The fool thinks there is no God.
“First one must note the remarkable fact that the existence of deity is never questioned in the Old Testament… . There were no atheists in ancient Israel, not even down to the latest times.”1 Thus begins the discussion of the existence of God in a standard and good treatment of the Old Testament understanding of God. Not surprisingly the author refers in this context to Psalm 14, which is found in an alternate form as Psalm 53, and its opening statement: “The fool says in his heart, There is no God;” or better, “The fool thinks there is no God.” That is certainly the word in this psalm that most immediately—and lastingly— catches one's attention as the psalm is read, heard, or studied. Nor can one avoid asking if we find any clue here to whether or not the issue of God's existence was present in any form in the biblical word or the mind of the biblical writers. In one sense the dictum I have quoted above is correct, but if one probes more deeply into this psalm and listens to other voices that resonate with it, the issue may be a little more complex than that.The word about the fool's hidden assumption that there is no God is not merely an introduction to the psalm. It is the controlling theme of the psalm as indicated by its poetic structure and content. Several features identify this as the dominating motif:
1. The lead verse of a psalm often sets up the primary subject matter, as, e.g., in Pss. 1:1; 8:1; 23:1; 42:1; 46:1; 67:2; 90:1; 97:1; 118:1; 121:1; 127:1; 133:1.

1. Robert Dentan, The Knowledge of God in Ancient Israel (New York: Seabury Press, 1968),


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Interpreting the Psalms


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