Psalm 12 For the director of music. According to sheminith. A psalm of David.
“Help, LORD, for the godly are no more; the faithful have vanished from among men. Everyone lies to his neighbour; their flattering lips speak with deception. May the LORD cut off all flattering lips and every boastful tongue that says, ‘We will triumph with our tongues; we own our lips – who is our master?’ ‘Because of the oppression of the weak and the groaning of the needy, I will now arise,’ says the LORD. ‘I will protect them from those who malign them.’ And the words of the LORD are flawless, like silver refined in a furnace of clay, purified seven times. O LORD, you will keep us safe and protect us from such people for ever. The wicked freely strut about when what is vile is honoured among men.”
We know of three occasions in the early years of David when his very life hung in the balances and it was uncertain whether he would survive or not. We know of a certain city called Keilah which was a stronghold of opposition; its citizens were all plotting to betray him (I Samuel 23). Again, there was a clan which simply hated David; all the Ziphites were planning treachery against him (I Samuel 23); and then there were men in high places trying to destroy him; there were ministers in the royal palace who were poisoning King Saul’s mind against David so that Saul began to hunt him down. That was at the beginning of his reign, and we are familiar with the terrible family disorders besetting him as an old man. Let us look briefly at the times in which David lived.
- THE VILE WERE HONOURED AMONGST MEN.
The psalm ends with this proverb: “The wicked freely strut about when what is vile is honoured among men.” Do you see this man? He is a killer. No woman and not even a child is safe in his presence. He has been responsible for the destruction of many people, and yet he walks freely amongst men. He drives his big car and no one arrests him. Unspeakable things happen in his mansion and yet nothing is being done. He’s a popular man. He appears on TV and people want their photograph taken standing next to him. He is wickedness personified, but he freely struts about the place, and the police don’t lay a finger on him. He has friends in high places. Why should this happen? It is a dreadful state of affairs. Or let me describe to you a situation much nearer us all, when groups of boys (or girls) terrorize a street. Cars are vandalized, rubbish is thrown into a garden, obscene phone-calls are made, the handicapped are mocked, stones are thrown, and no one does anything about it though authorities are often told what is happening. Don’t we hear about such events every month? Why should this be tolerated? David tells us that it occurs, “when what is vile is honoured among men” (v.8). When the majority of people in a community laugh about it, and shrug their shoulders saying “What can you do about young people? You are only young once,” or when men feel a certain envy for the success and style of powerful wicked people. What is vile – and make no mistake about it, it is vile – is being honoured among men. They make jokes about the wicked. “What a lad!” they say. “He’s done well in life.” The whole moral climate of a civilization changes when what is vile is honoured. Then the wicked freely strut about. Let me break it down as David does.
i] The nation is full of deceit: “Everyone lies to his neighbour;” (v.2). The car mechanic tells you that you need a major repair to your car; your dentist tells you that you need comprehensive dental work on your teeth; the central heating engineer tells you that you need a new boiler; the journalist reports a story with such a slant that you can’t recognize the events that are described though you were there as a witness; the Prime Minister tells you that the nation has to go to war because the enemy has weapons of mass destruction; the people selling the house say that everything is in good condition but after you have bought it you discover that the whole building is subsiding; the man who fills in his tax form lies about his income; the Email letter writer tells you that you have become the beneficiary of $5 million and all he needs is your bank details; the abortionists say that having an abortion is easier than having a tooth out; the man who gives you cocaine tells you that it is harmless and not habit-forming; the striker dives in the penalty area though the defender never touched him; the man you are writing to on the chat line tells you he is 20 and unmarried. Everyone lies to his neighbour. What a poor thing is this temporary triumph of falsehood swamping the country. Joseph Caryl said that there were three kinds of lies; a lie told, a lie taught and a lie acted out. We are bombarded by them all. Lying is one of the marks of man’s fallenness and rebellion. Liars pervert the end for which God created them. Every liar is the child of the devil and will be sent home to his father.
