Psalm 12 – The Words of Man and the Word of God
The title of this psalm reads, To the Chief Musician. On an eight-stringed harp. A Psalm of David. The title is like many others in this general section of psalms, simply stating the audience, the instrument, and the author of the psalm. In this psalm David complains about the vicious words of his adversaries, and in contrast praises the pure and precious word of God.
A. The problem of flattering lips.
1. (1-2) The disappearance of the godly man and his unfortunate replacement.
Help, LORD, for the godly man ceases!
For the faithful disappear from among the sons of men.
They speak idly everyone with his neighbor;
With flattering lips and a double heart they speak.
a. Help, LORD, for the godly man ceases: The exact circumstances under which David wrote this psalm are unknown, and it could have been during many different periods in his life. David knew what it was like to feel that the faithful disappear from among the sons of men.
i. David was a warrior and a fierce soldier, but we see here that he also had to deal with the battles of gossip and the backbiting of idle and deceptive talkers. David knew what it was like to feel all alone in this kind of battle, where it seemed that no one would speak up and defend him. Instead, he took his case to the LORD. We sense that David probably would have preferred to battle with swords and shields than among the gossips and backbiters surrounding him.
b. With flattering lips and a double heart they speak: Instead of the godly man, David saw around him those who spoke with idle chatter (they speak idly everyone with his neighbor), and who were two-faced liars (flattering lips…a double heart).
i. This psalm may have come from the time in David’s life when he was in the court of King Saul, but was a target for the mad jealousy of the king. We can easily imagine a vicious whispering campaign against David among those who wanted to gain favor with the misguided king.
ii. The essence of flattering lips is that they say what people want to hear. There are many such talkers today, even within the church – those who know the right answer for every occasion but speak with no honesty or transparency of heart. They constantly speak what people hope to hear or what is assumed to be proper instead of their true thoughts, feelings, and deeds.
iii. “Daniel says that flattery will be a tool of that wicked world ruler who will arise at the last day (Daniel 11:32).” (Boice)
iv. “‘They speak with a double heart.’ The original is, ‘A heart and a heart’: one for the church, another for the change; one for Sundays, another for working-days; one for the king, another for the pope. A man without a heart is a wonder, but a man with two hearts is a monster.” (Thomas Adams, cited in Spurgeon)
2. (3-5) A plea for God to judge those who speak wickedly.
May the LORD cut off all flattering lips,
And the tongue that speaks proud things,
Who have said,
“With our tongue we will prevail;
Our lips are our own;
Who is lord over us?”
“For the oppression of the poor, for the sighing of the needy,
Now I will arise,” says the LORD;
“I will set him in the safety for which he yearns.”
a. May the LORD cut off all flattering lips: David felt somewhat helpless against these destructive chatterers; he found his refuge in the LORD, to whom he appealed to cut off…the tongue that speaks proud things.
i. Benjamin Franklin once wrote, “Since I cannot govern my own tongue, tho’ within my own teeth, how can I hope to govern the tongues of others?” David felt this same frustration with the idle and destructive tongues of others.
ii. “Better to have the tongue touched with a live coal from the altar than cut out.” (Maclaren)
b. With our tongue we will prevail…Who is lord over us? David despised these destructive tongues, not only for what they said, but also for the pride that made them so difficult to stop. It was as if they freely said, “You can never make us stop talking as we please.”
i. “With our tongues we will prevail; by raising and spreading slanders and evil reports concerning him, whereby both Saul will be highly and implacably enraged against David, and the hearts of the people alienated from him.” (Poole)
ii. For the one who professes to be a follower of Jesus Christ, there is only one answer to this question, Who is lord over us? Jesus Christ is our Lord, and He owns us body, soul, and spirit. We are bought with a price and are therefore obligated to glorify God in our bodies, including our lips and tongue (1 Corinthians 6:20).
c. Now I will arise: These destructive talkers spoke as they pleased, but they could not stop the LORD God from speaking as He pleased. In a wonderful and dramatic way, the LORD announced that He would act on behalf of the poor and needy victimized by these proud, unstoppable talkers.
i. “Think of God arising in his might. When he ariseth, he shakes terribly the earth; nothing stands before him when he once arises. Poor, sick, needy, sorrowing, sighing child of God, it is you who can bring him into this marvellous state of activity.” (Spurgeon)
d. I will set him in the safety for which he yearns: David believed that this was God’s word for him. He was one of the poor and needy yearning for safety from these destructive critics and talkers.
B. The words of God and the wickedness of men.
1. (6-7) The pure words of the LORD.
The words of the LORD are pure words,
Like silver tried in a furnace of earth,
Purified seven times.
