Bible Commentaries
Psalms 14

Keil & Delitzsch Old Testament CommentaryKeil & Delitzsch


The Prevailing Corruption and the Redemption Desired

Just as the general lamentation of Psalms 12:1-8 assumes a personal character in Psalms 13:1-6, so in Psalms 14:1-7 it becomes again general; and the personal desire יגל לבּי , Psalms 13:5, so full of hope, corresponds to יגל יעקב , which is extended to the whole people of God in Psalms 14:7. Moreover, Psalms 14:1-7, as being a gloomy picture of the times in which the dawn of the divine day is discernible in the background, is more closely allied to Psalms 12:1-8 than to Psalms 13:1-6, although this latter is not inserted between them without some recognised reason. In the reprobation of the moral and religious character of the men of the age, which Psalms 14:1-7 has in common with Psalms 12:1-8, we at once have a confirmation of the לדוד . But Psalms 14:7 does not necessitate our coming down to the time of the Exile.

In Psalms 53:1-6 we find this Psalm which is Jehovic, occurring again as Elohimic. The position of Psalms 14:1-7 in the primary collection favours the presumption, that it is the earlier and more original composition. And since this presumption will bear the test of a critical comparison of the two Psalms, we may leave the treatment of Psalms 53:1-6 to its proper place, without bringing it forward here. It is not as though Psalms 14:1-7 were intact. It is marked out as seven three-line verses, but Psalms 14:5 and Psalms 14:6, which ought to be the fifth and sixth three lines, are only two; and the original form appears to be destroyed by some deficiency. The difficulty is got over in Psalms 53:1-6, by making the two two-line verses into one three-line verse, so that it consists only of six three-line verses. And in that Psalm the announcement of judgment is applied to foreign enemies, a circumstance which has influenced some critics and led them astray in the interpretation of Psalms 14:1-7.

Verse 1

The perfect אמר , as in Psalms 1:1; Psalms 10:3, is the so-called abstract present (Ges. §126, 3), expressing a fact of universal experience, inferred from a number of single instances. The Old Testament language is unusually rich in epithets for the unwise. The simple, פּתי , and the silly, כּסיל , for the lowest branches of this scale; the fool, אויל , and the madman, הולל , the uppermost. In the middle comes the notion of the simpleton or maniac, נבל - a word from the verbal stem נבל which, according as that which forms the centre of the group of consonants lies either in נב ( Genesis S. 636), or in בל (comp. אבל , אול , אמל , קמל ), signifies either to be extended, to relax, to become frail, to wither, or to be prominent, eminere, Arab. nabula ; so that consequently נבל means the relaxed, powerless, expressed in New Testament language: πνεῦμα οὐκ ἔχοντα . Thus Isaiah (Isaiah 32:6) describes the נבל : “a simpleton speaks simpleness and his heart does godless things, to practice tricks and to say foolish things against Jahve, to leave the soul of the hungry empty, and to refuse drink to the thirsty.” Accordingly נבל is the synonym of לץ the scoffer (vid., the definition in Proverbs 21:24). A free spirit of this class is reckoned according to the Scriptures among the empty, hollow, and devoid of mind. The thought, אין אלהים , which is the root of the thought and action of such a man, is the climax of imbecility. It is not merely practical atheism, that is intended by this maxim of the נבל . The heart according to Scripture language is not only the seat of volition, but also of thought. The נבל is not content with acting as though there were no God, but directly denies that there is a God, i.e., a personal God. The psalmist makes this prominent as the very extreme and depth of human depravity, that there can be among men those who deny the existence of a God. The subject of what follows are, then, not these atheists but men in general, among whom such characters are to be found: they make the mode of action, (their) doings, corrupt, they make it abominable. עלילה , a poetical brevity of expression for עלילותם , belongs to both verbs, which have Tarcha and Mercha (the two usual conjunctives of Mugrash) in correct texts; and is in fact not used as an adverbial accusative (Hengstenberg and others), but as an object, since השׁהית is just the word that is generally used in this combination with עלילה Zephaniah 3:7 or, what is the same thing, דּרך Genesis 6:12; and התעיב (cf. 1 Kings 21:26) is only added to give a superlative intensity to the expression. The negative: “there is none that doeth good” is just as unrestricted as in Psalms 12:2. But further on the psalmist distinguishes between a דור צדיק , which experiences this corruption in the form of persecution, and the corrupt mass of mankind. He means what he says of mankind as κόσμος , in which, at first the few rescued by grace from the mass of corruption are lost sight of by him, just as in the words of God, Genesis 6:5, Genesis 6:12. Since it is only grace that frees any from the general corruption, it may also be said, that men are described just as they are by nature; although, be it admitted, it is not hereditary sin but actual sin, which springs up from it, and grows apace if grace do not interpose, that is here spoken of.