ii] The nation is full of flattery: “their flattering lips speak with deception. May the Lord cut off all flattering lips” (vv.2&3). The man sees the girl in the pub or in the dance and he flatters her because he wants her in bed. The older man flatters the older woman because he desires her money. The politician tells the electorate that he’s never met such a discerning group of voters; he wants their support. The preacher flatters his congregation in order to keep them coming to church and putting money in the offering box. John Ploughman was Spurgeon’s nom-de-plume
and in the John Ploughman books he talked very practically about living the Christian life. He speaks about preachers who flatter and congregations who love it to be so. Spurgeon says, “None but the silliest of geese would go to the fox’s sermon.” It is so hard to handle flattery. If the devil came raging and threatening we could deal with him – better than when he comes with flattering lips. How many preachers have been ruined believing the flattery of Satan telling them what marvelous preachers they are? Beware of flatterers; they look like friends just as a wolf looks like a dog. There is nothing as shabby and mean and nauseating as the spirit of flattery because its motives are always the lowest.
iii] The nation is full of boasting. “Every boastful tongue . . . says, ‘We will triumph with our tongues; we own our lips – where is our master?’” (vv. 3&4). Children of my generation grew up being told that in Wales we had the finest grammar schools in the United Kingdom, that we played the best rugby, our mines were full of the best coal, that we were the greatest singers, we had the top brass bands, that our Health Service was the envy of the whole world, that our politicians were beyond any corruption, that money put in the bank was as safe as houses, that our television was the best in Europe, and so on. Our tongues boasted in what we had. “You’ve never had it so good” the Prime Minister told us. Rule Britannia, Britannia rules the waves. How does David describe this nation in our text? It says, “We will triumph with our tongues; we own our lips – where is our master?” Now we’ve discovered the truth behind so much of what we were being told. We were deceived. How the last year has humbled the country and its institutions. Politicians and bankers will never regain the trust of our generation.
iv] The nation is full of the oppression of the weak. “The oppression of the weak and the groaning of the needy” (v.5): that again is a feature of our nation as the media reveals it week after week. We are told of women being brought across from eastern Europe in the sex industry and kept as virtual prisoners. We are shown pictures of big-eyed children killed by their mothers’ boy-friends. Men batter their women, and animals are starved to death. Old people are neglected or filled with tranquilizers in old people’s homes. At least 35,000 old men and women will die from the cold this winter: a staggering, scandalous figure. The winter cull of the elderly has become accepted as part of national life. Someone will from the cold every five minutes in Britain this winter. In Northampton last week the Randalls were found dead in their home. A neighbour tried to warn the council that the old couple were facing difficulties but was told that her concern was irrelevant as she was not a family member. If only we knew what went on even in our town in the last 24 hours we’d be shocked.
Here is David’s understanding of the wicked and their ways. They are this world’s deceivers, flatterers, boasters and oppressors. I have shown you how little life has changed from his time to ours.
- THE REASON FOR THIS IS THE ABSENCE OF THE GODLY.
Under the reign of King David the nation was at its strongest and richest. No one could blame this aberrant behaviour on the fact that Jerusalem was being besieged for months by a Babylonian army and there was no food and no water. That was not the reason why people were acting so reprehensibly. The nation had peace and it prospered – just like the Western world in our day. We are a unique generation in the abundance of material possessions that are ours. Then why this unspeakable behaviour? David tells us in the opening verse. “The godly are no more; the faithful have vanished from among men” (v.1). In other words, they’ve run out of the salt of the earth and the light of the world has been extinguished. The godly worshippers of the Lord have been replaced by the nominally godly; the true people of God who faithfully believe and live as transformed people, are no more. Where did David’s troubles come from? We are given centres of hatred; the city of Keilah – and no believers were there. The clan of the Ziphites – ungodly to a man. King Saul’s counselors – and all of them more in love with their own status and power than of the living God. So the godly were no more in those places; the faithful had vanished and thus the wicked met no spiritual resistance.
