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Psalm 14

Denunciation of Godlessness

To the leader. Of David.


Fools say in their hearts, “There is no God.”

They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds;

there is no one who does good.



The L ord looks down from heaven on humankind

to see if there are any who are wise,

who seek after God.



They have all gone astray, they are all alike perverse;

there is no one who does good,

no, not one.



Have they no knowledge, all the evildoers

who eat up my people as they eat bread,

and do not call upon the L ord?



There they shall be in great terror,

for God is with the company of the righteous.


You would confound the plans of the poor,

but the L ord is their refuge.



O that deliverance for Israel would come from Zion!

When the L ord restores the fortunes of his people,

Jacob will rejoice; Israel will be glad.

Every one of them has gone aside. Some translate the word סר, sar, which is here used, to stink, 282282     Hammond admits that the word סר, sar, means to go aside, or to decline, and that it is commonly applied to a way or path, declining from the right way, or going in a wrong way. But he thinks that the idea here is different, that it is taken from wine when it grows dead or sour, just as the word is used in this sense in Hosea 4:18, סר סבאם, sar sobim, “Their drink is gone aside, or grown sour.” He considers this view corroborated from the clause which immediately follows, נאלחו, ne-elachu, they are become putrid, which is derived from אלה, alach, to be rotten or putrified, referring properly to flesh which has become putrid. “Thus,” says he, “the proportion is well kept between drink and meat, the one growing dead or sour, as the other putrifies and stinks, and then is good for nothing, but is thrown away.” 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 סר, sar, is almost universally taken in this sense. In the 53rd Psalm, the word סג, 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. 283283     David speaks of all mankind, with the exception of the “people of God,” and “the generation of the righteous,” spoken of in verses 4, 5 who are opposed to the rest of the human race. 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.

This question is added to give a more amplified illustration of the preceding doctrine. The prophet had said that God observed from heaven the doings of men, and had found all of them gone out of the way; and now he introduces him exclaiming with astonishment, What madness is this, that they who ought to cherish my people, and assiduously perform to them every kind office, are oppressing and falling upon them like wild beasts, without any feeling of humanity? He attributes this manner of speaking to God, not because any thing can happen which is strange or unexpected to him, but in order the more forcibly to express his indignation. The Prophet Isaiah, in like manner, (Isaiah 59:16,) when treating of almost the same subject, says,

“And God saw that there was no man, and wondered that there was no intercessor.” (Isaiah 59:16)

God, it is true, does not actually experience in himself such affections, but he represents himself as invested with them, that we may entertain the greatest horror and dread on account of our sins, when he declares them to be of so monstrous a character, that he is as it were thrown into agitation and disorder by them. And were we not harder than the stones, our horror at the wickedness which prevails in the world would make the hair of our head to stand on end, 285285     “Il faut que l’horreur des meschancetez qui regnent au monde nous face dresser les cheveux en la teste.” — Fr. seeing God exhibits to us in his own person such a testimony of the detestation with which he regards it. Moreover, this verse confirms what I have said in the commencement, that David does not speak in this psalm of foreign tyrants, or the avowed enemies of the church, but of the rulers and princes of his people, who were furnished with power and honor. This description would not apply to men who were altogether strangers to the revealed will of God; for it would be nothing wonderful to see those who do not possess the moral law, the rule of life, devoting themselves to the work of violence and oppression. But the heinousness of the proceedings condemned is not a little aggravated from this circumstance, that it is the shepherds themselves, whose office it is to feed and to take care of the flock, 286286     “Desquels l’office est de paistre et governer le troupeau.” — Fr. who cruelly devour it, and who spare not even the people and heritage of God. There is a similar complaint in Micah 3:1-3,

“And I said, Hear I pray you, O heads of Jacob, and ye princes of the house of Israel: Is it not for you to know judgment? Who hate the good and love the evil; who pluck off their skin from off them; and their flesh from off their bones; who also eat the flesh of my people, and flay their skin from off them,”

etc. If those who profess to know and to serve God were to exercise such cruelty towards the Babylonians or Egyptians, it would be a piece of injustice which could admit of no excuse; but when they glut themselves with the blood and flesh of the saints, as they devour bread, this is such monstrous iniquity, that it may well strike both angels and men with astonishment. Had such persons a particle of sound understanding remaining in them, it would restrain them from conduct so fearfully infatuated. They must, therefore, be completely blinded by the devil, and utterly bereft of reason and understanding, seeing they knowingly and willingly flay and devour the people of God with such inhumanity. This passage teaches us how displeasing to God, and how abominable is the cruelty which is exercised against the godly, by those who pretend to be their shepherds. In the end of the verse, where he says that they call not upon the Lord, he again points out the source and cause of this unbridled wickedness, namely, that such persons have no reverence for God. Religion is the best mistress for teaching us mutually to maintain equity and uprightness towards each other; and where a concern for religion is extinguished, then all regard for justice perishes along with it. With respect to the phrase, calling upon God, as it constitutes the principal exercise of godliness, it includes by synecdoche, (a figure of rhetoric, by which a part is put for the whole,) not only here, but in many other passages of Scripture, the whole of the service of God.

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