The Psalms have been called the “Prayer book of the Bible,” or even the “Hymn book of the Bible.” Down through the centuries, people have gone to the Psalms more than any other book to find comfort, to find hope, or courage. And that’s because, as John Stott put it, “The Psalter speaks the universal language of the soul.” Or as Rowland Prothero said, “The Book of Psalms contains the whole music of the heart of man, swept by the hand of his Maker…”
In the Psalms we encounter joy, sorrow, pain, delight, praise, lament, wisdom, and gratitude. We see sickness and visit the valley of the shadow of death, and we are transported to Zion where the earth sings, and the trees clap their hands for joy. The Psalms show us the full kaleidoscope of our emotions laid bare in prayer before God.
Every Summer we continue to work consecutively through the Psalter, but hopefully this isn’t the only time of the year you are exposing yourself to these prayers. This Summer series is a reminder of what you ought to be reading throughout the year.
Our text for today is Psalm 12. These are God’s Words.
12 To the choirmaster: according to The Sheminith. A Psalm of David.
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.
SUMMARY OF THE TEXT
While many of the Psalms are the prayer of an individual in distress, Psalm 12 is the prayer of a community. David is the author, but he is praying on behalf of his neighbors, so this Psalm is communal intercession. (v. 7)
You’ll notice that above the first verse we have a superscription: to the choirmaster. This prayer is also a song meant to be accompanied by music and vocals. We also note that this hymn is to be sung according to the Sheminith. Although there is debate as to the meaning of this term, it’s likely the Sheminith represented the lowest male key that could be sung. Think of it as the Biblical equivalent of the bass clef in musical notation.
The Psalm begins with a one-word request. Save! Help! Why? Because the people of God are surrounded by liars and those who are loyal and faithful to their word are nowhere to be found. (v. 1) Everyone is lying and their lies manifest themselves in flattery and speaking with a double heart. Literally: they speak with a heart and a heart. (v. 2)
David also asks the Lord to cut off all flattering lips. This request is not referring to surgical removal of their tongues, it’s actually a worse imprecation than that. (v. 3)
These flattering lips and boastful tongues think they control the world with their speech. They master the universe with manipulations. They are above questioning and above judgement. “Who is master over us?” (v. 4)
Though they think their voices can be heard reverberating through the cosmos , the Lord hears something underneath it all: a sigh. The poor and the needy are so oppressed they can’t even utter a word. All they can do is exhale in sorrow. And the Lord, hearing this will arise to save his people from (v. 5)
Contrasted with the flattering lips and boasting tongues of man, the words of the Lord are pure (there’s no ulterior motive). (v 6) In every age there are liars. In every generation the wicked prowl as if they are untouchable, but the Lord will always protect his people (v. 7-8)
SONGS AS PRAYER
As a pastor one of the most frequent questions, I am asked is, “How can I have a better prayer life?” And one of the answers is, “Sing more.” Many of us struggle to pray, but we don’t struggle at all to sing.
Prayers need not be a grocery list. Prayers can be songs, and songs can be prayers. The church in the last century has mistakenly believed that the best prayers are ones that are spontaneous and unscripted, yet most of the prayers in the Bible are highly structured poems set to music that we put on a church calendar to be sung at specific times of the year.
And, if you can’t sing, sigh.
LESS PEPPY CHURCH MUSIC
If you search through the hymn book, you’ll notice songs separated into categories. Praise for God’s sovereignty, wonder at the birth of Christ, and songs pointing us to the forgiveness in his cross. Added to those categories ought to be one for songs about authorities who lie to the people and how God cuts them off. Sadly, that category doesn’t make the final edit in the majority of hymnbooks.
But the Bible speaks realistically about evil and suffering. The songs that Jesus sang weren’t syrupy and sentimental Polly Anna tunes to help us manufacture the emotions of inner peace and tranquility. So, if you have been lied about, if you have lived with chronic pain, if your soul is so burdened for your country that you can’t even express it in words: there’s a song for you in the Psalter.
FLATTERY & DOUBLE-HEARTEDNESS
The two sins of this passage are flattery and double-heartedness, and God’s people must avoid both.
Flattery is saying to someone’s face what you would never say behind their back. In other words, it’s the photo-negative of gossip. Just as God hates flattering lips, he also hates ears that love being flattered. Christians have a responsibility to not flatter and to not listen to flattery.
Double-heartedness is the sin of double-talk. They say one thing but mean another.
THE LORD WILL ARISE
God is constantly putting his people into situations that strip them of false confidences. He told the children of Israel to stand still and see his salvation. (Exodus 14) Gideon asked God if he had enough soldiers to win, and God said he had to many. (Judges 7)
In Psalm 12, David laments that the faithful and godly have disappeared. This is not necessarily because they have been killed or gone apostate, but they no longer have influence in the surrounding culture. Their voice has been dismissed from the halls of congress, the town hall, the college campus, and the nightly news. What is God up to?
He is leading us to where we’re lost enough to let ourselves be led. If dependence on him is the goal, then times of bewilderment are to our advantage. David is reminding us that, at the end of the day, God alone is our savior. But we have to remember that God’s deliverance doesn’t parachute in like the 82nd airborne.
But how does he keep us safe from lies and liars? He saves us from lies through his own Word which is pure as silver (v. 6)
The Bible has passed through the furnace of persecution, literary criticism, philosophic doubt, and scientific discovery, and has lost nothing but those human interpretations which clung to it as alloy to precious ore. The experience of the saints has tried it in every conceivable manner, but not a single doctrine or promise has been consumed in the most excessive heat. (Spurgeon)
He saves us from the schemes of liars through the Christ who subjected himself to false testimony for our sake.