The Lord Jesus told his disciples, “You are the salt of the earth.” That was a statement of fact that he made, not a command to become something. “Be what God has made you,” he is saying. Like salt, Christians may seem small and insignificant, powerless in a power-mad society, and yet they have the ability to influence every segment of it and permeate the whole. Salt is cheap; its value is minimal, but it has unusual properties that far exceed its value. It was and is a vital preservative. Christians too, who show the life of God in their own daily behaviour, will have a preserving impact upon a society. But if Christians are ‘no more and vanish from among men’ they will suffer moral decay. The vile will be honoured among men. The wicked will freely strut about. But when the faithful take their stand for God in society then the home or the factory or the staff-room or the school becomes a less fertile soil for ungodly influences. You know that the presence of a certain man of God in an open plan office will keep that place clean. There will not be calendars of topless models hanging on the walls. They won’t be clocking out at 3 p.m. and writing in the book ‘5 p.m.’ Salt is cheap and insignificant but its influence on the environment is out of all proportion to one’s expectations. Christians are a moral disinfectant in a world where moral standards are low and constantly changing or non-existent. When things go bad we shake our heads and tell the world, “But you’ve been destroying the salt supplies for years. You have warned people about the dangers and errors of Christianity since the Enlightenment over 200 years ago. You have the media in your hands; you have encouraged with all your power at every level of society the secularization of society. You don’t want the salt of the gospel and so the prisons have never been so full, and crime never so common, and family life never so fragile.” The salt is gone.
Again, salt has the function of seasoning food. God’s people increase the flavour of life in many different ways. We come to our friends and fellow students and families and workmates as those who have received from Jesus Christ life in its abundance. Everything about the Christian should express the attractiveness as well as the holiness of our Lord. The Lord Jesus himself had this ‘zest.’ He warmed up Galilee by his visits to its villages and homes. He raised the spirits of the people and they crowded to hear him. Without salt how bland food is. Christians make known the Lord Christ to sad, guilty people, lacking any direction in life.
Christ also said that Christians are the light of the world. They have the light of truth, and the light of heaven, and the light of salvation. Without that light men lose their sense of moral bearings; they are blind to the terrible consequences of losing God. They call evil good, while deceit, flattery, boasting and the oppression of the weak become commonplace. Men are so
surrounded by moral darkness that they cannot see their spiritual folly. H.G. Wells wrote a story of a man who climbed a precipitous mountain range and descended the other side to find a lost tribe none of whom was able to see. The whole concept of seeing was foreign to them, and when he talked to them of colours and stars and clouds and birds then they thought him crazy. The cause of his madness, they decided, were those two protuberances on each side of the bridge of his nose, and the cure they suggested was to cut out his eyes. He quickly escaped from them. Men are in darkness without the light that Christian living and speaking provides. You believers are the light of the world and without the light you have men will continue to walk in darkness. That is the reason for sin abounding and the wicked freely strutting about.
- THE CHRISTIAN RESPONSE IS TO CRY TO GOD FOR HELP
It is here in the opening words of the psalm, “Help, Lord!” It is a cry of desperation, of a man who knows that no one else and nothing at all can make the slightest difference but God. The Hebrew word is normally followed by an object, ‘help me’, but here the shout is never finished. It is the cry of a drowning man, “Help!” This Hebrew word is the one from which the names Joshua and Jesus are derived. The state of the natural man is so desperate, his enmity towards God so relentless, his love of the world so passionate that if he is to change then the power that made the universe must accomplish it. If he is to be delivered from unbelief the power that raised Christ from the dead can alone do it. So God hems us in to cry to him, “Help, Lord!” It is a powerful prayer. It reflects the desperate state of life on the broad road with many walking to destruction.
We will often pray it. Let me illustrate this as simply as I can from the life of a Christian farmer who has two small boys named John and Tom. One night he popped into the bedroom to see them before they went to sleep, and he asked them had they prayed. They hadn’t, and one of them, John, said that he wasn’t feeling well and added that they didn’t know how to pray. So their father sat on the bed and he said to them: “There’s a little prayer that has helped me many times when I’ve been in trouble and God can make you feel better when you pray to him for help. I have prayed this prayer many times, more than any other prayer.”
