David seems to create an impossible scenario in Psalm 14. In one verse he writes, All have turned aside – meaning all have turned away from God. And yet, later he also writes, God is present in the company of the righteous. How is this possible?
If everyone has turned away from God, then how can there also be righteous people among whom God dwells?
Is there a mistake?
Did David mess up?
Or did something, literally, get lost in the translation?
If so, it wouldn’t be the first time.
Psalm 14 14:1-7 pp — Ps 53:1-6 For the director of music. Of David Ps 14:1 The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.” They are corrupt, their deeds are vile; there is no one who does good. Ps 14:2 The LORD looks down from heaven on the sons of men to see if there are any who understand, any who seek God. Ps 14:3 All have turned aside, they have together become corrupt; there is no one who does good, not even one. Ps 14:4 Will evildoers never learn— those who devour my people as men eat bread and who do not call on the LORD? Ps 14:5 There they are, overwhelmed with dread, for God is present in the company of the righteous. Ps 14:6 You evildoers frustrate the plans of the poor, but the LORD is their refuge. Ps 14:7 Oh, that salvation for Israel would come out of Zion! When the LORD restores the fortunes of his people, let Jacob rejoice and Israel be glad!
What does the Psalm appear to say?
It seems like a very straightforward Psalm. Short and to the point.
- The fool says there’s no God, is corrupt and vile. No one does good.
- God looks down at people for anyone who looks for Him
- Everyone has turned from God. No one does good.
- A question is asked – Will evil people ever learn?
- Those people are full of dread because God is with the righteous.
- Evil people are against the poor. But the poor take refuge in God.
- God will restore the fortunes of His people.
Is that really what this Psalm says?
But it’s not really as straightforward as it seems. Especially not to Christians. And especially not thousands of years removed from the time, language, culture, and religion of David.
And that’s how we could read Psalm 14 and think David’s saying everyone has turned their backs on God.
One key is in verse 2.
Who is God looking at – and how?
I’m using the 1984 NIV translation above, where it says:
Ps 14:2 The LORD looks down from heaven
on the sons of men
to see if there are any who understand,
any who seek God.
It says God looks at the “sons of men“. That sounds like all of us, doesn’t it?
Making the case for it being everyone is the 2010 NIV translation, which now says:
Ps 14:2 The LORD looks down from heaven
on all mankind
to see if there are any who understand,
any who seek God. 1
How could it be anything but everyone with that translation?
The Hebrew words, literally, could mean either one. However, there are two words, and they don’t one-for-one match up with “all mankind”. Here they are:
1121 בֵּן, בְּנׄו, לַבֵּן [ben /bane/] n m. From 1129; TWOT 254; GK 1201 and 1217 and 4240; 4906 occurrences; AV translates as “son” 2978 times, “children” 1568 times, “old” 135 times, “first” 51 times, “man” 20 times, “young” 18 times, “young + 1241” 17 times, “child” 10 times, “stranger” 10 times, “people” five times, and translated miscellaneously 92 times. 1 son, grandson, child, member of a group. 1A son, male child. 1B grandson. 1C children (pl.—male and female). 1D youth, young men (pl.). 1E young (of animals). 1F sons (as characterisation, ie sons of injustice [for un- righteous men] or sons of God [for angels]. 1G people (of a nation) (pl.). 1H of lifeless things, ie sparks, stars, arrows (fig.). 1I a member of a guild, order, class. 2
120 אָדָם, אָדָם, אָדָם [ʾadam /aw·dawm/] n m. From 119; TWOT 25a; GK 132 and 133 and 135; 552 occurrences; AV translates as “man” 408 times, “men” 121 times, “Adam” 13 times, “person(s)” eight times, “common sort + 7230” once, and “hypocrite” once. 1 man, mankind. 1A man, human being. 1B man, mankind (much more frequently intended sense in OT). 1C Adam, first man. 1D city in Jordan valley. 3
You can see, something like son of man is the more common interpretation/translation. However, there’s still a possibility that it could mean all mankind. To try to resolve that, let’s look at the context.
Some context as to who God is looking at – and how
For context, let’s look at verse 5.
