Psalm 12 is once again a psalm of David and it’s a lamentation, because once again the psalmist is crying out to the Lord for help because of his enemies. This time, David is crying to the Lord because it seems to him that the world is full of liars. However, even though the world is full of liars, David knows he can trust in the Lord and in his word, which is flawless and pure.
The psalm can be divided into four parts. In verse 1, David prays for deliverance. In verses 2 to 4, David describes the liars and their lies. In verse 5, the Lord himself speaks, promising to keep his people safe. And in verses 6 to 8, David reflects on the truthfulness of God’s word and he trusts that God will keep his people.
And so, in verse 1 David prays to the Lord. And his prayer is simple and straightforward, isn’t it? He says: Help! Help, O Lord.
The word for ‘help’ can also be translated ‘save’. So, he’s asking God to help him or to save him. And the reason he asks the Lord for help is because it seems to him that the godly are no more and the faithful have vanished among men. Just as the prophet Elijah once complained that he was the only one left who remained faithful to the Lord, so David complained to the Lord that there was no one left in the land who remained faithful. No doubt he’s using hyperbole. That is, he’s exaggerating for effect. But he means that the number of the ungodly has risen, while the number of the godly has fallen. Society has become corrupt and has been taken over by those who pay no attention to the Lord and his ways.
Verses 2 to 4
And so, it seems to David that everyone lies to his neighbour and they deceive one another with flattering lips. No one speaks the truth any longer; and because they have flattering lips, they praise one another and say all the right things, not because it’s true or because they believe it, but in order to get their own way. ‘Speaking with deception’ is really a paraphrase of what David really said. What he really said is that they speak with a heart and a heart. That is, they speak with a double heart. We might say they’re two-faced. So, what they say about you in your presence is very different from what they say about you in your absence. These people cannot be trusted.
There’s no way of knowing the historical background to this psalm or what had happened which made David write this psalm of lament. But it’s hard not to think once again of Absalom’s rebellion which is recorded for us in 2 Samuel 15. After David had defeated his enemies and had settled in Jerusalem, his own son, Absalom, rebelled against him and turned the hearts of the people away from David and towards himself. He used to stand at the entrance to Jerusalem; and when anyone came with a complaint which they wanted David to sort out for them, Absalom would tell them that the king would not hear their complaint; and if only he were appointed judge in the land, he would listen to their complaint and help them. None of what he said about his father was true, but the passage tells us that he stole the hearts of the people of Israel. He was a liar, saying the king did not care. And he was a flatter, because he told each person that their complaints were valid and proper. And then he lied to his father, asking permission to go to Hebron to fulfil a vow to worship the Lord, when really he wanted to go to Hebron to declare himself king. Absalom was a liar and a deceiver; and he fits what we read in Psalm 12. However, no doubt in his role as king, David had many other enemies who tried to deceive him and to get the better of him. And so, who could he trust? Who would he rely on? What must it be like to live in an environment where no one will tell you the truth and everyone is trying to deceive you?
David wishes in verse 3 that the Lord would cut off all flattering lips and every boastful tongue. He’s referring, of course, to those who possess flattering lips and boastful tongues. And they are boastful because they believe they will triumph with their tongues. No one will master them, because, with their words, they’re able to get the better of everyone else. They can talk their way out of every situation and with their weasel words they fool everyone and get their own way.
David laments before the Lord because it seems to him that the godly and the faithful have vanished from the land, and the land has been taken over by liars who flatter and who deceive in order to get their own way.
In verse 1, David prayed to the Lord for help. And in verse 5, the Lord speaks and announces that he will now arise to protect the weak and the needy. He has seen the oppression of the weak; he has heard the groaning of the needy; he is aware of what the wicked have done to lie and to deceive. And now he will arise from his throne in heaven in order to protect his people.
You might recall that, in the days of Moses, whenever it was time for the Israelites to break camp and move on through the wilderness, Moses would say:
Rise up, O Lord.
May your enemies be scattered;
may your foes flee before you.
Moses would call on the Lord to rise up from his throne and go ahead of his people to protect them from their enemies. And here, in Psalm 12, the Lord himself says that he will rise up to go ahead of his people to protect them from their enemies. Just as he helped Moses and the people in the wilderness, so he will protect David and his people in the Promised Land.
David cried to the Lord to help him; and the Lord responded by promising that he will indeed help him.