“Oh, what’s that, Daddy?” the boys asked. “Lord, help me,” said their Dad. The boys looked up at their father. “You’ve prayed those words and the Lord has helped you? Tell us how,” asked Tom. This is what the farmer said;
“Well, about fifteen years ago, I used to graze our sheep on cabbages in the autumn and winter months, it was on the outer leaves after the cabbages had been harvested. I used to pay the farmer ten pence per sheep per week. At the end of the winter I paid the farmer £130. The next winter, there was hard frost for three weeks in December, which spoiled all the farmer’s cabbages. He said: ‘You can graze all the fields with your sheep.’ There was much good feed for the sheep because all the cabbage hearts had not been harvested. I had nearly a thousand sheep on the cabbages. At the end of the winter, I reckoned up what I owed for the cabbages, and it was £1,130, exactly £1,000 more than the year before; but, oh dear, I had a problem. It had been a hard winter; I had many bills to pay on the farm and I didn’t have any money left. The price for sheep had been very low and the cabbage farmer needed paying. He had been pushing me to pay a higher rate for the cabbages, and I knew that tomorrow he was coming to collect the money for the sheep grazing. I could, maybe, pay him £130 by the end of the month, but oh dear, not £1,130? Whatever could I do?
“All night I stayed awake, and all I could cry was: ‘Lord help me; Lord, help me.’ All the next morning, while working with the sheep: ‘Lord, help me; Lord, help me.’ By the afternoon, I was at my wits’ end. The man was coming to collect the money at five o’clock. Wherever could the money come from? It was impossible. What should I do? ‘Lord, help me; Lord, help me,’ It was four o’clock. I was in my field by the pond. I fell down, and there was none to help. I cried: ‘Lord, help me,’ for an hour.
“Five o’clock came, and I heard the man’s car and saw it arrive in the gateway, about three hundred yards away. I was beyond all help now. I stood up. I staggered across the field like a drunken man, every step: ‘Lord, help me; Lord, help me; Lord, help me; Lord, help me.’ I arrived at the gate, and lifted my downcast head to look at him, for I couldn’t speak. He said: ‘I’ve been thinking, coming along . . . just pay me the same amount as you did last year, and send it to me by the end of the month,’ and he went back to his car and drove off.
“I turned around and walked back towards the pond . . . I ran . . . I skipped: £130 to pay instead of £1,130! I stopped and shouted out, for all the animals in the field to hear: ‘The Lord has paid £1,000 for me!’ I fell on my knees by the pond.
“‘Oh, praise him; praise him.’
‘Bless the LORD, O my soul: and all that is within me, bless his holy name;
‘Oh give thanks unto the LORD, for he is good: for his mercy endureth for ever.’
‘The Lord is on my side; I will not fear: what can man do unto me?’
‘He raiseth up the poor out of the dust and lifteth up the beggar from the dunghill.’
‘He will regard the prayer of the destitute, and not despise their prayer.’”
“He controlled himself and then encouraged his boys to pray, “Lord, help me.” His sons told him that they liked that prayer, that they had learned it already. This was the prayer, saying back to him, “Lord help me.” Sometimes we are in great pain and weakness. We are recovering from an operation lying in a hospital, thinking is an effort. We can only say, “Lord help me! Lord help me!” It is yet a mighty prayer, especially when a tide of wickedness seems to be drowning the land. That’s David’s prayer. Seventy times in the book of psalms men are asking God for help.
- HOW MIGHTILY DOES GOD ANSWER OUR CRIES.
Does he answer? He always answers. He does not merely say good things to encourage us, he comes to deliver us.
i] God arises and helps us. “‘I will now arise,’ says the Lord” (v.5). It is an echo of the end of Sodom and Gomorrah and the Lord coming to Abraham and telling him the purpose of his visit: “The outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is so great and their sin so grievous that I will go down and see if what they have done is as bad as the outcry that has reached me. If not, I will know” (Gen. 18:20&21). Now we know that God is omnipresent, that no one can hide himself from the Lord, that he knows all there is to know. He has no need to inspect anything close up, he knows everything about each sub-atomic particle in the universe. This is what we call an anthropomorphism; we use a human picture of a man taking great interest in so
mething and inspecting it close up to show us God’s involvement with his world. He is not a distant deity who just lets the world spin on caring little for what is going on. He is a God who pays the closest attention to the world he made which he pronounced ‘very good.’
