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
Yesterday we looked at what David meant when he wrote this provocative statement to open Psalm 1:
The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.”
To David, this is primarily a moral classification to describe an unruly, godless scoffer. Rejecting God causes corruption, just like in the days before the Flood, and just like the people at the Tower of Babel. The natural consequence of all kinds of atheism—whether the intellectual atheism that rejects God for philosophical reasons, or the practical atheism that rejects God out of desire for sin—is deep, total depravity.
In Psalm 14:4-6, we see that this foolishness also has terrible consequences. In Psalm 14:4-6, David writes:
4Have they no knowledge, all the evildoers5There they are in great terror,
who eat up my people as they eat bread
and to not call upon the LORD?
for God is with the generation of the righteous. 6You would shame the plans of the poor,
but the LORD is his refuge.
The Ignorance of the Evildoers
In v. 4, David sounds almost astonished at this brazen wickedness: “Have they no knowledge…?” In other words, “Are they so stupid as to persist in what they are doing? Don’t they know where this will lead to for them?” It almost sounds like David is talking about the one kid who doesn’t realize that the parent or teacher has come back into the room, continuing to misbehave right in the plain sight of the judge—except that all of us are doing this in front of a judge who sees all things.
But clearly, the evildoers are ignorant of their looming judgment. Instead, they “eat up my people as they eat bread,” a poetic image that describes a level of corruption so complete that they no longer have any moral qualms against devouring the people of God —no more so than they would if they ate a normal piece of bread. Their wickedness is completely normal to them, and they don’t give their abuse a second thought.
Notice also, though, the last phrase of v.4: “Have they no knowledge, all the evildoers who eat up my people as they eat bread and do not call upon the LORD?” Not only do these wicked people devour God’s own people, but they do not call upon Yahweh. John Calvin explains that this phrase “call upon the LORD” has wider meaning than simply prayer, but that it represents the entirety of worship and service to God:
With respect to the phrase, calling upon God, as it constitutes the principal exercise of godliness, it includes by synecdoche, (a figure of rhetoric, by which a part is put for the whole,) not only here, but in many other passages of Scripture, the whole of the service of God. (Commentary Upon the Book of Psalms, 197.)
(I wrote a post about the use of synecdoches in Psalm 135 and 136 a couple of weeks ago, if you are interested in seeing another example of this particular figure of speech in the Scriptures.)
I find this last phrase really intriguing. In our tolerant age, we would classify violence as a far more heinous crime than failing to worship or serve God. Yet, David adds this last phrase to intensify the idea of eating people as someone eats bread. Just as we saw in yesterday’s meditation on Psalm 14:1-3, the rejection of God causes deep corruption and depravity.
The Terror of the Wicked
But evil will not remain on the earth forever. In v. 5, David begins to anticipate a time when “There they are in great terror, for God is with the generation of the righteous.” One day, some day, God himself will judge the whole world, and the wicked will not receive a free pass for the evil they have committed. On that day, the Great Judge of all the Earth will surely do what is right.
This means terror for the wicked, but it also means that God will stand with “the generation of the righteous.” God will preserve, uphold, and vindicate his people on the final day, righting all the wrongs that have been committed against them along the way by wiping away every tear from their eyes.
The Refuge of the Poor
David continues this thought in v. 6, where he announces a warning to the wicked: “You would shame the plans of the poor, but the LORD is his refuge.” There are two phrases in this verse that require explanation: what does it mean (1) to “shame the plans of the poor,” and (2) for Yahweh to be the “refuge of the poor”?
For “shaming the plans of the poor,” I think John Calvin has the best explanation to account for the word “plans,” which could also mean counsel, advice, or purpose. Calvin writes:
He inveighs against those giants who mock at the faithful for their simplicity, in calmly expecting, in their distresses, that God will show himself to be their deliverer. And, certainly, nothing seems more irrational to the flesh than to betake ourselves to God when yet he does not relieve us from our calamities; and the reason is, because the flesh judges of God only according to what it presently beholds of his grace. Whenever, therefore, unbelievers see the children of God overwhelmed with calamities, they reproach them for their groundless confidence, as it appears to them to be, and with sarcastic jeers laugh at the assured hope with which they rely upon God, from whom, notwithstanding, they receive no sensible aid. (Commentary Upon the Book of Psalms, 200.)
In other words, the “counsel” of the poor is to remain faithful to God, and the wicked want to shame that counsel.
But yet, Yahweh is the refuge of the poor. So, what does that mean?
There is a beautiful illustration of the word “refuge” when the word is used in Job 24:8, when Job is talking about the distress of the poor. He says, “They [the poor] are wet with the rain of the mountains and cling to the rock for lack of shelter.” A “refuge” (here translated “shelter”) could keep the poor dry and protected from the rain of the mountains, so that without it, they are forced to huddle shivering and soaked against the side of the mountains.
But in Psalm 14, we read that Yahweh is the refuge of the poor. The poor will not languish forever, unprotected from the harshness of the wicked. He will keep them from the unending persecution when he comes to stand with the generation of the righteous, pouring out his wrath against those who have harmed his people.
I love what Franz Delitzsch writes about the wrath of God against the enemies of God’s people:
Then, when God’s long-suffering changes into wrath, terror at His judgment seizes them and they tremble through and through. This judgment of wrath, however, is on the other hand a revelation of love. [Yahweh] avenges and thus delivers those whom He calls ‘ammi (My people); and who are here called dor tsaddiq, the generation of the righteous. (“Psalms,” 207)
Understand, this anticipation of a final judgment is the hope of Christianity! Our faith does not merely give us good ideas about how to live ethical lives, but Christianity announces that one day justice will break into this world forever, and that God will actively take the side of the generation of his righteous people.
But what form will this hope take? What kind of justice are we anticipating? We’ll conclude our study of Psalm 14 tomorrow.