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Hypocrisy Will Not Prevail (Psalm 12)

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.

Sexagesima: Luke 8:4-15

“Take heed then how you hear.” (Luke 8:18)  The kingdom of God is a kingdom of preaching and hearing. The one requires the other. Aptly then, the parable we will hear on Sexagesima is known under two names: “the sower” and “the four soils.”

Jesus, of course, didn’t name his parables; he simply preached them. And of all his parables, only this one is explained in each of the synoptic Gospels. This ought to be a clue to us as to its prominence and importance. “Do you not understand this parable? How then will you understand all the parables?” (Mark 4:13)

The focus in Christ’s explanation is on hearing. Score one for “the four soils.” Christ himself pays almost no heed to the sower. Sure, he’s mentioned. He’s there. But the explanation is focused on the soil which receives the seed, that is, the hearing of the Word. “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” (Luke 8:8)

Not all hearing though is the same. Experience will testify to this. The same word can be read and preached to an entire group. But the results differ from hearer to hearer. The parable is largely an explanation of the differing ways that the Word of God will be heard, and by it, the kingdom of God either opposed or received.

The various ways to hear are not permanent. So a particular hearer can and will move between various ways of hearing. This is important so that the hearer who is cut to the heart by Christ’s description of rocky or thorny ground does not lose hope. But also, those who are good hearers ought not presume that they may trifle with grace and take it for granted that they will continue. Good and fruitful hearing of God’s Word continues to hold fast to the Word as long as God gives life.

The Teacher of the Kingdom identifies four ways to hear. The seed that falls on the pathway are those who hear but fail to hear all at the same time. How can this be? Because attendance does not guarantee attentiveness. The devil is hard at work to take away the Word. There is no virtue in the birds coming to eat the seeds, as if we might read into this that the birds will transport those seeds in their bodies and expel them somewhere else. This should be foolish on its face, and I only mention it as an example of an over eagerness to put a silver lining on what is clearly a dark cloud. Identifying the tactics of the enemy are necessary to avoid them. The devil doesn’t take away the word out of nowhere, as if he could reach up his invisible hand and somehow snatch the sound waves out of thin air. His taking away of the word is more subtle and sinister. It happens whenever he entices hearers to discard the Word. Some perhaps will sit in the pew and deliberately oppose the preacher. They will listen but only to nitpick, to mock, and to ridicule. Others will sit there like blocks of wood and let the words of Scripture and the preacher pass in one ear and out the other, all the while with the mind elsewhere. But the devil will also work on a larger scale to take away even the possibility of hearing the Word. Governments, who ought to hear the Word themselves and submit to it, will rise up and persecute the preachers of God’s Word and drive them out of the land, rendering a deafening silence in their wake, as the example of Jerusalem in the days of the apostles bears witness.

The seed that falls in the rocky ground are those who hear in what we might call a superficial way. They are tickled by something in the message. Maybe it satisfies some religious feeling for them, an emotional high. Maybe they like to learn bits and pieces of trivia. Whatever the case, the hearing of the Word is for them a surface level matter. There is no conviction about what is heard. There is no retention or attempt to incorporate the Word into the mind and heart. They are those who, when asked what the sermon was about will say, “I don’t know, but it made me feel good.” Or even, “It’s all very interesting. We will hear you again about this.” (Acts 17:32) Hearing without assimilating is of no use. When the time of testing comes, as we can be assured it will, such a plant will be quickly scorched.

The seed that falls among thorns are those who hear a little better, though still not properly. They have too many other things to listen to side-by-side with the Word of God. When the cares of wealth and the pleasures of this passing age are on par with the hearing of God’s Word they choke out the intended product. Yes there is a plant. Roots have even been established. Doctrine is known and can be articulated. But finally, it hasn’t made any actual difference. Head knowledge has not become faith working in love. How easy it is for so many of us to be satisfied here. Week after week we listen, we attend, we even mentally assent to what we have heard. But when it comes right down to it, there’s so many cares and distractions that the implementation of the Word, whether it be a matter of repentance or action, is put on the back burner. We’ll get around to it some other time when things settle down.