Verses 6 to 8
And David was able to count on the Lord’s promise, because unlike all those who lie and who deceive and who use flattering words, the Lord’s words are flawless. The word translated ‘flawless’ can be translated as ‘pure’. And so, his words are like silver which has been refined in a furnace and which has been purified seven times. Seven in the Bible stands for perfection. And so, God’s words are like silver which is perfectly pure and which is completely free from corruption. This is not to suggest that God’s word was once impure and needed to be refined. What he means is that God’s words are pure like the purist silver. They are free from corruption and are completely without flaw. We can trust God’s word and all his promises, because his word is true.
And since the Lord has promised to arise to protect his people, and since his promises are true, David can say with confidence in verse 7 that the Lord will keep his people safe and he will protect them forever. David trusts in the Lord to do what he has promised, because God’s word is true.
Nevertheless, the fact remains that so long as the earth endures, the wicked will freely strut about; and what is vile — that is, things like lies and flattery which are contemptible in the sight of the Lord — will be honoured among men. That’s the way things will always be, because we live in a fallen, sinful world; and wherever we go in this fallen, sinful world we will encounter people who lie and who flatter and who use words to deceive and to defraud and to get their own way. This is the world we live in. But the Lord has promised that he will protect his people and will keep them always.
Since this psalm was written by David, God’s Anointed King, it speaks to us of Christ, God’s True Anointed King. And we can imagine the Lord Jesus praying this prayer, because he too encountered men who were liars and flatterers and who used their lies to persuade Pilate that he should be condemned to die. The allegations they brought against him were false; and then, to please Pilate, they told them they had no king but Caesar. And after the Lord was raised from the dead, they spread the lie that his disciples had hidden his body.
The Lord Jesus came into the world as the Word of God, and everything he ever said was true. He did not lie, but only told the truth. And many people hated him because of what he said and they plotted together to kill him. And yet, his Father in heaven did rise up to help him, because though he was killed and buried, God the Father raised him from the grave and exalted him over his enemies and made him king over all.
And we who believe in him must be people of the truth. And so, we must always tell the truth and not lie. And we’re often tempted to lie, aren’t we? We’re tempted to lie when we don’t want to get into trouble. We’re tempted to lie when we don’t want to lose face. We’re tempted to lie in order to get the better of someone. But the Lord’s people must not lie.
And we must always hold on to the truth about Jesus Christ and adhere to God’s word which is true. Since we live in a fallen, sinful world, where wicked men and women freely strut about and honour what is vile, we ought not to be surprised if they attack us with their words and malign us from believing God’s word and for believing in his Son. We ought not to be surprised when sinful men and women speak out against us and when they misrepresent us and what we believe. And so, in these days, when we hold on to the truth of God’s word about things like abortion and marriage, those who don’t believe will say we’re judgmental and unloving and narrow-minded. They will attack us with their words; but still we must remain faithful to the Lord and believe his word and all that he has revealed to us concerning his will.
The Lord has warned that this is the way it will be. The apostles faced lies and they were maligned. In Acts 23, we read how the Jewish leaders agreed to lie to the Roman commander so that they could attack Paul and kill him. And in his letter to the Galatians, there are hints that people were spreading rumours about Paul that he was a people-pleaser. The apostles faced lies and they were maligned. And it’s been the same ever since. And yet, we can trust in God and his promises, because he has promised to keep his people forever.
Indeed, at the beginning of the psalm and at the end of the psalm, David refers to ‘the children of men’. Now, the NIV doesn’t translate it that way; the NIV refers simply to men at the end of verse 1 and at the end of verse 8. but it should really be ‘children of men’ or ‘sons of men’. And it’s similar to the phrase ‘man who is of the earth’ which we encountered in Psalm 10, because it speaks to us of their mortality. The wicked who boast so much and who lie and who deceive are only mortal. The might like to boast about their greatness, but they will not last, because they’re only mortal and they’re destined to die and then to face the judgment of God for what they have done. So, they are destined to perish, if they do not repent of their sin and seek God’s forgiveness.
But the Lord promises to keep his people forever. So, we can trust in him for this life and for the life to come. And though we may have to suffer much in this life, and though we’re often frustrated because of the corruption in society and the lies which are told, we know that in the end, the Lord will bring us into his presence to be with him forever.