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Monday, July 15th, 2024
the Week of Proper 10 / Ordinary 15
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Bible Commentaries
Psalms 12

The Biblical IllustratorThe Biblical Illustrator

Verses 1-8

Psalms 12:1-8

Help, Lord; for the godly man ceaseth.

--This, according to the title, is one of David’s Psalms; but there is nothing in the circumstances, so far as we know them, of his history, which can lead us to associate the Psalm with any particular period. Tholuck thinks it is aimed at persons by whom David was surrounded in the court of Saul. Others suppose that it was occasioned by the treachery of the Ziphites (1 Samuel 23:19), or the treachery of Ahithophel, in Absalom’s rebellion. But it is not one or two prominent individuals whose conduct forms the burden of the Psalmist’s complaint. He is evidently smarting from the falseness and hypocrisy of the time. The defection which he deplores is a national defection. Like Elijah in the desert, he feels himself alone. A taint has spread through society. Falsehood is everywhere, truth nowhere. The heart of man is double; their lips are flattering lips (verse 8). And whilst they utter slander, hypocrisy, and lies, they boast of their power; and not only give their tongues licence, but justify the licence: “Our lips are our own; who is Lord over us?” Now this utter hollowness and insincerity are very hard to bear. The few who, in the midst of general corruption, still retain their integrity are persecuted, and sigh for deliverance. This deliverance is promised them in the form of the Divine interposition. The singer, filled with the spirit of prophecy, consoles himself, and those afflicted like himself, not in his own words but in the words of God (verse 6). And then, remembering how pure those words are, how unalterably true,--not like the words of men, which seem so fair, but are false,--he feels that there he can rest, calm in the conviction that, though the wicked walk on every side, Jehovah will save them that love Him from all their machinations (verse 8). The Psalm consists of two principal divisions.

A complaint (Psalms 17:1-4).

1. The cry for help, because good men are nowhere to be found; and lies, and flattery, and insincerity prevail.

2. The prayer that flatterers and liars may be destroyed (Psalms 17:3-4).

The answer to that complaint (Psalms 17:5-7). Including God’s promise of help in answer to the cry for help, and the Psalmist’s Amen, and the assurance and hope built upon the promise (Psalms 17:7-8). (J. J. Stewart Perowne, B. D.)

A prayer of David

to God, to save and help him, and keep him from the deceits and contagion of the wicked, of which the world is too full.

1. A prayer, and the reasons of it (Psalms 12:1-2). The petition is brief and jaculatory, for he breaks upon God with one word--Help, or Save. Of which he gives two reasons--

(1) The penury and scarcity of good men.

(2) The great abundance of the wicked, and the licentious times.

2. A prophecy of the fall of the wicked, whose arrogance he describes (Psalms 12:4). The prophecy shows what shall be the end of their dissembling.

3. God’s answer to David’s petition. Is it so that the wicked are thus numerous, thus tyrannous, so proud, so arrogant, then “I will arise”; “I will not delay”; “I will set him in safety.” That which moveth Me is his pitiful condition, his sighs and groans. Of this let no man doubt. In God’s words there is no fallacy.

4. A petitiory conclusion. “Keep them, O Lord.” Without God keep them, they will be infected. Keep them from this generation. For there be a generation of vipers. And ever make them persevere; for without Thy aid they will fall. (William Nicholson, D. D.)

Dark ages

The golden age of a country may be a dark age in the estimate of the saint. The true glory of a country is moral, and where the moral element is wanting all other glories are dim. Philosophers, poets, commanders, artists, orators, statesmen, millionaires, do not make a “Golden Age,” but the presence of many virtuous and godly men.

The faults with which a splendid civilisation may be chargeable.

1. Lack of faithfulness.

2. Untruthfulness.

3. Pride. “Talking big.”

4. Boasting.

5. Goodness is treated with contempt.

The duty of the Christian patriot.

1. To cry mightily to God against the prevailing wickedness.

2. To protest by word and act against this iniquity.

3. To rest, in days of triumphant wickedness, in the word and power of God.

4. To claim God’s promise, and keep himself unspotted from the world. (W. L. Watkinson.)

The moral degeneracy of society

The poem is a picture of a morally rotten age. The devout author felt himself living in corrupt times. Hence he notes this degeneracy--

As a fact for devout lamentation. He mourns because of three things--

1. The absence of the true. “The godly man ceaseth.”

2. The presence of the false, vain man,--“they speak vanity.” Obsequious men “flattering lips.” Insincere--“a double heart.” They spoke one thing and meant another. Proud--they spoke “proud things.” Cruel--“the oppression of the poor.” What a spectacle for a devout eye.

