Psalm 14 and 53 - The Fool Says God Is Not

INTRODUCTION: Psalms 14 and Psalms 53 are very similar in text. These parallel passages appear in two of the five books of the Psalms, with Psalms 14 in the first scroll and Psalms 53 in the second. After reading several Bible translations of both Psalms, I selected the Jewish Publication Society (JPS) version for the text of this study. The verses are listed below in sets from both Psalms, with other scripture and commentary. Though the KJV and the JPS do not assign verse numbers in the same way, verse numbering is not part of the inspired text. Even between psalm 14 and 53, the JPS numbers verses differently. I wanted to recognize the detail of verse numbering differences, for any readers who might notice. In the English text of the JPS Psalm 14 has 155 words and Psalm 53 has 158 words. The major difference in phrases is in verse 6 for Psalm 14, which is the last half of verse 6 for Psalm 53. There are a few other word choice differences between these two psalms in the first five verses. . A psalm might be defined as a pleasing arrangement or succession in a poem, which is suitable to be set to a melody.

NOTE: The JPS text was obtained from the Online bible, and is from the 1917 Jewish Publication Societies' English translation of the Jewish Bible, the Tanach.


Psalms 14:1 & 53:1-2 (JPS)

"14:1 For the Leader. [A Psalm] of David. The fool hath said in his heart: "There is no God"; they have dealt corruptly, they have done abominably; there is none that doeth good."

"53:1 For the Leader; upon Mahalath. Maschil of David. 2 The fool hath said in his heart: "There is no God"; they have dealt corruptly, and have done abominable iniquity; there is none that doeth good."

COMMENTS: The "leader" mentioned in verse one would be the leader or director of music for temple worship. Based on my sources, Mahalath is an uncertain term which may refer to a musical arrangement, or may refer to a musical instrument such as a lute or lyre. The word Maschil appears in the title of 13 Psalms and indicates that the content is intended to be instructive. Since this term appears in the text of thirteen Psalms beginning with PS32, but not in Ps14 (the twin of Ps53), other Psalms may be considered instructive without having Maschil specifically in the text.

Verse 14:1 and 53:1-2 combined in amplified paraphrase:

"The fool, one senseless and without judgment, says in his heart (within his thoughts and with his will) "there is no God" (or "God is not"). But these fools are corrupt, decaying, proceeding to ruin and destruction; their unjust and unrighteous actions are unequivocally detestable, loathsome, thoroughly disagreeable, and abhorrent; there is not one of them that does good."

The Lord of glory is, and shall forever be; and only the foolish know this not.

“21 For His eyes are upon the ways of a man, and He seeth all his goings. 22 There is no darkness, nor shadow of death, where the workers of iniquity may hide themselves.” (Job 34:21-22 JPS).

“6 How great are Thy works, O LORD! Thy thoughts are very deep. 7 A brutish man knoweth not, neither doth a fool understand this. 8 When the wicked spring up as the grass, and when all the workers of iniquity do flourish; it is that they may be destroyed for ever.” (Ps 92:6-8 JPS).

“Where [is] the wise? where [is] the scribe? where [is] the disputer of this world? hath not God made foolish the wisdom of this world?” (1Co 1:20 AV).

Those who trust solely in the Lord for righteousness seem foolish to those of the world; but that trust makes them in truth the wise ones, and they have the sure blessing of the Lord. It is far better to receive the embodied instruction of a Maschil than to remain in sin, and truly be a fool. Even when conditions seem completely against us and we are weak and afraid, the Lord remains faithful because the righteousness he sees in us is from him, not from us. The Maschil shows both the joy of our comfort, and our call when we are weak.

“1 [A Psalm] of David. Maschil. Happy is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is pardoned. 2 Happy is the man unto whom the LORD counteth not iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no guile.” (Ps 32:1-2 JPS).

“BOOK II. 1 For the Leader; Maschil of the sons of Korah. 2 As the hart panteth after the water brooks, so panteth my soul after Thee, O God.” (Ps 42:1-2 JPS).

“1 For the Leader; with string-music. Maschil of David. 2 Give ear, O God, to my prayer; and hide not Thyself from my supplication.” (Ps 55:1-2 JPS).

“1 A Song, a Psalm of the sons of Korah; for the Leader; upon Mahalath Leannoth. Maschil of Heman the Ezrahite. 2 O LORD, God of my salvation, what time I cry in the night before Thee, 3 Let my prayer come before Thee, incline Thine ear unto my cry. 4 For my soul is sated with troubles, and my life draweth nigh unto the grave.” (Ps 88:1-4 JPS).

“1 Maschil of Ethan the Ezrahite. 2 I will sing of the mercies of the LORD for ever; to all generations will I make known Thy faithfulness with my mouth.” (Ps 89:1-2 JPS).


Psalms 14:2-3 & 53:3-4 (JPS)

"14:2 The LORD looked forth from heaven upon the children of men, to see if there were any man of understanding, that did seek after God. 3 They are all corrupt, they are together become impure; there is none that doeth good, no, not one."

"53:3 God looked forth from heaven upon the children of men, to see if there were any man of understanding, that did seek after God. 4 Every one of them is unclean, they are together become impure; there is none that doeth good, no, not one."

