Psalm 12

On some university campuses, what once was called “Home Economics” is now “The College of Applied Life Studies.” In Tucson, Arizona, potholes are no more, because they’re now known as “pavement deficiencies.” In politics, new taxes are “revenue enhancements,” and in military jargon, “retreat” is “backloading of augmentation personnel.” If, while you’re backloading, you get shot, the bullet hole is “a ballistically induced aperture in the subcutaneous environment.”10 This kind of artificial evasive language is known as “double-speak” and its popularity in almost every area of human life is evidence that language and communication are in serious trouble. Our ability to speak and write words is a precious gift of God, and this psalm deals with the right and wrong use of that gift. (For “Sheminith,” see Ps. 6.)

The Righteous—Despairing Words (v. 1)

In Psalm 11, the foundations of society were shaking (v. 3), but here David cried out for help (salvation, deliverance) because the godly remnant of faithful believers was getting smaller and smaller. This wasn’t the complaint of a crotchety old man longing for “the good old days.” It was the cry of a truly faithful servant of God who wanted to see his nation Israel fulfill her divine purposes on earth. The faithfulness of Israel involved bringing the Savior into the world and blessing all the nations (Gen. 12:1–3). David wasn’t alone in his concern. Elijah thought he was the only faithful prophet left (1 Kings 18:22; 19:10, 18), and the prophets Isaiah (Isa. 57:1) and Micah (Mic. 7:1–7) expressed their concern at the absence of righteous leaders. See also Psalm 116:1, Ecclesiastes 10:5–7, and Jeremiah 5:1. When he wrote 1 Timothy, Paul lamented over what “some” were doing in the church (1:3, 6, 19; 4:1; 5:15; 6:10), but in 2 Timothy, that “some” had become “all” (1:15; 4:16). One of the tragedies today is that a new generation of believers doesn’t seem to know what it takes to be a godly leader, so they borrow leadership ideas from secular society and all kinds of unequipped and unqualified people to be leaders.

The Wicked—Deceptive words (vv. 2–4)

One mark of a Spirit-filled believer is the ability to detect lies and liars and avoid them (1 John 2:18–29), and David knew that he was living in a society controlled by deception. It wasn’t that only a few people were telling lies; deception was a major characteristic of the whole generation. (See 5:9; 28:3; 34:13; 55:21; 141:3.) What would David say if he were alive today and witnessed the propaganda and promotion that make up what we casually call “the media”? He would probably describe today’s “communication” as he did centuries ago: empty and useless words (“vanity”), smooth talk (“flattery”), double-talk from double hearts, and boastful talk or “proud words.”

Saul used lies to deceive his leaders about David, and Absalom used flattery to poison the minds of the naïve people of Israel against David. Flattery is not communication, it’s manipulation (see Prov. 26:28; 28:23). Even in Christian ministry it’s possible to use flattery to influence people and exploit them (1 Thess. 2:1–6; Acts 20:28–31). Flattery plays on the ego and especially influences people who want to appear important (Jude 11). You can flatter yourself (36:2), others (5:9; 12:2), and even God (78:34–37). Of course, what the lips speak comes from the heart (Matt. 12:33–37), and that’s why David accuses these liars of duplicity, which is a divided heart (literally “a heart and a heart”). This is the opposite of the “perfect heart,” total loyalty to God and His truth (86:11; 1 Chron. 12:33, 38; Rom. 16:17–18).

As for “proud words,” this describes boastful speech that impresses people by its oratory and vocabulary. “Great swelling words” is the phrase used in 2 Peter 2:18 and Jude 1:16. Daniel (7:20, 25) and John (Rev. 13:2, 5) both tell us that the Antichrist will speak in this way and rule the world. This kind of speech is motivated by pride and is used by people who think they’re in control and will never need to answer to anybody, including the Lord. Their lips are their own, and they can speak just as they please.

The Lord—Delivering Words (vv. 5–8)

But God sees the oppression of the weak (Ex. 3:7) and hears the pain in their cries, and He declares that He will arise and judge the liars and deceivers. “I will arise” takes us back to 3:7, 7:6, 9:19, and 10:12, and see Numbers 10:35 and Isaiah 33:11–12. “Safety” in verse 5 (“protect,” NIV) comes from the same Hebrew root as “help” in verse 1 and “deliver” in 6:8, and is the basis for the names “Jesus” and “Joshua” (“Jehovah is salvation”). The last phrase in verse 5 should read as in the New American Standard Bible: “the safety for which he longs.” When God comes to deliver His people, He will “cut off” those who practice flattery and deception (v. 3), which means separation from the covenant community (Gen. 17:14), like the separation of the goats from the sheep (Matt. 25:31–33).

But can the Lord’s promises be trusted? Yes! Unlike the worthless words of the deceivers, the Word of the Lord is like precious silver (19:9–10) that is heated seven times in the crucible before it is poured out into the mold. His Word is flawless and can be trusted; His Word is precious and must be valued (119:14, 72, 127, 162). How paradoxical that society today sees the Scriptures as something relatively worthless and yet pays great sums of money to the people who manufacture deception and flattery. No matter how many lies this generation tells, God’s Word is safe, for He said, “I am watching over My word to perform it” (Jer. 1:12, NASB). Furthermore, God is able to protect His godly people from the lies of the enemy. God’s people are “the generation of the righteous” (14:5), the generation that seeks God (24:6), the generation of His children (73:15), the generation of the upright (112:2). If God’s people will saturate themselves with God’s Word, they won’t be seduced by “this lying generation.” When the church adopts the techniques and motives of the world system, the church ceases to glorify the Lord.

The final verse issues a call to action, for “the wicked strut about, and evil is praised throughout the land” (NLT). Vileness (“cheapness”) is promoted and exalted in the media: immorality, brutality, murder, lies, drunkenness, nudity, the love of money, the abuse of authority. The things that God condemns are now a means of universal entertainment, and the entertainment industry gives awards to the people who produce these things. People boast about things they ought to be ashamed of (Phil. 3:18–19). Is there a way to restrain and overcome this national decay? Yes! God’s people are salt and light (Matt. 5:13–16). If there were more light in the land, there would be less darkness, and if we had more salt, there would be less decay. As God’s people worship God, pray, and share the Gospel with the lost, more people will trust Christ and increase the salt and light in the land. We must also share the truth of the Word with the next generation (2 Tim. 2:2) and prepare them for the battles and opportunities to come (78:1–8; 102:18). The church is always one generation short of extinction, so we must be faithful to win the lost and teach the believers, or vileness will conquer the land.