March 3, 2014

Tom Lowe


Psalm 12



Title: To the chief Musician. Upon the Sheminith*, A Psalm of David.

*Sheminith (eighth), a musical term found in the title of (Psalms 6:1). A similar direction is found in the title of (Psalms 12:1) Comp. 1Chr 15:21. It seems most probable that Sheminith denotes a certain air known as the eighth, or a certain key in which the psalm was to be sung. (Smith's Bible Dictionary)


Psalm 12 (NKJV)

1 To the Chief Musician. On an eight-stringed harp. A Psalm of David. Help, Lord, for the godly man ceases! For the faithful disappear from among the sons of men.

2 They speak idly everyone with his neighbor; With flattering lips and a double heart they speak.

3 May the Lord cut off all flattering lips, And the tongue that speaks proud things,

4 Who have said, "With our tongue we will prevail; Our lips are our own; Who is lord over us?"

5 "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."

6 The words of the Lord are pure words, Like silver tried in a furnace of earth, Purified seven times.

7 You shall keep them, O Lord, You shall preserve them from this generation forever.

8 The wicked prowl on every side, When vileness is exalted among the sons of men.



The opening words suggest that this psalm is an appeal for help during bad times when evil men dominate. There are times when sin seems rampant, sweeping all before it like a tidal wave. The great and godly men are taken away one by one, and the ungodly reign supreme, and no help is available from man. It is then that we must turn to God and cry out with the shout that broke from Peter’s lips as he began to sink in the sea. It is a very practical cry, both from its brevity and its comprehensiveness—Help Lord! The Prophet Micah may have had this psalm in mind when he wrote these words:“The faithful man has perished from the earth, and there is no one upright among men. They all lie in wait for blood; every man hunts his brother with a net” (Micah 7:2).

Although this psalm belongs to the large group of laments over the success of evildoers (e.g. Ps. 7; 10; 17; 25; 37), its theme is more specialized than some. The activity of the wicked is primarily felt by the innocent and godly and occurs in the realm of speech, that is, the falsification and perversion of the gift of language. Hence, the intervention of the Lord must be not only in deeds but in words. The poem sets the effective purity of God’s Word over against the bogus claims of vain lips, and adds yet further testimony to the serious view the Bible takes on sins of speech.

This psalm expresses David’s confidence in the untarnished words of God that assure him that He will deliver those who seek His salvation. This expression of confidence came in the midst of a culture that oppressed the weak with deception. The setting of the psalm is unknown, but many events in the life of David could have prompted such a psalm (1 Sam. 23:11, 19; 26:19), and the language of the psalm is general enough to fit several situations.

In politics, new taxes are “revenue enhancements,” and in military jargon, “retreat” is “backloading of augmentation personnel.” If, while you’re backloading, you get shot, the bullet hole is “a ballistically induced aperture in the subcutaneous environment.” This kind of artificial evasive language is known as “double-speak” and its popularity in almost every area of human life is evidence that language and communication are in serious trouble. Our ability to speak and write words is a precious gift of God, and this psalm deals with the right and wrong use of that gift.

This psalm will have its final fulfillment in the days of the Tribulation which will come upon Israel’s godly remnant—also upon godly Gentiles—in that day. In the opening verses we will find a description of the apostasy in those days. You see, there is to be an apostasy in Israel as well as in the church.



1 Help, Lord, for the godly man ceases! For the faithful disappear from among the sons of men.

Society had become totally corrupt. Worthless and base men were in positions of influence and power, so that wickedness was openly approved of. There seemed to be no trustworthy, honest people on whom the psalmist could trust. Forget God and you get a society in which men cannot trust each other, and which therefore ultimately collapses.

In Psalm 11, the foundations of society were shaking (v. 3), but here David cried out for help (salvation, deliverance) because the godly remnant of faithful believers was getting smaller and smaller. This wasn’t the complaint of a crotchety old man longing for “the good old days.” It was the cry of a faithful servant of God who wanted to see his nation Israel fulfill her divine purposes on earth. The faithfulness of Israel involved bringing the Savior into the world and blessing all the nations (Gen. 12:1-3). David wasn’t alone in his concern. Elijah thought he was the only faithful servant left (1 Kings 18:22; 19:10, 18), and the prophets Isaiah (Isa. 57:1) and Micah (Mic. 7:1-7) expressed their concern at the lack of righteous leaders. See also Psalm 116:1, Ecclesiastics 10:5-7, and Jeremiah 5:1. When he wrote 1 Timothy, Paul lamented over what “some” were doing in the church (1:3, 6, 19; 4:1; 5:15; 6:10), but in 2 Timothy that “some” had become “all” (1:15; 4:16). However, God is never without witnesses, and what the godly often need is a reminder of this fact and the power of the faithful and a voice to call them out of their gloom. It is easy to develop an Elijah complex today and say, “I am the only one left. I am the only one standing for God these days.” Many people develop that complex. It is not accurate, but it can happen when you see godlessness on every side. One of the tragedies today is that a new generation of believers doesn’t seem to know what it takes to be a godly leader, so they borrow leadership ideas from secular society and all kinds of unequipped and unqualified people become leaders.

