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Psalm 12: When people cannot be trusted, God can

Psalm series

Psalm 12: When people cannot be trusted, God can
Posted on February 7, 2020  - By Dr. David Brooks

Deception is all around us. At this time in our history, people are all too familiar with “fake news”. Eventually, we learn that many descriptions of events, situations, and people were not true. Fraud is all too common. Those we trusted lied to us. People tell the truth in a way that deceives (a Biblical example is when Abraham said Sarah was his sister [she was his half-sister] with the purpose of implying she was not his wife, Genesis 12:10-20; 20:1-18). Even friends and colleagues say one thing, but mean something else. Psalm 12 addresses this problem.

From the earliest times of Israel’s history with the book of Psalms, Psalms 1-41 were labelled “Book One”. Most of these songs were composed by David and reveal that he and/or his people were severely attacked by the wicked and needed God’s deliverance. Psalm 12 is in this genre. It begins with an urgent petition for God to deliver His people from the arrogant and deceitful people of their society (vv. 1-4), focuses on God’s coming to deliver them to safety (v. 5), and expresses confidence in the truthfulness of His words (vv. 6-7), to preserve them even while the arrogant strut apparently secure in their wickedness (v. 8).

The godly are no more

1 Save, O Lord, for the godly one is gone;
    for the faithful have vanished from among the children of man.
Everyone utters lies to his neighbor;
    with flattering lips and a double heart they speak.

May the Lord cut off all flattering lips,
    the tongue that makes great boasts,
those who say, “With our tongue we will prevail,
    our lips are with us; who is master over us?”

David was speaking in hyperbole to say that no one could be trusted, but we can understand his despair when so many whose words he should have been able to depend on — and had depended on — were deceitful. “The godly”, here, refers to loyal persons. But these were not merely loyal to him as friends, members of his administration, or citizens of his kingdom; he’s speaking of people who were faithful to tell the truth. This is evidenced by the parallel term “faithful”, which originated from the idea of firmness and stability. That is, such people’s words could be depended upon, what they said described reality — they told the truth. However, such people were now absent. No one’s words could be trusted. The expression “children of man” means “humanity”. It looked as if no humans could be trusted.

David was speaking in hyperbole, but we can understand his despair when so many whose words he had depended on were deceitful

Besides speaking fraudulently, the deceivers were flatterers. That is, they were smooth-talkers (literally, “smooth lips/speech”) and made falseness sound like truth. In his language, David said they had “a heart and a heart”. They had two intentions. They said one thing but intended another. They could not be trusted — but who knew? These double-dealers were arrogant in their duplicity. They calculated that they could say whatever they wanted. They were sure their words would prevail because they had the power to say what they wanted, do as they wished, and no one could hold them accountable. They assumed they would be successful, and it looked like they were right.

God promises deliverance

David requested the Lord to destroy these wicked liars who proposed to do whatever great purposes they imagined. To “cut off” their lips and tongue is not literal, for the idea of cutting off often meant to destroy someone, to separate and ruin them.

God gave His attention to this deviousness. He announced (in verse 5) that He would act on behalf of not only David, but also the others who were cheated and abused. “‘Because the poor are plundered, because the needy groan, I will now arise,’ says the LORD; ‘I will place him in the safety for which he longs.’” David had called for God to deliver him to safety (v. 1), and God responded that He would. David and others had been desperate, they were worn out by fraud and panted (literally, but translated here as “longs”, which communicates their desire, though perhaps not their desperation or exhaustion).

The psalm begins and ends describing the treachery throughout society, which helps us see that v. 5 is the centre of the psalm. Therefore, the writer purposed to focus on God’s resolve to answer David’s plea to remedy the situation. The next two verses show why David had confidence in God’s answer:

6 The words of the Lord are pure words,
    like silver refined in a furnace on the ground,
    purified seven times.

You, O Lord, will keep them;
    you will guard us from this generation forever.

Whereas the words of the people around him were false, God’s words are faithful and true. When God says something — such as His assurance that He would deliver Him — His words are pure truth. They represent reality; they are not fraudulent. As a silversmith would heat and purify silver alloy until all impurities were removed and the metal was no longer an alloy, so God’s words are unmixed with deception. He is reliable. The abused can put their confidence safely in what He says.

When God says something, His words are pure truth. They represent reality; therefore, the abused can put their confidence safely in Him

Be faithful while you wait

The psalmist completes his song by repeating the continued wickedness and duplicity of the people around him in verse 8: “On every side the wicked prowl, as vileness is exalted among the children of man.” God would deliver, but possibly not right away. Rescue was certain, but not immediate. Evil conditions may continue for a while, for vileness was promoted at every level of the community. Therefore, as he had said in Psalm 11, he would be faithful during these distressing times, expecting God to destroy those who loved deceit and to save the ones who cried to him in for help.

God’s hatred for deceitfulness runs throughout Scripture. The first sin in Eden was a response to a lie by Satan. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and 10 of Jacob’s sons were recorded as deceptive (Genesis 12:10-20; 20:1-18; 26:7-11; 37:17-35), but they all had to give account for it. Abraham and Isaac were put to shame (Abraham was even forced to leave the country); Jacob had to deal with Laban, who was as great a deceiver as he was (Genesis 29:16-25; 31:7-8; cf. Psalm 18:26); his 10 sons were anxious for decades over their mistreatment of their brother and father (Genesis 41:21-22; 50:15); and the eventual leader of the conspiracy and deception (Genesis 37:26-27) was forced before the community to face the fact that he was a hypocrite (Genesis 38:26).

The last two chapters of the Bible declare three times that liars will have no place in the new heavens and new earth (Revelation 21:8, 27; 22:15). Like Psalm 12:6-7, Revelation states that God’s words are true (Revelation 22:6). He will deliver His people from deceivers.

Dr. David Brooks

About Dr. David Brooks

David Brooks is a senior professor of Hebrew & Old Testament at Criswell College, Dallas, where he lives with his wife and four children. Having been raised with an emphasis on international missions, he often accepts international teaching assignments while also teaching adjunctively at Dallas Theological Seminary.



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