Sometimes the most difficult problem isn’t open acts of evil, but hypocrisy. When it seems like all the world runs on deceptions and lies, even in the Church, where is a Christian to turn? Where can we find certainty in a duplicitous world? David addresses this very problem in Psalm 12.
This psalm has three main divisions in its thought progression. The first section, verse 1-4, describes the problem and the occasion for the prayer. The second, verse 5, is a direct response from the Lord. The last, verses 6-8, describe the confidence which David experiences as a result of this revelation.
[To the choirmaster.] According to [the eighth]. A Psalm of David.
Regarding the expression, “to the choirmaster,” see the study on Psalm 4. “The eighth,” or the Sheminith, is also an uncertain term. It could be a tune name, but the specific number may suggest a musical direction, such as an octave. It occurs here and in Psalm 6.
Save, LORD, for the godly one has come to an end. For the trustworthy one has diminished from the sons of Adam/men.
They speak worthless things, a man to his fellow. A lip of smoothness, with heart and heart they speak.
May the LORD cut off all lips of smoothness, a tongue speaking boastful things,
those who say, “According to our tongue, we are strong. Our lips [are] ours. Who is lord to us?”
The issue facing David, and all Christians in every time, is that hypocrisy seems to prevail. The godly seem to be few in number, while those who claim to be Christians despite not living like one grow in number. One can carry this spirit too far, of course. Elijah imagined himself to be utterly alone, yet God preserved 7000 in Israel (1 Kings 19). The word translated “diminished” occurs only here in the Old Testament, but the Greek Old Testament renders it with a word meaning “to lessen.” The godly, despite Elijah’s despair and perhaps ours, may be hidden, but they are still there.
However, hypocrisy is still a real problem. A hypocrite speaks “worthless things,” things which are inherently empty, because they are only external. Like painted tombs, they are outwardly beautiful, but they hide the inward reality (Matthew 23:27). Their lips are smooth, because they attempt to smooth away all difficulties and present their lies as truth. They also have two hearts, because they have a double reality. They are double-minded, unstable in all their ways (James 1:8). They have two different sets of weights, one accurate, the other not (Deuteronomy 25:13-14). The Old Testament even describes faithful soldiers as not having a heart and a heart in 1 Chronicles 12:33, because to have a single heart is to be simple, straightforward, honest. There is no deception when one presents the truth of their soul.
Hypocrites speak “boastful things,” or literally “great things,” because they claim far more power for themselves than they really have. Their forked tongue is their power, for they use it to tear down the godly, whether directly or through deception. They imagine that they have no lord, because they have deceived themselves.
For the oppression of the afflicted, for the sighing of the poor, I will get up, says the LORD. I will put him in the salvation/safety he [sighs] for.
David is not giving himself a false hope here. David hears the voice of the Lord in answer to his prayer. The psalmist has become the prophet. Asaph, another common writer of psalms, is referred to as a “seer” in 2 Chronicles 29:30, which 1 Samuel 9:9 clarifies as being an ancient word for prophet. 1 Chronicles 25:2 also says that Asaph and his sons prophesied under the direction of the king. The psalms are not merely religious poetry. They are the living Word of God, the voice of God speaking through His prophets to His people then and now.
That word He brings is a word of comfort. He has seen the hypocrisy of the wicked and how they have oppressed the godly. When Israel put away their double-minded ways, the Lord became impatient over the misery of Israel (Judges 10:16). So it is also now. God hears our groaning and remembers his promises (Exodus 2:23-25). He will give us the salvation we long for. The name Jesus, which means God saves (Matthew 1:21), is related to this, and for good reason. Our Lord Jesus Christ is our salvation and our safety in every distress and trouble. God’s salvation is not a generic one, but is to be found in His Son.
The word translated as “sighs” here is the same word as “snorts” in Psalm 10. Yet this is not a sigh of contempt, but of longing. The word itself at its root involves breath in one form or another. Whereas the wicked huff at God, the righteous sigh for Him. The one breaths in contempt, the other breathes in longing.
The words of the LORD [are] pure words, silver refined in a [crucible] in/on the ground, purified seven times.
You, LORD, will keep them. You will protect him from this generation forever.
Round about, the wicked walk back and forth. For [vileness] is exalted among the sons of Adam/man.
Having heard the Word of the Lord in answer to his prayer, David is now confident. This confidence is not a false bravado, putting on the same painted face as the hypocrites. Rather, this is the answer to his initial question. When the world seems full of wickedness and hypocrisy, it is not to be trusted. The Lord alone speaks words which are absolutely trustworthy in every time. Friend or foe, man may lie, but God will never lie.
God’s Word is compared to refined silver. The word translated as “crucible” occurs only here, but it seems clear enough from the context that a smelter of some kind is in mind. Solomon ordered the casting of the bronze utensils of the temple near the Jordan River using the clay there (1 Kings 7:46). In those days, and even in some parts of the world today, a furnace may be built of clay and fired even for casting metals. It is possible that this crucible could be in the ground, but the point is the same. The silver is melted, the slag is removed, and the process begins again. A seven-fold purification would remove, even in the imprecise methods of ancient days, virtually all of the impurities. God’s Word is like pure silver, which we still value above many things today. How much more then the words of the living God?
God also will protect His saints from the assaults of the wicked. The wicked walk back and forth, like an animal stalking prey. “Vileness,” another unique word, is exalted. The world loves its own, even the hypocrite. Yet the righteous has no reason to be afraid. The psalm is not ending on a dark note. Frequently in the Bible, the main thought of a passage comes in the middle. If you compare the last verse with the first of this psalm, you can see a similar idea at play. The middle, and therefore the main point, is the prophecy of the Lord in verse 5. God will arise and defend His Church, and both foe and traitor will receive the due reward of the evil when He comes to judge the earth.