There is one more introductory item, and it has to do with the way the answers provided in Psalm 15 are to be handled. How many are there, for instance? Some commentators find ten items and seem attracted to this number, probably because it suggests the Ten Commandments.2 Stewart Perowne counts eleven particulars.3 In my opinion the best way to approach the answers in these verses is by giving attention to the Hebrew parallelism.

About the time I was preparing a study of this psalm I also preached on Romans 8:4, pointing out that the end for which God saves us is not merely that we might escape from hell but that we might live righteous lives. The words of the text said that God condemned sin in Christ "in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit."

Not only do we never learn, but the second thing that is said about us in this stanza is that we are occasionally "overwhelmed with dread" (v. 5). The psalmist expresses this in a strange way, saying literally, as the New International Version indicates: "There they are, overwhelmed with dread…" which has led many writers to wonder what specific "there" he is referring to. Where does this take place? When is the moment at which those who deny God are so moved? Some have suggested that this is fear which will emerge only at the Final Judgment. It is what Jesus seemed to speak of when he described the ungodly crying out for the mountains and hills to fall upon them and cover them in that day (Luke 23:30). Others have suggested that it is fear evoked by some calamity, as in Addison's story about the panicked sea passenger.

The third stanza of Psalm 14 describes the way of the fool, which we have now seen to be the way of the entire human race apart from God's special, saving intervention. There are two things said about us. First, we never seem to learn. We are practical materialists; that is, we are relentless in our efforts to use others for our advantage, profiting from them. We will not learn that "man does not live by bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord" (Deut. 8:3; cf. Matt. 4:4; Luke 4:4). And we are prayerless. We "do not call on the Lord," because we believe that we can manage very well without him.

Having allowed us to listen in as the fool speaks about God, David now permits us to listen as God speaks about the fool. This true and discerning judgment is expressed in the next two verses, where David describes the Almighty as "bending over to look down from heaven upon" this folly (vv. 2, 3). The words remind us of God descending from heaven to observe the folly of those building the tower of Babel (Gen. 11:5) or looking down upon the wickedness of the race prior to his judgment by the Flood (Gen. 6:5).