3. The exaltation of the vile. “The vilest men are exalted.”

As a reason for Divine interposition.

1. “Help, Lord.” So he prayed.

2. Divinely promised. “Now will I arise, saith the Lord.” This comes as an answer to the prayer. “Before they call I will answer.”

3. Heartily expected. “Thou shalt keep them, O Lord.

As suggesting by contrast the excellency of God’s Word. “The words of the Lord are pure words.” They are so for--

1. They are unmixed with falsehood; and

2. They have been thoroughly tested. “As silver tried in a furnace of earth,” etc. How thoroughly it has been tried these six thousand years, by persecution, by hostile criticism, by the profoundest experience of the good in all ages. (D. Thomas D. D.)

The degeneracy of a soul

“Help, Lord!” This is the wailing supplication of a soul oppressed with the degeneracy of society. It is a cry for security amid an evil epidemic. This Psalm marks off the steps of social degradation. We can see the progressive descents from the worship of God to the exaltation of vileness. Regard these stages of decline in their relationship to the individual. Society only reflects the individual man. Regard the passage as a vivid description of the degeneracy of a soul.

1. The decay of the sense of reverence. The beginning of degeneracy is to lose touch with God. We lose our touch with God when we cease to feel after Him. It is the effort to feel that preserves the sensitive touch.

2. The decay of the sense of honour. Faithfulness faileth, the dependableness of character is impaired. When reverence is benumbed, trustfulness is broken.

3. The decay of the sense of responsibility. “Our lips are our own; who is Lord over us? ‘ The perversion of honour destroys the sense of responsibility. Men become self-centred, and therefore blinded.

4. The decay of the sense of humanity. “The spoiling of the poor, the sighing of the needy.” Where irresponsibility reigns, cruelty abounds. The birth of cruelty synchronises with the death of reverence.

5. The decay of the sense of right. “Vileness is exalted.” This is the last stage of the appalling degradation. Evil at length becomes man’s good. He has lost his moral discernment. How can we be saved from this perilous decline? The wish to be saved is the beginning of salvation. Exercise thyself in feeling, and thou shalt become expert in touching. Everywhere and at all times be reaching out for God. Pray for Him everywhere. The good Lord is dependable; He is better than His word. (J. H. Jowett, M. A.)

The departure of spiritual worth lamented

This text is the language of feeling. But thought and feeling should not be placed in opposition to each other. They are mutually dependent. Thought without feeling would be powerless; feeling without thought would be wild, turbulent, and reckless.

Spiritual worth. The two words “godly” and “faithful” express this. They correspond with other Bible words, such as “devout” and “just.” They cover the two branches of human holiness, piety and morality. In what does spiritual worth consist? Every man sustains two fundamental relations: the one connecting him with God, the other with society. The individual man lives in the social. In the spiritual constitution of man there are two controlling tendencies corresponding to these relationships. These tendencies are designated the religious and social affections. The religious element is the soul of man’s soul; its perversion has been his degradation, and its right development is essential to his true elevation. The very constitution of the soul is theistic, the being of a God is implied in its structure, laws, and operations. The right state of these controlling tendencies constitutes spiritual worth. The right state of both is a state of love. Social morality springs out of piety. This worth enriches a man. It is valuable for its own sake. It is absolute worth. How is man to come into possession of it? This is the problem of life. All spiritual power we trace to the gospel. We would not depreciate other influences of spiritual culture.

Spiritual worth departed. Various ways in which spiritual worth departs from a community. Change of locality. Change of character. Change of worlds. What principles will regulate the circumstances of death in the case of individuals?

1. That death would be always peaceful in proportion to a man’s goodness.

2. That death would be postponed in proportion to a man’s usefulness. Actual experience controverts both these anticipations. The departure of spiritual worth lamented

It is the language of lamentation, “Help, Lord.”

1. Their departure is a great loss. Has death terminated their existence?

2. It is a loss to society.

3. The loss requires the interposition of God. The separation is material, not spiritual accidental, not essential. The mental bond is closer through the dissolution of the bodily. (D. Thomas, D. D.)

The death of the godly an incentive to prayer

Because there are so few of them in the world. Such men are the salt of the earth. God teaches us their worth by removing them from this world.

Their presence and service here seem essential to the cause of God.