“I will now arise,” he says, and what does he do today? He does not deal with the world as he once dealt with it at the time of Noah’s flood, or as he dealt with Sodom and Gomorrah. Rather he comes by his servants the prophets and they speak in his name to this fallen groaning world, but not with strident notes of condemnation. No. He actually pleads with these wicked people strutting about. He beseeches those who are honouring what is vile, and this is what he says to them, “Do I take any pleasure in the death of the wicked? declares the Sovereign LORD. Rather, am I not pleased when they turn from their ways and live?” (Ez. 18:23). In fact he tells Ezekiel what he is to say to the wicked on his behalf; “Say to them, ‘As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign LORD, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live. Turn! Turn from your evil ways! Why will you die, O house of Israel?’” (Ez.33:11).
The Lord speaks to the wicked, but that is not the only way he arises, by sending his servants with a message. He himself comes in the person of his Son, Jesus Christ. The promised Messiah arises at the set time and leaves the eternal blessedness of heaven for such a wicked world as this. He comes to us, the Saviour promised long. For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the wicked but that the wicked through him might be saved. He came to bear our wickedness in his own body on the tree. He came and to him was imputed our lies, and our flattery, and our deception, and our boastful tongues, and our oppression of the weak, and our honouring what is vile. All that iniquity of ours God laid on his own Son on the cross. He did not come to judge the world; he did not come to blame; he did not only come to seek, it was to save he came. And when we call him Saviour, we call him by his name. The Saviour of those wicked who freely strut around our land is the Lord Jesus Christ or no one at all. God sent his Son to be the Saviour of the world. That is why he came; that is why he lived and that is why he died. The proof that that is so is his resurrection from the dead. But there is another way God still comes.
We Christians cry to God today as we see the abundance of sin all around us and we say what David says here, “Help, Lord!” and God again answers us. “I will now arise.” God the Holy Spirit comes as he first came upon the whole church of Jesus Christ on the day of Pentecost so that thousands were convicted of their wickedness and repented of it and turned to trust in Jesus Christ. That Lord comes to Philippi and opens Lydia’s heart. He rises and comes to us in Aberystwyth and saves Aberystwyth sinners today. Why are you here tonight knowing God as your Saviour and friend? Because you cried to God “Help” and he arose and helped you, and we must go on crying and crying for help and God will keep coming and coming to help us.
ii] God arises and protects us. “I will protect them from those who malign them” (v.5). Think of P.B. Power’s book called The ‘I Wills’ of the Psalms. “You ask me for help?” says God. “I will protect you.” There is no way, no circumstance, no power from which I won’t protect you. David knew this to be so; he had experienced the protecting grace of God, and so see how he replies to God with a thankful heart, “O Lord, you will keep us safe and protect us from such people forever” (v.7). You will go on doing it, Lord. You will protect us for ever and ever. A Sovereign Protector we have, unseen yet for ever at hand.
So often our little children are worried about moving to somewhere new, or beginning a new school, or perhaps Daddy is going off for a few weeks overseas and as parents we want them to know that God will keep us all safe and protect us. We often pray as a family when some are returning to their homes in Trowbridge, or London, or Cardiff, “Keep them safe and protect them on their journeys.” For hundreds of times we have prayed that prayer and the invariable answer has been safety and protection. It means that safety, of course at that very basic level of temporal care. Protection in childbirth, protection in an operation, protection in growing old and steadily more feeble; protection in the many important decisions we have to take and God keeps us safe. Of course there are times when we hit black ice, and we bump the car, and one day we will get an illness which will take us from this world to heaven. We know that we will not be protected from every single illness for ever. One will finally take us home to glory, but we recognise how God does protect us and our children throughout our lives. But then you extend it beyond that. “Lord, I’m being tempted, keep me safe and protect me. Lord I am bothered with doubts and unbelief, keep me safe and protect me.” Our one great desire is that we won’t perish in hell and the Lord promises that none shall pluck us out of his hand. Could the loving hands of Jesus be around sinners in hell? Impossible. We shall never perish if he has us. We may grow ill, sick in mind and sick in body. We may have to spend weeks or months in hospital. We may live our lives on 30 tablets a day. We may be in utter darkness, but God will never allow us to fall into the bottomless pit, if he has begun a good work in us he will complete it. He will keep us safe and protect us.
