The Depravity of Man Page 3 of 3 (series: Lessons on Psalms)

by John Lowe
(Woodruff, S.C.)

4 Have all the workers of iniquity no knowledge, Who eat up my people as they eat bread, And do not call on the Lord?

It is God who asks this question. True knowledge, says God, would stop them from living out their lives within that vicious circle of sin and rebellion, and would induce them to call on the Lord to do for them what they cannot do for themselves.

Their ignorance is apparent in the way they treat God’s people. To eat up my people as they eat bread is a biblical metaphor for exploiting the helpless. If they realized how God defends the poor and punishes sin, they would never devour believers as if it were a legitimate, everyday thing, like eating bread! If they knew the goodness and severity of God, they would not go through life without praying. They are oblivious to the fact that God will overwhelm them, because in attacking the people of God they are attacking God.

The workers of iniquity may denote the corruption of the priesthood. Those who lack knowledge of God are perhaps the priests, who eat the showbread and should call upon God. Instead they are becoming workers of inequity. Instead of leading God’s people, they devour them.

5 There they are in great fear, For God is with the generation of the righteous.

There they are in great fear. Their conduct reveals indifference, rather than ignorance of God; for when He appears in judgment, they are stricken with great fear.

For God is with the generation of the righteous. David expressed wonder that they did not see how God favored the righteous.

6 You shame the counsel of the poor, But the Lord is his refuge.
When the Lord takes the part of the innocent, the unrighteous will be greatly terrified.

They had always mocked the poor for their simple faith, but now they will see that the God they denied is the refuge of His own. No scheming or counterattacks of the wicked can deprive the poor (meaning here those who are oppressed by the world), from finding refuge in the Lord. They may frustrate the lives of God’s’ people (the poor) for a time, but those people will be vindicated because they trust the Lord.

7 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.

Oh, that the salvation of Israel would come out of Zion! Zion is the place on earth where God was pleased to reveal His presence, protection, and power (Psalms 3:4; 20:2; 128:5; 132:13; 134:3). The word salvation occurs frequently in the Psalms. While Christians define salvation primarily as deliverance from sin, the psalmist would have understood it primarily in its Old Testament sense of deliverance from earthly danger. David longed for the day when God would bring final victory to His people (Eze. 11:17). The great triumphs of Zion’s King

will be the joys of Zion’s children. The second coming of Christ to finally do away with the dominion of sin and Satan will be the completing of this salvation which is the hope, and will be the joy of every Israelite, and of every child of God.

Once this poem had been added to Israel’s “hymn book,” worshippers could apply its promises to any of the catastrophic situations they themselves had to live through down through the centuries. They found strength from this psalm to be sure that God would surely rehabilitate (restore the fortunes of) His people. There were civil wars in the days of the kings of Israel, and there were wars with neighboring Syria. There was the destruction in 722 B.C. of the northern capital, Samaria. There was the shattering experience of 587 B.C. when the greater part of the covenant people were taken off into exile in Babylon. But right up to this day the promise and hope of this psalm applies, as countless Jews and Christians alike can amply testify.

Psalm 14 can also be viewed as being descriptive of the nation of Israel in David’s day, and the priesthood in particular. There were times when the Judean community became unspeakably corrupt, and when Zion, its spiritual center, was destitute of any responsible directive influence because its priesthood was degenerate. Malachi’s criticism of the priesthood of his day (Mal. 1:6-2:9) is a case in point. David vividly pictures the Lord from His exalted heavenly throne looking down upon Israel to convince Himself that the situation of his people is sufficiently serious to demand His interference. The psalm reminds us of Hosea’s penetrating criticism of the priesthood of pre-exilic Israel, who had “forgotten the teaching of God” and “set their heart on their inequity” (Hos. 4:6, 8{3)). It likewise recalls Malachi’s charge that the priesthood of the fifth century B.C. had corrupted the Levitical (priestly) covenant (Mal. 2:8{1)). The psalmist points out the faults of the priests. They are themselves wicked men, and their conduct puts stumbling blocks in the path of the common people who look to them for spiritual leadership. They secure their livelihood from the sacrificial offerings, “the bread of God,” presented at the Temple by the people, but they actually are profane men and godless. And they will be rejected, humiliated, and destroyed by the Lord. The psalmist is convinced that only God can bring about a change in Israel’s lot by which the now backslidden community will become a righteous people. And he thinks this turn in fortunes must originate in Zion, where the Lord dwells. The implication is that a transformed Temple priesthood, calling upon God’s name, teaching the people the true nature of God (Mal. 2:6), and turning them from iniquity, can prepare the ground spiritually for this great consummation.

{1) But you have departed from the way; You have caused many to stumble at the law. You have corrupted the covenant of Levi," Says the Lord of hosts.

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