The Book of Psalms

Ship of Fools, Part 3

Psalm 14:1-7 In these lessons we see the absolute foolishness of atheism, and that true wisdom can only be found in the Lord Jesus Christ.
God Speaks about the Fool

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).

There are two important things to notice about this judgment. Both concern the scope of the corruption. First, the folly of the opening verse of the psalm, which we might have imagined to be restricted to a single class of people (fools), is now viewed as characteristic of all people in their natural or unrepentant state. This is unmistakable. It is seen in the description of God looking down on “the sons of men,” that is, on all persons and not merely on those we might choose to term “atheists” or “fools.” It is also seen in the tumbling cascade of inclusive terms in these verses: “any,” “all,” “all together,” “no one” and “not even one.” Up to this point we might have excused ourselves from the judgments of verse 1. “After all, we are not atheists,” we might say. But now, as we are let in on God’s perspective, we see that we too are included. In other words, the outspoken atheist of verse 1 is only one example of mankind in general. As Peter C. Craigie notes, “The fool is not a rare sub-species within the human race; all human beings are fools apart from the wisdom of God.”3
This is what Paul says in Romans too, though he does it differently. For the issue in Romans is not whether people say they believe in God or not, or whether they actually worship some god in some way. The issue is their actual relationship to the true and only God, and in this respect they have all gone astray and are corrupt, according to Paul’s teaching. They are all true atheists, even when, as is sometimes the case, they are excessively religious.

The second thing to notice about the inclusive nature of God’s assessment of humanity in this psalm is that it concerns not merely a single part of man’s makeup but rather everything about him. It involves his spiritual understanding, his seeking after (actually his failure to seek after) God, and his morality, the same items Paul mentions in his great summary of the race’s corruption in Romans. As David writes: “The Lord looks down from heaven on the sons of men to see if there are any who understand, any who seek God. All have turned aside, they have together become corrupt; there is no one who does good, not even one” (vv. 2, 3; cf. Rom. 3:10-12).

Apart from God’s special illuminating work in the human heart by means of the Holy Spirit, there is no one who understands spiritual things (cf. 1 Cor. 2:14). We do not even understand ourselves. We think we are seeking God when actually we are running away from him. We think we are righteous when we are actually most corrupt. Rightly considered, said Charles Haddon Spurgeon, “Humanity, fallen and debased, is a desert without an oasis, a night without a star, a dunghill without a jewel, a hell without a bottom.”4 Obviously, if there is going to be any hope or salvation for people such as ourselves, it is going to have to come from God himself, which is where the psalm ends.

3Peter C. Craigie, Word Biblical Commentary, vol. 19, Psalms 1-50 (Waco, TX; Word, 1983), p. 148.4C. H. Spurgeon, The Treasury of David, vol. la, Psalms 1-26 (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1968), p. 162.

Study Questions
  1. What two points are made about the extent of the corruption?
  2. How do Romans 1:18-32 and Romans 3:9-18 support and add to what we learn in Psalm 14? In what ways do you notice these passages being practiced in the world today?
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