This is another psalm by David that has a similar tone to the psalm 11. The first line of the psalm sets the tone for what David is feeling at the moment he pens this psalm. “Help, Lord, for the godly are no more; the faithful have vanished from among men.” Have you ever felt you were the last righteous one in the midst of the people you know and among your sphere of influence? I dare say that from time to time we have all had such feelings come to mind. Elijah felt similarly after Jezebel sent him a letter informing him that he was going to be killed for having the prophets of Baal. Elijah says to the Lord, “I have been very zealous for the Lord God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, broken down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.” (1 Kings 19:10 ) God had to not only show His power to Elijah, but also explain the many other followers that God had available to Him in Israel .
In Psalm 12, the answer to David’s concern comes from knowing who the wicked are by their words. Identifying who is truly among the righteous is a step we must take when surrounded by evil. Who is truly on the Lord’s side? In the final half of the psalm we will compare the words of evil with the words of the Lord and note God’s promises to the righteous and the wicked. David now explains what the righteous need to know when it seems the faithful have vanished from among men.
The Words of the Wicked
Idle words (12:2)
The first characteristic that David notes concerning the words of the wicked is that they speak idly with their neighbors. What are idle words? In the New Testament, the NIV calls this “godless chatter” and other modern versions say “vain babblings.” The idea is to speak words that are valueless. These are words that do not edify and lift up other people, but merely just the prattling on of words. The implication behind idle words is that one is speaking about another’s business. When prattling on about other people’s lives and actions we fall into the trap of speaking idle words. Here are God’s warnings: “Guard what was committed to your trust, avoiding the profane and vain babblings and contradictions of what is falsely called knowledge” (1 Timothy 6:20 ). Jesus said, “But I say to you that for every idle word men may speak, they will give account of it in the day of judgment. For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned” (Matthew 12:36 ). We have far too many who dabble themselves into other people’s business, speculating about their circumstances, questioning their motives, and are sure to tell others about what everyone else is doing. These words belong to the ungodly and are not words that come from followers of Jesus.
Flattering words (12:2)
The wicked also speak flattering words. This is an important characteristic for the righteous to notice in the wicked. All of us like to hear complimentary, positive words. Such words let down our defenses and cause us to feel good about ourselves. But we must realize that it is for these very reasons that the wicked speak false, flattering words. The evil will use flattering words to get something out of them, to deceive them, or to cheat them. Jude pointed out this characteristic in the New Testament when he said, “These are murmurers, complainers, walking according to their own lusts; and they mouth great swelling words, flattering people to gain advantage.” (Jude 16) The flattering words are merely used to try to take advantage of the innocent and the righteous. The righteous must be aware that flattering words may simply indicate the wicked are trying to lower our defenses to take advantage of a situation.
Deceitful words (12:2)
Used in the same breath as flattering words, David also describes the words of the wicked as deceitful. The NIV says they “speak with deception” while the NKJV literally translates this “with a double heart they speak.” An idiomatic Hebrew phrase is used here to describe words of the wicked as “double talk” or “talking out of both sides of one’s mouth.” This concept is a very practical problem today. It refers to people who say one thing to your face, yet will say something different to someone else. This duality of mind and heart is condemned by the Lord. How many times we see people being friendly to your face, yet will turn around another moment and speak evil of you. This is the double talk and is the deception that David speaks of. They seem like someone who is on your side and close to you, yet they are deceiving you because they will speak against you to others. They speak flattering words to your face but malicious words when you are away. James warns us about those who are double minded, reminding us that such a person is unstable in all his ways (James 1:8). The wicked use the double tongue.
Boastful words (12:3-4)
Those who participate in these things also seem to have boastful, proud words. Notice the words that David attributes to the wicked. “They say, ‘We will triumph with our tongues; we own our lips–who is our master?'” Their pride is in their words. They do not believe that they will ever be caught by their words. They do not believe that others will ever know the words that they are saying. Somehow they think their idle, flattering, and deceitful words will never be caught by others. It is the only way we say such words. If you knew that the person you were speaking against would find out, would you say those words? In other words, if the person was standing right behind you that you were speaking these idle, deceitful words about, would you go ahead and speak them anyway? The answer, I believe we would all answer, is no. None of us would say the words if we thought they would get back to the person we are talking about. We have such proud words. We think that we are untouchable by the words that we say. We think that no one will ever find out our deceitfulness and our idleness. But, by implication, the proud do not stand. We know that the Lord cuts down the proud. But how foolish for us to be so arrogant as to think that our words will not come back to haunt us. Allow me to make you a guarantee: at some point our evil words will be found out by the person we are speaking against. We are so arrogant to wonder why people treat us differently, why relationships change, and why things are not the way they used to be. A good place to look is at our words. We improve relationships with kind and gracious words. We destroy relationships with idle double-speak. You and I think that others do not know what people are saying. They do.
We need to cut off our grapevines, get out of the gossip loops and realize that those words are coming around to get us. We need to repent from these things and stop participating in them. There is no reason to speak or listen to these kinds of things. The boastful think they can trust in their words. But they are setting every bridge on fire and will plunge into their own abyss.
