Thursday, November 12, 2009

Selected Psalms: Psalm 12


  1 Save, O LORD, for the godly one is gone; for the faithful have vanished from among the children of man.
 2 Everyone utters lies to his neighbor; with flattering lips and a double heart they speak.
 3 May the LORD cut off all flattering lips, the tongue that makes great boasts,
 4 those who say, "With our tongue we will prevail, our lips are with us; who is master over us?"
 5 "Because the poor are plundered, because the needy groan, I will now arise," says the LORD; "I will place him in the safety for which he longs."
 6 The words of the LORD are pure words, like silver refined in a furnace on the ground, purified seven times.
 7 You, O LORD, will keep them; you will guard us from this generation forever.
 8 On every side the wicked prowl, as vileness is exalted among the children of man.

Psalm 12 is a lament, which is a genre that depicts a person or group of people agonizing over a situation and petitioning God for help.  Laments can be particularly “real” in that they speak so honestly to the heartaches that most of us have felt at certain times in our lives.  Psalm 12 seems very real to me today. 
As in a typical lament, Psalm 12 addresses God and then describes the writer’s distress.  The godly one is gone; for the faithful have vanished from among the children of man.  Of course, this is hyperbole – overstatement for effect.  The purpose is to convey the seeming hopelessness of the situation.  The community is devoid of godly persons, and the righteous are completely alone. 
Our society is looking more and more like that all the time.  Reading the news everyday can give you the sense that the world is becoming more corrupt, more cruel, more godless.  The second verse shows even more clearly the parallel between the psalmist’s culture and our own.  Everyone utters lies to his neighbor; with flattering lips and a double heart they speak.
The perversion and twisting of truth is evident in our culture today on a number of levels.  Who hasn’t been the victim of some kind of fraudulent activity?  It could be dishonest sales tactics at a car dealership.  It could be identity theft.  Internet phishing.  Email viruses. 
Deception is rampant in the public square as well.  So common is it for politicians to break promises and lie, that a great deal of the electorate is completely jaded.  Casting a vote in an election seems to be little more than betting which candidate is least likely to lie about the issues I care about.
When I think of the betrayal of truth, I think about those who deceive, exploit, and abuse children.  With flattering lips, the perpetrators gain the trust of the weak, gain access to the innocent, and ravage the unsuspecting.  You don’t have to read long to find this in the headlines every day.
Then in the one arena where one might expect a greater conviction for integrity – Christianity – there is a growing movement to question whether or not truth is even knowable.  With such a lack of certainty regarding truth, anything goes, and the relativity that once only characterized post-modern secular philosophy now characterizes a large swathe of the Christian landscape.
But the wonderful thing about laments is that they are never pretexts for hopelessness.  Laments always turn to God for help, which is what we should do.  May the Lord cut off all flattering lips, the tongue that makes great boasts, those who say, “With our tongue we will prevail, our lips are with us; who is master over us?”
What is the proper response to a culture characterized by deception, where the devious take advantage of the weak?  To pray that God would put an end to the lying tongues. 
It’s interesting to me how slow we are to pray about such things, and how quick we are to appeal to the governing authorities.  It is as if we re-wrote the words to the old hymn, “My hope is built on nothing less than human courts and due process.”  Not that is it inappropriate to seek earthly justice through the legal process.  But I do think that we betray our own lack of faith when we seek justice and protection from men to the exclusion of seeking it from God. 
We need to be reminded that earthly justice is fickle and in some cases never comes.  Whereas, with God, the day of justice is certain.  "Because the poor are plundered, because the needy groan, I will now arise," says the LORD; "I will place him in the safety for which he longs."  I see three words of comfort here. 
First, God sees the oppression of the weak.  Those who are victims of deception and injustice, who have been victimized in any way, may believe that their suffering remains secret.  But God sees the whole thing.  He knows the truth.  Justice may be slow according to our concept of time, but in the eternal scheme, it is sure and swift.
Second, God hears the groan of the needy.  God has perfect eyes and He has perfect ears.  All cries for help are heard. 
Third, what God sees and hears compels Him to act and protect: I will now arise.  I will place him in the safety for which he longs. 
And in a world where you can trust no one, where you can believe nothing, God’s words can be trusted.  The words of the LORD are pure words, like silver refined in a furnace on the ground, purified seven times.  The world lies.  God tells the truth.  The world is deceptive.  God’s words are pure.
An understanding of that, combined with God’s promise in v5 that He sees the weak, hears the needy, and acts accordingly, leads to the kind of assurance that we see in v7:  You, O LORD, will keep them; you will guard us from this generation forever.
There is one word in v7 that is crucial for us to notice – forever.  God will guard His people, but we may not see that in its full manifestation until we see Him in glory.  We know that there will be suffering for us in this life (2 Cor 4:8-18; 2 Tim 3:12).  But our hope is that one day we will be removed from this place and taken to be with Him (Rom 8:20-39).
The laments of the Psalms always point in hope to God.  Psalm 12 is a great reminder.  Even though we live in deceptive times, God sees, God hears, God promises to act, and His promises are always true.  He will deliver us from this deceptive world.

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