Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
With some variations (for which see Notes), this psalm appears again as Psalms 53. The most striking variation consists in the change of Jehovah into Elohim. For this change, see General Introduction.
In this poem the dramatic element blends with the lyric. In the great drama of the world, as unfolding before the psalmist’s eyes, God is seen to look from the windows of His heaven down on the races of men, as He did before the flood, and He finds no vestige of good left, except in the oppressed nation of Israel; all the rest are hopelessly corrupt. Then (Psalm 14:4) comes His voice in some ancient oracular saying, proverbial in its form, and so associated with the visible tokens of Divine vengeance, that the foes of the chosen people are instantly cowed and thrown into panic. Possibly Babylon, the great representative of the giant powers of the heathen world, and the devourer of other nations, now itself already on the verge of ruin, was in the poet’s thought. There is nothing to indicate a date anterior to the fall of Jerusalem, even if the last verse be treated as a liturgical addition.
The rhythm is uneven, but fine in the opening verses.
To the chief Musician, A Psalm of David. The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God. They are corrupt, they have done abominable works, there is none that doeth good.(1) Fool.—Heb., nabal, from a root meaning “to wither;” hence flat, insipid (insipiens). But this is not therefore speculative atheism, but practical—a denial of the moral government of God—so that fool and wicked become almost synonymous.
They have done abominable works.—Literally, they have made to be abhorred their works. The LXX. and Vulg. have caught the sense, “They have become abominable in their practices.” Instead of works, Psalms 53 has “iniquity.”
The LORD looked down from heaven upon the children of men, to see if there were any that did understand, and seek God.(2) Looked down.—Literally, bent forward to look as from a window. (Comp. Song of Solomon 6:10.)
Did understand.—Better, any man of understanding, in contrast with “fool,” in Psalm 14:1, and certainly meaning one who regulates his conduct on the conviction of the existence of a holy and just God.
They are all gone aside, they are all together become filthy: there is none that doeth good, no, not one.(3) Filthy.—Better, corrupt or putrid. Comp. the Roman satirist’s description of his age:—
“Nothing is left, nothing for future times
To add to the full catalogue of crimes.
The baffled sons must feel the same desires
And act the same mad follies as their sires.
Vice has attained its zenith.”—JUVENAL: Sat. i.
Between Psalm 14:3-4 the Alexandrian MS. of the LXX., followed by the Vulg. and the English Prayer-book version, and the Arabic, insert from Romans 3:13-18, the passage beginning, “Their throat is an open sepulchre.” The fact of these verses, which are really a cento from various psalms and Isaiah, following immediately on the quotation of Psalm 14:2-3, led the copyist to this insertion. (See Note in New Testament Commentary to Romans 3:13.)
Have all the workers of iniquity no knowledge? who eat up my people as they eat bread, and call not upon the LORD.(4) Have all the workers of iniquity no knowledge?—i.e., are they so senseless as not to perceive the consequences of their wrong-doing? or if we point the verb as the LXX. and Vulg., “shall they not know?” i.e., they are sure to find out to what their wickedness is leading them.
Who eat up.—Literally, eating my people, they have eaten bread; on Jehovah they have not called, which is usually explained, as in Authorised Version, “to devour God’s people has been as usual and as regular as the daily meal.” Another rendering is “whilst eating my people they have eaten bread, regardless of Jehovah,” i.e., they have gone on in their security eating and drinking, with no thought of the vengeance preparing for them by the God of the oppressed race. Some, however, prefer to divide the two clauses, “Ah, they shall see—all the workers of iniquity who eat my people—they eat bread (i.e., live) regardless of Jehovah.” This makes a better parallelism. A comparison with Micah 3:3-4, suggests that this verse of the psalm was a proverbial saying. (For the image, comp. Jeremiah 10:25; and Homer’s “people-devouring kings.”)
There were they in great fear: for God is in the generation of the righteous.(5) There were they.—Literally, there they feared a fear, i.e., terror overtook them. Psalms 53 adds, “which was no fear.” The local “there” brings the scene before us as in a picture. We see them there before us, these wicked men; there in the midst of their intrigues, or their exactions, or their pleasures, the hand of God seizes them, and lo! they are struck with fear. We evidently have not here any indication by which to fasten on a particular event. Whether the addition in Psalms 53 gives any is discussed there.
For God is.—For the singular variation in Psalms 53 consult Note on Psalm 14:5 of that psalm. The uneasy sense that, after all, the good have God on their side—this general truth is implied in the phrase “generations of the righteous,” even if first employed of faithful Israel—is always a cause of fear to the wicked.
Ye have shamed the counsel of the poor, because the LORD is his refuge.(6) Counsel.—This confidence, this piety, this appeal addressed to the supreme Protector, is in this verse called the “counsel,” the “plan” of the sufferer, and the poet asks, “Would ye then make the sufferer blush for such a thought?” “No, for Jehovah is his refuge.” The Authorised Version has here missed the sense by rendering in the past tense.
Oh that the salvation of Israel were come out of Zion! when the LORD bringeth back the captivity of his people, Jacob shall rejoice, and Israel shall be glad.(7) Oh that.—The thoughts of the exiles turn to the Holy City as the one source of deliverance, as if Jehovah’s power would only manifest itself from His hallowed abode. So Daniel looked towards Jerusalem in his prayer. (Comp. the same feeling in Isaiah 40:9-10.) For the expression “turn the captivity,” or, to keep the Heb. idiom, “turn the turning,” comp. Psalm 85:1; Psalm 126:1; Hosea 6:2; Joel 3:1. It appears, however, besides its literal reference to the exile, to have been applied proverbially to the removal of any misfortune (Job 42:10).