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Bible Study Guide

Psalms

Psalm 12 Commentary

Turn to Psalm 12.

Psalm 12 Commentary: Genre

Psalm 12 is a lament psalm. The author – David – is wrestling with an issue in his mind and he works through it for all of us to see and learn from his example.

Psalm 12 Commentary: Theme

The issue that David is struggling with is in the last line of the last verse of Psalm 12. “When the Vilest Men are Exalted.”

Psalm 12 Commentary: Application to Us

Do you feel like you’re living in a day and age when the vilest men are exalted? You don’t have to look hard to find this happening all around us.

Most of us – when we turn on the radio – we just for our own conscience sake need to stay right around the top and bottom of the FM spectrum – if you know what I mean. And if you ever stray from about 107.7 to 91.7 or so, you’ll hear “the vilest men” and the vilest material they can produce – exalted in your ears.

And of course you don’t even need to be listening to the radio to be treated to this kind of thing. Stores and restaurants have this stuff playing loud enough for everyone to hear it.

And of course, the MUSIC is bad enough. But the VIDEOS and PERFORMANCES of this stuff is even worse. And it’s thankfully been a long time since I watched one of these music award ceremonies, but I do read the news and I’m generally aware of the kinds of things that happen at these events. And you don’t need me to tell you that the performances, the clothing, the messages being communicated in all sorts of ways demonstrate for all to see a “base character,” or “morally foolish behavior.” And that’s actually the definition of VILE here in this psalm.

And when a culture gets together to award the best, most talented, most promising performers known to that culture… and this is what they come up with? You know that that culture is in trouble. It’s EXALTING – in that sense – the vilest men.

And we could review example after example of this kind of “base character” or “morally foolish behavior” at work in our society – and how our culture exalts this kind of thing and these kinds of people. We have a limitless selection of entertainers, politicians, and sports figures to choose from.

And you might assume that the examples that I would pick would all deal with modern godless entertainers or even politicians with whose policies I don’t agree.

But actually, the other example of people with “morally foolish characters” being exalted in our country is a CONSERVATIVE politician. I was in South Carolina when Mark Sanford was governor there. I don’t know if any of you remember hearing about him and his activities. But he’s the one who told people that he was going for a hike in the mountains. But when he didn’t return when he was supposed to, there started to develop a buzz about where he could be. Is he OK? Maybe he died!

Well, it turned out that Governor Sanford was out of the country in Argentina being immoral and unfaithful to his wife with another woman. And the ensuing actions and statements of Governor Sanford didn’t evidence any signs of genuine repentance. He spoke of this mistress of his as his “soulmate”. It was shameful. It was morally foolish. It was… vile. And yet this man occupied the highest position in the state government of one of the most conservative and supposedly Bible-literate states in our nation.

When I was preparing this message, I kind of remembered that he may have run for some other office a few years ago after the scandal. So, I did a search and found that the guy is now not just a Governor anymore. He’s actually a US Representative for the state of South Carolina! He’s gone national! And I have to believe that that kind of position involves some sort of “exaltation” of the people which he governs.

So, my point is that this vileness – this base character and morally foolish behavior – it’s not often punished these days. It’s not even JUST tolerated sometimes. But often, this kind of behavior and these kinds of people are actually held up as ones to emulate. They’re EXALTED.

But before we despair, let’s recall that this is nothing new to our time. David experienced it too. And he dealt with it in his mind. And his dealings with this issue are recorded in Psalm 12. So, let’s find out how HE wrestled with the vilest men being exalted.

Psalm 12 Commentary: Invocation

David starts Psalm 12 by invoking the Lord. He says, “Help, Lord”. He cries out to the Lord.

And when he asks the Lord to “help” him, he’s using the word yashang – or “Save”, Lord! Save me! Deliver me! Come to my aid!

And I’ll just remind us that this is the exact correct reaction that we need to have when we’re struggling with the fact that the vilest men are being exalted in our society.

The answer is not political action. But as the Lord leads we should be as involved in political action as is warranted. And yet, it’s not laws that will deliver you and me and make things right. It’s the Lord. HE needs to save and deliver and come to our aid.

Neither is the answer to HIDE from the issue. No, we need to SEEK the Lord for deliverance and help. Don’t just pretend like everything is fine. Don’t be content to let the society around you continue to exalt the vilest men. Say, “HELP LORD!”

