This psalm is simply titled To the Chief Musician. A Psalm of David. With this title, we have the author (David) and the intended audience (the Chief Musician), whom we can take to represent more than a choir leader such as Asaph; it looks to the ultimate Musician of the universe, God Himself. “The thought of the whole psalm is the safety of godliness, and the peril of ungodliness.” (G. Campbell Morgan)
A. The sad condition of the man who rejects God.
1. (1) David’s analysis of the God-rejecting man.
The fool has said in his heart,
“There is no God.”
They are corrupt,
They have done abominable works,
There is none who does good.
a. The fool has said in his heart, “There is no God”: David looked at those who denied the existence of God and came to the conclusion that they are fools. The idea behind this ancient Hebrew word translated fool is more moral than intellectual. David did not have in mind those not smart enough to figure God out (no one is that smart); he had in mind those who simply reject God.
i. From the italics in the New King James Version we can see that what the fool actually says is, “No God.” “That is, ‘No God for me.’ So his is a practical as well as theoretical atheism. Not only does he not believe in God, he also acts on his conviction.” (Boice)
ii. David says this because of the plain evidence that there is a God: evidence in both creation and human conscience that Paul described in Romans 1. The fact that some men insist on denying the existence of God does not erase God from the universe; it instead speaks to their own standing as fools. As Paul wrote in Romans 1:22, Professing to be wise, they became fools.
iii. “The Hebrew word for fool in this psalm is nabal, a word which implies an aggressive perversity, epitomized in the Nabal of 1 Samuel 25:25.” (Kidner)
iv. The God-denying man is a fool because:
· He denies what is plainly evident.
· He believes in tremendous effect with no cause.
· He denies a moral authority in the universe.
· He believes only what can be proven by the scientific method.
· He takes a dramatic, losing chance on his supposition that there is no God.
· He refuses to be persuaded by the many powerful arguments for the existence of God.
v. There are many powerful arguments for the existence of God; among them are these:
· The Cosmological Argument: The existence of the universe means there must be a creator God.
· The Teleological Argument: The existence of design in the universe means there must be a designer God.
· The Anthropological Argument: The unique nature and character of humanity means there must be a relational God.
· The Moral Argument: The existence of morality means there must be a governing God.
vi. “Which is cause, and which is effect? Does atheism result from folly, or folly from atheism? It would be perfectly correct to say that each is cause and each is effect.” (Morgan)
b. The fool has said in his heart: David not only found what the fool said to be significant; where he said it is also important (in his heart). The God-denying man David has in mind is not merely troubled by intellectual objections to the existence of God; in his heart he wishes God away, typically for fundamentally moral reasons.
i. John 3:20 explains it this way: For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed.
ii. This means that the man David had in mind is not an atheist for primarily intellectual reasons. “Honest intellectual agnosticism does not necessarily produce immorality; dishonest emotional atheism always does.” (Morgan)
iii. When we speak with one who denies God, we should not only – or even primarily – speak to his head, but also to his heart. “Let the preacher aim at the heart, and preach the all-conquering love of Jesus, and he will by God’s grace win more doubters to the faith of the gospel than any hundred of the best reasoners who only direct their arguments to the head.” (Spurgeon)
iv. The phrasing of said in his heart also reminds us that it is possible for one to say in his mind that there is a God, yet deny it in his heart and life. One may believe in God in theory, yet be a practical atheist in the way he lives.
v. 1 Samuel 27:1 tells us what David said in his heart on one occasion: Now I shall perish someday by the hand of Saul. There is nothing better for me than that I should speedily escape to the land of the Philistines; and Saul will despair of me, to seek me anymore in any part of Israel. So I shall escape out of his hand.” Was this not David, in some sense, also denying God and speaking as a fool?