Verse 2

The second tristich appeals to the infallible decision of God Himself. The verb השׁקיף means to look forth, by bending one's self forward. It is the proper word for looking out of a window, 2 Kings 9:30 (cf. Niph. Judges 5:28, and frequently), and for God's looking down from heaven upon the earth, Psalms 102:20, and frequently; and it is cognate and synonymous with השׁגּיח , Psalms 33:13, Psalms 33:14; cf. moreover, Song of Solomon 2:9. The perf. is used in the sense of the perfect only insofar as the divine survey is antecedent to its result as given in Psalms 14:3. Just as השׁהיתוּ reminds one of the history of the Flood, so does לראות of the history of the building of the tower of Babel, Genesis 11:5, cf. Psalms 18:21. God's judgment rests upon a knowledge of the matter of fact, which is represented in such passages after the manner of men. God's all-seeing, all-piercing eyes scrutinise the whole human race. Is there one who shows discernment in thought and act, one to whom fellowship with God is the highest good, and consequently that after which he strives? - this is God's question, and He delights in such persons, and certainly none such would escape His longing search. On את־אלהים , τὸν Θεόν , vid., Ges. §117, 2.

Verse 3

The third tristich bewails the condition in which He finds humanity. The universality of corruption is expressed in as strong terms as possible. הכּל they all (lit., the totality); יחדּו with one another (lit., in its or their unions, i.e., universi ); אין גּם־אחד not a single one who might form an exception. סר (probably not 3 praet. but partic., which passes at once into the finite verb) signifies to depart, viz., from the ways of God, therefore to fall away ( ἀποστάτης ). נאלח , as in Job 15:16, denotes the moral corruptness as a becoming sour, putrefaction, and suppuration. Instead of אין גּם־אחד , the lxx translates οὐκ ἔστιν ἕως ἑνός (as though it were עד־אחד , which is the more familiar form of expression). Paul quotes the first three verses of this Psalm (Romans 3:10-12) in order to show how the assertion, that Jews and heathen all are included under sin, is in accordance with the teaching of Scripture. What the psalmist says, applies primarily to Israel, his immediate neighbours, but at the same time to the heathen, as is self-evident. What is lamented is neither the pseudo-Israelitish corruption in particular, nor that of the heathen, but the universal corruption of man which prevails not less in Israel than in the heathen world. The citations of the apostle which follow his quotation of the Psalm, from τάφος ἀνεῳγμένος to ἀπέναντι τῶν ὀφθαλμῶν αὐτῶν were early incorporated in the Psalm in the Κοινή of the lxx. They appear as an integral part of it in the Cod. Alex., in the Greco-Latin Psalterium Vernonense , and in the Syriac Psalterium Mediolanense . They are also found in Apollinaris' paraphrase of the Psalms as a later interpolation; the Cod. Vat. has them in the margin; and the words σύντπιμμα καὶ ταλαιπωρία ἐν ταῖς ὁδοῖς αὐτῶν have found admittance in the translation, which is more Rabbinical than Old Hebrew, מזּל רע וּפגע רע בּדרכיהם even in a Hebrew codex (Kennicott 649). Origen rightly excluded this apostolic Mosaic work of Old Testament testimonies from his text of the Psalm; and the true representation of the matter is to be found in Jerome, in the preface to the xvi. book of his commentary on Isaiah.

(Note: Cf. Plüschke's Monograph on the Milanese Psalterium Syriacum, 1835, p. 28-39.)

