March 17, 2014

Tom Lowe


Psalm 14



Title: The Depravity of Man.

To the Chief Musician. A Psalm of David.

Theme: The universal corruption of the human race.



Psalm 14 (NKJV)


1 The fool has said in his heart, "There is no God." They are corrupt, They have done abominable works, There is none who does good.

2 The Lord looks down from heaven upon the children of men, To see if there are any who understand, who seek God.

3 They have all turned aside, They have together become corrupt; There is none who does good, No, not one.

4 Have all the workers of iniquity no knowledge, Who eat up my people as they eat bread, And do not call on the Lord?

5 There they are in great fear, For God is with the generation of the righteous.

6 You shame the counsel of the poor, But the Lord is his refuge.

7 Oh, that the salvation of Israel would come out of Zion! When the Lord brings back the captivity of His people, Let Jacob rejoice and Israel be glad.




Psalm 14 (a wisdom poem), along with its nearly identical twin Psalm 53, contains profound reflections on human depravity. It is more like a prophetic message than a psalmist’s lament, since God is not addressed. The life-setting of the psalm is not clear. Some think the writer is describing a group (that is, the ruling classes) within Israel who were victimizing the poor (Mic. 3:1; Isa. 3:14); others suggest that the psalm reflects the hardships of Israel in a godless and hostile world. Alternately, verses 1-3 may be seen as a description of mankind in general, and verses 4-6 as referring to the godless within Israel. It is certainly a description of humanity as a whole and not merely of a period of extreme moral decay in Israel; it is as appropriate today as it was in David’s day.


The psalm may be divided into three parts:

Part 1 (vv. 1-3)—A picture of universal godlessness.

Part 2 (vv. 4-6)—Expresses astonishment at the lack of moral understanding displayed by the wicked who leave God out of their thinking.

Part 3 (v. 7)—looks forward hopefully to the joyful restoration of God’s people.


This psalm could be dedicated to the atheist. With the denial of God’s existence often comes the moral decay described in verses 1-6 and which was used by Paul to prove the universal depravity of the human race—“As it is written: "There is none righteous, no, not one; There is none who understands; There is none who seeks after God. They have all turned aside; They have together become unprofitable; There is none who does good, no, not one" (Rom. 3:10-12). While the fool may deny that God is, the righteous finds Him in the object of hopeful prayer for deliverance (v. 7).


As you study this psalm you may think it is a picture of this day, but if I may borrow from the common colloquialism of the street, “You ain’t seen nothin’ yet.” Wait until the Great Tribulation comes. By the way, I hope you don’t see it, because God’s own—those who are in the body of believers—are not going through the Great Tribulation. The church, by which I mean the true believers, will leave before that time. This psalm certainly sets before us the corruption and wickedness of the last days, the end of the age.



Verses 1-3: Total depravity does not mean that every human being is a murderer, or a sex pervert, nor does it mean that the worst of men cannot at times exhibit kindness and generosity. Total depravity in the Bible, means even the best men are tainted with sin. Sin is like leprosy: a leper may appear to be well and whole; his leprosy may be hid at first, but the disease is entrenched in his body and it contaminates everything he touches. Thus sin contaminates the whole man, taints all society. As the Triune God looks at our lives He sees the sin that permeates our being—the Holy Spirit can read the thoughts and intents of every human heart. Even our best deeds are tainted by the fact that in our inner and essential beings we are sinners.

1 The fool has said in his heart, "There is no God." They are corrupt, They have done abominable works, There is none who does good.

The fool has said in his heart, "There is no God." The Hebrew for fool in this verse is nabal. This may ring a bell in your thinking, because there was a man by the name of Nabal who was married to a lovely woman by the name of Abigail. His story is told in 1 Samuel 25. His name certainly characterized him accurately. He acted a fool. The word nabal may be translated silly, simple, simpleton, fool, or madman. Nabal fools are self-righteous and don’t need or want God. They want to live their own lives the way they please. The problem is willful ignorance, and not lack of normal intelligence (2 Pe. 3:5; Rom. 1:18-28). But this decision causes sad consequences in both their character and their conduct.  By leaving God out of their lives, they cause their inner person to become more and more corrupt—the heart (v. 1), the mind (vv. 2, 4), and the will (v. 3). Sinners are called “fools,” because they think and act contrary to right reason (Gen 34:7; Josh. 7:15; Ps. 39:8; 74:18, 22). In the Bible, the designation “fool” carries moral rather than intellectual meaning (Isa. 32:6{1)); and refers to one whose moral thinking is vile and his actions wicked; he has deliberately closed his mind to the reality of God and to the implications of His moral rule (Deut. 32:5; 2 Sam. 13:12; Isa. 32:6{1); Rom. 1:19, 22, 28). He is a man who is wholly indifferent to the moral standards of the Law, and who daily adopts as his own principle the belief that deity cares nothing about the differences between men’s behavior. Out of this practical atheism proceeds an evil influence upon men, for they are corrupt, or ‘spread corruption’—a life abhorrent to God and without moral worth. The root of atheism is not found in the head, but in the heart (Rom. 1:21{2)). Men do not like God: they try to ignore Him, and end by blatantly denying Him.