vi. “Practical denial or neglect of His working in the world, rather than a creed of negation, is in the psalmist’s mind. In effect, we say that there is no God when we shut Him up in a far-off heaven, and never think of Him as concerned in our affairs. To strip Him of His justice and rob Him of His control is the part of a fool. For the Biblical conception of folly is moral perversity rather than intellectual feebleness, and whoever is morally and religiously wrong cannot be in reality intellectually right.” (Maclaren)
c. They are corrupt, they have done abominable works: David here considers the result of denying God. It leads men into corruption and abominable works. This isn’t to say that every atheist lives a dissolute life and every God-believer lives a good life; yet there is a marked difference in moral behavior between those who take God seriously and those who do not.
d. There is none who does good: As David considered the sin of the God-denier, he looked out over the landscape of humanity and concluded that there is none who does good. He did not mean that there is no human good in this world, but that fallen man is so fallen that he does not by instinct do good, and even the good he may do is tinged with evil.
· We are born with both the will and the capacity to do evil; no one has to teach a child to do bad things.
· The path of least resistance usually leads us to do bad, not to do good.
· It is often easier to encourage others to do bad things, instead of good things.
· Many of our good deeds are tinged with selfish, bad motives.
i. “This is no exaggeration, since every sin implies the effrontery of supposedly knowing better than God, and the corruption of loving evil more than good.” (Kidner)
2. (2-3) Heaven’s analysis of fallen humanity.
The LORD looks down from heaven upon the children of men,
To see if there are any who understand, who seek God.
They have all turned aside,
They have together become corrupt;
There is none who does good,
No, not one.
a. The LORD looks down from heaven upon the children of men: While man may wish to forget about God, God never forgets about man. He is always observing man, looking down from heaven upon the children of men.
i. In man’s rejection of God, there is often the wish that God would just leave us alone. This is an unwise wish, because all human life depends upon God (Acts 17:28; Matthew 5:45). This is an impossible wish, because God has rights of a creator over His creation.
ii. “The words remind us of God descending from heaven to observe the folly of those building the tower of Babel (Genesis 11:5) or looking down upon the wickedness of the race prior to his judgment by the flood.” (Kidner)
b. To see if there are any who understand, who seek God: When God does look down from heaven, one thing He looks for is if there is any understanding or seeking among humanity.
i. God looks for this not primarily as an intellectual judgment; He doesn’t wonder if there are any smart enough to figure Him out. He looks for this more as a moral and spiritual judgment: if there are men who understand His heart and plan, and who seek Him for righteousness sake.
ii. We deceive ourselves into thinking that man, on his own, really does seek God. Don’t all the religions and rituals and practices from the beginning of time demonstrate that man does indeed seek God? Not at all. If man initiates the search then he doesn’t seek the true God, the God of the Bible. Instead he seeks an idol that he makes himself.
iii. “You have gone through this form of worship, but you have not sought after God. I am sick of this empty religiousness. We see it everywhere; it is not communion with God, it is not getting to God; indeed, God is not in it at all.” (Spurgeon, from a sermon on Romans 3)
c. They have all turned aside, they have together become corrupt: When God looks, this is what He finds. He finds that man has turned away from God and has therefore become corrupt.
i. Poole on turned aside: “Or, are grown sour, as this word signifies.”
ii. “The Hebrews have the same word for sin and a dead carcase; and again the same word for sin and stench.” (Trapp)
d. There is none who does good, no, not one: When God finds none who does good, it is because there are none. It isn’t as if there were some and God couldn’t see them. David here observes and remembers that man is truly, profoundly, deeply fallen.
i. David’s use of “there is none who does good” suddenly broadens the scope beyond the atheist to include us. “‘After all, we are not atheists!’ we might say. But now, as we are let in on God’s perspective, we see that we are too included. In other words, the outspoken atheist of verse 1 is only one example of mankind in general.” (Kidner)
ii. “What a picture of our race is this! Save only where grace reigns, there is none that doeth good; 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.” (Spurgeon)
B. God’s defense of His righteous people.
1. (4-6) God defends the generation of the righteous.
