For I was envious at the foolish, when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.
~ Psalm 73:3
The wicked, through the pride of his countenance, will not seek after God: God is not in all his thoughts.
~ Psalm 10:4
A brutish man knoweth not; neither doth a fool understand this.
~ Psalm 92:6
As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one: There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God. They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one.
~ Romans 3:10-12
Their feet run to evil, and they make haste to shed innocent blood: their thoughts are thoughts of iniquity; wasting and destruction are in their paths. The way of peace they know not; and there is no judgment in their goings: they have made them crooked paths: whosoever goeth therein shall not know peace.
~ Isaiah 59:7-8
How much more abominable and filthy is man, which drinketh iniquity like water?
~ Job 15:16
But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away.
~ Isaiah 64:6
Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean? not one.
~ Job 14:4
A Commentary on Psalm 14:1-3, by John Calvin.
To the chief Musician, A Psalm of David. The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God. They are corrupt, they have done abominable works, there is none that doeth good. The LORD looked down from heaven upon the children of men, to see if there were any that did understand, and seek God. They are all gone aside, they are all together become filthy: there is none that doeth good, no, not one.
~ Psalm 14:1-3
In the beginning the Psalmist describes the wicked contempt of God into which almost the whole people had broken forth. To give the greater weight to his complaint, he represents God himself as uttering it. Afterwards he comforts himself and others with the hope of a remedy, which he assures himself God will very soon provide, although, in the meantime, he groans and feels deep distress at the disorder which he beholds. 277
To the chief musician of David.
1. The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God; they have corrupted; 278 , They have done abominable work; there is none that doeth good.
Many of the Jews are of opinion that in this psalm there is given forth a prediction concerning the future oppression of their nation: as if David, by the revelation of the Holy Spirit, bewailed the afflicted condition of the Church of God under the tyranny of the Gentiles. They therefore refer what is here spoken to the dispersed condition in which we see them at the present day, as if they were that precious heritage of God which the wild beasts devour. But it is very apparent, that in wishing to cover the disgrace of their nation, they wrest and apply to the Gentiles, without any just ground, what is said concerning the perverse children of Abraham. 279 We cannot certainly find a better qualified interpreter than the Apostle Paul, and he applies this psalm expressly to the people who lived under the law, (Ro 3:19.) Besides, although we had not the testimony of this Apostle, the structure of the psalm very clearly shows that David means rather the domestic tyrants and enemies of the faithful than foreign ones; a point which it is very necessary for us to understand. We know that it is a temptation which pains us exceedingly, to see wickedness breaking forth and prevailing in the midst of the Church, the good and the simple unrighteously afflicted, while the wicked cruelly domineer according to their pleasure. This sad spectacle almost completely disheartens us; and, therefore, we have much need to be fortified from the example which David here sets before us: so that, in the midst of the greatest desolations which we behold in the Church, we may comfort ourselves with this assurance, that God will finally deliver her from them. I have no doubt that there is here described the disordered and desolate state of Judea which Saul introduced when he began to rage openly. Then, as if the remembrance of God had been extinguished from the minds of men, all piety had vanished, and with respect to integrity or uprightness among men, there was just as little of it as of godliness.
The fool hath said. As the Hebrew word נבל, nabal, signifies not only a fool, but also a perverse, vile, and contemptible person, it would not have been unsuitable to have translated it so in this place; yet I am content to follow the more generally received interpretation, which is, that all profane persons, who have cast off all fear of God and abandoned themselves to iniquity, are convicted of madness. David does not bring against his enemies the charge of common foolishness, but rather inveighs against the folly and insane hardihood of those whom the world accounts eminent for their wisdom. We commonly see that those who, in the estimation both of themselves and of others, highly excel in sagacity and wisdom, employ their cunning in laying snares, and exercise the ingenuity of their minds in despising and mocking God. It is therefore important for us, in the first place, to know, that however much the world applaud these crafty and scoffing characters, who allow themselves to indulge to any extent in wickedness, yet the Holy Spirit condemns them as being fools; for there is no stupidity more brutish than forgetfulness of God. We ought, however, at the same time, carefully to mark the evidence on which the Psalmist comes to the conclusion that they have cast off all sense of religion, and it is this: that they have overthrown all order, so that they no longer make any distinction between right and wrong, and have no regard for honesty, nor love of humanity. David, therefore, does not speak of the hidden affection of the heart of the wicked, except in so far as they discover themselves by their external actions. The import of his language is, How does it come to pass, that these men indulge themselves in their lusts so boldly and so outrageously, that they pay no regard to righteousness or equity; in short, that they madly rush into every kind of wickedness, if it is not because they have shaken off all sense of religion, and extinguished, as far as they can, all remembrance of God from their minds? When persons retain in their heart any sense of religion, they must necessarily have some modesty, and be in some measure restrained and prevented from entirely disregarding the dictates of their conscience. From this it follows, that when the ungodly allow themselves to follow their own inclinations, so obstinately and audaciously as they are here represented as doing, without any sense of shame, it is an evidence that they have cast off all fear of God.