The word for God in verses 1, 2, and 5 needs explanation. In the original the word is the usual one for God. Ancient Hebrew writers known as the Sopherim, say the name here was changed from Jehovah to El. In the original text the name was Jehovah. El stands for God the Omnipotent, ‘Jehovah’ stands for God in covenant with His people, God as he reveals Himself to men.

The sinner here is described as an atheist, one who says there is no Judge or Governor of the world, no Providence ruling over the affairs of men. He says this in his heart. He is unable to convince himself that there is none, but God is irrelevant to him and he wishes there was none; he is happy to think there may be none. This sinner is a fool; he is simple and unwise and this is evidence of it; he is wicked and profane, and this is the cause. No man will say there is no God, until he has become so hardened by sin, that it is in his interest that there should be none to call him to an account.

To say there is no God, is an irrational position to take. First of all, it is a claim to omnificence; it says, “I know everything. It is not possible that a God could exist beyond the boundaries of my knowledge. There is no revealed God. I have my own ideas about religion. Don’t bother me with the Bible.” In other words, man is guilty in his innermost being of harboring wrong thoughts about God in spite of the fact that, as Jehovah, God has revealed to us just what He is like. Second, this attitude claims omnipresence; it says, “I am present in all places at one and the same time, and it is not possible that God could exist any place in the universe without my knowing it.” Again, this position ignores the wonder of God’s creation—the immensity of the universe, the amazingly precise movement of the planets, the marvelous suitability of the earth to sustain life, the intricate design of the human body, the amazing complexity of the human brain and the extraordinary properties of water and soil. The possibility that all this happened by chance is too small to warrant consideration. That is why the Bible says that atheists are fools. They are moral fools. It is not a question of their intelligence quotient but of their morality quotient. There is a close connection between a man’s creed and his conduct. The lower his conception of God, the lower his morals are apt to be. There are many people with Ph.D.’s teaching in our universities today. Many of them are atheists. I want to say this carefully—the lowest a man can sink in depravity is to be an atheist.

The belief that there is no God is commonly founded on the desire to lead a wicked life, or is embraced by those who in effect live such a life, with a desire to sustain themselves in their depravity and to avoid the fear of future retribution. In the ancient world virtually nobody was an atheist, even if he knew his God or gods only through superstition or through a study of the stars.

They are corrupt, They have done abominable works, There is none who does good. David noted the sad spiritual state of mankind. The disease of sin has infected the entire human race. “They are all gone aside, there is none that doeth good, no, not one.” Whatever good is in any man, or is done by them, it is not of themselves, it is God’s work in them. What good can be expected from those who live without prayer?

The word translated corrupt is the same word used four times in Genesis 6 to describe the world in Noah’s day—a world so vile that God had to drown it under the waters of the Flood. There are men whose works are vile even by human standards. A man who would take children and sexually abuse them, get them hooked on drugs, or pollute their little minds is not fit to live. Jesus said it would be best for that man if a millstone were to be hung around his neck and he to be cast into the depths of the sea. But there are people whose behavior is virtuous by human standards who are nevertheless pronounced corrupt by God and whose “goodness” God repudiates. God’s standards are absolute. He has only two grades: “good” for absolute perfection and “failure” for anything else. That is why he says there is “none who does good,” that we have all “done abominable works.” The terrible catalogue of crimes committed by ungodly people is long. And we all have the potential to commit every one of them because the seeds of this awful crop are by nature latent in all of us, awaiting favorable conditions of germination.


Verse 1 Notes

{1) For the foolish person will speak foolishness, And his heart will work iniquity: To practice ungodliness, To utter error against the Lord, To keep the hungry unsatisfied, And he will cause the drink of the thirsty to fail.

