Psalm 12 is a wonderful Psalm of David. It serves as a very present day warning of a lying tongue, a wicked nation and of unrighteous rulers.
Psalm 12: Commentary and Exposition
Title: To the chief Musician upon Sheminith, A Psalm of David.
“Sheminith” is believed to mean an eight-stringed instrument or possibly an octave. Some believe it is a command to have vocals and stringed instruments played separated by an octave. No one knows for sure what it means. See comments from Psalm 6 which is the only other place the word, “Sheminith” is used in the Bible.
1) Help, Lord; for the godly man ceaseth; for the faithful fail from among the children of men.
The cry of, “Help, Lord!” is a most beautiful cry. It is a submission to the Lord’s authority and a plea for His mercy and grace. Man has to achieve this ability to ask the Lord for help because sinful man is stiff necked, with hearts as an adamant stone (Zechariah 7:12). God said that I know, “that thou art obstinate, and thy neck is an iron sinew, and thy brow brass” (Isaiah 48:4). The biggest hurdle man can jump is that of pride, arrogance and of self sufficiency. The most difficult thing to do for most in their relationship with the Lord is to once and for all simply let go and let God.
Help comes from the Hebrew, “yasha`” which means to be saved or delivered. It also means to be victorious. If it reminds you of being delivered and victorious through our Savior Jesus Christ it should and here’s why.
“The word rendered Help is a form of the verb yash’a, from which root the word Messiah also is taken” John I. Durham, The Broadman Bible Commentary.
“the godly man ceaseth; for the faithful fail” The Psalmist is praying to God because there has been an end of the kind, merciful and gracious man. Those who were firm and stable in their relationship with God have disappeared. It sounds like the end times doesn’t it? As incredible as all of this may sound it is just describing the symptom and not the problem.
2) They speak vanity every one with his neighbour: with flattering lips and with a double heart do they speak.
“Their tongue is as an arrow shot out; it speaketh deceit: one speaketh peaceably to his neighbour with his mouth, but in heart he layeth his wait” (Jeremiah 9:8).
These are People that speak false, empty words to their friends and companions. These are lies, willingly and knowingly told to those closest to them. The word “Flattering” has been translated from “chelqah“ which means smoothness. So here we have a smooth talking, silver tongued “devil” who has no problem deceiving anyone regardless of kinship, friendship or association.
The power and influence of this ungodly person is persuasion through compliment. He is stroking the ego of his fellow man to puff him up all in an effort to gain influence over him or favor from him. Sincere compliments in of themselves are fine and in fact, encouraged. “Pleasant words are as an honeycomb, sweet to the soul, and health to the bones” (Proverbs 16:24).
But insincere compliments are used as keys to open doors that otherwise would have remained locked.
“with a double heart do they speak.” The literal translation is “with a heart heart do they speak”. Both, “double” and “heart” are derived from the word “leb”.
The Apostle James said it this way, “A double minded man is unstable in all his ways” (James 1:8).
“Draw nigh to God, and he will draw nigh to you. Cleanse your hands, ye sinners; and purify your hearts, ye double minded” (James 4:8).
Double minded as well as double hearted are both addressing the same issue-a two spirited person, an unsettled soul that lays and lies in torment. Jude phrased this way, “Raging waves of the sea, foaming out their own shame” (Jude 1:13).
“A lying tongue hateth those that are afflicted by it; and a flattering mouth worketh ruin” (Proverbs 26:28).
3) The Lord shall cut off all flattering lips, and the tongue that speaketh proud things:
“May there not be here an allusion to those terrible but suggestive punishments which Oriental monarchs were wont to execute on criminals? Lips were cut off and tongues torn out when offenders were convicted of lying or treason. So terrible and infinitely more so are the punishments of sin.” Charles Spurgeon (1834-1892).
Carnal man can only really perceive things in a physical sense. It is why God has given us so many physical examples of spiritual matters in the Bible. But regardless of any possible physical harm that could be done to a sinner, there is no comparison to the ultimate and continuous price here after.
“Ye have wearied the Lord with your words. Yet ye say, Wherein have we wearied him? When ye say, Every one that doeth evil is good in the sight of the Lord, and he delighteth in them; or, Where is the God of judgment?” (Malachi 2:17).
4) Who have said, With our tongue will we prevail; our lips are our own: who is lord over us?
“But those things which proceed out of the mouth come forth from the heart; and they defile the man. For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies” (Matthew 15:18-19).
“For thou hast trusted in thy wickedness: thou hast said, None seeth me. Thy wisdom and thy knowledge, it hath perverted thee; and thou hast said in thine heart, I am, and none else beside me” (Isaiah 47:10).
“Why sayest thou, O Jacob, and speakest, O Israel, My way is hid from the Lord, and my judgment is passed over from my God?” (Isaiah 40:27).
The ungodly are so certain that they will prevail with the way of their words. The double heart of the unsettled soul creates a devious mind and lying lips. And it works, especially amongst the unrighteous.
“A wicked doer giveth heed to false lips; and a liar giveth ear to a naughty tongue” (Proverbs 17:4).
“When men do not fear God, they will not regard man” (From the Matthew Henry commentary on 2 Timothy 3:1-9).
Words are what man claims are his own. But God said, “I have put my words in thy mouth” (Isaiah 51:16). It was The Word that God brought forth for the salvation of all of mankind. And it is words that God offers to man for repentance. And it is the Word that shall come again. “And he was clothed with a vesture dipped in blood: and his name is called The Word of God…. And out of his mouth goeth a sharp sword, that with it he should smite the nations: and he shall rule them with a rod of iron: and he treadeth the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God” (Revelations 19:13,15).
