Psalms Lecture 5: Psalm 12

THE FOLLOWING ARE NOTES FOR LECTURES GIVEN AT NEW COLLEGE, BIRMINGHAM. I AM NOT AN EXPERT AND BOOKS WILL BE CREDITED TO SHOW WHERE MY INFORMATION IS COMING FROM. IF YOU HAVE QUESTIONS, COMMENT ON THIS POST AND I WILL TRY MY BEST TO ANSWER.

~*~

For the director of music. According tosheminith.[b] A psalm of David.

Help, Lord, for no one is faithful anymore;
those who are loyal have vanished from the human race.
Everyone lies to their neighbor;
they flatter with their lips
but harbor deception in their hearts.

May the Lord silence all flattering lips
and every boastful tongue—
those who say,
“By our tongues we will prevail;
our own lips will defend us—who is lord over us?”

“Because the poor are plundered and the needy groan,
I will now arise,” says the Lord.
“I will protect them from those who malign them.”
And the words of the Lord are flawless,
like silver purified in a crucible,
like gold[c] refined seven times.

You, Lord, will keep the needy safe
and will protect us forever from the wicked,
who freely strut about
when what is vile is honored by the human race.

According to the Sheminith, literally “according to the eighth” but meaning is unknown, possible referring to a musical instrument or style of music. “to the leader” often referred to an instruction, here Sheminith, for the head of musicians in the temple to follow. Again David is the author of the psalm, but this is not as personal to his life, instead he acts as a priest or prophet on behalf of a community as well as on behalf of God.

This psalm could be seen as an expansion of psalm 11:3 –

“If the foundations are destroyed what can the righteous do?”

This psalm is clearly one genre: lament, but also corporate lament, a cry from many people. The situation is full of menace, “the wicked prowl” in a different way to the assassin in psalm 11 but the harm caused is just as dangerous. Lies, flattery and corruption are everywhere and this psalm is in the pattern of prayer-promise-prayer. It is a plea, a prayer that God might help the people effected by such sin and wickedness.

Part A: 1-4 Prayer, lament for the lies and flattery.

The man has looked up and has found himself surrounded, his allies, gone. Whereas someone else might have rethought his stand, David as in many other prayers and wisdom psalms, signals for help from his God. He does not retreat from the situation, he prays.

This section describes a plea against those who sin and oppress others by what they say- lies, flattery, arrogance, hypocrisy, and slander. These people, those who are not godly, or not “faithful” to the law and covenant way of life, is a similar idea to that which we saw in psalm 1 “the wicked”, “sinners”, and “scoffers/mockers”.

Verse two points out what we might call smooth talk; the boasting is not full of words to communicate the truth. Instead their policy is to manipulate the hearer. Lies is more accurately “emptiness” which is falsehood but is also close to being insincere or even irresponsible. This cheapens the human discourse. Flattering talk is literally smooth, this is known to be deadly in the pleasure it creates alongside the addiction (the comfort becomes indispensable).

John 5:44 points out the issue that this causes: “How can you believe since you accept glory from one another but do not seek the glory that comes from the only God?”. When people fall for these words, they prioritise the glory/pleasure received from man rather than the true glory from God. This is when they start questioning Gods power, they start to believe they can do better without Him.

They emphasise this with their question ” who is our master?”. This rhetoric is mocking the law of God and suggesting that God has no power over them, just as the scoffers in psalm 1 mock those that follow the law.

Part B: 5-6 Prophecy and promise of the Lord.

How does God speak? 2 options:

– prophets being in attendance to give God’s answer to a prayer as it was uttered.

– answer coming directly through psalmist, David’s last word in 2 Samuel 23 seem very like this structure of psalm, and we have already seen some prophet-like ideas within David’s psalms.

When we look at the sentence “safety in which they long” the word long is literally puffs or pants. This word can be hostile but here it is the simpler sense of longing. But thinking of puffs and pants, this implies tiredness, exhaustion. When alongside “the needy groan” it is not too hard to think of what oppression and hardship the poor might be suffering.

The Lords promise gives a stark contrast to what has come before out of the mouths of men. Instead of flattery and lies, he promises, pledges and this can remind us of the covenant relationship the people had with God.

An interesting note about furnace on the ground- this could also mean something similar to “from the ground/from the earth” as in made of clay. The imagery of this furnace, purifying, refining is an image we have heard elsewhere in the bible as we are told that troubles are possibly part of the refining process, making us more god-like and more purely into what was intended. As in psalm 1 the wicked are chaff as the grains are sorted, so we might be refined into the purest form. God is the ultimate purity, the ultimate good, and this is emphasised by the words his promises are pure, being refined and purified seven times – seven being a particularly important number in the Bible.

It has even been suggested that the word often give to silver, is more like gold, it is gold because of the way it is refined and washed over and over again. You may also associate it with the prophetic idea of seven within the book of revelation, seven periods of the church, or the perfection implied in the number seven brought by Jesus’ revelation.

Part C: 7-8 Prayer, lament but certainty in the Lord.

The psalm ends with the same conditions. David is not requesting an immediate change, and prayer is not magic that with a click of your fingers things are fixed. Things are the same but the Lord has promised His help. The lord has also already heard the prayers of the poor and needy, this is an ongoing process.

There is however a renewed trust in God. Instead of help, David voices a knowledge that God will protect them.

The final verse again relates to the first verse, vileness has two areas of meaning:

– worthlessness and cheapness, similar to the emptiness of the lies that oppress the needy.

– shameful excess, where the values of vain people are glamourised, they flaunt themselves. Despite the shame that should go with such vanity, they boldly and openly prowl, they are on every side. The word are strong in explaining that with a weakness the enemy is in, it’s a battle of words.

G K Chesterton: “O God of earth and altar” hymn and words.

This is how relevant this prayer is. We all know of lies that have been told, of flatter effecting politics, life, church, and the two-faced nature of some we come across.

G K Chesterton was asking God for help with the same issues, centuries later.

(Also just for fun, I dare you to search for the Iron Maiden version!)

  • Kidner, Derek. Psalms 1-72: An Introduction and Commentary on Book I and II of the Psalms (Inter-Varsity Press, England, 1973).
  • Spurgeon, C. H. The Treasury of David, Volume 1, Psalm I to LVII (Hendrickson Publishers, Massachusetts).
  • Society of Biblical Literature. The Harper Collins Study Bible (New Revised Standard Version).
  • Walton, John H. Chronolgical and Background Charts of the Old Testament (Zondervan, Michigan, 1978).
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