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The psalm begins with a verdict on man’s general attitude towards God, and follows it with a general view of the whole world, seeing it as totally sinful. It then moves on to the fact that either YHWH’s or the psalmist’s people are being devoured in that world by ‘the workers of iniquity’, those who do not call on YHWH or obey His commandments but reveal the sinfulness of their hearts by their lives. This will assuredly result in some judgment on those workers of iniquity which will reduce them to great fear, because YHWH looks after the righteous. He allows them to be subject to chastening but in the end He will act to deliver them. But these workers of iniquity will have only themselves to blame because they will have deliberately thwarted God’s people, overlooking the fact that YHWH is the refuge of His people. So from this position of confidence the psalmist then prays that that deliverance will now become actualised.
‘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.’
A general verdict is passed on mankind. They behave like fools because they reject the idea of God as the one to Whom they are accountable. They have many gods, they worship idols who but represent aspects of creation, but in their hearts they reject the living God who speaks to them through the wonder of creation and through their consciences. They say that there is no such God. See Romans 1:18-23.
‘The fool.’ This is rather describing the morally perverse person who rejects the idea of living a godly life. ‘Folly’ in the Old Testament is a term used to describe the person who behaves foolishly in that he forgets or misrepresents God or refuses to do His will (Deuteronomy 32:6; Deuteronomy 32:21; Job 42:8; Psalms 74:18; Psalms 74:22), he commits gross offences against morality (2 Samuel 13:12-13) or sacrilege (Joshua 7:15), or he behaves churlishly and unwisely (1 Samuel 25:25). See also Isaiah 32:5-6. Inevitably he always sees himself as wise.
‘In his heart.’ It is not his intellect that rejects the idea of God, but his will and emotions. He does not want to have to face up to God because of what it might involve in a transformed life. He likes living as he is. See Psalms 73:11; Jeremiah 5:12; Zephaniah 1:12.
‘They are corrupt, they have done abominable works.’ Compare Genesis 6:11. They are corrupt within and their lives reveal what they really are, sinful, violent, idolatrous, sexually perverted. See Romans 1:18-32.
‘There is none who does good.’ This is the final verdict on the world. All mankind are fools in this sense, for sin is folly. The difference is that some have found forgiveness. God is declaring that there is no true, positive, untainted goodness in the world. All have sinned and come short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). All are likewise guilty.
‘YHWH looked down from heaven on the children of men,
To see if there were any that did understand, that did seek after God.
They are all gone aside; They are together become morally corrupt,
There is no one who does good, no, not one.’
But God would not judge men without a fair examination, and so He looked down to see if there were any who understood and sought after Him. The vivid anthropomorphism brings out the truth of God’s constant examination and assessment of the human race (compare Genesis 11:5), and His call to accountability. But all had turned aside, even the best; all had become morally tainted (compare Job 15:16). There was not one man on earth who did good and did not sin (Ecclesiastes 7:20). (For the thought of the one man Who would come see Isaiah 50:2 with Psalms 14:4-7; Isaiah 52:13 to Isaiah 53:12).
‘Have all the workers of iniquity no knowledge,
Who devour my people as they eat bread,
And call not on YHWH?
There were they in great fear,
For God is in the generation of the righteous.
You put to shame (deride) the counsel of the poor,
Because YHWH is his refuge.’
Indeed God is perplexed at the folly of men. He cannot believe that they are so lacking in wisdom and common sense. They neither call on YHWH nor treat well those who do truly call on Him. They ‘eat up My people as they eat bread’. ‘My people’ must refer here to those who truly call on Him, the faithful in Israel (Micah 2:9; Micah 3:5). For while ‘my people’ is used of Israel as a whole it is always with the understanding that they are potentially responding to the covenant. Those who fail to do so in the end cease to be ‘His people’. They are combined with the enemy. Devouring or eating up His people refers both to depriving them of their possessions, devouring their wealth, and to oppressing them, giving them a hard time and even doing violence to them (compare Micah 3:1-3; Isaiah 3:14-15). So the world is seen as in deliberate antagonism against God, and against true righteousness as personified in His true people.
‘The workers of iniquity’ are thus those who deliberately continue in the way of sin having refused to become one of His people. They are not necessarily great sinners as the world would view it, but they are from God’s viewpoint, because they fail to truly respond to Him.
What is more they overlook the fact that ‘God is in the generation of the righteous’, that He is among the righteous and concerned about them and looks after them in each generation. Thus He will judge the persecutors in such a way that they will be in great fear. (This may be referring to a past event, or a number of past events, an example of judgments that have already happened. Or it may be simply looking to the future, to a judgment yet to come. Hebrew tenses are often not particular as regards to time. They are more concerned with whether an action is complete or incomplete, than whether past or future). And all because they have taken advantage of, or have derided, the lowly who have taken refuge in Yahweh, and whose thoughts and honesty and peacemaking attitude make them a prey to their scheming.
‘The poor’ regularly indicates those who are lowly and godly. This confirms that while ‘My people’ must in one sense mean Israel, it basically means the ones who show that they are His people by their way of living. The remainder are linked with the world.
‘Oh that the salvation of Israel were come out of Zion!
When YHWH restores the fortunes (or ‘brings back the captivity) of his people,
Then will Jacob rejoice,
Israel will be glad.’
The psalmist finishes on a note of longing. O that Israel’s deliverance had come. This confirms that they are here seen as under some kind of misfortune. In Job 42:10 the verb ‘restores the fortunes’ clearly signifies a restoral of fortunes to Job. He is only a captive to his misery. And this fits all the other places where the verb is used. Thus it is possibly the best translation here. It could therefore refer to a period of subjection under the Philistines, or some other enemy of Israel..
But even if we translate as being in ‘captivity’, it would not necessarily mean exile. It could equally signify being in subjection in the land. So we are probably to see them as being under the iron rule of some foreign monarch, subject to tribute and in a period when they were being treated badly. ‘From Zion’ probably has in mind Mount Zion from which, speaking in an earthly way, God will act. Or the thought may be that the psalmist was looking to Zion’s king, the anointed of YHWH, to bring about the deliverance. Either way the deliverance will be of God. And that is the final certainty, that YHWH will restore His people. And then they will be glad and rejoice.
‘Brings back the captivity’, or ‘restores the fortunes’, of His people.’ See for the use of the phrase Job 42:10; Hosea 6:11; Amos 9:14; Ezekiel 16:53; Zephaniah 2:7.
So the message of the Psalm is of God’s calling to the account the folly of the nations, both as regards Himself, and especially as revealed in their attitude towards His people, having very much in mind here His true people. The thought is that His being and nature are so obvious in the light of creation and conscience, and His people so precious, that humanly speaking, from the psalmist’s point of view, God could only question the behaviour of the world in its treatment of His people.
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Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Psalms 14". "Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://studylight.org/
the Second Week of Advent