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Psalm 12

 

STROPHE DIVISIONS OF MODERN TRANSLATIONS

NASB NKJV NRSV TEV NJB
God a Helper Against the Treacherous
MT Intro
"For the choir director; upon an eight-stringed lyre. A psalm of David"
12:1-5
Man's Treachery and God's Constancy
12:1-2
Prayer for Deliverance from Personal Enemies
(A Lament)
12:1-2
Prayer for Help
12:1-2
Against a Treacherous World
12:1-2
  12:3-5 12:3-4 12:3-4 12:3-5
    12:5-6 12:5  
12:6-8 12:6-7   12:6 12:6
    12:7-8 12:7-8 12:7-8
  12:8      

READING CYCLE THREE (see "Guide to Good Bible Reading")

FOLLOWING THE ORIGINAL AUTHOR'S INTENT AT PARAGRAPH LEVEL

This is a study guide commentary which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

Read the chapter in one sitting. Identify the subjects (reading cycle #3). Compare your subject divisions with the five translations above. Paragraphing is not inspired, but it is the key to following the original author's intent, which is the heart of interpretation. Every paragraph has one and only one subject.

1. First paragraph

2. Second paragraph

3. Third paragraph

4. Etc.

 

WORD AND PHRASE STUDY

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: PSALM 12:1-5
 1Help, Lord, for the godly man ceases to be,
 For the faithful disappear from among the sons of men.
 2They speak falsehood to one another;
 With flattering lips and with a double heart they speak.
 3May the Lord cut off all flattering lips,
 The tongue that speaks great things;
 4Who have said, "With our tongue we will prevail;
 Our lips are our own; who is lord over us?"
 5"Because of the devastation of the afflicted, because of the groaning of the needy,
 Now I will arise," says the Lord; "I will set him in the safety for which he longs."

12:1 "Help, Lord" What a powerful cry for help (BDB 446, KB 448, Hiphil imperative). In the OT this term has the implication of physical deliverance but in the NT it takes on the emphasis of spiritual salvation. See SPECIAL TOPIC: SALVATION (OLD TESTAMENT TERM) in the OT at Ps. 13:5-6.

I have often thought how sad it would be for someone to be physically delivered (i.e., health, war, financial) but miss the joy and benefit of spiritual deliverance! In the NT healing did not always result in a spiritual transformation. What humans need most is God, not a change of circumstances!

▣ "for the godly man ceases to be" Notice the parallelism between line 1 and line 2. These both speak of the death of faithful followers. This is a corporate lament, although the LXX has "me" in Ps. 12:1-2.

For "faithful" (BDB 52 I) see Special Topic below.

SPECIAL TOPIC: Believe, Trust, Faith, and Faithfulness in the Old Testament (אמן)

NASB, NKJV,
NRSV"disappeared"
LXX, NJB,
JPSOA, REB"vanished"

The "cease to be" of line one is parallel to this word (BDB 821 II), which is found only here in the OT. Some suggest a different root (BDB 67) which is found in Isa. 16:4.

The UBS Text Project (p. 177) offers two ways to understand this verb.

1. their numbers are greatly reduced (LXX)

2. they have completely disappeared (cf. Ps. 12:1a and Ps. 12:3a)

 

12:2-4 Notice the theme of "speaking" (i.e., lips, tongue). The false message of the double-hearted person is contrasted with the true message of YHWH's revelation (cf. Ps. 12:6).

Every day believers must ascertain which messages they hear are true/false; from fallen humanity/from God (cf. Deut. 13:1-5; 18:14-22; Matthew 7; 1 John 4:1-3)!

12:2 "speak falsehood" This is literally "emptiness" or "vanity" (BDB 996). This "emptiness of speech" is a recurrent theme (cf. Ps. 41:6; 144:8,11; Pro. 30:9; Isa. 59:4; Ezek. 13:8-9; Hos. 10:4).

In some contexts it is used of false testimony (cf. Exod. 20:16; 23:1; Deut. 5:20) in court. In other places it refers to false prophecies (cf. Lam. 2:14; Ezek. 22:28; Zech. 10:2).

One thing is sure, this word characterizes false followers! Their mouths reveal their double heart (cf. Ps. 12:2; Matt. 12:34; 15:18; Mark 7:20-23; Luke 6:45; James 3:2-12).

12:3 The psalmist calls on YHWH to silence (lit. "cut off" — BDB 503, KB 500, Hiphil jussive) the

1. flattering lips (lit. "smooth lips," cf. Ps. 5:9)

2. tongue that speaks great things

 

12:4 This verse shows the true heart of the "double heart" (lit. "a heart and a heart"). This person is one who does not allow YHWH to control his/her life! This is the essence of fallen humanity's attitude.