1. On account of their example.

2. Their influence and usefulness.

Because it is so difficult to fill up their places.

The grace and providence of God suggest the only remedy--prayer. “Help, Lord,” etc. (Anon.)

The loss of godly men

The Psalm appears to have been composed in a time of great degeneracy and corruption of manners.

The important, useful, and amiable characters here specified. Godly and faithful. The word “godly” is sometimes translated “merciful.”

1. Consider godliness as a principle that comes from God, not in a natural but supernatural way. Holiness is the work of the Spirit of God. No man is godly but he in whom God has wrought a saving change, whose heart is turned from sin to God, from self to Christ, from earth to heaven. Wherein does godliness consist? Godliness is God’s likeness. Wherever that is, there is a supreme love to God. Every godly man loves God, not only because God is kind and bountiful to him, but because God is holy in Himself: He is a godly man who is a sincere and a constant worshipper of God. The love of a child to a parent is exemplified by his obedience. A child of God obeys his heavenly Father from love. Every godly man worships God in secret. Everyone who is godly professes a regard for the public worship of God, and makes conscience of attending it. A godly man is not free from frailties and infirmities. But his heart is habitually right in the sight of God, and his way of life prevailingly corresponds with his religious profession. Consider--

2. The other branch of the word godly, namely, merciful. (Isaiah 57:1) Merciful men are men of kindness such as show kindness. As they fear God, so they regard man. Happy for society when these two things are conjoined, a ready heart and a bountiful hand.

3. The faithful. The truly godly are faithful to God; and also faithful to men. Where godliness is, there will be honesty.

The great cause we have to deplore the loss of such persons. When David wrote, it was a time of abounding iniquity among all degrees of people, and there were very few to be found who preserved these characters. The ceasing and the failing of them is to be considered also descriptive of their dissolution. When the judgments of God are abroad in the earth, and a dark cloud hangs over a sinful kingdom, is there not cause to bewail the departure of such as were men of prayer and of a public spirit?

The duty of crying to God for help when such characters fail. Vain is the help of man. Our help is in the name of the Lord.

1. Let us pray that the Lord would help us to attend to such a speaking providence, and improve it to our spiritual advantage.

2. That the Lord would so help in the present exigence and trial as to raise up others to supply the place of such useful men. (Richard Winter.)

Times of spiritual dearth and solitude

In the days of Savonarola, Italy was abandoned to its passions, its corruptions, and its vices. The rich tyrannised over the poor, and the poor were miserable, helpless, and abandoned. The zealous monk found himself at war with the world and the Church, and was shocked by the profanations that existed around him. “There is no one,” he said, “not even one remaining, who desires that which is good; we must learn from children and women of low estate, for in them only yet remains any shadow of innocence. The good are oppressed, and the people of Italy are become like the Egyptians who held God’s people in bondage.”

Good men taken from the evil to come

Even as a careful mother, seeing her child in the way when a company of unruly horses run through the streets in full career, presently whips up her child in her arms and taketh him home; or as the hen, seeing the ravenous kite over her head, clucks and gathers her chickens under her wings; even so when God hath a purpose to bring a heavy calamity upon a land, it hath been usual with Him to call and cull out to Himself such as are His dearly beloved. He takes His choice servants from the evil to come. Thus was Augustine removed a little before Hippo (wherein he dwelt) was taken; Paroeus died before Heidelberg was sacked; and Luther was taken off before Germany was overrun with war and bloodshed. (E. Dunsterville.)

The faithful fail from among the children of men.

Our imperfect estimates

We must not accept the words of this Psalm as true because they happen to be written here or anywhere. It is perfectly possible for us to take an unwise and incorrect view of social conditions. David did not keep a register of all the “godly” and all the “faithful.” Another prophet said that he alone was left; the Lord corrected his estimate, and said, No, not alone; I have seven thousand who have never kissed the lips of Baal. It is unwise to take the opinion of dejectedness and forsakenness upon any topic. When we are in extreme positions, either of joy or of sadness, we are not qualified to pronounce broadly and correctly upon the whole scope of Divine Providence. In high joy, the glee that all but dances in the sanctuary, for very ecstasy of heart, we may think all men good, all causes excellent, all the features of the times beautiful. In dejection, despondency, orphanhood of heart, we may think we alone are left, and that the gift of prayer will perish with our breath. All things wear a sombre aspect; the whole year is one long November; the very music of childhood is but an aggravation of our suffering. That opinion must not be taken. Within the limits of the man’s own personality it is quite true, but no great generalisation must be built upon it. David did not know how many godly men there were in the world, nor how many faithful; but his experience is valuable up to this point, namely, that he felt everything of the nature of trust, confidence, progress depended upon the presence of godly and faithful elements in the world. That the population of the globe had increased was nothing to David, if the godliness and faithfulness of the community had gone down. (Joseph Parker, D. D.)

