UNBELIEVING BEHAVIOUR AND THE GRACE OF GOD
The first verse of this Psalm is well known as an argument against those who deny the very existence of God (Psalm 14:1). I am sure I have heard it preached in that way, I know I have read it so, and maybe have even mentioned it in such a way from the pulpit. Taken on its own, it seems valid enough: but the context does not seem to be addressing so much an ‘intellectual atheism’ as a ‘practical’ or ‘moral atheism’.
The practical atheist sets out like the Prodigal son in the parable, wishing that his father was dead already (Luke 15:12). Notice, the Prodigal did not deny his father’s existence, but just wanted to get as far away as possible from his father’s house (Luke 15:13). The consequences, as we know, were disastrous - until such time as he came to his senses (Luke 15:17) and wound his humbled weary way back to his father’s house (Luke 15:18).
True enough these people are called ‘Nabal’ or ‘Fool’ (cf. 1 Samuel 25:25), but the moral dimension is found right here in the second half of the first verse: “They are corrupt, they have done abominable works, there is none that doeth good” (Psalm 14:1). The last clause is echoed in the third verse: “none that doeth good; no, not one” (Psalm 14:3; cf. Romans 3:10-12). This is illustrated in an earlier Psalm where it is said of the wicked, ‘God is not in all his thoughts’ (Psalm 10:4; cf. Romans 1:28).
Let us be sure of one thing: ‘The LORD looks down from heaven, he beholds all the children of men’ (Psalm 33:13). Before the Flood ‘God looked upon the earth, and, behold, it was corrupt; for all flesh had corrupted his way upon the earth’ (Genesis 6:12). So here, “The LORD looked down from heaven” to see if there were any who did understand and seek after God (Psalm 14:2).
“No,” comes the emphatic answer. “All” are gone aside (Psalm 14:3). ‘All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned everyone to his own way’ (Isaiah 53:6). ‘We are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousness is as a filthy rag’ (Isaiah 64:6). ‘For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God’ (Romans 3:23).
This universal “none”; “no, not one”; “all” is suddenly negated as we enter into the second section of the Psalm. Here we become aware of a people whom the LORD calls “My people” (Psalm 14:4); “the righteous” (Psalm 14:5); and “the poor” (Psalm 14:6). The only way that there can be any righteous when the LORD has said there is none is by His grace, as ever, plucking out those whom He has foreknown, predestined, called, justified and glorified (Romans 8:29-30).
It was by God’s grace that Noah was plucked out of a doomed world (Genesis 6:8). It was by grace that ‘Abraham believed in the LORD, and it was accounted to Him as righteousness’ (Genesis 15:6), the model of our faith (Galatians 3:9). It was by grace that Lot was plucked out of a doomed city (Genesis 19:16).
When Elijah thought he stood alone, he was told that seven thousand had not bowed the knee to Baal (1 Kings 19:18). At the end of the Old Testament, ‘they that feared the LORD spoke often to one another’, and a book of remembrance was written ‘for them that feared the LORD and thought upon His name’ (Malachi 3:16). So, in the Psalmist’s day, as in ours, there was a “people” (Psalm 14:4) accounted “righteous” (Psalm 14:5) by God’s grace.
The indictment against the “Fools” who live as if they were answerable to “no God” (Psalm 14:1), is that they are “workers of iniquity” who have “no knowledge” and “eat up My people as they eat bread, and call not upon the LORD” (Psalm 14:4). People who want God out of their lives cannot abide His people, and often oppress them (Psalm 14:6).
Yet they are presented with a fearsome sight: “God is in the generation of the righteous” (Psalm 14:5; cf. Psalm 112:2). “The LORD is his refuge” (Psalm 14:6; cf. Psalm 9:9). We who have fled to Christ ‘lay hold upon the hope that is set before us’, and anchor ourselves in Him (Hebrews 6:18-19).
The final verse anticipates God’s deliverance of His people and encourages us to praise Him (Psalm 14:7; cf. Psalm 85:1; Psalm 126:1-3). Perhaps the first thing we need to be delivered from, if we have not already, is the foolishness of trying to live our lives without God. And if we have been delivered (as I hope we have), then we must not forget that it is God’s grace which delivered us from this and every sin.