iii] God will arise and cut off the flattering lips. There was a young, wealthy, fit man who had some leadership in the local community, and he came hurrying up to Jesus and said to him, “Good Master, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Our Lord arose and cut off those flattering lips: “Why callest thou me good?” he asked him, and then Jesus preached the Law to him saying, “there is none good except God.” The man heard Jesus and then went away from him, though Jesus had loved him. Don’t try to flatter God. It’s not the way to God. He knows all about you. He hates flattery. Go to him with your request for help and protection; go with judgment day honesty.
- HOW WE CAN KNOW THAT ALL THIS IS TRUE.
“You preachers are always talking about God hearing us when we pray, and God coming and helping us, and protecting us and judging the wicked. How in the world can you know that this is true? Anyone can say things like that.” That is a common question, and the answer is in our psalm. I don’t give you words that you might like to hear. That is not my criterion in speaking to you. They might be deceiving, flattering words, and they will be of no help to you or anyone. I have told you what this psalm says. It is only the word of God that can help you or me or anyone. Why is that so? The answer is in the sixth verse, “The words of the LORD are flawless, like silver refined in a furnace of clay, purified seven times.”
Refined precious metals last for many centuries. We were reminded of this again this week in the discussion of the destiny of a precious horde of Anglo-Saxon gold and silver jewellery that a metal detector had discovered last year in England. It was a king’s tr
easure in excellent condition. A refiner had removed all impurities from the ore and the bracelets and necklaces were hardly less magnificent than when they first came for his workshop 1800 years ago. Do you see the application of David here? He was surrounded by words spoken by deceivers, words spoken by braggarts, words spoken by liars, words spoken by flatterers, hurting, dangerous words. They will perish with those who speak them, but God’s words endure because they are totally pure. You know the process; a refiner refines the silver ore removing all the dross. But in this instance he refines them once again – the already refined silver. He again removes those tiny particles of dross that are still there. Then he repeats the whole process again, and once again. In fact he refines it seven times until he has utterly flawless silver. It is completely unalloyed and unadulterated. That is the nature of the Bible that you have before you. God has subjected it to a refining process so thorough that not even the smallest particle of deception or exaggeration remains. It is as holy as God can make it – ‘The Holy Bible.’ “The words of the LORD are flawless, like silver refined in a furnace of clay, purified seven times.” Jesus said, “Come unto me all ye that labour and are heavy laden and I will give you rest.” That word is utterly pure so you can trust its every joy and tittle, and that is the only reason why you must respond to it. Obey it, because it is pure and true, and so you will find rest for your souls.
Imbibe these pure words of the Lord into your life. Put Scripture in your heart and mind. Fill your life with it. Inject it into your veins. Sniff it up your nostrils. Eat it up. Breathe it in. Drink it down. Fill your pores with it. It can do you no harm at all because it is purified completely Take a passage like the opening verses of Ephesians 2 and chew on those verses; say them, sing them, shout them, preach them to yourself until your heart is filled with the awareness of the marvel of the grace of God in Jesus Christ our Lord.. Read Galatians 2:19-21 and personalize that passage for yourself. Put your name in the place of the pronouns. Hold on to those promises. When you come to passages of the Bible that seem harsh and perplexing then say to yourself that whatever these mean they do not undermine the fact that “The words of the LORD are flawless, like silver refined in a furnace of clay, purified seven times.” Remember whatever happens in this new year what these words say about the Scripture will be constant. Go forth in Bible strength.
17th January 2010 GEOFF THOMAS