No trusting in men

To one reflecting that God’s kingdom of truth and righteousness in the earth is to be maintained through human agencies, it is a saddening sight to see one after another of its champions and defenders disappearing from the conflict. The sight often smites the heart of the survivor, as it would have smitten the heart of the Israelite to have seen David fall in his combat with Goliath. Few, indeed, are the communities, whether civil or ecclesiastical, whose histories do not exhibit epochs and closes in which their whole future well-being seemed to depend upon the life of a single man, or at most, upon the lives of a very small band. And when such men fall in the conflict, or depart hence in the course of nature, good men feel that society has suffered a loss that cannot be easily repaired. But how much more severely is the blow felt when the champions of a cause are lost to it, not by death, but by turning traitors; when a Judas betrays the Church, and an Arnold the State. Now it is in this latter sense that we are to understand David’s words, “the godly man ceaseth,” etc. It was not by the sword of an enemy, nor by natural death, that they had been lost to the cause of law and order, truth and right, but by betraying it, and fighting against it. David’s own son, and subjects, and generals, and ministers had conspired to overthrow the cause they had sworn to defend; and thus situated, he appeals to the only power that can now avail him, saying, “Help, Lord, man has failed me; Thou alone canst now deliver.” (David Caldwell, A. M.)


He is a faithful man who keeps faith. Faith is the equivalent of fidelity, and fidelity is what we mean by trustworthiness. We are growing. Modern civilisation is not a failure. But it may be a question, whether we are keeping pace by moral growth with our intellectual and physical development. All signs of material advancement are of little account, if the ethical power of the Gospel is left out. Without fidelity to all the duties of a true man in society there can be no religion which is of any value. It is quite possible for men to ‘make religious sensibilities and religious experiences a substitute for ethical integrity. It is a growing impression that men are becoming more and more untrustworthy. One of the features of our times is a growing looseness in fidelity. Consider this in regard to truth, which is the central trunk of trustworthiness. Men in ordinary conversation are not as careful of truth as they should be. I refer to carelessness of truth, to heedless and rash statements. There is a low sense or tone of conscience in regard to accuracy and fidelity on the subject of truth speaking. Truth is the backbone of honour, and indeed of manhood itself. In the rivalry and pressure of affairs there is a growing tendency to misrepresent the truth. Men really trap each other by half-truths. Half-truths are the devil’s whole lies. Promises are not now kept as they should be. Unless men put their word into legal form, it is not generally considered that their promises are worth much. Trustworthiness, also, under assumed obligations, seems to me to be relaxing. It seems to me that the sentiment of service is becoming very much enfeebled, Now human society cannot cohere where a man cannot trust his fellow man. You cannot discharge your duties to humanity without being in subordination one to another. Society organises itself by relative superiorities and inferiorities. It is a constant complaint that it is the hardest thing in the world to find competent young men who can be trusted . . . I like to hear of eminent Christian experiences. Change of heart is good, but change of life is better. It would at least be more agreeable to one’s neighbours. How is it in this matter? Is there anything in religious doctrine that is an equivalent for ethical Christianity? Is there anything that is a substitute for fidelity between man and man? (H. Ward Beecher.)

Godly and faithful

A prayer of David’s to God for help on this ground--that there was little or no religion, or honesty left among men; and that therefore he had no reason to trust them, or to expect a blessing on such instruments.

The importance of the two characters--godly and faithful, “Godly” imports a benign, gentle, and good-natured man, but this has such a relation to religion, and is such a disposition to it, that among the Jews the word was in common use extended to a man that was exact to all the duties of religion, and strict in the performance of them. A godly man is not one that places his religion in many assumed practices, that do not tend to make him better. Nor he that understands his religion well Nor he that is very regular in all outward rules and matters of form. The truly godly man has an inward sense of a supreme power that is over him, and endeavours to resemble this being, and to govern all his actions in conformity to the will and laws of God. He believes that God, by His providence, watches over all things, and consequently resigns himself up to His will, and submits to everything that conies to him from that hand. A godly man is a faithful man. He that has a true sense of religion knows that God is true, and so he always speaks the truth. He is severe in matters of truth. He is raised to such a pitch of candour and sincerity that every man who has any concerns with him will soon see what he is to trust to, or to depend upon. A faithful man is he that hates both lies and liars. He is true in his actions as well as in his words.