2 They speak idly everyone with his neighbor; With flattering lips and a double heart they speak.

Those who practice deceit on their neighbors whom they should love are said to have a double heart. God’s Word, though, stirs us to do quite the opposite, that is, to put away lying and speak truth to our neighbors—“Therefore, putting away lying, "Let each one of you speak truth with his neighbor," for we are members of one another” (Eph. 4:25; also Col. 3:9).Truth is trampled underfoot in a corrupt society, and words are only tools of self-interest. A flatterer gives to the flattered a false opinion of himself, so that a society is formed which degenerates in its standards and output.

 One mark of a spirit-filled believer is the ability to detect lies and liars and avoid them (1 John 2:18-29), and David knew he was living in a society controlled by deception. It wasn’t that only a few people were telling lies; deception was a major characteristic of the whole generation (See 5:9; 28:3; 34:13; 55:21; 14:13). The extent to which the corruption has spread among his own people prompts the psalmist to believe that it is universal.

Saul used lies to deceive his leaders about David, and Absalom used lies to poison the minds of the naïve people of Israel against David. Flattery is not communication, it is manipulation (See Prov. 26:28; 28:23). Flattery plays on the ego and especially influences people who want to appear important (Jude 11). You can flatter yourself (36:2), others (5:9; 12:2), and even God (78:34-37). Of course, what the lips speak comes from the heart (Matt. 12:33-37), and that’s why David accuses these liars of deception, which is a divided heart (literally, “a heart, and a heart”). This is the opposite of the “perfect heart,” total loyalty to God and His truth (86:11; 1 Chron. 12:33, 38; Rom. 16:17-18).

In this verse three specific charges are leveled against the faithless generation:

  1. Lies—they are guilty not only of blatant forms of deceit, but of white lies, half-truths, exaggerations and broken promises.
  2. Flattery—they heap insincere complements on others. Praise is not the same as flattery; it only becomes flattery when it ascribes virtues to a person which he is known not to possess. And flattery usually has some sinister or selfish motive.
  3. Two-facedness—they think one thing and say something quite different; they practice deception and intrigue.

3 May the Lord cut off all flattering lips, And the tongue that speaks proud things,

Here is a call for death in the light of sin. On the obnoxious sin of lying lips, we have these verses:

  • For there is no faithfulness in their mouth; their inward part is destruction; their throat is an open tomb; they flatter with their tongue. (Ps. 5:9)
  • Who say to the seers, "Do not see," And to the prophets, "Do not prophesy to us right things; Speak to us smooth things, prophesy deceits. (Isa. 10:30)
  • Those who do wickedly against the covenant he shall corrupt with flattery; but the people who know their God shall be strong, and carry out great exploits. (Dan. 11:32)
  • "Their throat is an open tomb; With their tongues they have practiced deceit"; "The poison of asps is under their lips" (Rom. 3:32)

We are in Jerusalem in post exilic times. We are to picture a small colony of the Lord’s people in great distress, sighing under the oppression of their neighbors on all sides and suffering primarily from their offensive speech. It is easy to imagine the proud Judeans in this “occupied area,” where foreign enemies, probably the Chaldeans, are the ruling class. We can also realize how the proud attitude of the Jews toward them will tend to arose bitter verbal clashes and provoke their foreign overlords to make deceitful and insincere assertions. It leads to a strong accusation against them from the poor and needy of the congregation because of their rash and heartless words.