Have all the workers of iniquity no knowledge,
Who eat up my people as they eat bread,
And do not call on the LORD?
There they are in great fear,
For God is with the generation of the righteous.
You shame the counsel of the poor,
But the LORD is his refuge.
a. Have all the workers of iniquity no knowledge: David first considered the profound fallenness of man; now he deals with the fate of God’s people in such a fallen world. God’s people might seem like the weak fools, but David understood that it is the workers of iniquity who have no knowledge.
i. “The question has almost a tone of surprise, as if even Omniscience found…wonder in men’s mysterious love of evil.” (Maclaren)
b. Who eat up my people as they eat bread: It looks like the workers of iniquity are strong and have the upper hand. David wondered if the people of God are abandoned to the fools and the corrupt of this world, to those who do not call on the LORD.
i. “As they eat bread, i.e. with as little regret or remorse, and with as much greediness, and delight, and constancy too, as they use to eat their meat.” (Poole)
ii. And do not call on the LORD: “Practical atheism is, of course, prayerless.” (Maclaren)
c. There they are in great fear, for God is with the generation of the righteous: After asking the question, David now answers it with great wisdom. The workers of iniquity seem strong and confident, but they are actually in great fear, because they can’t erase the consciousness that God is with the generation of the righteous.
i. “A panic terror seized them: ‘they feared a fear,’ as the Hebrew puts it; an undefinable, horrible, mysterious dread crept over them. The most hardened of men have their periods when conscience casts them into a cold sweat of alarm.” (Spurgeon)
ii. As strong as they may wish to deny it, they live under the cloud of knowing that they are battling against God, and can therefore never win.
d. You shame the counsel of the poor, but the LORD is his refuge: David here announces it to the workers of iniquity previously mentioned – that they may work against the poor, but God has a refuge for them that cannot be breached. They are fighting against God and will never succeed.
i. Spurgeon considered the ways that the poor takes counsel.
· He takes counsel with his own weakness and sees that he must depend upon God.
· He takes counsel with his observations and sees the end of the wicked.
· He takes counsel with the Bible and trusts it to be the word of God.
· He takes counsel with his own experience and sees that God answers prayer.
ii. Spurgeon used this verse to consider the ways that Christians should stand strong though they are shamed and mocked by the workers of iniquity. “You young men in the great firms of London, you working men that work in the factories – you are sneered at. Let them sneer. If they can sneer you out of your religion, you have not got any worth having. Remember you can be laughed into hell, but you can never be laughed out of it.” (Spurgeon)
iii. “‘Oh! but they will point at you.’ Cannot you bear to be pointed at? ‘But they will chaff you.’ Chaff – let them chaff you. Can that hurt a man that is a man? If you are a molluscous creature that has no backbone, you may be afraid of jokes, and jeers, and jests; but if God has made you upright, stand upright and be a man.” (Spurgeon)
2. (7) Longing for the LORD’s salvation.
Oh, that the salvation of Israel would come out of Zion!
When the LORD brings back the captivity of His people,
Let Jacob rejoice and Israel be glad.
a. Oh, that the salvation of Israel would come out of Zion: David knew that the LORD was a refuge for His people and that the workers of iniquity would never win. Yet that was hard to see at the present time, so David expressed his great longing that God would bring the victory and deliverance He had promised to His people.
b. When the LORD brings back the captivity of His people: This was not the Babylonian Captivity, many generations after David’s time. Here captivity is used in a general sense, speaking of any time or situation where God’s people are oppressed and bound.
i. “We take that phrase ‘turns the captivity’ in the sense in which it admittedly bears in Job 42:10 and Ezekiel 16:53, namely that of deliverance from misfortune.” (Maclaren)
c. Let Jacob rejoice and Israel be glad: David anticipates the coming deliverance, and calls the people of God to be joyful in consideration of it.
(c) 2020 The Enduring Word Bible Commentary by David Guzik – firstname.lastname@example.org