Lastly the seed falls on good soil. These are those who hear with an honest and good heart and bear fruit with patience. No short cuts can be taken. Honesty entails that the hearer makes no attempts to hide what is uncovered about himself. Neither does he feel the need to go beyond what the Word reveals about God. The good heart is the heart that does what it was created to do. It stands as the organ of the body from which springs forth both thought and action. Repentance, trust, and action all issue from the heart that holds to the implanted Word. “The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.” (1 Timothy 1:5)

The hearing of the Word which grows to understanding and gives rise to trust and obedience is the harvest that the sower is at work to create. Yes, the Word does the work, but it does so by grabbing hold of those who hear, and once grabbed, the hearers of God’s Word actually do it. They are not content with a little but become hungry for more. What they hear in the Word they know how to do. (Luke 8:21) “No one after lighting a lamp covers it with a jar or puts it under a bed, but puts it on a stand, so that those who enter may see the light.” (Luke 8:16) The harvest produced by the kingdom defies the logic of pure mathematics, which would say that 1 in 4 is a failure. While the sowing of the sower is not met with unmitigated success, nevertheless, “he comes home with shouts of joy, bearing his sheaves with him.” (Psalm 126:6)

Transfiguration: 2 Peter 1:16-21

In the beginning of this letter, Peter recognizes that his death is fast approaching, “as our Lord Jesus Christ made clear to me” (2 Peter 1:14).  His purpose in writing this letter, therefore, is to remind his hearers of those things which he taught them, especially in the face of false teachers.  God has called us to “his own glory and excellence” in Jesus Christ (2 Peter 1:3).  Therefore, the godly strive after virtue, knowledge, self-control, steadfastness, godliness, brotherly affection, and love–all fruits of the Spirit–because such things increase our knowledge of the Lord.  Such fruits “confirm your calling and election” (2 Peter 1:10), because the fruits of the tree are evidence of its nature.  To strive after good works is by no means to seek self-justification, but to earnestly desire the higher gifts (1 Corinthians 12:31).

But to increase in the knowledge of the Lord is to listen to His voice (Luke 6:46; John 10:27).  And if to hear those whom God has sent is to hear Him (Luke 10:16), how do we know whom God has sent?  Peter therefore establishes his unique authority to speak on behalf of God, especially against those who claimed to have a superior knowledge.  Peter was not “following cleverly devised myths,” but was himself an eyewitness of the Lord’s majesty on the mountain of His transfiguration (2 Peter 1:16-18).  These false teachers could only claim some kind of secret knowledge which was no knowledge at all.  Peter saw the truth of these things with his own eyes.

However, what about those of us who are separated from Peter?  He is an eyewitness of these things, but we live many generations later in the course of time.  Peter has a unique authority, having seen these things for himself, but his authority is not based on his own person.  The events which he saw are not true because he saw them.  The events which he saw are true because it is the Lord who does them, and Peter testifies by his own experience that the Lord acted in a specific point in history.  It would be true even if Peter never saw it, but Peter is in the unique position to say that it did happen before his very eyes.  This the false teachers could not say, and therefore they twist the Scriptures to their own destruction, including the letters of Paul (2 Peter 3:15-16), by making them say something which God never said.

Peter points to the Word as proof.  God acting confirms the prophetic Word, because it shows that God cannot lie.  “No prophecy was ever produced by the will of man,” because it is not men speaking which makes the Word what it is.  Rather, “men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:21), what is typically called inspiration.  The false teachers based their authority upon themselves, claiming in arrogance to know more than what the Word revealed.  Peter, on the other hand, stood on the Word which had not been broken and was fulfilled before his very eyes.  It is not Peter’s word, but God’s.

I think it is worth noting that Peter does not define the means of inspiration, as if God was limited to a certain method in His dealings with men.  Abraham saw a vision, so that his inspiration was primarily visual in some way (Genesis 15:1).  Moses spoke with God face to face, as a man speaks with his friend (Exodus 33:11).  The hand of the Lord came upon Elisha when the musician played at his command (2 Kings 3:15).  Many of the prophets, such as Ezekiel, felt the hand of the Lord strongly, so that they saw spectacular visions (Ezekiel 1).  Daniel received inspiration from reading the book of the prophet Jeremiah (Daniel 9:2).  It seems that some of the prophets received physical marks upon their bodies while inspired of God (Zechariah 13:4-6).  Joseph heard the Word in a dream (Matthew 1:18-25).  The Apostles spoke of what they had seen and heard (Acts 4:20).  Luke followed all the things of Christ and wrote an account based on what he had heard from others (Luke 1:1-4).  Even Caiaphas, hardened and unbelieving, as high priest prophesied concerning Christ, so that he did not know what he said (John 11:51).  But however God spoke to men, it was the Lord speaking, so that “at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by His Son” (Hebrews 1:1-2).