Ps 14:5 There they are, overwhelmed with dread,
for God is present in the company of the righteous.
This verse says God is with the righteous. Of course, this is part of the problem. If no one is good, how can God be with the righteous?
No one is good
This is also where Christians can have trouble. After all, we remember that Jesus said no one is good except God alone.
The Rich Young Man – Mark
10:17-31 pp — Mt 19:16-30; Lk 18:18-30
Mk 10:17 As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. “Good teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
Mk 10:18 “Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone. 19 You know the commandments: ‘Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, do not defraud, honor your father and mother.’’”
Mk 10:20 “Teacher,” he declared, “all these I have kept since I was a boy.”
Mk 10:21 Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”
Mk 10:22 At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth.
Mk 10:23 Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!”
Mk 10:24 The disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said again, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! 25 It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”
Mk 10:26 The disciples were even more amazed, and said to each other, “Who then can be saved?”
Mk 10:27 Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.”
Mk 10:28 Peter said to him, “We have left everything to follow you!”
Mk 10:29 “I tell you the truth,” Jesus replied, “no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel 30 will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age (homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields—and with them, persecutions) and in the age to come, eternal life. 31 But many who are first will be last, and the last first.”
Mk 10:18 “Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone.
And that’s the source of our potential problem. If no one is good – then who is God with here on earth? Very messy!
Of course, we know the answer. But do we remember? Or, as I often ask in cases like this, do we want there to be a problem – or do we want to resolve apparent discrepancies?
So let’s look to another Psalm that David wrote. Something David knew. Something we know. And something that resolves the apparent conflict.
Ps 103:12 as far as the east is from the west,
so far has he removed our transgressions from us.
For Christians, this means God sees us as perfect, when we truly try to follow Jesus. And so, in His eyes, we are righteous, even though we actually aren’t. It’s all about what’s in our hearts.
Conclusion – Psalm 14 – Has everyone really turned away from God?
So, has everyone really turned away from God?
No. Not at all. This Psalm addresses two different groups of people.
In Old Testament times, the righteous, the sons of God, were those who “feared God”. Meaning those who were in awe of God. Those who were truly sorry when they sinned against The Lord. And made sacrifices when they sinned.
The “sons of men” were everyone else.
In New Testament times, now, the sons of God are those who truly try to follow Jesus. Who God sees as righteous.
And the “sons of men” are everyone else.
So – no, not everyone has turned away from God.
However, the Bible tells us that it’s also true that not everyone who claims/thinks they are following Jesus actually are doing that. Further, the results of not following Jesus, even if we claim to be doing that, are catastrophic.
The Parable of the Wedding Banquet – Matthew
22:2-14 Ref—Lk 14:16-24
Mt 22:1 Jesus spoke to them again in parables, saying: 2 “The kingdom of heaven is like a king who prepared a wedding banquet for his son. 3 He sent his servants to those who had been invited to the banquet to tell them to come, but they refused to come.
Mt 22:4 “Then he sent some more servants and said, ‘Tell those who have been invited that I have prepared my dinner: My oxen and fattened cattle have been butchered, and everything is ready. Come to the wedding banquet.’
Mt 22:5 “But they paid no attention and went off—one to his field, another to his business. 6 The rest seized his servants, mistreated them and killed them. 7 The king was enraged. He sent his army and destroyed those murderers and burned their city.
Mt 22:8 “Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding banquet is ready, but those I invited did not deserve to come. 9 Go to the street corners and invite to the banquet anyone you find.’ 10 So the servants went out into the streets and gathered all the people they could find, both good and bad, and the wedding hall was filled with guests.
Mt 22:11 “But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing wedding clothes. 12 ‘Friend,’ he asked, ‘how did you get in here without wedding clothes?’ The man was speechless.
Mt 22:13 “Then the king told the attendants, ‘Tie him hand and foot, and throw him outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’
Mt 22:14 “For many are invited, but few are chosen.”
Yes – there will be surprises. Let’s not be one of those who get surprised and end up weeping and gnashing our teeth.
I invite you to check out the item below for a deeper look into one way that can happen.
Image by F. Muhammad from Pixabay
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