Psalm 12 Commentary: Lament

Because the damage done to a society when the vilest men are exalted is not just theoretical. There are real consequences to this kind of thing going unchecked in a nation. Look at the rest of verse 1.

KJV Psalm 12:1 …for the godly man ceaseth; for the faithful fail from among the children of men.

Here, David begins to give his lament – the thing that is really bothering him – the thing he needs to work through in his heart with the Lord’s help.

David gives two reasons that he needs God’s deliverance and help. First, the godly man ceases.

The word for “godly” there is related to the term “Chassidic” like the Chassidic Jews of today. The Chassidim are viewed today as kind of the most religious people in Judaism – at least THEY think they are.

I remember seeing these guys when I was flying to Israel from New York. They wear special clothing that their tradition tells them to wear. They don’t cut the hair on the side of their faces because one of their rabbis thought that this was commanded in the Torah – the books of Moses. They were up at a certain time in the morning, putting on their prayer shawls and prayer boxes with great care – walking around the plane chanting their prayers – because they believe that’s what’s expected of them. One of them demanded to be moved because he was sitting next to a woman that was slightly immodestly dressed. I mean, these guys are GODLY! Except, their godliness is man-made. It’s the kind of zeal that Paul the Apostle speaks of. These people have a zeal for the law, but not according to knowledge. It’s misinformed – their godliness is.

But David is speaking of those who are TRULY godly. Truly Chassidic, if I can say that. According to knowledge. And these kind of men – the godly ones – are CEASING in David’s time. As the vilest men are exalted, these guys tend to be less and less present – or at the very least – less visible. They’re marginalized.

And that makes sense. A culture will get what it displays to everyone as its highest ideals. If righteousness is exalted in the eyes of a nation, it’ll typically encourage more righteousness from its citizens. And the same is true for a society that exalts vileness. It will encourage more of that type of behavior.

Do you see that happening in your OWN society? There was a time not too long ago where many states had blue laws. Some still might, I don’t know. But these blue laws would prohibit working on Sunday. When a society codifies its approval that EVERYONE spend one day a week worshipping God, do you think that that would have an effect on that society? I think so. Generally, a society gets what it values.

So David is distressed because the godly cease as the vilest of men are exalted. David follows that up with the statement – “the faithful fail among the children of men”. This is Hebrew parallelism and it’s saying just about the same thing as his first statement. But David is adding a little more to his original thought.

That word “faithful” is from the Hebrew word “Amen”. It means “true” or “reliable”. And this word is one of those words that made the journey from Hebrew to Greek and now to English. It’s like “Hallelujah” in that sense. It means the same thing in a number of different languages. By the way, that’s the significance of people saying “Amen” when someone is preaching. You’re saying – in effect – “that’s RIGHT.” “What you’re saying is reliable!” Amen?

Well, these reliable, true folks tend to FAIL – or, really, DISAPPEAR – when the vilest men are exalted.

And from where are these folks disappearing? The text says that they’re disappearing from among “the children of men”. You’re going to get sick of me pointing this out, but this phrase in Hebrew reads “the sons of Adam”. Again, this phrase represents a designation for MORTALS. Men in general who will die one day because of their mortality. They’re descended from Adam. And they’re mortal and prone to sin and cursed by the fall, just like their father, Adam. You could say that they’re the “general population.” And so this general population starts conspicuously lacking godly and faithful men when their society exalts the vilest men.

And this phenomenon is very concerning to David. And so he cries out to the Lord about it.

Psalm 12 Commentary: The Vilest of Men

Now, David moves in verses 2 through 4 to expose what this group of mortals is like. As they’re exalting vileness among them and the godly are being reduced in number and in power, what is this group known as the “sons of Adam” engaged in? David draws attention in particular to what their mouths are up to – or their SPEECH or VERABL acts. Let’s re-read verses 2 through 4 to find out.

KJV Psalm 12:2 They speak vanity every one with his neighbour: with flattering lips and with a double heart do they speak. 3 The LORD shall cut off all flattering lips, and the tongue that speaketh proud things: 4 Who have said, With our tongue will we prevail; our lips are our own: who is lord over us?

In verse two we have a particular word mentioned twice. “They SPEAK…” at the beginning of the verse. And then the last word of verse 2 – “they SPEAK”. Well, how does a society that has marginalized godly men and has exalted the vilest men – what is their speech like? What can we expect it to be like?

