ANOTHER Davidical psalm, both according to the title and to the general opinion of critics; said (like Psalms 6:1-10.) to be "upon Sheminith"—an expression of uncertain meaning. It consists of a complaint (Psalms 12:1, Psalms 12:2), a menace (Psalms 12:3, Psalms 12:4), and a promise (Psalms 12:5-8). Metrically, it seems to divide itself into four stanzas—the first, second, and fourth, of four lines each; the third, of six lines. There is nothing to mark definitely the time of the composition; but its position in the Psalter, and its general resemblance to the psalms which precede, point to the period of David's residence at the court of Saul.
Help, Lord; rather, Save, Lord, as in the margin (comp. Psalms 20:9; Psalms 28:9; Psalms 60:5, etc.). For the godly man ceaseth. "Ceaseth," i.e; "out of the land "—either slain or driven into exile. We must make allowance for poetic hyperbole. For the faithful fail from among the children of men (compare, for the sentiment, Micah 7:2). The writer, for the moment, loses sight of the "remnant"—the "little flock "—which assuredly remained, and of which he speaks in Psalms 12:5 and Psalms 12:7.
They speak vanity every one with his neighbour; rather, they speak falsehood (Kay, Cheyne). Contrast the injunction of the apostle (Ephesians 4:25). With flattering lips and with a double heart do they speak; literally, with lips of smoothness, and with a heart and a heart do they speak. The Authorized Version gives the true meaning.
The Lord shall cut off all flattering lips. The complaint having been made, a threat follows (comp. Psalms 10:15; Psalms 11:6; Psalms 17:13, etc.). The men who flatter with their lips, beguiling and cozening their victims to get them completely into their power, shall be "cut off" from the congregation (see Genesis 17:14; Exodus 12:15, Exodus 12:19; Le Exodus 7:20, 27; Exodus 17:10, etc.). And the tongue that speaketh proud things; literally, great things; but proud and lofty boastings are intended (comp. Daniel 7:8, Daniel 7:20). The same man sometimes cozens with smooth words, sometimes blusters and talks big.
Who have said, With our tongue will we prevail; or, through our tongues are we powerful; i.e. whatever we desire we can accomplish through our tongues—by persuasion, or by menaces, or by skill in argument. Success in pleading before courts of law is, perhaps, included. Our lips are our own; literally, are with us; i.e. are on our side, are our helpers ("Nobis auxilio et praesto sunt," Michaelis). Who is lord over us? Who, i.e; can interfere with us and impede our action? They do not believe in any righteous Judge and Controller of the world, who can step in to frustrate their plans, upset their designs, and bring them to ruin (see Psalms 10:4, Psalms 10:11; Psalms 14:1).
For the oppression of the poor, for the sighing of the needy, now will I arise, saith the Lord. The ungodly having been threatened, a promise of assistance is made to the righteous whom they oppress. God declares that, in response to the many calls made upon him (Psalms 3:7; Psalms 7:6; Psalms 9:19; Psalms 10:12), he will "now," at last, "arise"—interpose on behalf of the oppressed, and deliver them (comp. Exodus 3:7, Exodus 3:8). I will set him in safety from him that puffeth at him. This is a possible meaning; but it is perhaps better to render, with Hengstenberg and Cheyne, "I will place him in the safety for which he sighs," or "pants."
The words of the Lord are pure words. There is no base alloy in them: therefore they may be trusted. What God promises, he will perform. As silver tried in a furnace of earth; rather, perhaps, silver assayed in a crucible on earth (Kay). Purified seven times (comp. Psalms 18:30; Psalms 19:8; Psalms 119:140; Proverbs 30:5).
Thou shalt keep them, O Lord. God having promised to set the righteous, who are oppressed, in a place of safety (Psalms 12:5), the psalmist is sure that he will keep them and preserve them from the wicked "generation," which has possession of the earth, and bears rule in it, always. It is, no doubt, for the greater consolation and encouragement of these unfortunates that he dwells on the subject, and adds his own assurances to the Divine promise which he has recorded. Man's faith is so weak that, unless promises and assurances are reiterated, they make little impression. Thou shalt preserve them (Hebrew, him) from this generation for ever. The "generation" is that of the worldly men in power at the time, of whom we have heard in Psalms 3:1, Psalms 3:2, Psalms 3:6, Psalms 3:7; Psalms 4:2; Psalms 5:4-6, Psalms 5:9, Psalms 5:10; Psalms 6:8; Psalms 7:1, Psalms 7:2, Psalms 7:9, Psalms 7:13-16; Psalms 10:2-11, Psalms 10:15; Psalms 11:2, Psalms 11:3, Psalms 11:6. "For ever" means "so long as they live." The substitution of "him' for "them" in this clause is an instance of that generalization by which a whole class is summed up in a single individual—" all men" in "man," "all good men" in "the righteous" ( צַדִּיק), and the like.