COMMENTS: If the Godless seek for support of their denial of God, from men all around the world, they will readily find it in abundance. But this is not because the proof of creation itself does not shout the truth to them. It is rather because they all have become dull of hearing and blind to see, through rejection of the Creator, who would otherwise become their redeemer. And that is the natural state of every man through Adam. So, as God looks from heaven, he sees the true condition of man: that all need a Savior.

“And God saw the earth, and, behold, it was corrupt; for all flesh had corrupted their way upon the earth.” (Ge 6:12 JPS).

“1 A Psalm of David. O LORD, hear my prayer, give ear to my supplications; in Thy faithfulness answer me, and in Thy righteousness. 2 And enter not into judgment with Thy servant; for in Thy sight shall no man living be justified.” (Ps 143:1-2 JPS).

“Who can say: ‘I have made my heart clean, I am pure from my sin’?” (Pr 20:9 JPS).

“If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” (1Jo 1:8 AV).

"9 What then? are we better [than they]? No, in no wise: for we have before proved both Jews and Gentiles, that they are all under sin; 10 As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one: 11 There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God. 12 They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one.” (Ro 3:9-12 AV).

“But the scripture hath concluded all under sin, that the promise by faith of Jesus Christ might be given to them that believe.” Ga 3:22 AV).


Psalms 14:4 & 53:5 (JPS)

"14:4 Shall not all the workers of iniquity know it, who eat up My people as they eat bread, and call not upon the LORD?"

"53:5 Shall not the workers of iniquity know it, who eat up My people as they eat bread, and call not upon God?"

COMMENTS: the JPS says "shall" they not know, the English translation of the LXX says "will" they not know, and various others say "have" they no knowledge? I especially like the JPS here, because it emphasizes the certainty that awaits the scoffer of God, and this becomes clear in the next verse of Psalms 14 & 53. For any who will accept the truth, other scripture leaves no doubt that God exists and he will act.

“See now that I, even I, am He, and there is no god with Me; I kill, and I make alive; I have wounded, and I heal; and there is none that can deliver out of My hand.” (De 32:39 JPS).

“These things hast thou done, and should I have kept silence? Thou hadst thought that I was altogether such a one as thyself; but I will reprove thee, and set the cause before thine eyes.” (Ps 50:21 JPS).

“For there is not a word in my tongue, but, lo, O LORD, Thou knowest it altogether.” (Ps 139:4 JPS).

“Declare ye, and bring them near, yea, let them take counsel together: Who hath announced this from ancient time, and declared it of old? Have not I the LORD? And there is no God else beside Me, a just God and a Saviour; there is none beside Me.” (Isa 45:21 JPS).


Psalms 14:5-6 & 53:6 (JPS)

"14:5 There are they in great fear; for God is with the righteous generation. 6 Ye would put to shame the counsel of the poor, but the LORD is his refuge."

"53:6 There are they in great fear, where no fear was; for God hath scattered the bones of him that encampeth against thee; Thou hast put them to shame, because God hath rejected them."

COMMENTS: Those who show no fear as they reject an omnipotent and awesome God now will see terror in the end, with no refuge. They mocked the counsel of the Lord that comforts the poor and the weak; but God will reject them utterly and display the folly of their own counsel.

“1 [A Psalm] of David. Fret not thyself because of evil-doers, neither be thou envious against them that work unrighteousness. 2 For they shall soon wither like the grass, and fade as the green herb.” (Ps 37:1-2 JPS).

“For evil-doers shall be cut off; but those that wait for the LORD, they shall inherit the land.” (Ps 37:9 JPS).

“Sing unto the LORD, praise ye the LORD; for He hath delivered the soul of the needy from the hand of evil-doers.” (Jer 20:13 JPS).

“10 The LORD bringeth the counsel of the nations to nought; He maketh the thoughts of the peoples to be of no effect. 11 The counsel of the LORD standeth for ever, the thoughts of His heart to all generations.” (Ps 33:10-11 JPS).

“There are many devices in a man’s heart; but the counsel of the LORD, that shall stand.” (Pr 19:21 JPS).

“There is no wisdom nor understanding nor counsel against the LORD.” (Pr 21:30 JPS).

“Woe unto them that seek deep to hide their counsel from the LORD, and their works are in the dark, and they say: ‘Who seeth us? and who knoweth us?’” (Isa 29:15 JPS).

“Woe to the rebellious children, saith the LORD, that take counsel, but not of me; and that cover with a covering, but not of my spirit, that they may add sin to sin:” (Isa 30:1 AV).

“25 And there shall be signs in the sun, and in the moon, and in the stars; and upon the earth distress of nations, with perplexity; the sea and the waves roaring; 26 Men’s hearts failing them for fear, and for looking after those things which are coming on the earth: for the powers of heaven shall be shaken. 27 And then shall they see the Son of man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.” (Lu 21:25-27 AV).


Psalms 14:7 & 53:7 (JPS)

"14:7 Oh that the salvation of Israel were come out of Zion! When the LORD turneth the captivity of His people, let Jacob rejoice, let Israel be glad."