You shall keep them, O LORD,
You shall preserve them from this generation forever.
a. The words of the LORD are pure words: In contrast to the idle, two-faced, lying, and proud lips of David’s adversaries, God’s words are pure, as if they were fine silver…purified seven times.
i. “What a contrast between the vain words of man, and the pure words of Jehovah. Man’s words are yea and nay, but the Lord’s promises are yea and amen.” (Spurgeon)
ii. “The words of Jehovah are holy in his precepts, just in his laws, gracious in his promises, significant in his institutions, true in his narrations, and infallible in his predictions. What are thousands of gold and silver compared to the treasures of the sacred page!” (Horne)
iii. This means that the word of God can be trusted in every sense. It is good, pure, and tested thoroughly. We can trust that God has tested His own word; but it has also been tested by students, scholars, critics, and doubters through the centuries – and the word of God still stands. It is like a mighty anvil that has worn out countless hammers that have pounded upon it.
iv. “The Bible has passed through the furnace of persecution, literary criticism, philosophic doubt, and scientific discovery, and has lost nothing but those human interpretations which clung to it as alloy to precious ore. The experience of saints has tried it in every conceivable manner, but not a single doctrine or promise has been consumed in the most excessive heat.” (Spurgeon)
v. “After more than two centuries of facing the heaviest guns that could be brought to bear, the Bible has survived – and is perhaps the better for the siege. Even on the critics’ own terms – historical fact – the Scriptures seem more acceptable now than when the rationalists began the attack.” (Time Magazine, cited in Boice)
vi. “Do sinners talk of vanity? Let saints then speak of Jesus and his gospel. Do they talk impure words? Then let the faithful use the pure words of God, which like silver, the more used, the more melted in the fire, the more precious will they be.” (Robert Hawker, cited in Spurgeon)
vii. “As silver enriches its owner, so does the Word of God enrich its lovers. Nothing so strengthens the intellect, clears the judgment, enlarges the views, purifies the taste, quickens the imagination, and educates the whole man.” (Meyer)
b. You shall keep them, O LORD, You shall preserve them: This was David’s declaration of confidence in God’s ability to preserve His own words. He did not only give His word to mankind; His providential hand has protected the existence and integrity of His word through the centuries.
i. There are some manuscripts and Bible translations that render this You shall keep us, O LORD, You shall preserve us. Yet, according to VanGemeren, there is legitimate manuscript support for the rendering You shall keep them…You shall preserve them. We can take it as true that God will keep and preserve both His Word and His people.
ii. “The psalmist breaks out into praise of the purity of His words, and declares that Jehovah will ‘keep them,’ and ‘preserve them.’ The ‘them’ refers to the words. There is no promise made of widespread revival or renewal. It is the salvation of a remnant and the preservation of His own words which Jehovah promises.” (Morgan)
iii. God has kept and will keep and preserve His Word. “The French atheist Voltaire…once said, ‘In twenty years Christianity will be no more. My single hand shall destroy the edifice it took twelve apostles to rear.’ He wrote that in fifty years no one would remember Christianity. But in the year he wrote that, the British Museum paid the Russian government five hundred thousand dollars for a Bible manuscript while one of Voltaire’s books was selling in the London book stalls for just eight cents.” (Boice)
iv. “Give up no line of God’s revelation…. Brethren, we cannot endure this shifty theology. May God send us a race of men who have backbones! Men who believe something, and would die for what they believe. This Book deserves the sacrifice of our all for the maintenance of every line of it.” (Spurgeon)
2. (8) The way of the wicked.
The wicked prowl on every side,
When vileness is exalted among the sons of men.
a. The wicked prowl on every side: David knew that the existence and exaltation of God’s pure word would not eliminate the wicked. They would still exist and prowl on every side as they could, but never with the assurance of final victory.
i. “Here we return to the fount of bitterness, which first made the Psalmist run to the wells of salvation, namely, the prevalence of wickedness.” (Spurgeon)
b. When vileness is exalted among the sons of men: We might feel that this psalm ends on a sad, depressing note. Yet David was utterly realistic in his outlook. He knew that even with the precious and pure word of God available to men, many of the sons of men would still prefer that vileness is exalted.
i. “If ‘vileness is set on high among the sons of men,’ it is because the sons of men prefer it to the stern purity of goodness. A corrupt people will crown corrupt men and put them aloft.” (Maclaren)
ii. We might say that David almost left it as a challenge. Let the sons of men exalt vileness; he would exalt the pure and precious word of God. Eventually all would see the winner of this contest. Let these wicked men do their worst – God helping him, David would do his best and see the victory of the LORD.
(c) 2020 The Enduring Word Bible Commentary by David Guzik – firstname.lastname@example.org