The wicked walk on every side. This can scarcely have been intended as an independent clause, though grammatically it stands alone. It is best to supply "while" or "though" before "the wicked," as Dr. Kay does, and to translate, Though (or, while) wicked men march to and fro on all sides; i.e. while they have their way, and control all other men's incomings and out-goings, being free themselves. When the vilest men are exalted; rather, and though villainy ( זֻלּוֹת) exalteth itself among the sons of men.
"Our lips are our own," etc. If it be true, as we often say, that "actions speak louder than words," it is also true that speech is a kind of action, and that words often speak more than the speaker means to utter. Light, thoughtless words, void of serious meaning, sometimes flash a light into the inmost chamber of the heart; they could not have been spoken if kindness, good sense, justice, humility, dwelt and ruled there. Profuse professions are often interpreted by the rule of contrary. When Judas said, "Hail, Master!' he branded himself as a traitor, hypocrite, murderer. The text may not mean that these words are audibly uttered. The Bible speaks often of what men say in their heart. The temper and spirit which go with an unbridled tongue are expressed thus: "Our lips are our own."
I. THIS IS A GREAT MISTAKE. Responsibility is not annihilated or lessened by our refusing to acknowledge it. We are responsible for our words as much as for the rest of our life. Our lips are not our own, because we ourselves are not our own (1 Corinthians 6:19, 1 Corinthians 6:20; Psalms 100:3, Revised Version). God "giveth richly all things to enjoy;" but he can give nothing away; all is his still, and cannot cease to be his (1 Chronicles 29:14; Romans 12:1). Responsibility to use God's gifts in a way pleasing to him and to his glory increases with the preciousness of the gift. Who can reckon the value of speech? That without which reason would be not only dumb, but blind, deaf, paralyzed—the chief bond of human society, the instrument of truth, instruction, command, persuasion, comfort, converse. All life is "in the power of the tongue" (Proverbs 18:21). For good or for evil, even a short speech often long outlives the lips that uttered it. Not only "what is written remains." Books and writings decay and perish, while "winged words" fly from land to land, and live on through ages. A great trust is man's gift of speech.
II. A MORE COMMON MISTAKE THAN MAY BE THOUGHT. Thus boldly, coarsely spoken, it is indeed the language of atheism. But think of the enormous amount of idle, unprofitable, unkind, unjust, insincere talk poured forth every day; not to speak of what is wilfully false, impure, or malignant. What does all this mean but utter forgetfulness of responsibility to God for our use of this great gift? Passing sad, too, it is to think how it runs to waste; of all the words of counsel, comfort, kindness, prayer, praise, that might be spoken, but are not. The dulness of conscience on this point is astonishing. You may meet often with Christians who positively pride themselves on "speaking their mind," no matter at what cost to others. People who would think it unpardonably wicked to strike a hard blow with the fist, think nothing of giving a stab with the tongue, which perhaps years will not heal (James 3:6).
III. It is not enough that we see the sin of unbridled speech, the reckless impiety of supposing "our lips are our own." Let us take to heart OUR RESPONSIBILITY to our brother man, above all, to our Saviour, for our use of this noble faculty and priceless gift. "The fruit of our lips" (Hebrews 13:15) may be a "sacrifice" in other ways as well as praise. Remember our Lord's warning (Matthew 12:36, Matthew 12:37). Meditate on what we owe to the words of those who have taught, counselled, cheered, and helped us; to the words of inspired men; above all, to the words of the Lord Jesus. "A word spoken in season, how good is it!" A kind word, a faithful rebuke, an honest avowal of faith and conviction, a manly protest against impure or ill-natured speech, may be the turning-point for good of some young life. "Let your speech be alway with grace" (Colossians 4:6; Ephesians 4:29, Ephesians 4:30, where note the remarkable reference to the Holy Spirit; Psalms 19:14).
The preciousness of the Word.
"The words of the Lord," etc. Thus the Bible bears witness to itself. We read often in Scripture of "the word of the Lord"—not so often of "the words" of the Lord. By "the Word of the Lord" is meant sometimes a particular command, promise, or prediction; but frequently—and usually in the New Testament—the substance or sum-total of Divine truth (Psalms 119:9, e.g.). But this phrase, "the words of the Lord," calls attention to the actual utterances in which this truth is recorded for us. So our Lord distinguishes (John 8:43) between his "speech," the particular form or method of his teaching, and his "Word," his doctrine.