{2) Because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened.

2 The Lord looks down from heaven upon the children of men, To see if there are any who understand, who seek God.

The Lord is meticulously concerned about the deeds of men; He is present with us in all that we do and say, and He notes any who act wisely, that is, any man who conducts his life according to divine wisdom. The phrase, the children of men, emphasizes that all human beings are referred to here, and not just Israel, God’s own chosen people. By nature and by practice, man is a sinner. If left to himself, he would never seek after God. It is only through the ministry of the Holy Spirit that men become aware of their need for God and his need for salvation. Yet note another important theological point. Our poet tells us that God must find out what people are doing on the earth. This is because God has made men free from His control.   People are not puppets. They are not predestined to do either good or evil. The choice they have is theirs. When the Lord (the Lord Jesus Christ) looks down from heaven, His findings are dismal. His is the eye of omnificence, the eye of One who sees everything. Nothing is hidden from Him. All things are “naked and open before the eyes of Him with whom we have to do.” This Eyewitness is infallible in His perception. He has all the attributes of deity. He is omnificent, omnipresent, and omnipotent. He cannot be mistaken, He cannot lie, He cannot be intimidated. He knows every man, woman, and child. He knows every thought, word, and deed. He knows the time when, the place where, the how of everything that has ever happened. He knows the motive and the manner. He knows the intent, the impact, and the influence of everything we ever thought, or said, or done. There never was an Eyewitness like this.

3 They have all turned aside, They have together become corrupt; There is none who does good, No, not one.

They have all turned aside. The diagnosis given here belongs to the godless man, for he has repudiated objective righteousness, goodness and truth. This is the first characteristic of such men; everyone has turned aside (gone astray, turned their backs on God) from right living, and become tainted in his nature (Job 15:14-16{2))

Corrupt means “spoiled,” or “soured,” “corrupted” (Job 15:16{1); Rom. 3:12).

None who does good, No, not one means no one among the wicked or, more likely among mankind in general does good. This is the verdict of the Eyewitness of verse 2. And a terrible verdict it is. No wonder the average unregenerate man hates the Bible! But attacking the Bible because it tells the truth is like kicking an X-ray machine because the picture reveals an internal cancer. Man is declared guilty on three counts:

1.       Man’s Total Departure. They have all turned aside. The human race is guilty individually and in general. The race as a whole, and man as an individual, have turned away from God and His Word. False religious systems, far from being expressions of man’s desire to know God, are expressions of man’s departure from God. One and all they slander His real character.

2.      Man’s Total Defilement. They have together become corrupt. The disease of sin has infected the entire human race. God says we are all tainted, guilty of total departure, of total defilement.

3.      Man’s Total Depravity. There is none who does good, No, not one. Years ago, and when my father had been diagnosed with cancer of the lungs, I felt that I had to try once again to witness Jesus to him. We had always been very close, and this was one of the most difficult things I have ever done. The sticking point that developed was that my dad didn’t think he was a bad man, and I had to agree with him. Well, he finally accepted Jesus as his Savior. He died soon after, never having attended church, as far as I know, and was never baptized. What got him past the sticking point was the realization that even though he was a good person, his goodness did not meet with God’s standard. That is why Jesus had to die; only He was good enough. It is His imputed righteousness that makes anyone good enough for heaven. I will see my dad one day because Jesus loved him so much that He gave him one more chance.

This is a picture of you and me, friend. I’m not an atheist, and I don’t imagine you are, but we are sinners. We do not do good. The indictment is universal: all people, individually or all together, cannot do anything at all that is good enough to merit heaven—no one, no, not one. The condition of man is corrupt and the first three verses tell us the depth to which man can go.

Verse 3 Notes

{1) How much less man, who is abominable and filthy, Who drinks iniquity like water!

{2) "What is man, that he could be pure? And he who is born of a woman, that he could be righteous? If God puts no trust in His saints, And the heavens are not pure in His sight, How much less man, who is abominable and filthy, Who drinks iniquity like water!

4 Have all the workers of iniquity no knowledge, Who eat up my people as they eat bread, And do not call on the Lord?

It is God who asks this question. True knowledge, says God, would stop them from living out their lives within that vicious circle of sin and rebellion, and would induce them to call on the Lord to do for them what they cannot do for themselves. Their ignorance is apparent in the way they treat God’s people. To eat up my people as they eat bread is a biblical metaphor for exploiting the helpless. If they realized how God defends the poor and punishes sin, they would never devour believers as if it were a legitimate, everyday thing, like eating bread! If they knew the goodness and severity of God, they would not go through life without praying. They are oblivious to the fact that God will overwhelm them, because in attacking the people of God they are attacking God.