Verse 4

Thus utterly cheerless is the issue of the divine scrutiny. It ought at least to have been different in Israel, the nation of the positive revelation. But even there wickedness prevails and makes God's purpose of mercy of none effect. The divine outburst of indignation which the psalmist hears here, is applicable to the sinners in Israel. Also in Isaiah 3:13-15 the Judge of the world addresses Himself to the heads of Israel in particular. This one feature of the Psalm before us is raised to the consistency of a special prophetic picture in the Psalm of Asaph, Psalms 82:1-8. That which is here clothed in the form of a question, הלא ידעוּ , is reversed into an assertion in Psalms 82:5 of that Psalm. It is not to be translated: will they not have to feel (which ought to be ידעוּ ); but also not as Hupfeld renders it: have they not experienced. “Not to know” is intended to be used as absolutely in the signification non sapere , and consequently insipientem esse , as it is in Psalms 82:5; Psalms 73:22; Psalms 92:7; Isaiah 44:18, cf. 9, Isaiah 45:20, and frequently. The perfect is to be judged after the analogy of novisse (Ges. §126, 3), therefore it is to be rendered: have they attained to no knowledge, are they devoid of all knowledge, and therefore like the brutes, yea, according to Isaiah 1:2-3 even worse than the brutes, all the workers of iniquity? The two clauses which follow are, logically at least, attributive clauses. The subordination of אכלוּ לחם to the participle as a circumstantial clause in the sense of כּאכל לחם is syntactically inadmissible; neither can אכלו לחם , with Hupfeld, be understood of a brutish and secure passing away of life; for, as Olshausen, rightly observes אכל לחם does not signify to feast and carouse, but simply to eat, take a meal. Hengstenberg correctly translates it “who eating my people, eat bread,” i.e., who think that they are not doing anything more sinful, - indeed rather what is justifiable, irreproachable and lawful to them, - than when they are eating bread; cf. the further carrying out of this thought in Micah 3:1-3 (especially Micah 3:3 extr.: “just as in the pot and as flesh within the caldron.”). Instead of לא קראוּ ה Jeremiah says in Jeremiah 10:21 (cf. however, Jeremiah 10:25): לא דרשׁוּ ואת־ה . The meaning is like that in Hosea 7:7. They do not pray as it becomes man who is endowed with mind, therefore they are like cattle, and act like beasts of prey.

Verse 5

When Jahve thus bursts forth in scorn His word, which never fails in its working, smites down these brutish men, who are without knowledge and conscience. The local demonstrative שׁם is used as temporal in this passage just as in Psalms 66:6; Hosea 2:17; Zephaniah 1:14; Job 23:7; Job 35:12, and is joined with the perfect of certainty, as in Job 36:13, where it has not so much a temporal as a local sense. It does not mean “there = at a future time,” as pointing into the indefinite future, but “there = then,” when God shall thus speak to them in His anger. Intensity is here given to the verb פּחד by the addition of a substantival object of the same root, just as is frequently the case in the more elevated style, e.g., Habakkuk 3:9; and as is done in other cases by the addition of the adverbial infinitive. Then, when God's long-suffering changes into wrath, terror at His judgement seizes them and they tremble through and through. This judgment of wrath, however, is on the other hand a revelation of love. Jahve avenges and thus delivers those whom He calls עמּי (My people); and who are here called דּור צדּיק , the generation of the righteous, in opposition to the corrupted humanity of the time (Psalms 12:8), as being conformed to the will of God and held together by a superior spirit to the prevailing spirit of the age. They are so called inasmuch as דּור passes over from the signification generatio to that of genus hominum here and also elsewhere, when it is not merely a temporal, but a moral notion; cf. Psalms 24:6; Psalms 83:15; Psalms 112:2, where it uniformly denotes the whole of the children of God who are in bondage in the world and longing for deliverance, not Israel collectively in antithesis to the Scythians and the heathen in general (Hitzig).