David’s complaint. “The godly ceased.” On what grounds did he make this complaint?

The dangerous and desperate state of a nation, in which godly and faithful men do fail. Dangerous by reason of the natural effects that follow, and by reason of the judgments of God.

The only remedy for all this. Which is an earnest prayer to God for help. (Gilbert Burnet, D. D.)

Zion bereaved of the faithful

The fact. But who are faithful?

1. They who are faithful to themselves will not deceive themselves as to their state before God.

2. To God. Maintaining His truth.

3. To the Church, the election of grace. Declaring to them positive truth, resting on the covenant, tracing all blessing to the Holy Spirit.

The exclamation. “The faithful fail.” It is--

1. The voice of mourning.

2. Of appeal to God to raise up others.

3. Of the soul that cares for Zion.

4. Craving further nourishment.

The warning--that when the Lord has taken home a few more of His faithful, then a storm of persecution will burst forth upon His Church. The night is approaching. Make sure work of your own salvation. (Joseph Irons.)

A touching plea

We feel that we cannot well spare the good from this earth in its present demoralised condition; because--

We need their example. Example is both

(a) Demonstrative, and

(b) Educational.

We need their influence. It is the good of this world who preserve it from total moral corruption.

We need their counsels. But God’s dispensations are all right. He makes no mistakes. (W. H. Luckenbach, D. D.)

Verses 3-4

Psalms 12:3-4

The Lord shall cut off all flattering lips.

The lawlessness of the tongue

The language of agitators is indicated in this text, of men who think to carry everything by free speech, a free press, and a free pulpit. God forbid that we should ever see the day when either of these three great agencies for enlightening, exciting, and directing human thought shall not be free. However much they may be abused, they are still the chief glory of a country. It is not to be denied, however, that they are abused. Instead of being used only for the defence of truth and right, they are often prostituted to stirring up the most fearful passions that can agitate the human breast; to array brother against brother, citizen against citizen, section against section, and Church against Church. You may remonstrate with the men so engaged, but the only answer you can obtain from them is likely to be, “With our tongue will we prevail; our lips are our own; who is lord over us?” They act as if freedom of speech implied the right to say whatever fancy may dictate, where it may dictate, when it may dictate, and as it may dictate. Hence the recklessness with which not only opinions, but characters and motives, are assailed. The right of free discussion is often indulged by its advocates, till they seem to have forgotten that men have any other rights. Nor is this lawlessness of tongue confined to partisan leaders, and to those in authority; it pervades and embitters private life. We meet, in every walk of society, persons who pride themselves on their fearlessness of speech, and who, in sheer wantonness, inflict wounds upon the characters and feelings of others that time can never heal. (David Caldwell, A. M.)

Flattery dangerous

The philosopher Bion, being asked what animal he thought the most hurtful, replied, “That of wild creatures a tyrant, and of tame ones a flatterer.” The flatterer is the most dangerous enemy we can have. Raleigh, himself a courtier, and therefore initiated into the whole art of flattery, who discovered in his own career and fate its dangerous and deceptive power, its deep artifice and deeper falsehood, says, “A flatterer is said to be a beast that biteth smiling. But it is hard to know them from friends--they are so obsequious and full of protestations; for as a wolf resembles a dog, so doth a flatterer a friend.” (The Book of Symbols.)

Our lips are our own.