Malicious words (12:5)
Another characteristic of the words of the ungodly is that they speak malicious words. The Lord is speaking in verse 5 and notice who the Lord is going up against: those who malign. The Hebrew is difficult here and not all the versions use this word. But this is the overall idea of what we have been looking at concerning the words of the wicked. We think there is nothing wrong speaking these words. So what if we participate in godless chatter and vain babblings. It does not hurt anyone, right? What does it matter if we use flattering words to get what we want and take advantage of situations. Does it really matter? So we tell people what they want to hear and use some double talk and deception. We need to see that these are malicious words. We are committing acts of malice against our brethren when we use such words. Our souls are in jeopardy if we continue to participate in these things.
The Words of the Lord
“The words of the Lord are flawless.” What an idea to think about for a moment. There is no flaw with the words that the Lord has said. Notice how God’s words are flawless. The words are like silver refined in a furnace of clay, purified seven times. The words of the Lord have gone through a refining process so that they are pure. This is an important description for us to model in our lives. To avoid malicious words, we need to speak as the oracles of God. For our words to be like God’s, we need to put our words through the refining process before we speak them. This was the idea that God was trying to get us to understand when He told us to bridle the tongue in James 3. We need to think before we speak. Too many times we say words that should not be said because we are reacting from emotion and not from rational thought. Too many times we say things that should not be said because we are not thinking as we ought. Not everything we think needs to be said. In fact, most of the things that we think should not be said. We must exercise self-control on the tongue.
If we still continue to speak these words, then we need to refine our hearts. It is from the heart that our words come (Matthew 15:18 ). Therefore, when corrupt words come from our mouths, it is a symptom that there is a corrupt heart at the source. We must roll up our sleeves and get to our work on cleaning out our hearts so that we can be in the likeness of God. His words are flawless and so should our words be as well.
David also suggests that the words of the Lord are valuable, for they are like silver. When God speaks, there is something good and important coming from His words. His words carry value for our souls. God does not engage in idle chatter. You will never come across pointless words being spoken by God. His words are like silver and have great value. How much value do our words carry? When we speak, do people listen? Or do our words resemble worthless chatter that usually goes in one ear and out the other of most people? Our words are to be valuable. God was not kidding when He said that we need to speak as the oracles, or very words, of God. God says that nothing corrupt is to come out of our mouths. Instead, the only thing we should be speaking are things that give favor to the hearer (Ephesians 4:29 ). Edifying and encouraging words are words of value. If our words are not valuable to the person we are speaking to and building up the person we are speaking about, then those words must not be said. Let our words have value.
I will protect (12:5,7)
I would also like us to consider the words God uses to make promises to those who follow after Him. First, God tells us that He will protect us from such people who use these words. As children, we used to say sticks and stones may break our bones but names will never hurt us. We only said that because the words did hurt and we know that words can be very damaging. Verse 5 tells us that God hears our groaning and knows of our oppression. God knows what we must endure through the words of the wicked. God knows that even those who claim to be righteous and followers of God will use their words to malign us and attempt to harm us. God says that He will do something about it. Not only will God be proactive against those who are wicked, which we will notice at the end, but He will protect the righteous.
Does this mean that we will never suffer harm by people’s words? No, for David was at that moment suffering from the words of the wicked. Jesus himself suffered the mocking words of the wicked. So how are we protected? We are protected because what they say does not matter. What they say will not affect our salvation or relationship with God. What they say does not change who we are and where we are going. They can say all they want about us, but we are going to a better place and what they say does not matter. They are merely words, and we have a God who is watching over us.
I will keep you safe (12:7)
David declares this with great faith, “O Lord, you will keep us safe.” David returns to a common theme that we have seen in these beginning psalms, which is the idea of refuge. God will keep us in His care. He will keep us safe. It is the words of comfort from the loving father to the injured child. As the child comes home with tears because of what people said, the best comfort the father can give is to lift the child up, draw him close, and show him that he cares. How much more is our heavenly Father willing to take us into His arms, wipe away our tears, and tell us that He cares for us? God says, “Cast all your care upon Him, for He cares for you.” (1 Peter 5:7) We are His children and He will keep us in His arms. Let us take that hope with us as we endure the trials of the world.
One would expect that this would be the end of the psalm, for it seems to be a fitting and appropriate end to the psalm. Yet David has one more thing to say, which we find in verse 8. The wicked are on every side and they are exalting everything that is vile. Why would David end with these words? I believe the idea is as follows: If the wicked exalt only vile and evil things, then it is a good thing that they do not exalt us. If they exalted us, then there would be something wrong, for we would be too much like them. However, because we are trying to serve the Lord, they are going to use their words against us. The wicked will continue to strut around honoring that which is vile. We do not want their honor. We want the honor and glory of God. Let us seek out His honor by serving Him and obeying Him today.
Let us put aside the evil talk that we often think is harmless. Let us stop the idle chatter and gossip wheels that we have among us. May we all realize that people will find out what we are saying about them and God knows every word we utter. As Jesus said, and as we noted at the beginning of the lesson, by our words we will be justified and by our words we will be condemned.