Verse 6

The psalmist himself meets the oppressed full of joyous confidence, by reason of the self-manifestation of God in judgment, of which he is now become so confident and which so fills him with comfort. Instead of the sixth tristich, which we expected, we have another distich. The Hiph. הבישׁ with a personal object signifies: to put any one to shame, i.e., to bring it about that any one must be ashamed, e.g., Psalms 44:8 (cf. Psalms 53:6, where the accusative of the person has to be supplied), or absolutely: to act shamefully, as in the phrase used in Proverbs, בּן מיבישׁ (a prodigal son). It appears only here with a neuter accusative of the object, not in the signification to defame (Hitz.), - a meaning it never has (not even in Proverbs 13:5, where it is blended with הבאישׁ to make stinking, i.e., a reproach, Genesis 34:30) - but to confound, put to shame = to frustrate (Hupf.), which is at once the most natural meaning in connection with עצת . But it is not to be rendered: ye put to shame, because..., for to what purpose is this statement with this inapplicable reason in support of it? The fut. תּבישׁוּ is used with a like shade of meaning as in Leviticus 19:17, and the imperative elsewhere; and כּי gives the reason for the tacitly implied clause, or if a line is really lost from the strophe, the lost clause (cf. Isaiah 8:9.): ye will not accomplish it. עצה is whatsoever the pious man, who as such suffers reproach, plans to do for the glory of his God, or even in accordance with the will of his God. All this the children of the world, who are in possession of worldly power, seek to frustrate; but viewed in the light of the final decision their attempt is futile: Jahve is his refuge, or, literally the place whither he flees to hide himself and finds a hiding or concealment ( צל , Arab. dall , סתר , Arab. sitr , Arabic also drâ ). מחסּהוּ has an orthophonic Dag., which obviates the necessity for the reading מחסּהוּ (cf. תּעלּים Psalms 10:1, טעמּו Psalms 34:1, לאסּר Psalms 105:22, and similar instances).

Verse 7

This tristich sounds like a liturgical addition belonging to the time of the Exile, unless one is disposed to assign the whole Psalm to this period on account of it. For elsewhere in a similar connection, as e.g., in Psalms 126:1-6, שׁוּב שׁבוּת means to turn the captivity, or to bring back the captives. שׁוּב has here, - as in Psalms 126:4; Psalms 2:3 (followed by את ), cf. Ezekiel 47:7, the Kal being preferred to the Hiph. השׁיב (Jeremiah 32:44; Jeremiah 33:11) in favour of the alliteration with שׁבוּת (from שׁבה to make any one a prisoner of war), - a transitive signification, which Hengstenberg (who interprets it: to turn back, to turn to the captivity, of God's merciful visitation), vainly hesitates to admit. But Isaiah 66:6, for instance, shows that the exiles also never looked for redemption anywhere but from Zion. Not as though they had thought, that Jahve still dwelt among the ruins of His habitation, which indeed on the contrary was become a ruin because He had forsaken it (as we read in Ezekiel); but the moment of His return to His people is also the moment when He entered again upon the occupation of His sanctuary, and His sanctuary, again appropriated by Jahve even before it was actually reared, is the spot whence issues the kindling of the divine judgment on the enemies of Israel, as well as the spot whence issues the brightness of the reverse side of this judgment, viz., the final deliverance, hence even during the Exile, Jerusalem is the point (the kibla) whither the eye of the praying captive was directed, Daniel 6:11. There would therefore be nothing strange if a psalm-writer belonging to the Exile should express his longing for deliverance in these words: who gives = oh that one would give = oh that the salvation of Israel were come out of Zion! But since שׁוב שׁבות also signifies metaphorically to turn misfortune, as in Job 42:10; Ezekiel 16:53 (perhaps also in Psalms 85:2, cf. Psalms 14:5), inasmuch as the idea of שׁבוּת has been generalised exactly like the German “ Elend,” exile (Old High German elilenti = sojourn in another country, banishment, homelessness), therefore the inscribed לדוד cannot be called in question from this quarter. Even Hitzig renders: “if Jahve would but turn the misfortune of His people,” regarding this Psalm as composed by Jeremiah during the time the Scythians were in the land. If this rendering is possible, and that it is is undeniable, then we retain the inscription לדוד . And we do so the more readily, as Jeremiah's supposed authorship rests upon a non-recognition of his reproductive character, and the history of the prophet's times make no allusion to any incursion by the Scythians.

The condition of the true people of God in the time of Absolom was really a שׁבוּת in more than a figurative sense. But we require no such comparison with contemporary history, since in these closing words we have only the gathering up into a brief form of the view which prevails in other parts of the Psalm, viz., that the “righteous generation” in the midst of the world, and even of the so-called Israel, finds itself in a state of oppression, imprisonment, and bondage. If God will turn this condition of His people, who are His people indeed and of a truth, then shall Jacob rejoice and Israel be glad. It is the grateful duty of the redeemed to rejoice. - And how could they do otherwise!

Bibliographical Information
Keil, Carl Friedrich & Delitzsch, Franz. "Commentary on Psalms 14". Keil & Delitzsch Old Testament Commentary. 1854-1889.