Who is this passage speaking to? A very important question. In fact, one of the most important questions that will shape our understanding of the passage and the understanding of ourselves. Calvin says that the Jews applied this passage to their journey in exile. They understood themselves to be God’s chosen and the wicked sinners spoken of applied to the gentile nations persecuting them. However, Paul cites this passage in Romans 3. Under inspiration the apostle applied the passage to all that “all the world may become guilty before God”. So, the answer to this first question is presently applicable to everyone reading this today. We are the subject of this passage. Listen carefully how the Bible will reveal the real state of ourselves.
“The fool” that is spoken of here in light of verse one is the unregerate man. He is brutish, ignorant, and blind in spiritual things. He is a madman. Hence Jesus’ statement that a man must be born again to see/enter the Kingdom of God. From a heavenly perspective, even the most learned, brilliant mind is considered foolish apart from the revelation of God. I think the illustration has been used before:
Consider a man in a dark cave. Only the hint of sunlight comes in, enough for the man to see vague images and shadows cast on the side of the cave wall. This is how he interprets his reality, through vague images and shadows. Of course, his interpretation of reality will be horribly skewed at best. Now place the man outside where the sunlight illuminates everything for what it really is. His worldview drastically changes based upon the light he has received. A fool thinks his dark perception in a dark cave is the only reality. We are fools to think our dark, limited perception of reality is the truth.
The fool hath said in his heart there is no god. Several more things here to be said. Notice the origin of this statement resides in the heart of the fool. I think the heart of presuppositional teaching (no pun intended) is that the heart motivates and colors the thinking. We always have a presupposition to which facts are interpreted through. The heart has sway over the mind. The Gospel’s power changes the heart.
The heart wants to be god. The heart wants to be subordinate to no one. The heart cherishes its own aims, pursuits, lusts, and gratifications. The heart of fallen men strikes out against anyone that infringes upon it. The heart of man is not free, it is in bondage by the consequence of the fall.
The thought that follows is that to deny God, is to deny Him as a person. This also results in practical atheism: to live according to the heart’s desire without fear of divine justice. John Gill suggests that to deny God here alludes to the denying the government structure of God as well as the personal nature. This fits well seeing that the fallen man wants to throw off any restraint and accountability of God in pursuit of its own lust.
“They are corrupt, they have done abominable works there is none that doth good.”
Evil folds in upon itself and grows in scope and intensity. This means that the corrupt seed in fallen man is capable or unspeakable horror. The corruption becomes more corrupt through our environment, influences, addictions, and infirmities. Each evil sows new evil and corruption increases. That is the reason it is possible to have various degrees of corruption among people. Be careful, bad company corrupts good manners, even in believers.
Proverbs 21:4 “An high look and a proud heart and the plowing of the wicked is a sin.”
Proverbs 15:8 “The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination to the Lord, but the prayer of the upright is his delight.”
Any work done outside the faith in Christ is an abomination to God. Let that sink in. Why? 1. Because righteousness, or merit cannot be earned with God. Self-righteousness is a sin. 2. Our works are tainted with pride and selfishness. 3. It the remote chance our works are not tainted or attempts of self-righteousness, then they are a product of the Spirit anyway. 4. Faith in Christ filters and purifies our works, making them acceptable and profitable for God.
“The Lord looked down from Heaven.”
A fearful thought. Historically, in scripture, whenever God is pictured looking from Heaven it is in reference to judgement. How can it be otherwise, given the state of man in the preceding verse. A quick review of scripture tells the tale: the judgement of God in the Garden, before the flood, before the destruction of Sodom, as it regards Egypt, and numerous judgments upon Israel. The only time God was pleased while looking down from Heaven was with His only begotten Son. God’s looks are to the very soul and heart. He views right into the motives and intents of men. We cannot hide from the eyes of God.
What did God look for? He looked to see if any that understood or sought after Him. This is the reading of verse 2. The answer was no. “they have all gone aside, they are all together become filthy, there is none that doeth good, no, not one.” What an indictment against men.
The what! Verse 3 begins by saying “they are all gone out of the way.” The distinguishing characteristic of the unbeliever is their avoidance of God. Notice that Adam right after the fall, hid himself from God in shame. The Psalmist and Apostle also state that men do not “seek after God”.
