he doubtless makes a comparison between the children of God and all who have not been regenerated by the Spirit, but are carried away according to the inclinations of their flesh.2 Some give a different explanation, maintaining that Paul, by quoting the testimony of David, did not understand him as meaning that men are naturally depraved and corrupt; and that the truth which David intended to teach is, that the rulers and the more distinguished of the people were wicked, and that, therefore, it was not surprising to behold unrighteousness and wickedness prevailing so generally in the world. This answer is far from being satisfactory. The subject which Paul there reasons upon is not, what is the character of the greater part of men, but what is the character of all who are led and governed by their own corrupt nature. It is, therefore, to be observed, that when David places himself and the small remnant of the godly on one side, and puts on the other the body of the people, in general, this implies that there is a manifest difference between the children of God who are created anew by his Spirit, and all the posterity of Adam, in whom corruption and depravity exercise dominion. Whence it follows, that all of us, when we are born, bring with us from our mother's womb this folly and filthiness manifested in the whole life, which David here describes, and that we continue such until God make us new creatures by his mysterious grace.