I. THE INSPIRATION AND AUTHORITY OF THE SCRIPTURES. "The words of the Lord." We must guard against such narrow, mechanical views of inspiration as would confine it to the Hebrew and Greek words in which it was written, so that one who reads a good translation would not have "the words of the Lord." "The meaning of Scripture," says Tyndale, "is Scripture." Inspiration is the Holy Spirit working in men and by men—not as machines, but as living, reasonable beings. We ought not to speak of "the human element' and "the Divine element" as separable or hostile. A great picture is but paint and canvas, informed, vivified by the thought and genius of the artist. You cannot say, "This part is paint, and that part is genius." So in the Bible. "Men of God spake"—there is the human element—"as they were moved by the Holy Ghost"—there is the Divine.
II. ITS TRIED AND PROVED TRUTH. The similitude is drawn from precious metal, whose worth and purity have been proved in the furnace, which separated the dross from the pure ore. The idea is not that we are to distinguish, in Scripture, dross from gold and silver, but that God has done so. He gives us not rough ore, but pure metal. But we may apply the image to the tests to which the Bible has been and daily is submitted.
1. The experience of those who have trusted it and gone by it. Those who have done this longest, most practically, with fullest faith, are the very persons most convinced of the truth and worth of the Bible.
2. Hostile criticism. For the last hundred years this has been especially fierce, learned, elaborate, determined, skilful. Had the Word not been pure gold, it must have perished in this fierce furnace. The result has been to shed a flood of light on the letter of Scripture, and to bring to light a mass of new and powerful evidence, bearing witness to its truth and genuineness. It stands both tests (1 Peter 1:23-25).
III. ITS PRECIOUSNESS. It is worth all the care and trouble God has bestowed, by his providence and inspiration, on its composition and preservation; all the help and illumination which the Holy Spirit continually grants to those who read it with faith and earnest prayer; all the study given to it by friends and foes (Psalms 119:72; Psalms 19:1-14 :20).
CONCLUSION. Is it precious to you? Is this the witness of your own experience? If not, it must be because you have not really tried it.
HOMILIES BY C. CLEMANCE
This psalm has no indication of the time in which it was written. £ At whatever time, however, it may have been penned, there is no doubt about the general features of the age here represented. It was one in which good men were becoming more and more rare, in which the wicked abounded, and took occasion from the numerical inferiority of the righteous to indulge in haughty and vain talk against them and against God. The psalmist looks with concern and distress upon this state of things, and sends up a piercing cry to God to arise and make his glory known. We have in the psalm three lines of thought fierce trials; fervent prayer; faithful promise.
I. FIERCE TRIALS. They are not personal ones merely; they are such as would be felt mainly by those of God's people who, possessed of a holy yearning for the prosperity of his cause and the honour of his Name, grieved more acutely over the degeneracy of their age than over any private or family sorrow. There were six features of society at the time when this psalm was written.
1. The paucity of good and faithful men £ (Psalms 12:2).
2. Wicked men being in power (Psalms 12:8).
3. The righteous being oppressed (Psalms 12:5).
4. Falsehood, i.e. faithlessness. £
6. Vain-glorious boasting and self-assertion.
When wickedness gets the upper hand in these ways, times are hard indeed for good and faithful men. In such times Elijah, Jeremiah, and others lived, and wept, and moaned, and prayed. Many a prophet of the Lord has had to look upon such a state of things, when all day long he stretched out his hands to a disobedient and gainsaying people. Note:
1. This description of the degeneracy of the writer's age is not a Divine record of the state of the world as a whole. The psalm is made up of words of man to God, not of words of God to man.
2. Still less is the psalm to be regarded as stating or implying that the world as a whole is always getting worse and worse. Let the student take the psalm simply for what it professes to be—a believer's moan over the corruptions of his age—and he will find it far more richly helpful and suggestive than on any forced hypothesis.
3. The special ills of any age may well press on the heart of a believer; yea, they will do so, if a becoming Christian public spirit is cherished by him.
4. There are times when Christian men have to sigh and cry, owing to the abominations of the social life around them; and when Faber's touching words are true—
"He hides himself so wondrously,
As if there were no God;
He is least seen when all the powers
Of ill are most abroad."