Verse 2 – they speak vanity every one with his neighbour.

They speak vanity. When we hear that we probably think of something worthless. Something better left unspoken. But this word can also refer to DECEPTION. And I think that emphasis is warranted in this verse because of the parallel in the next line that says these men speak with a double heart – that is, DISHONESTLY. So, these men adopt the practice of deception and dishonesty in this kind of climate.

And they do this with their NEIGHBORS. Their comrades, fellows, companions, or friends. They lie – not to their ENEMIES in this kind of society that exalts vileness – no, they lie to even their FRIENDS.

And they do all of this with FLATTERING lips. That word for “flattering” is literally SMOOTH. Slippery. It’s intended to trip you up. So that you fall and injure yourself. And that’s the intention of these men. They WANT to injure their fellow-man with falsehood and flattery.

And as our Lord Jesus said – the mouth speaks from the abundance of what’s in one’s heart. And how are the hearts of these guys pictured in verse 2? They have a double heart. That doesn’t mean that they have a big heart in the sense that they’re kind or generous, of course. In Hebrew, it’s literally “by a heart and a heart they speak.” When you’re talking to them, they portray their HEART – their desires, their intentions, their thoughts, and feelings – one way. But really, it’s as if there’s this whole other “heart” in them that they keep hidden. And it’s full of violence and evil intentions. No one wants to look as bad as they truly are. These men are EVIL – not STUPID. They know how to hide their true self and put forward an exterior that will allow for them to deceive, as we’ve been reading about in this Psalm.

Now, verse 3 is interesting. It almost seems like an extension of David’s lament – because David keeps complaining about this society around him that’s exalting vileness. But there’s actually a petition in here.

Look at verse 3. David seems to confidently assert that “the Lord shall cut off all flattering lips.” But there’s a tense in Hebrew known as Jussive. And it serves as something like a request or prayer. But it looks just like the tense that results in our English indicative here – just a statement, not a request. I read one source that was very adamant that this was a Jussive form – or a prayer or request. And since this is a lament psalm AND one of the elements of such a psalm is a petition section AND since I see nowhere else that could count as such an element, I think it’s best to take this as a request. In other words “may the Lord cut off all flattering lips.”

Remember? Those flattering lips or smooth lips that the sons of Adam intend to use to injure their neighbors? Yes – those ones! May they be CUT off! We don’t need to wonder about David’s heart about the deceitful speech of these men. And we don’t need to wonder how God feels about it either. We know that lying is an abomination to God. We know that one of the sins listed conspicuously as one that characterizes those who will suffer eternal torment is this sin of lying.

And not only the lips of these individuals, but also their tongues. May they be cut off so as to be silenced – never to deceive again. Never to – as the end of the verse says – speak PROUD THINGS.

Well, what kind of proud things are these men who exalt vileness saying? Verse 4. Here’s what they’re saying. With their tongue they will prevail! Yeah, that tongue that will be cut off and silenced. They think that that tongue is going to lead them to victory and give them all the advantages they wish for in this life.

And then their pride is on full display in the next line of verse 4. They claim that their lips belong to them. And then they say this – “Who is lord over us?” That word “lord” is the Hebrew Adon. And you’ve heard of the term Adonai. It’s a word that means “my master” or “my lord”. And it’s applied to God. These men are asserting their ownership over their bodies – in particular, they’re obstinately claiming that no one has the right to curtail their lying harmful speech. “Who’s lord over us?” they say. What answer do they expect? They would answer their own question with “well, no one is, of course!”

But God doesn’t see it that way. Which is going to be a problem for this society that exalts vile men. This kind of development provokes God to act.

Psalm 12 Commentary: God Speaks

And we haven’t seen this kind of thing before in a lament psalm – where God personally speaks. I don’t know what part of the lament psalm we’d call this – maybe the confidence that David has in God? It’s in verse 5.

KJV Psalm 12:5 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.

By the way, how did God’s speech make it into this psalm? Was David imagining that God would say this kind of thing? Or did David receive direct revelation from God at that moment that this was what God planned to do? Either way, it’s God’s Spirit that breathed this out through David. And so we know its God’s heart about the matter at hand.