The Psalmist says that they speak in their heart They may not utter this detestable blasphemy, There is no God, with their mouths; but the unbridled licentiousness of their life loudly and distinctly declares that in their hearts, which are destitute of all godliness, they soothingly sing to themselves this song. Not that they maintain, by drawn out arguments or formal syllogisms, as they term them, that there is no God, (for to render them so much the more inexcusable, God from time to time causes even the most wicked of men to feel secret pangs of conscience, that they may be compelled to acknowledge his majesty and sovereign power;) but whatever right knowledge God instils into them they partly stifle it by their malice against him, and partly corrupt it, until religion in them becomes torpid, and at last dead. They may not plainly deny the existence of a God, but they imagine him to be shut up in heaven, and divested of his righteousness and power; and this is just to fashion an idol in the room of God. As if the time would never come when they will have to appear before him in judgment, 280 they endeavor, in all the transactions and concerns of their life, to remove him to the greatest distance, and to efface from their minds all apprehension of his majesty. 281 And when God is dragged from his throne, and divested of his character as judge, impiety has come to its utmost height; and, therefore, we must conclude that David has most certainly spoken according to truth, in declaring that those who give themselves liberty to commit all manner of wickedness, in the flattering hope of escaping with impunity, deny in their heart that there is a God. As the fifty-third psalm, with the exception of a few words which are altered in it, is just a repetition of this psalm, I will show in the proper places, as we proceed, the difference which there is between the two psalms. David here complains that they have done abominable work; but for the word work, the term there employed is iniquity. It should be observed that David does not speak of one work or of two; but as he had said, that they have perverted or corrupted all lawful order, so now he adds, that they have so polluted their whole life, as to make it abominable, and the proof of this which he adduces is, that they have no regard to uprightness in their dealings with one another, but have forgotten all humanity, and all beneficence towards their fellow-creatures.
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 משכיל, 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 סר, sar, which is here used, to stink, 282 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 Ro 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. 283 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.
“Combien que cependant il gemisse et se sente angoisse du desordre qu’il veoit.” — Fr.
Calvin has here given a literal rendering of the Hebrew words, They have corrupted. Some suppose that themselves is to be understood, as in Ex 32:7; others, their ways, as in Ge 6:12, but the meaning which Calvin has attached to the phrase is, They have corrupted or perverted all good order.
“Ce qui est dit de ceux qui, fausses enseignes serenomment enfans d’Abraham vivans autrement qu’il n’appartient.” — Fr. “What is said of those who, according to false marks, call themselves the children of Abraham, while living a different life from what they ought.”
Some critics observe, that as יהוה, Yehovah, the name which denotes the infinite, self-existent essence of God, is not the word here employed, but אלוהס, a name which they regard as referring to God as judge and governor of the world, the meaning of the first verse is not that the fool denies the existence of God, but only his providence and government of the world; that he persuades himself God has no concern about the actions of men, and that there will be no judgment to come; and, therefore, goes on in sin, in the hope of escaping with impunity. — See Poole’s Synopsis Criticorum. The Targum paraphrases the words, “There is no God,” thus, “There is no אלוהס government of God in the earth.”
“Et abolir de leurs esprits toute apprehension de sa majeste.” — Fr.
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 Ho 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.”
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.