▣ "Who have said" The NASB Study Bible (p. 751) reminds us that the psalmist often quotes or alludes to the false words of the wicked (cf. Ps. 3:2 and 10:11; also note 2 Pet. 3:1-4; Jude Ps. 12:18-19).

12:5 YHWH explains why He will "arise" (BDB 877, KB 1086, Qal imperfect, see full note at Ps. 3:7).

1. because of the devastation of the afflicted

2. because of the groaning (BDB 60 I) of the needy

YHWH is affected by the prayers and circumstances of His people (i.e., Exod. 3:7; 2:25; Neh. 9:9; Isa. 63:9; Acts 7:34). YHWH (unlike the idols) is the God who hears, sees, and acts!

▣ "safety" This noun (BDB 447) is from the verb "help" (BDB 446, KB 448) used in verse 1. It seems to be similar to an Arabic root which denotes that which is wide or spacious (cf. Ps. 4:1; 31:8; 118:5). This is the opposite idiom from "narrow" or "stressed."

▣ "he longs" This verb (BDB 806, KB 916, Hiphil imperfect) basically means "to breathe" or "to blow out breath."

1. used of YHWH's snorting in disgust — Ps. 10:5

2. used of testimony in court — Pro. 6:19; 12:17; 14:5,25; 19:5,9

3. in the cool of the day — Song of Songs 2:17; 4:6

4. used of panting or sighing for something

a. place of safety — Ps. 12:5

b. vision being fulfilled — Hab. 2:3

The LXX translates this line of poetry as YHWH speaking, "I will place in safety; I will speak freely against it (or ‘him')." The JPSOA has "I will give help, He affirms him."

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: PSALM 12:6-8
 6The words of the Lord are pure words;
 As silver tried in a furnace on the earth, refined seven times.
 7You, O Lord, will keep them;
 You will preserve him from this generation forever.
 8The wicked strut about on every side
 When vileness is exalted among the sons of men.

12:6-8 Contrast the revelation of YHWH with the worthless attitude of the wicked. YHWH's message is characterized as

1. pure words (cf. Ps. 19:8; 119:140)

2. refined silver (Ps. 18:30; Pro. 30:5)

He is faithful to His word (cf. Ps. 12:7). The wicked reveal themselves by their words and actions (cf. Matt. 7:15-23,24-27).

12:6

NASB"a furnace on the earth"
NKJV"a furnace of earth"
NRSV"a furnace on the ground"
NJB"which comes from the earth"
JPSOA"an earthen crucible"
REB"tested for soil"

The word translated "furnace" (BDB 760, KB 833) is found only here in the OT. Many scholars believe it is a technical term from metallurgy denoting an earthen mold in the ground made from dirt or clay.

The MT has "to the ground" or "on the ground," which seems to refer to an earthen mold into which the refined silver is poured.

▣ "seven times" Seven is the symbolic number of perfection which originated from the seven days of creation in Genesis 1-2.

SPECIAL TOPIC: SYMBOLIC NUMBERS IN SCRIPTURE

12:7 "protect. . .guard" These verbs (BDB 1036, KB 1581, Qal imperfect and BDB 665, KB 718, Qal imperfect) are used many times in the Psalms to express the psalmist's cry for YHWH's presence to avail against the opponents or circumstances. 

▣ "from this generation" This phrase in Psalm 12 refers to those who

1. speak falsehood, Ps. 12:2

2. have flattering lips, Ps. 12:2

3. have a double heart, Ps. 12:2

4. speak great things about themselves, Ps. 12:3-4

5. devastate the needy, Ps. 12:5

6. are the wicked who strut about, Ps. 12:8

 

▣ "forever" This may be a title for YHWH, "the Eternal One" (AB, p. 75). If so, it parallels YHWH in the previous line of poetry.

12:8

NASB, NKJV,
NRSV"vileness"
NJB"depravity"
JPSOA"baseness"
REB"of little worth"

This noun (BDB 273) is found only here in the OT. The verb form (NIDOTTE, vol. 1, p. 1109) means

1. in Qal, "be frivolous" or "be despised"

2. in Hiphil, "to treat lightly"

If one tries to see how the two lines of Ps. 12:8 form a synonymous parallelism, other textual emendations have been suggested.

1. revocalization — "hold vile"

2. different supposed root — "pit"

3. emendation — "stolen goods" (cf. LXX)

4. emendation — "astral bodies"

It seems best in this etymological issue involving rare words, to let

1. the meaning of the whole Psalm

2. the central truth of the strophe

3. the possible parallelism of the lines

4. possible cognate roots

give us the best guess!

 

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

These discussion questions are provided to help you think through the major issues of this section of the book. They are meant to be thought-provoking, not definitive.

1. What is a double heart (Ps. 12:2)?

2. What does verse 4 mean?

3. Why are a person's words so important?