“Take with you words, and turn to the Lord: say unto him, Take away all iniquity, and receive us graciously: so will we render the calves of our lips” (Hosea 14:2).
5) For the oppression of the poor, for the sighing of the needy, now will I arise, saith the Lord; I will set him in safety from him that puffeth at him.
For the gain by strength over the less fortunate and the groaning and cries of those in need, the Lord says, “Now will I arise”. God’s promise to His people is a universal, timeless promise that cannot change or alter. If we put our trust in the Lord he will be a refuge for us in time of need.
“The Lord also will be a refuge for the oppressed, a refuge in times of trouble. And they that know thy name will put their trust in thee: for thou, Lord, hast not forsaken them that seek thee” (Psalm 9:9-10).
“If thou seest the oppression of the poor, and violent perverting of judgment and justice in a province, marvel not at the matter: for he that is higher than the highest regardeth; and there be higher than they” (Ecclesiastes 5:8).
6) The words of the Lord are pure words: as silver tried in a furnace of earth, purified seven times.
“For the word of the Lord is right; and all his works are done in truth” (Psalms 33:4).
“The words of the Lord are pure words” What Jehovah says is pure, true, unmixed. The ungodly speak with a double heart. Their words are fitted for personal benefit. There is no responsibility attached to what they say.
God speaks from His one unchangeable heart of truth. There is no variance with God and His word. Both God and His word are the same, both are pure truth. What God says, “is”! What better name could He have given other than “I AM”!
Man, even at his best efforts cannot “say” and “be” consistently all of the time. The fight and struggle between flesh and spirit can be too great. This is the war between flesh and spirit that the Apostle Paul cried, “O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?”
“Pure – Without the least mixture of falsehood; and therefore shall infallibly be fulfilled” (John Wesley). The root word for “pure” comes from a word that means to be bright or to shine. The truth of the word of God will always shine through the darkness of iniquity.
“For the word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12).
7) Thou shalt keep them, O Lord, thou shalt preserve them from this generation for ever.
“Instead of the pronoun “them” in these clauses, several MSS., with the Septuagint, the Vulgate, and the Arabic, have “us”. The sense is equally good in both readings” (Adam Clarke).
“Keep” and “preserve” have very similar meanings of watch after or guard. This is a reference to His that are poor and oppressed. Gods sees everything and is true to His word. “from this generation for ever” simply means that no matter when, during the time of the writing of Psalm 12 or in present times, whenever that may be; God will be faithful to His children.
8) The wicked walk on every side, when the vilest men are exalted.
This is a difficult verse to interpret. The surface reading portrays a horrible picture of when vile men are put into prominent position and the wicked which naturally surround them. Evil will always gravitate to evil but evil in power acts as a magnet to draw them in. Evil must perpetuate and justify itself therefore an evil king must have an evil court. It has to. But unrighteousness is like a cancer. It will eat up and destroy everything. First what is afar, next close by then eventually the cancer of unrighteousness will eat itself.
““If ‘vileness is set on high among the sons of men,’ it is because the sons of men prefer it to the stern purity of goodness. A corrupt people will crown corrupt men and put them aloft. The average goodness of a community is generally fairly represented by its heroes, rulers, and persons to whom influence is given; and when such topsy-turvydom as the rule of the worst is in fashion, “the wicked walk on every side” (Alexander Maclaren)
“When the righteous are in authority, the people rejoice: but when the wicked beareth rule, the people mourn” (Proverbs 29:2).
“When it goeth well with the righteous, the city rejoiceth: and when the wicked perish, there is shouting. By the blessing of the upright the city is exalted: but it is overthrown by the mouth of the wicked” (Proverbs 11:10-11).
“Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord; and the people whom he hath chosen for his own inheritance” (Psalm 33:12).
“Righteousness exalteth a nation: but sin is a reproach to any people” (Proverbs 14:34).
Conversely, when the people are bad the nation suffers and the rulers are many and frequent. Only a man of God who follows His ways can sustain a nation.
“For the transgression of a land many are the princes thereof: but by a man of understanding and knowledge the state thereof shall be prolonged” (Proverbs 28:2).
Here is where the verse can be difficult to interpret. “the vilest men” comes from, “zulluwth ben adam”. Ben adam is “son” of “Adam” or “son of fallen man”. The Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew lexicon interprets “zulluwth” to mean worthlessness giving the reading, “the son of fallen man is worthless”. This would be a good description of a vile leader of a nation.
But the Gesenius’ Hebrew-Chaldee Lexicon gives the meaning of zulluwth to be “terror” or “trembling”. It follows the etymology of the word zulluwth back to “zalal” which means to shake, tremble or shake out/pour out. Ultimately the Gesenius Lexicon interprets the phrase, “Like the rising of a tempest upon the sons of men”.
The interpretation of the phrase, “the vilest men“ given by the Gesenius’ Hebrew-Chaldee Lexicon seems to be of a minority opinion by scholars and expositors but consideration should be given to all learned viewpoints.
David began this Psalm with, “Help, Lord; for the godly man ceaseth”. Our only assurance and refuge is God. He should always be approached first and foremost under any circumstance. David’s observation that the godly are no more should serve as a warning for us all. It is prophecy. First the ungodly people then followed by an ungodly ruler. As a society slips and degrades so will its rulers.
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