So, God begins by giving the reason for his being provoked. Did you know that these kind of things provoke God to action? The oppressions of the poor? The sighing of the needy? And in the context I don’t think he’s speaking only of poor people – just folks here and there that happen to be poor. I think these are godly individuals who have been marginalized by their society that exalts vileness and thus oppresses the godly. Remember? This happens to the point that these kind of men “fail” and “cease”. They disappear. They’re marginalized and poor and needy.

And here in verse 5, they’re “oppressed”. This is a word describing destruction or devastation or violence. And they’re “sighing” or groaning as a result of this treatment. This is what happens to the godly and faithful in a society when vileness is exalted.

And it’s the kind of thing that rouses God to act. Notice God’s two “I will” statements. God will arise. And when he does, he’s going to set the poor and needy in a position of safety.

That word” safety” is from the same word that we see in verse 1. Where the psalmist says, “HELP, Lord.” So, David asked for help. And now God is pictured as promising to do that very thing for David and for his group of poor and needy men.

Now, the King James says that God will set these men in a place of safety from “those who puff at them”. But notice that the words “from him that” are in italics. That means, the KJV translators provided them to make sense in English. But I think it should be translated a little differently. The word “puffeth” is something like blow or breathe or speak. It has something to do with the mouth and something coming out of it. Another version translates this word as “pant”. Like, the needy are PANTING for safety – they want it so badly. And God is going to mobilize and grant them that safety that they so desperately want.

Psalm 12 Commentary: Praising God’s Word

Now, we’ve been hearing a lot about words and speech in this psalm so far. The sons of Adam who are exalting vileness have been speaking. And now, we’ve just heard from God. And there could hardly be more difference between the two sets of words. The sons of Adam speak boastfully and sinfully and rebelliously. God – on the other hand — speaks truthfully and authoritatively. That’s what leads David to marvel at and praise God’s words in verse 6.

KJV Psalm 12:6 The words of the LORD are pure words: as silver tried in a furnace of earth, purified seven times.

What a contrast to the evil, boastful, false words of the sons of Adam. God’s words are pure. All of them are – of course. But in the context of this psalm – God’s statement in verse 5 that he will arise and put the needy in a place of safety – these are the words that the psalmist declares to be particularly pure in this verse. God’s words are like metal that’s put through exceedingly hot fire and it comes out without a defect.

Psalm 12 Commentary: God Protects His Own

And because God’s words are pure, the needy who are marginalized and oppressed when a society exalts vileness – they can be sure of God’s protection. Let’s read verse 7.

KJV Psalm 12:7 Thou shalt keep them, O LORD, thou shalt preserve them from this generation for ever.

Well, what or whom is God keeping or watching or guarding in this verse? Is the psalmist declaring that God will keep his words OR that God will keep the poor and needy? Well, there’s no doubt that God keeps his words – that was stated in verse 6. But the pronoun “THEM” in this verse is actually referring to the poor and needy back in verse 5.

Grammatically, this is because the grammatical gender and number of the word translated “them” here matches the grammatical gender and number of the words translated “poor” and “needy” back in verse 5. But, the word “WORDS” in verse 6 has a different grammatical gender.

So, David is expressing his confidence that God will keep or watch or guard or observe his poor, needy, oppressed people even in the midst of a society that marginalizes them and exalts vileness. God will protect his people literally “FROM THIS GENERATION TO FOREVER.”

The psalm ends on a rather dreary note – you might think. But that’s only if you ignore the rest of this entire message! The wicked walk around all over the place with no fear when their society exalts what they love the most – vileness and the vilest men. Yes, that’s true. And may the Lord rid our society and every society of this kind of infatuation with vileness. May he remove it from us!

Psalm 12 Commentary: Summary

And yet, we don’t need to fear. God is provoked by our being oppressed and marginalized. He’s not at all on the side of wickedness. He will set us in the safety that we so desperately want. His words are completely trustworthy. When he says that he’s going to do this for his oppressed people, that’s exactly what he will do. He will guard his people throughout our lifetime and forever.

Do you see vileness exalted in your society today? Deal with it in your heart like David did. Call out to God about it. Express your dismay at the exalting of vileness in our society. Make your requests that it end. Express and reflect upon your confidence that God will put an end to it. Remember God’s desire to stop the exalting of vileness in a society. And remember that his word is always right and pure — and because of that we can be sure that he’ll protect his people even in the midst of a society that exalts vileness. This is what we should do when “The Vilest Men Are Exalted.”

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