As for “proud words,” this describes boastful speech that impresses people by its oratory and vocabulary. “Great swelling words” is the phrase used in 2 Peter 2:18 and Jude 1:16. Daniel (7:20, 25) and John (Rev. 13:2, 5) both tell us that the Antichrist will speak this way and rule the world. This kind of speech is motivated by pride and is used by people who think they are in control and will never need to answer to anybody, including the Lord. Their lips are their own, and they can say whatever they please. We are seeing that apostasy in the church is noted by pride like this. Jude predicted the coming apostasy, “These are grumblers, complainers, walking according to their own lusts; and they mouth great swelling words, flattering people to gain advantage” (Jude 16). In other words, those in apostasy are a bunch of liars. David wanted God to destroy them and end their arrogant boasting.

4 Who have said, "With our tongue we will prevail; Our lips are our own; Who is lord over us?"

The evils of which the psalmist speaks come to their fullest expression among men in places of authority and power. They are arrogant and self-confident; what they cannot obtain by flattery or plausible lying or by slandering one’s character, they mean to take by more direct methods. They have a tongue that makes great boasts (v. 3), and the substance of their boasts is “Our lips are our own; Who is lord over us?” or, more freely translated, “with our lips as our allies, who can stop us?” They take as great a liberty in their speech as they would if there was no God or man superior to them. Neither the fear of God, nor reverence for man, can keep them from saying whatever they please, nor what they suppose is in their best interest.

They boasted, “With our tongue we will prevail” by inventing slanders and evil reports concerning him, which enraged Saul against David, and alienate the people’s hearts from him; which, in that day was a very likely way to prevail against him—and it only involved their tongues.

Words have always been a weapon for good or evil, but ultimately their effect is dependent on their relation to facts. The tongue which “boasts of great things” (Jas. 3:5) may have its temporary influence, but “we can do nothing against the truth, but for the truth” (2 Cor. 13:8), when all is said and done. The world, as it exists today, rarely allows daring wickedness to go unpunished.

The prayer which comes from the heart carries with it the assurance of an answer. I pray that we will never act as if our lips are our own; for they too have been bought with the price of those dear parched lips which cried, I thirst.

5 "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."

This verse is the answer of God; “says the Lord.” It is a communication from the Lord answering the sincere prayer of the faithful. God hears the sighs. One sigh will make Him arise and go into action, just as the sighs of Stephen caused Jesus to stand (Acts 7:56). The psalmist received assurance from God that the Lord would arise and free the weak and needy from oppression. God promised to deliver those who trusted in Him from those who were slandering them.

The Lord has seen the violence His poor have suffered. He has heard their groans of distress and the pain in their cries. Now He will go into action to answer the congregations cry for help. He will speak and act as the protector and champion of His people; He will arise and judge the liars and deceivers.

When God comes to deliver His people, He will “cut off” those who practice flattery and deception (v. 3), which means separation from the covenant community (Gen. 17:14), like the separation of the goats from the sheep (Matt. 25:32-33).

6 The words of the Lord are pure words, Like silver tried in a furnace of earth, Purified seven times.

The Lord’s perfect (purified) and true words present a most radical contrast with the profane words of arrogant sinners. Their untarnished nature is compared to the process of refining silver; it is as if the words of the Lord had been refined seven times, the number of completeness and perfection. The imagery of a crucible, from which the fully-refined silver is poured down into molds set in the earth, is an apt illustration of the purity, value, and applicability to worldly needs of the divine Word, swiftly revealed and lastingly preserved. What God says is true and reliable. There are no errors mixed into God’s Word; all dross has been removed, therefore, they may be trusted completely and unconditionally. His words are not tainted with deceit and false flattery (in contrast with the wicked’s words, v. 2-3) but are fully dependable. The purity of God’s person assures the purity of His promises (Ps. 19:7-10).

Because of assurance from God that the afflicted would be delivered (v. 5) the psalmist expressed confidence in the untarnished words of God, even though he knew the wicked were all around him. That is one reason why we need to spend more time in the Word of God. It is the fortress into which the Lord wants to put us.

7 You shall keep them, O Lord, You shall preserve them from this generation forever.

Let’s see what it is that makes times bad, and when they can be said to be so. Ask the people of this world, “What makes the times bad?” and they will tell you, “scarcity of money, lack of business, the destruction of war, inflation, lack of jobs, government regulations, and decay of trade: but the Scriptures lays the badness of the times on causes of another nature—“that in the last days perilous times will come” (2 Timothy 3:1). Sin abounds in perilous times, and this is what David complains about.

Now, let’s see what good things we are furnished with, for those bad times, so that we are preserved for the good times that are certain to come to the people of God:

  1. We have a God we can go to, from whom we may ask and expect the redress of all our grievances.
  2. God will certainly punish and restrain false and proud men.
  3. God will work deliverance for all His people. His help is given at the right time.