5. And trials not less severe are felt when there is a widespread defection from the faith once delivered to the saints, and when men are calling for a "religion without God;" and are even, in some cases, forsaking Christianity for Mohammedanism or Buddhism. Through such trials believers are passing now. At such times they must resort to—
II. FERVENT PRAYER. The psalmist gives expression to the conviction that nothing but the immediate and powerful interposition of God will meet the crisis £ (cf. Isaiah 64:1). In what way this Divine aid shall be vouchsafed it is not for the praying man to say. He must leave that with God, content to have laid the case before him. The answer may come in the form of terrible providential judgments, or in the sending forth of a new band of powerful witnesses to contend with the adversaries, or in a widespread work of grace and of spiritual quickening power. All these methods are hinted at in Scripture, and witnessed to by the history of the Church. Note: Such prayers as this agonizing "Help, Lord!" while they are the outcome of intense concern, are yet not cries of hopeless despair. True, our help is only in God; but it is there, and an all-sufficient help it will prove to be—as to time, method, measure, and effect. In every age the saints of God have thus betaken themselves to him, and. never in vain. For ever have they proved the—
III. FAITHFUL PROMISE.
1. The contents of the promise are given in verse 5.
2. The value of the promise, as proved and tried, is specified in verse 6. There is not an atom of dross in any of the promises of God—all are pure gold.
3. Having these promises, the believer can calmly declare the issue in the full assurance of faith.
Note: The Christian teacher will feel bound to remember that in the work of the Lord Jesus Christ, in the gift of the Spirit, and in all the resulting activities of the Christian Church, the Lord has put forces in operation for the rectification of social wrongs, more effective than any of which the psalmist dreamt, and that these forces have only to be given time to work, and "all things will become new." The disclosures to this effect in the Book of the Apocalypse are an abiding source of comfort to God's people in the worst of times.—C.
HOMILIES BY W. FORSYTH
I. TROUBLE MOVES MEN TO PRAYER. (Psalms 12:1.) As the child instinctively cries to its father, so we cry to God. Society may wax worse and worse. The righteous may fail out of the land. It is hard to serve alone. Falsehood and lust prevail. There are fears on every side. In God alone is our help found.
II. PRAYER STRENGTHENS FAITH. (Psalms 12:3, Psalms 12:4.) There is some relief in telling our griefs. Further, we are cheered by the assurance of God's love. He must ever be on the side of truth and right. More particularly we are encouraged by the record of God's mighty works, and his promises to stand by his people. In communing with God, and casting our cares upon him who careth for us, our faith gains force and grows in ardour and activity.
III. FAITH INSPIRES HOPE. (Psalms 12:5, Psalms 12:6.) We remember God's word, on which he hath caused us to place our hope. God's promises are good, for he is love; they are certain, for he is faithful; they are sure of accomplishment, for he is able to do exceeding abundantly above all we can ask or think. Thus our hearts are revived. There may be delay, but not denial. There may be silence long, but never refusal. God has his own time and his own way.
IV. HOPE CULMINATES IN ASSURANCE. (Psalms 12:7, Psalms 12:8.) Light arises. The sky becomes brighter and brighter. "If God be for us, who can be against us?" All things are working to a perfect end. The prosperity of the wicked is vanity, and his triumph endures but for a little while. The end of the righteous is peace. "Thou shalt preserve them for ever."—W.F.
HOMILIES BY C. SHORT
Lamentation over the growing corruption of the nation.
"The psalmist is appalled by the rottenness of society around him; unscrupulous ambition appears to rule supreme; truth is scorned as folly, and the god of lies is enthroned in the national heart. But God had not left himself without a witness." Prophets and seers had already declared the Divine word of promise, that the righteous cause should be upheld and vindicated.
I. A DARK PICTURE OF DEPRAVED SOCIETY.
1. There were few conspicuous for righteousness. (Psalms 12:1.) Not that they had entirely ceased, but that they were fewer than they used to be. "Say not that the former times were better than these." Guard against this natural tendency—natural especially to men who are growing old.
2. The prevalence of unscrupulous falsehood. (Psalms 12:2.) Lies and flattery and deceit. A disregard for truth was widely spread, one of the sins most destructive of social life. This spirit of falsehood infested their most intimate relations—"every one with his neighbour "—and would corrupt at last even the family relations.
3. They worshipped that which won for them their evil success. (Psalms 12:3, Psalms 12:4.) Lying and deceit—the evil power of the tongue—prevailing for the time, made them feel that they were their own lords, that there was no higher power above them.
II. THE PSALMIST CONSOLES HIMSELF WITH THE DIVINE PROMISE OF PROTECTION. (Psalms 12:5.)
1. That promise inspires him to pray for its fulfilment. (Psalms 12:1-3.) All true prayer bases itself on the Divine promise. "If we ask according to his will, we know that God heareth us"
2. The Divine promise is pure from the alloy that corrupts the words of men. (Psalms 12:6.) It has no admixture of flattery and deceit as the words of men have. "God cannot lie."
3. That promise guarantees them protection, even when wickedness walks in high places. (Psalms 12:7, Psalms 12:8.) Wickedness is most alluring when in high places; but if God helps us to see that it is wickedness, and keeps our consciences clear and active, we are effectually protected from it. The defence against wickedness must be a Divine work within us as well as without us.—S.
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Psalms 12". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week of Lent