The why! “They have become filthy.” The fall has left men filthy. No wonder we hid ourselves in shame. Notice the response of men toward God: Adam hid, Moses had to take his shoes off, David desired purging, Isaiah said he was undone and had unclean lips, Job confessed he “abhorred” himself and repented in dust and ashes, Peter begged Christ to depart from him, John the Baptist noted he was not worth to loosen Christ’s shoes, and John the Revelator melted as a dead man in the presence of God. It seems men have a sense of their filth before God. Proverbs 19:3 “The foolishness of man perverteth his way: and his heart fretteth against the Lord.”
The outcome! There is none that is good. Not a one. We concluded that men in an unregenerate state, apart from Christ, are totally guilty before God.
In light of this teaching, I have some questions to ask:
How does this make you feel and think about yourself? Your works?
How does this make you think and feel about God?
Does this give you fear and a sense of hopelessness?
How does this make you view the redemption found in Christ?
Verse 4: This verse gives us several characteristics of the ungodly. The first thing is that they have no knowledge. I feel confident the text is referring to spiritual knowledge and no general knowledge. Of course, men in general have a sense of general knowledge. Common sense as it were. The writer is here talking about specific knowledge of God and spiritual things in general.
The next characteristic is they pursue to consume the people of God. As they hate God and do not want the retain God in their knowledge so even the very reflection of God in His people is enough to elicit the hatred of the wicked. They war and rage against the church in every age.
So, it follows that the church should take courage in persecutions of the wicked. Christ and the apostles bore persecution unto death. Are we better than they? Or are we better than the church in the wilderness?
Verse 5: I feel verse 5 follows the thought of verse 4. The ungodly hate and rail upon the church because of the image of God in them. This verse elaborates upon this thought. “God is in the generation of the Righteous.” Gill notes the reading as “of the righteous one”. This verse is a ray of hope and glorious tonic to the chapter so far. Let us look at the ramifications.
The Lord Jesus is the implication here. He is the righteous one, the only one. Up to this point the world stands condemned, guilty, filthy before God. Now we have a righteous person that is the spring of righteousness for His people. The doctrine is clear, God is present in Christ. Christ is our righteousness toward God. Men are justified only in Christ.
Because of Christ’s righteousness God is with us, “God is in the generation of the righteousness”. God is not with the church because of their good works, because they have none. God is not with the church because of theology, or sacrifice. God is with the church because of Christ.
The heathens hate the church because of Christ. Just as the church gives off the aroma of Christ’s good works that result in a sweet-smelling savor to God, the church is a savor of contempt to the wicked. To be persecuted by the world because Christ is to be loved of God because Christ. The first portion of the verse states the relationship of the wicked to the church: “there were they in great fear”. This fear is extracted by the church. Why? Because the church reminds them of God’s presence. As stated in verse 3, the wicked avoid God. The wicked avoid God because of a primal fear of His judgement upon their unrighteousness. The ungodly live in fear of God even though they deny Him. How sad to be under the condemnation of sin and facing the judgement of God. How sweet is Christ the refuge! Run and flee to Him and find everlasting atonement for the blackest, filthiest sin.
This is the counsel that is given to the poor persecuted church, to flee to God for their refuge. Trust in the work of Christ, the atonement for their sin at the cross. This message to the world is “foolishness” say the apostle. The wicked mock and scorn it. This leads directly to the thought of verse 6 “Ye have shamed the counsel of the poor, because the Lord is his refuge.”
The wicked shamed to poor church because that the counsel of the Spirit to them was to flee to God, for He is their refuge. I will add only one thought: the church is considered “poor” in the eyes of the world. Poor because of her temptations, afflictions, and trouble. Yet God esteems them rich and the princes of the kingdom. Don’t seek riches and ease and especially do not gauge your salvation based upon the measurements of the world. The world has regard to the rich, famous, and powerful as the blessed. God states the poor of this world, rich in faith, are the favored ones.
Verse 7: In conclusion the Psalmist prays. Notice the anticipation and theology of the petition. The psalmist longs for salvation. The distinctness of salvation has been discussed: salvation that is found in the refuge of the Righteous one. The writer understands this salvation (the Righteous One) will come out of Zion. From God’s chosen people comes His Messiah. Chosen people regarding His sovereignty and not their worth. Salvation comes to Israel. It is to be noted that Israel is to be saved. This Israel is established to be the spiritual body of believers and not the physical nation. This has been proven by Christ and by Paul. So, as we read this section, the view of the salvation of the church is in mind. Salvation not from physical bondage and nations, but from sin and depravity.
The writer understands this salvation to be in the future. He rejoices in the day that salvation is come to Jacob and Israel, i.e., the church. Salvation comes from Zion in the person of Christ. He is the liberator of His people!