Post Series on Psalm 14:
- Fools and Total Depravity – Psalm 14:1-3
- Yahweh is the Refuge of the Poor – Psalm 14:4-6
- Who Will Give Israel Salvation From Zion? – Psalm 14:7
Psalm 14 is one of the most important texts in the Old Testament that informs the Christian doctrine of Total Depravity, which helps explain why David opens the psalm with what a lot of people would call “fighting words”:
1The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.” (Psalm 14:1)
In fact, this isn’t a cheap put-down, although it might sound like it at first. Instead, David goes on to explain what he means by the “fool” who denies God in his heart:
1The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.”2The LORD looks down from heaven on the children of man,
They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds,
there is none who does good.
to see if there are any who understand,
who seek after God. 3They have all turned aside; together they have become corrupt;
there is none who does good,
not even one.
In these first three verses of Psalm 14, we see a working definition of this particular Hebrew word for fool, nabal.
Fool is Primarily a Moral Classification
David has in mind something a little different from an atheist or the agnostic who wrestles with honest questions about the existence of God. It isn’t that he has nothing to say to such people (he does—we will get there in a moment), but that he is addressing a particular type of fool who scoffs at God so that he can do any wicked thing he desires to do.
Depending on how you translate everything, there are about ten different Hebrew words in the Old Testament that have to do with some kind of foolishness (cf. “nbl” by Chou-Wee Pan, in NIDOTTE, vol 3, p. 12). The word nabal refers to the godless, unruly, scoffer kind of foolishness, rather than stupidity foolishness or insane foolishness (among other possibilities).
But at the same time, intellectual atheism doesn’t get a free pass here either. Franz Delitzsch writes in his commentary:
It is not merely practical atheism, that is intended by this maxim of the nabal. The heart according to Scripture language is not only the seat of volition, but also of thought. The nabal 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. (“Psalms” in Commentary on the Old Testament, p. 203-04.)
Depravity—even total depravity—is the natural consequence of rejecting God.
Total Corruption–Flood and Babel Style
Delitzsch also points out an interesting link from the language of Psalm 14:1-3 all the way back to the first chapters of the Bible in Genesis (p. 204-05). He points out that the phrase “They are corrupt” in v. 1 is the same word to describe the state of humanity before the Flood in Genesis 6:11: “Now the earth was corrupt in God’s sight, and the earth was filled with violence.”
Not only that, but the whole verse “The LORD looks down from heaven on the children of man, to see if there are any who understand…” in Psalm 14:2 takes us all the way back to Genesis 11:5, at the Tower of Babel: “And the LORD came down to seebeney-ha’adam) had become.
These are two noteworthy passages from Genesis, because they mark the two extreme cases of sin for which God judged the whole world—first to destroy the whole world with a flood, and second to scatter the whole world across the face of the earth by confusing their language at Babel.
They Have ALL Turned Aside–Total Depravity
But what’s striking—and a bit unsettling—about this passage is that David universalizes his characterizations of the human race. It isn’t that the “fools” are some odd, wicked group of people off in the corner. Instead, in v. 2-3, after Yahweh has evaluated all the children of man, the pronouncement is that “They have all turned aside; together they have become corrupt; there is none who does good, not even one.”
In Hebrew, there is a small word that means “There is no” (‘eyn), and this is the word used in v. 1: “‘eyn God” (“There is no God”). But the word is used three more times to stress that “There is no” person in all the earth who does good:
“There is none who does good” (Psalm 14:1)“There is none who does good” (Psalm 14:3) “There is not one [who does good]” (Psalm 14:3)
This is where Psalm 14 starts getting uncomfortable, hitting a little too close to home. The “fools” are not some group out there. I am one of the fools! I am included in this group of people who denies God in my heart so that I can live however I please! I am unable to caricature and vilify those people, because I am one of them!
This idea that the corrupting influence of sin has stretched over the whole human race, twisting and distorting our hearts so that we deny God in order to live however we want to live, is a theme that Paul picks up in Romans 3. In fact, he quotes Psalm 14:1-2 in Romans 3:11-12, right before he announces in Romans 3:23 that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. Everyone alike—Jew and Gentile—share a common condemnation from our common, godless foolishness.
So how bad is this condition, and where do we go from here? We’ll continue our study of Psalm 14 tomorrow.