"53:7 Oh that the salvation of Israel were come out of Zion! When God turneth the captivity of His people, let Jacob rejoice, let Israel be glad."

COMMENTS: The Lord has determined that salvation does indeed come out of Zion, and his mercy has extended to even the gentile. “2 The LORD hath made known His salvation; His righteousness hath He revealed in the sight of the nations. 3 He hath remembered His mercy and His faithfulness toward the house of Israel; all the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of our God.” (Ps 98:2-3 JPS).

“I bring near My righteousness, it shall not be far off, and My salvation shall not tarry; and I will place salvation in Zion for Israel My glory.” (Isa 46:13 JPS).

“Yea, He saith: ‘It is too light a thing that thou shouldest be My servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob, and to restore the offspring of Israel; I will also give thee for a light of the nations, that My salvation may be unto the end of the earth.’” (Isa 49:6 JPS).

“Behold, the LORD hath proclaimed unto the end of the earth: say ye to the daughter of Zion: ‘Behold, thy salvation cometh; behold, His reward is with Him, and His recompense before Him.’” (Isa 62:11 JPS).

“Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion, shout, O daughter of Jerusalem; behold, thy king cometh unto thee, he is triumphant, and victorious, lowly, and riding upon an ass, even upon a colt the foal of an ass.” (Zec 9:9 JPS).

“And they brought him to Jesus: and they cast their garments upon the colt, and they set Jesus thereon.” (Lu 19:35 AV).

The most grievous captivity is not that which is perpetrated by other men. "And the LORD turned the captivity of Job, when he prayed for his friends: also the LORD gave Job twice as much as he had before.” (Job 42:10 AV). Job was released from the captivity of his suffering. And Jesus spoke to religious leaders who thought they were free, yet were in bondage they could not hope to break on their own. Paul also draws attention to such bondage, and freedom from the bondage of sin leads to life eternal.

“33 They answered him, We be Abraham’s seed, and were never in bondage to any man: how sayest thou, Ye shall be made free? 34 Jesus answered them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Whosoever committeth sin is the servant of sin. 35 And the servant abideth not in the house for ever: [but] the Son abideth ever. 36 If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed.” (Joh 8:33-36 AV).

“16 Know ye not, that to whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants ye are to whom ye obey; whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness? 17 But God be thanked, that ye were the servants of sin, but ye have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered you. 18 Being then made free from sin, ye became the servants of righteousness.” (Ro 6:16-18 AV).

“But now being made free from sin, and become servants to God, ye have your fruit unto holiness, and the end everlasting life.” (Ro 6:22 AV).

Christ destroyed the sting of death on the cross, and thereby lead those righteous in him, out of captivity to the gift of eternal life.

“Thou hast ascended on high, thou hast led captivity captive: thou hast received gifts for men; yea, [for] the rebellious also, that the LORD God might dwell [among them].” (Ps 68:18 AV).

“Wherefore he saith, When he ascended up on high, he led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men.” (Eph 4:8 AV).

This freedom from captivity will lead all in Christ, Jew and gentile alike, to rejoice and be glad. And we don't base this sure hope on the conditions we see all around the world, but we base it on our great, awesome, and faithful God whose love endures forever!

“(40-17) Let all those that seek Thee rejoice and be glad in Thee; let such as love Thy salvation say continually: ‘The LORD be magnified.’” (Ps 40:16 JPS).

“8 He will swallow up death for ever; and the Lord GOD will wipe away tears from off all faces; and the reproach of His people will He take away from off all the earth; for the LORD hath spoken it. 9 And it shall be said in that day: ‘Lo, this is our God, for whom we waited, that He might save us; this is the LORD, for whom we waited, we will be glad and rejoice in His salvation.’” (Isa 25:8-9 JPS).

“But rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ’s sufferings; that, when his glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy.” (1Pe 4:13 AV).

“If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable.” (1Co 15:19 AV).

“Let us be glad and rejoice, and give honour to him: for the marriage of the Lamb is come, and his wife hath made herself ready.” (Re 19:7 AV).

“And, behold, I come quickly; and my reward [is] with me, to give every man according as his work shall be.” (Re 22:12 AV).

“He which testifieth these things saith, Surely I come quickly. Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus.” (Re 22:20 AV).


-- Reflections in prayer --

O Lord, it is only those who are senseless and without judgment who would willfully say that God is not. They may pridefully believe they have great wisdom, but they are bound for destruction because their attitude of heart is despicable and loathsome to you. When you view man THROUGH your righteous holiness, who AMONG men could possibly even approach that standard of perfection? All of us in Adam's race are sinful and need your faithful righteousness to escape judgment. The workers of iniquity who have scoffed at your authority shall certainly know that you are God, for their mistreatment of the righteous will be recompensed. They may be bold now, and show no fear for their actions; but they will be terrified when you call them to account. You set your name in Zion with a temple to draw all men to yourself, and by your divine will you sent our Savior there to pay the penalty for sin. When Jesus returns to Jerusalem, all who love your appearing will be glad and rejoice. Come quickly Lord Jesus!

Published 15 November 2004