The psalmist trusted in God’s words that He would keep them safe in the midst of proud people who strut about in smug self-confidence, placing a premium on things that are vile. God’s Word is safe for He said. “I am watching over my Word to perform it” (Jer. 1:12). Furthermore, God is able to protect His godly people from the lies of the enemy. God’s people are the “generation of the righteous” (14:5), the generation that seeks God (24:6), the generation of His children (73:15), the generation of the upright (112:2). If God’s people will saturate themselves with God’s Word, they won’t be seduced by “this lying generation.” When the church adopts the techniques and motives of the world system, the church ceases to glorify the Lord.

Christian friend, you can bind the words of God to your heart, and go fearlessly among wicked and vile men, because He shall keep and preserve you for all eternity—“No weapon formed against you shall prosper, and every tongue which rises against you in judgment you shall condemn. This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord, and their righteousness is from Me," Says the Lord” (Isa. 54:17). So, the believer instinctively turns to the Lord for protection from this generation—protection not only from its attacks but from any form of complicity or compromise with it.

8 The wicked prowl on every side, When vileness is exalted among the sons of men.

“The wicked prowl” is literally, “go to and fro.” Here is portrayed the midnight society in which the lawless prowl unchecked, the sort of society that is bound to be fashioned “when vileness is exalted among the sons of men.” It is tragic to think that such a thing is possible. “The wicked prowl on every side” may denote any of the following meanings:

  1. Their great numbers, they seem to be everywhere.
  2. Their freedom and safety; they are not restrained or punished, but go boldly and securely wherever they want.
  3. Their proficiency and success. They grow worse and worse, and prosper in and by their wickedness.
  4. Their unceasing and untiring effort in doing mischief to good men.


Here we have a picture of the wicked and worthless men of “this generation” who exercise authority and power through deceptive words.  They are continually on the prowl, exalting vileness (i.e. all manner of wickedness, lying and slandering, profaneness, oppression, cruelty, and the like) and scoffing at virtue. Yet God’s words, which are true, affirm that such people will be destroyed. When voting on men for political office reputation and position are second; desire to be led by the godly is first. On any other terms nations condemn themselves—like people, like leaders.

This wicked generation is described in Proverbs 30:11-14:

There is a generation that curses its father, and does not bless its mother. There is a generation that is pure in its own eyes, yet is not washed from its filthiness. There is a generation—oh, how lofty are their eyes! And their eyelids are lifted up. There is a generation whose teeth are like swords, and whose fangs are like knives, to devour the poor from off the earth, and the needy from among men.

We are living in a day like this, and it will be especially true during the time of the Great Tribulation. Listen to the Prophet Isaiah when he says, “Hear the word of the Lord, You who tremble at His word: "Your brethren who hated you, who cast you out for My name's sake, said, 'Let the Lord be glorified, that we may see your joy.' But they shall be ashamed” (Isa. 66:5). This is a wonderful picture given to us which describes the temple worship in Jerusalem at, I think, at the end of the age. The Lord Jesus said in His day, when the enemy came to arrest Him, “When I was with you daily in the temple, you did not try to seize Me. But this is your hour, and the power of darkness” (Luke 22:53). We go through times when the enemy has the upper hand, but God won’t let something happen to His own unless it will accomplish some worthwhile purpose in their hearts and lives.

The psalmist issues a call to action for “the wicked strut about and evil is praised throughout the land.” People boast about things they ought to be ashamed of—“For many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ: whose end is destruction, whose god is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame—who set their mind on earthly things” (Phil 3:18-19). Is there a way to restrain and overcome this national decay? Yes! God’s people are salt and light (Matt. 5:13-16). If there were more light in the land, there would be less darkness, and if we had more salt, there would be less decay. As God’s people worship God, pray, and share the Gospel with the lost, more people will trust Christ and increase the light in the land. We must also share the truth of the Word with the next generation (2 Tim. 2:2) and prepare them for the battles and opportunities to come (78:1-8; 102:18). The church is always one generation from extinction, so we must be faithful to win the lost and teach the believers, or vileness will conquer the land.

God’s people cannot escape the encounters they are bound to have as long as they are closely surrounded on every side by this godless class of men. But though they talk insolently and act wickedly, God, seeing them for what they are, will protect His people from the damage they would cause.