Thoughts, words, actions: these are the three activities in which our life is spent. The first and the last, as representing the inner and the outer life, are constant topics of religious teaching; but perhaps words, on account of their ambiguous character, as midway between thought and actions, have not received equal attention. To the thoughtless a word appears the most trivial of all things; what is it but a breath carried away on the air to be immediately extinguished? Yet, in truth, this activity is one of the great sides of life, in which we may either honour or dishonour God, in which we must display our own worth or unworth, and for which we shall at the last be either approved or rejected. Our conversation, indeed, is even more than this: it is a kind of index or epitome of our whole life; what we are in it, the same shall we be found to be in every other respect. It is to this effect that St. James says, “If any man offend not in word, the same is a perfect man, and able also to bridle the whole body”: and our Lord still more solemnly, “By thy words shalt thou be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned, as if nothing else required to be considered even at the final tribunal. Conversation is a daily, an hourly thing; it is continued from week’s end to week’s end, and from year’s end to year’s end; it goes on throughout life, from the time when the tongue of the child learns to babble the first words till the time when the old man eloquent is celebrating the days when he was young. It takes place in the house and by the way, where two or three are met together, and where crowds exchange their fleeting salutations. It passes between friend and friend, and between friend and foe, between neighbours and between strangers. There is no limit to the subjects which it may embrace. It takes in both the objects which present themselves to our observation in the places where we live, and those which are brought us by report from a distance. It ranges over the world invisible of thoughts and feelings, as well as the visible world of things and men. It moves easily from topic to topic, and may in an hour traverse a hundred subjects, passing from land to land in space, and from age to age in time. If the amount of our conversation could be represented to us visually it would astonish us. If it were printed, for instance, how many pages would an average talker fill in a single day? In a year it would amount to as many volumes as the collected works of a great author. In a lifetime it would fill a library. The mere bulk of this activity shows how momentous it is. But there are weightier considerations than this. Conversation is a forth-putting of the strength of the soul to produce an effect. It may be an effort of stupendous strength, or it may have no more force than the fall of a feather; for conversation, as an instrument of the mind, may be compared to those steam-hammers which can be worked either with such force as to grind an iron bar to powder, or with such gentleness as only to chip the shell of an egg. But whether the effort be great or small, that which it always aims at is an impression on another mind. Conversation is not the affair of one person, but always of, at least, two. It is perhaps the most direct and powerful means we have of influencing our fellow men. I put forth my hand and lay it on my neighbour’s person; but in so doing I am not touching him so closely as if I speak a sentence in his hearing. In the one case only our bodies touch; but in the other our souls touch. Conversation is the touching of souls. Souls never touch each other except for weal or woe. Every touch leaves a mark, which may be either a black mark or a point of splendour. No doubt the impressions made by conversation are generally minute. But all the impressions which we make in this way on different persons, when added together, amount to a great influence; and to those who for years are constantly hearing us speak we cannot but be doing much good or harm. One snow-flake is nothing; it melts away on the outstretched hand in a moment; but, flake by flake, the snow accumulates till it is the only thing visible in the landscape, and even boughs of the oak crack beneath its weight. And such is the cumulative influence of the conversation of a lifetime. (James Stalker, D. D.)

Who is Lord over us?--

The ideal Christianity

When we mistake our proprietorship we cease to be religious, and we give up the possibility of being religious. What is the first lesson in true Christian religion? The first lesson is that we are not our own, have no right, title, or claim to ourselves; we are branded; we have the burnt in mark upon us that we belong to Christ Jesus, that we are blood bought, that we are not our own; we have not a moment of time, not a single thought, energy, wish, will, desire, that is our own. That is the ideal Christianity, the very purpose and consummation of Christ’s priesthood, the tree meaning--that is, the large and complete meaning--of self-denial, saying No when anything within us claims to have an existence or right of its own. So long as we think that our lips are our own we shall speak what we please; when we begin to learn that our lips are not our own, nor our hands, nor feet, nor head, nor heart, we shall have but one question: “Lord, what wilt Thou have me to do? Tell me, and give me strength to do it.” That will be the day of jubilee, the morning of coronation. (Joseph Parker, D. D.)

Verse 5

Psalms 12:5

For the oppression of the poor, for the sighing of the needy, now will I arise, with the Lord; I will set him in safety from him that puffeth at him.

The poor set in safety

God’s family in all ages have resembled each other. Hence the Word of God is rich in consolation.

God’s Word deals with and is addressed to characters. Two such are named.

1. The poor--the poor in spirit, conscious that they have no good in themselves. God brings all His people to this state.

2. The oppression of the poor. Poverty gives room for oppression. The rich are not oppressed. And so it is spiritually. Hezekiah, near to death, cries out, “Lord, I am oppressed; undertake for me.” The law on a man’s conscience does this. “It strikes the dying dead.” Thus the Lord deals with His people to bring them down. But their sighing is a sign of life. The dead in sin feel nothing. They may have alarming fears of hell, but no trouble of conscience; they, as Isaiah says, may “cry for sorrow of heart and howl for vexation of spirit,” but “they do not cry unto God with their heart when they howl upon their beds.”

For the sighing of the needy. A man may be poor without being needy, without having any desire for what he does not possess; he may be content with his poverty.