The workers of iniquity may denote the corruption of the priesthood. Those who lack knowledge of God are perhaps the priests, who eat the showbread and should call upon God. Instead they are becoming workers of inequity. Instead of leading God’s people, they devour them.

5 There they are in great fear, For God is with the generation of the righteous.

There they are in great fear. Their conduct reveals indifference, rather than ignorance of God; for when He appears in judgment, they are stricken with great fear.

For God is with the generation of the righteous. David expressed wonder that they did not see how God favored the righteous.

6 You shame the counsel of the poor, But the Lord is his refuge.

When the Lord takes the part of the innocent, the unrighteous will be greatly terrified. They had always mocked the poor for their simple faith, but now they will see that the God they denied is the refuge of His own. No scheming or counterattacks of the wicked can deprive the poor (meaning here those who are oppressed by the world), from finding refuge in the Lord. They may frustrate the lives of God’s’ people (the poor) for a time, but those people will be vindicated because they trust the Lord.

7 Oh, that the salvation of Israel would come out of Zion! When the Lord brings back the captivity of His people, Let Jacob rejoice and Israel be glad.

Oh, that the salvation of Israel would come out of Zion! Zion is the place on earth where God was pleased to reveal His presence, protection, and power (Psalms 3:4; 20:2; 128:5; 132:13; 134:3). The word salvation occurs frequently in the Psalms. While Christians define salvation primarily as deliverance from sin, the psalmist would have understood it primarily in its Old Testament sense of deliverance from earthly danger. David longed for the day when God would bring final victory to His people (Eze. 11:17). The great triumphs of Zion’s King will be the joys of Zion’s children. The second coming of Christ to finally do away with the dominion of sin and Satan will be the completing of this salvation which is the hope, and will be the joy of every Israelite, and of every child of God.

Once this poem had been added to Israel’s “hymn book,” worshippers could apply its promises to any of the catastrophic situations they themselves had to live through down through the centuries. They found strength from this psalm to be sure that God would surely rehabilitate (restore the fortunes of) His people. There were civil wars in the days of the kings of Israel, and there were wars with neighboring Syria. There was the destruction in 722 b.c. of the northern capital, Samaria. There was the shattering experience of 587 b.c. when the greater part of the covenant people were taken off into exile in Babylon. But right up to this day the promise and hope of this psalm applies, as countless Jews and Christians alike can amply testify.

Psalm 14 can also be viewed as being descriptive of the nation of Israel in David’s day, and the priesthood in particular. There were times when the Judean community became unspeakably corrupt, and when Zion, its spiritual center, was destitute of any responsible directive influence because its priesthood was degenerate. Malachi’s criticism of the priesthood of his day (Mal. 1:6-2:9) is a case in point. David vividly pictures the Lord from His exalted heavenly throne looking down upon Israel to convince Himself that the situation of his people is sufficiently serious to demand His interference. The psalm reminds us of Hosea’s penetrating criticism of the priesthood of pre-exilic Israel, who had “forgotten the teaching of God” and “set their heart on their inequity” (Hos. 4:6, 8{3)). It likewise recalls Malachi’s charge that the priesthood of the fifth century B.C. had corrupted the Levitical (priestly) covenant (Mal. 2:8{1)). The psalmist points out the faults of the priests. They are themselves wicked men, and their conduct puts stumbling blocks in the path of the common people who look to them for spiritual leadership. They secure their livelihood from the sacrificial offerings, “the bread of God,” presented at the Temple by the people, but they actually are profane men and godless. And they will be rejected, humiliated, and destroyed by the Lord. The psalmist is convinced that only God can bring about a change in Israel’s lot by which the now backslidden community will become a righteous people. And he thinks this turn in fortunes must originate in Zion, where the Lord dwells. The implication is that a transformed Temple priesthood, calling upon God’s name, teaching the people the true nature of God (Mal. 2:6), and turning them from iniquity, can prepare the ground spiritually for this great consummation.

{1) But you have departed from the way; You have caused many to stumble at the law. You have corrupted the covenant of Levi," Says the Lord of hosts.