Psalm 12 — The Politics of Words in the Exaltation of Evil
12 Help, Lord; for the godly man ceaseth; for the faithful fail from among the children of men.
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?
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.
6 The words of the Lord are pure words: as silver tried in a furnace of earth, purified seven times.
7 Thou shalt keep them, O Lord, thou shalt preserve them from this generation for ever.
8 The wicked walk on every side, when the vilest men are exalted.
Sir Walter Scott once penned fitting words for Psalm 12, “Oh what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive.” The Psalm contains an opening (v. 1) and closing (v. 8) verse inclusio. Hence, the entire argument is made without a change in the circumstances. Evil remains. The Psalm is divided into two parts: first, the words of the wicked (vv. 2–4); and second, the Word of God (vv. 5–7).
The Bible does not dismiss words of the wicked. Rather, it informs us of the power of words. The wicked possess evil thoughts, and their evil actions are prevalent in Scripture. Here, as in Psalm 5:5–10, words are the political ploy for the wicked to gain at the expense of others, especially the needy and afflicted.
David lamented the reduction of the righteous to a hyperbolic end…none remain (v. 1). The inclusio opens, and the parallelism presents an introduction to the problem. The prayer for help uses the common request for deliverance (Heb. hoshiah). The righteous, identified as the “the godly man” and the “faithful” have been reduced in number (c/f; Is 57:1; Jer. 5:1; Micah 7:2). The hyperbole, “is no more” reminds us of Elijah’s lament from Mt. Horeb (1 Kings 19:10), where God informed him that seven thousand members of the covenant community had not bowed the knee to Baal.
YHWH, throughout history, has allowed Israel to be the small underdog. Worldly insignificance has invited affliction for the church, too. Contrary to reason, the church is strengthened and purified when reduced and oppressed by culture, society, or governments. When rising in power and influence, the church can attract unregenerate leaders who use the institution to oppress individuals and groups. This seems to be the case here.
Israel, during the period of the united monarchy (1051–930 B.C.), had little external threat. The majority of David’s psalms should invite our inquiry into the internal affairs of Israel. During the decade of dealing with the house of Saul (1020–1010 B.C.), he accrued many adversaries. There were those in his family and also some of his friends who betrayed him with their words.
David lamented the false, flattering, and feigned words of the wicked (v. 2). The wicked are portrayed as empty talkers, smooth talkers, and double talkers. Emptiness of speech is heard when the wicked lie to one another. They never cease to use their silver tongues to smooth talk their way to the top. To flatter is to tell people what they want to hear. Who has not been duped into buying something he did not need by the flattery of advertising? Who has not heard the twisted pleadings of a defense lawyer? The “double heart” is not like the double mind. The double mind is indecisive and faced with the conundrum of deciding. The double heart says one thing but means another, in order to deceive.
David cursed those who boast and flatter to deceive (v. 3). David’s prayer continues here (vv. 1–3). It becomes imprecatory as he calls down curses for the evil, if not the evildoer’s tongue, to be cut off.
Boasting is prevalent with the wicked. Stories, statistics, and schemes for the future expand to the envelope of believability. In some cases, we can only marvel at what people will succumb to in their gullibility. James 3:5 picks up on this and warns believers to avoid boasting.
Never was there a more appropriate named economic concept than, “The Greater Fools Theory.” The idea behind this theory is that the fool who just paid too much for something, no doubt convinced by its boasting attributes, will not have to wait long to sell it at a higher price to a fool greater than himself.
David quoted the rhetoric of the rebellious (v. 4). Which politician could not persuade the party faithful that he could convince the masses with his words? All business is people selling people. The rhetorical question of the rebellious is, “Who is lord over us?” The answer is simply, “no one.”
The charlatan lives and dies by his power to prevail upon others, for his lips are his own. He never stops to consider that he will be judged by God for every idle word uttered during his miserable years of existence. He gathers his mega-audience, fleeces their wallets, and basks in their complementary adulations.
In closing this first part of the Psalm, it is worth noting the prophetic implications toward the eschaton’s false prophet (Dan. 7:20, 25; 2 Peter 2; Rev. 13; 20:10). In the last days, the antichrist will pimp the preeminent prima donna (Rev 18). This man of lawlessness will be the man of many lies (Jn 8:44; 2 Thess 2). He will bear witness to the messianic power of the antichrist. He will propagandize the world with boasting, falsehoods, flattering lips, unreliable words, leading the masses to destruction, for his throat will be an open sepulcher. If you think the world is deceived, today. You have not heard anything, yet.
David quoted an answering oracle from God (v. 5). God’s promise is no longer pending. His Word bursts forth as a paroxysm to confute the wicked. His claim is to act forthwith. The indigent have pleaded and pleaded, and here is a day of reckoning. God watches the devastation of the righteous and listens to their groans and cries. The repeated prayers of the psalmist have been, “Arise, O Lord.” YHWH, coterminous in His response, declares, “Now I will arise.” The promise of safe refuge is fulfilled. The Word of God is powerful, a double-edged sword to separate peoples.
David set the Word of God in contrast with the words of the wicked (v. 6). The imagery is metal refined. “Seven times” refined alludes to the number of God’s perfection. The obvious distinction is the purity of God’s Word set apart from the words of the unrighteous. Whose word will you believe, man or God’s?
David presented YHWH as protector of His Word and His people (v. 7). The first object referent for “them” could be His Words (v. 6). He will keep them. The second object referent points back to the sole psalmist, “him” praying for help (v. 1). He, too, will be preserved in God’s program of salvation. Divine protection is trustworthy; but despite all the displays of power by God, He does not remove evil.
David observed the continuation of evil among men (v. 8). The inclusio closes in the same state as it began. Evil predominates. “The wicked” are finally identified by name. They are the evil speakers (vv. 2–4). The strutting abomination of Gay Pride Parades is coupled with the vile racial hatred marches of the Ku Klux Klan, Black Lives Matter, and Million Man March.
The politician’s promise, the advertiser’s slogan, the lawyer’s loophole, and the preacher’s pop psychology are the worthless words of wicked men. Evil is exalted in the abeyance of the Almighty.
Words are the ammunition in the politics of power grabbing. The minority of righteous observe this wretched working with words. What can the righteous do?
Turn to the Word of God during the dark days when love grows cold. Evil will be with us to the end. The tares must mature with the wheat before the day of harvest.
God’s Word rightly divides truth from lies. Until the tree of knowledge of good and evil is sawn asunder by the Word of God, the rotten fruit of evil spirits ripens in the garden of our lives. However, God is now ready to act in providing the stronghold of salvation for those who are weary and heavy laden by the oppressive words of others.
Come, listen to the pure Word of God in this, your generation and forever more. The invitation of Jesus Christ, the Word of God, is open for His people to receive and respond to the words, “I love you, and I will tell you the truth.” His Word is life (Jn 6:63).
Spokane Valley, Washington
May 31, 2021