1. But the needy are they who are not content, who feel and utter their need. This is true of spiritual things. He is full of needs. He wants more and more of the grace of Jesus.

2. He sighs. He is sighing after God, sighing unto the Lord under the burden of his sins; he wants the light, life, liberty, peace of the Gospel of God.

The answer to these cries.

1. “Now will I arise.” As if the Lord had been looking on but sitting still; as a father may watch his child at play, but let him perceive the child in danger, then will he start up and rush to the rescue. It is this sitting still of the Lord that so puzzles and perplexes God’s family; that He should seem to take no notice of them. But He will not be always so. A time is fixed when He will arise. 2. “I will set in safety,. . . puffeth at him.” Then poor people are puffed at, not only poor and oppressed. Yes, for Satan in one that puffs at them. Sinners do also. And saints can do it to. Then much of pride and annoyance are to be found in God’s children. But the Lord will set them in safety. Not, perhaps, deliver them, but set them in Himself, a safe spot indeed. And there is the puff of flattery, and of enmity. Through much tribulation we must enter the Kingdom. But thither we shall be brought. (J. C. Philpot.)

Divine interposition in time of great peril

On one occasion, being driven from my station, two teachers and myself escaped for our lives to another missionary station at the other end of the island. We remained there for some time, and one afternoon, tired with watching (for the savages were constantly trying to take our lives) I fell fast asleep. About nine at night a retriever dog, that had been trained to warn me of approaching danger, sprang upon me and awakened me. I jumped up and saw a number of savages approaching; they went to the beautiful new church and set it on fire. I called the other missionary, and told him that in a few moments our house would be in flames. He suggested that we should prepare for the great change, for that night we would be with Jesus. He prayed to God to have mercy upon us. I went out and pulled the fence down that joined the church to the house. I was quickly surrounded by the savages, who lifted their clubs to strike me. Jesus has all power in heaven and earth; no blow could be struck without His permission. “I defy you, in the name of Jesus!” I shouted; “you think I am alone, but my God is here. He will protect me. I defy you, in the name of Jesus!” Just as I uttered those words a tornado burst upon us. The wind blew the flames from our house, and the rain soon extinguished the fire. The savages were affrighted. They said, “Jehovah God is fighting for them,” and then disappeared into the neighbouring wood. The age of miracles has passed, but the God of miracles still lives and reigns. I firmly believe that in answer to prayer God sent that tornado. (J. Paton.)

Verse 6

Psalms 12:6

The words of the Lord are pure words: as silver tried in a furnace of earth, purified seven times.

The excellence of the Holy Scriptures

The holy description of the sacred writings here given. It tells of--

1. Their high authority. The men who wrote these books say, “The Spirit of God spoke by me, and His Word was upon my tongue,” “Thus saith the Lord,” and so on. Thus they claim high authority. But you may ask, “How are we to know it?” Therefore note--

2. Their inherent sanctity. “The words of the Lord are pure words.” And are they not so? Some say the book is immoral because it records immoral actions. But could the Scriptures have given a faithful account of human nature without such records? Those who study the Bible most are those who most of all live and practise all the public and social virtues. Modern infidels are not so candid as those of the former century. Rousseau could say, “I will confess that, the majority of the Scriptures strike me with admiration, as the purity of the Gospel hath its influence on my heart. Peruse the works of our philosophers, with all their pomp of diction: how mean, how contemptible are they compared with the Scriptures! Is it possible that a book at once so simple and sublime should be merely the work of man?”

3. Their intrinsic worth. In our text they are compared to the finest silver and gold. And in Psalms 119:1-176. And this eulogy is deserved, because they speak of God and man reasonably and in harmony with our experience. They satisfy man upon the most anxious questions.

The scrutiny they have endured. “Tried in the furnace, purified seven times.” The reference is to the searching process of the refiner, by which he detects the presence of any alloy and removes it. And the Word of God has passed under a scrutiny like that of fire: It is not accepted on mere hearsay and because of the teachings of priests.

1. It has been thoroughly investigated. Josephus gives his testimony to the sacred books of the Jews. Hence the Old Testament is evidently not a book of yesterday. And from the testimony of the Fathers we know that the books of the New Testament have existed from the time they profess. The ancient versions confirm this. The entire New Testament might be collated out of the quotations made by the Fathers.