Sixteenth Sunday after Trinity: 1 Kings 17:17-24

While the promise of resurrection appears throughout the Bible, within the Old Testament there seem to be only three recorded resurrections:  the widow of Zarephath’s son (1 Kings 17:17-24), the Shunammite’s son (2 Kings 4:18-37), and the man whose body touched the bones of Elisha (2 Kings 13:21).  Old Testament resurrections are therefore confined to the prophetic ministries of Elijah and Elisha.  Given that Jesus declares that John the Baptist is the promised Elijah (Malachi 4:5-6; Matthew 17:11-13), His own miracles of resurrection prove His indirect claim to be Elisha, the One greater than John and having a double portion of the Spirit.  Prophecy and resurrection are closely connected.

The first of these three readings is the selection for the Sixteenth Sunday after Trinity.  It is the second half of the account which begins in 1 Kings 17:8 and an important part of the wider section of 1 Kings 17-18.  Elijah declares to the wicked king Ahab that there will be no rain “except by my word” (1 Kings 17:1).  Through this miraculous drought, Elijah seeks to declare to Ahab that there is not God except the God of Israel.  This is why he will confront Ahab in 1 Kings 18 in a powerful demonstration of the burning altar against the prophets of Baal.  “The Lord, He is God; the Lord, He is God” (1 Kings 18:39)!  Only after this confrontation will the drought come to an end at the word of Elijah in 1 Kings 18:41.

During the time of the drought, the Lord provides for Elijah, first in a miraculous way with the ravens (1 Kings 17:3-6), but then in a more ordinary way with the widow.  This passage is helpful for speaking about what might be called ordinary and extraordinary Providence.  The ravens are a prime example of God’s extraordinary Providence:  He is not bound to our means of providing the things we need in this life.  He may indeed choose to have birds carry bread to His prophet.  But even if we have to bake the bread we eat, it is no less the gift of God, for all things flow from His hand.  He simply chooses, in His ordinary Providence, to use men as the means for providing the things we need.

The Lord commands Elijah to go northward along the coast of the sea to the village called Zarephath (1 Kings 17:9).  Zarephath was deep within Canaanite territory (Obadiah 20).  While it is possible that this widow could be partly an Israelite (as Hiram was the son of an intermarriage in 1 Kings 7:13-14), it is more likely she is a Canaanite, which explains the offense of Jesus’ words to the Jews in Luke 4:25-26.  Being a Canaanite, she is part of the cursed race of Ham (Genesis 9:25) whose continued existence was a mark of Israel’s unfaithfulness (Judges 1:27-36).

Yet even with the ordinary means of Providence, God provides a multiplication miracle as well with the jar of flour and the jug of oil.  Through the Word which Elijah proclaims to her, which the miracle is meant to confirm, the widow and her household, though Canaanites, believe in the Lord.  She has ceased to be a part of the condemned body of Canaan and has now by faith been connected to the body which will be delivered in the day of judgment.  How ironic that Ahab, a son of Abraham, stands under judgment while this woman, a daughter of Canaan, stands before the Lord!

But the woman’s son dies.  She believes it to be a judgment upon her sins (1 Kings 17:18).  While the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23), there is every reason to believe that her son dies so that God may show His power through him.  The man born blind (John 9:1-3) and Lazarus (John 11:14-15) serve God’s purposes in their affliction.  God declared to Moses:  “Who has made man’s mouth? Who makes him mute, or deaf, or seeing, or blind? Is it not I, the Lord” (Exodus 4:11)?  Even in affliction and death, the Lord brings those who belong to Him closer to Himself.

Elijah’s method is somewhat unusual, since he stretches himself over the child three times (1 Kings 17:21-22).  One should perhaps not read too much into this, since the prophets frequently do unusual things.  What is interesting, however, is that Elijah calls upon the Lord in conjunction with this act.  Elisha, on the other hand, having a double portion of the Spirit, does not speak a word at all (2 Kings 4:34-35).  Christ Himself raises with His mere command, and He vindicates His claim as the Prophet through His own resurrection.  We have, therefore, an increasing proof of the truth of the Word of God:  Elijah called upon God who answered faithfully; Elisha proves his office of prophet by raising others even merely by the touch of his bones; and Christ through His own resurrection is “vindicated by the Spirit” (1 Timothy 3:16).  We do not believe the Scriptures because of Christ’s resurrection.  The resurrection itself is proof that God’s Word cannot be broken.  As the widow herself says:  “Now I know that you are a man of God, and that the word of the Lord in your mouth is truth” (1 Kings 17:24).