2. Then there has been antiquarian and scientific research. And these do homage to the testimony of revelation.

3. Philosophical and moral discoveries likewise bear their testimony in the philosophies of China and India, and yet others, have been searched, and they have been found poor and unsatisfactory, like the glimmer of gas lights at noonday, compared with the Scriptures. That eminent Oriental scholar, Sir William Jones, says, “The Scriptures contain, independently of a Divine origin, more true sublimity, more exquisite beauty, purer morality, more important history, and finer strains, both of poetry and eloquence, than could be collected within the same compass from all other books that were ever composed in any age or in any tongue.” Now these are not the testimonies of priests, but of laymen, learned, travelled, and who have become acquainted with the literature of all nations. And should any be disposed to trifle with the Bible, let me quote to him two lines from a poem penned by one of the greatest geniuses that has ever adorned our empire, and whose intellectual light has been just lost to us--

“Better he had ne’er been born

Who reads to doubt, who reads to scorn.”

(J. Blackburn.)

Testing the truth

The Psalmist is telling of the Word of God, and contrasting it with the words of men. He tells of those who speak vanity. “With flattering lips and a double heart do they speak.” He wants something better, and finds it in the Word of the Lord. For in contrast with man’s weakness and falsehood there was the Divine promise immediately made, “For the oppression of the poor, for the sighing of the needy, now,” etc. May that be depended upon! May we take heart? Yes, “For the words of the Lord are pure words,” etc. So then, we may apply this text to the Bible.

By the prolonged and severe conflict it has had with all the evil of our world. There are two great forces in the moral world, that of evil--the world, the flesh, and the devil, and that of good--in truth, in holiness, and in love. And God is the source of all this good. Now, if the words are of God they will be like Him; which is just what they are. And they will occupy His place, bitter against nothing but evil, enamoured of nothing but good. And they will do His work. So they do, have done everywhere and always, under all circumstances and amid all conditions.

By all the contradictions of unbelief. Concerning Him it is said, “He endured the contradiction of sinners against Himself.” Just so it has been with the Word of God, and is so now. They have heated the furnace to the intensest heat, and cast the Bible in, and the result is that it has lost nothing but the tinsel of man’s folly or the bonds wherewith men’s authority sought to bind it.

By the evil consequences of the conduct of false professors. We complain of the unfair dealing of unbelief. Naturally. But there are others who deserve our indignation far more, and these are those who profess to be, but are not, friends of the Gospel or of the words of God. Worldly men, who have determined to make it a political engine. Hence it has been encumbered with ceremonies and dogmas; kept back from the people; man’s own interpretations fastened upon it, as if they were the words of God Himself.

The infirmities and inconsistencies of its real friends. Many of you here profess to be its real friends. Some of you hold prominent positions, and, like Peter and John, you bid men look on you and see what your religion can do. And men do look on you and judge the Word of God by you. And they see very soon where there are inconsistencies in you; whilst, on the other hand, there is nothing so awes the world as the spirituality, unselfishness, and devotedness of earnest holiness. But who of us can profess fitly to represent the Word of God? How imperfect are the best of men.

By the spiritual discernment of all sanctified men. In one sense the Word of God tries a man, for according as he acts towards it so does he reveal his spiritual state. On the other hand, all holy souls test the living Word. “My sheep hear My voice,” said the Saviour, “but a stranger will they not follow.”

By the personal experience of both saints and sinners. VII. by those, most of all, who have most thoroughly lived in it and worked hardest for it. If I want to know the sustaining qualities of any particular kind of food I observe those who live most on it, yet do the greatest amount of work, and with the greatest ease, and, nevertheless, show the most robust health. And so, would I know what the Word of God can do, I turn to those who are such as I have described. See Paul. Hear him say, “I can do all things through Christ, who strengthened me.” All of you who hear the Word, bind it to your hearts, and let it be your holy resolve, God helping you, to live as well as speak His Word. (John Aldis.)

The Word of God tested and proven

The fable that there were animals that lived in the fire, called Salamanders, came from the glowing brilliance of some metals that, when they are heated to a white heat, acquire a supernatural splendour, and apparently a new and mysterious life. The metal seems now to live, breathe, heave, move at every new expansion and contraction; a hundred hues, indescribably brilliant and radiant, play around the molten surface. Of all books, the Word of God is the only one with Salamander qualities. The flames of persecution and hostile criticism, instead of effecting its destruction, have but added to its lustre and strengthened its claims to be indeed “the Word of the Lord that endureth forever.” (A. T. Pierson D. D.)


Psalms 13:1-6

Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Psalms 12". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/tbi/psalms-12.html. 1905-1909. New York.
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