Psalm 12, The Faithful Have Vanished
1. Save, O LORD, for the godly one is gone; for the faithful have vanished from among the children of man.
2. Everyone utters lies to his neighbor; with flattering lips and a double heart they speak.
3. May the LORD cut off all flattering lips, the tongue that makes great boasts,
4. those who say, “With our tongue we will prevail, our lips are with us; who is master over us?”
5. “Because the poor are plundered, because the needy groan, I will now arise,” says the LORD; “I will place him in the safety for which he longs.”
6. The words of the LORD are pure words, like silver refined in a furnace on the ground, purified seven times.
7. You, O LORD, will keep them; You will guard us from this generation forever.
8. On every side the wicked prowl, as vileness is exalted among the children of man.
David is capturing the duplicity of the human heart in these verses while also praying for His salvation to come to these people (“Save, O LORD”). Truly, the type of people David is exposing is no different than ordinary people today. Oftentimes, I look around and it appears the faithful—God’s people—are vanishing. Not only are Christians beginning to accept heresy willy-nilly, but many are falling away from the faith as well.
Then I look at my church body’s missionary efforts—the LCMS (Lutheran Church Missouri Synod)—in Africa and see the faith increasing drastically. We have organizations such as the Lutheran Bible Translators who travel to countries like Africa who don’t have Bibles, who work to translate the Gospel into their language. This is one organization I hope to work for as a future pastor and biblical language scholar. There are numerous other efforts worldwide in which the Church is being built enormously; it just doesn’t appear that way in our own country to me at times. The Church may be falling apart in some places of our country, but in other places of our country the faithful are also being built.
Most troubling of all is what David notices in his own time—the duplicity of the human heart. In one instance we speak kindly to our neighbor, and in other instances we speak harshly to them. Just look at our recent election. On the left side they speak kindly to other lefties, while speaking extremely hateful words to those on the right. Even while hypocritically claiming “Love Trumps Hate,” and not keeping to those words after the election. Even Christians on the left are guilty of this.
At the same time, people on the right who voted for President Trump speak kindly with other Trump supporters while they speak harshly toward those on the left. At times, it’s to the same extent as the left, although in most cases it’s not. Regardless of the severity, harsh words are still being spoken from each side to the opposing one. The left says you cannot be Christian if you vote for Trump, and the right says you cannot be Christian if you vote for Hillary. And directly in the middle are third party voters who claim you cannot be Christian if you’ve voted for either candidate. These are harsh words that speak no truth. Thanks be to God our Christian identity is found in Christ, not in politics or fallible people in authority. Presidents don’t save us, politics don’t save us—Jesus Christ saves us.
So, what is missing? Obviously the love of Christ is missing. At the moment of speaking harsh words, God’s love is not in our heart. “If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen” (1 John 4:20). By all means, we can disagree with opposing political parties, but if hate comes from our speech and our actions, the love of God is not within us. When we speak harshly to the other political side, are we speaking from love or enmity? Obviously it’s the latter. Such hostile speech only leads to further division; it never leads to reconciliation.
But the purpose of this article is not to speak on politics, but rather the human tendency to speak with “a double heart.” Politics and the recent election serve merely as relevant examples. The duplicity of the human heart applies more directly to our everyday lives. We will speak kindly to a friend, while in that same day we speak harshly towards a person we don’t like or someone who annoys us. I’m certainly guilty of this; I’ll be the first to admit it.
This duplicity is so problematic David uses a hyperbole as the solution: “May the LORD cut off all flattering lips, the tongue that makes great boasts.” The hyperbole he is using is not literally cutting off the lips of those who speak with such duplicity, but rather execution. In Hebrew, to “cut off” is metaphorical speech for “to kill” or “to execute.” He is using a hyperbole, yet is he far off?
As Christians, we know well “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23), meaning all sin is equally punishable by death. Every sin, no matter how small or great, is punishable by death. God does not rank sin from bad to worst; that is a human practice. To God, every single sin we commit is punishable by death. That is the Law.
Yet, there is also Gospel in the second half of this Romans passage often left out when quoted: “but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Yes, all sin is punishable by death, even the “least” of these sins, but fret not! We receive forgiveness and salvation for free from God in Christ Jesus our Lord! In verse 4 the wicked express their confidence in themselves. To them, they have no master, for they serve themselves. But we who have received salvation from God have a merciful Master.
Our Master is a God who exalts the poor and the humble. We serve a God who hears the cries of the poor and answers them with no contingencies attached. God hears the cries of the poor in Africa, Haiti, Guatemala, and various other countries, and He sends His people to meet not only their physical needs, but also their spiritual needs.
Yet in the West, we are also in need. I’m not speaking of only the poor in our own country, but also those who are relatively wealthy and are in need spiritually. Before God drew me to Himself, I was in need of love, grace, and rest, which I could only find in Him. So He drew me to Himself where I found the greatest love, grace, and rest of all. It’s not only the poor who desperately need God, but also the rich, and perhaps even more so. After all, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God” (Matthew 19:24).
Imagine for a moment—a camel walking through the eye of a needle. The image to the right is an eye of a needle. How the heck can a camel walk through that?
Exactly. It can’t—and that’s the point Jesus is making. It’s so impossible for a camel to walk through the eye of a needle that it’s more impossible for a rich person to enter God’s kingdom. Why? Because of his pride—his trust is in himself and his riches rather than the merciful God. Even though many of us in America are not rich, we are certainly richer than those in Africa, Haiti, and other poor countries. Because of this wealth, many of us say like the people in this psalm, “Who is master over us?”
God is our Master, whether we serve Him or not. He is Master of the universe and He is Master of our lives. Yet as His children, He is our merciful Master. He arises for us when we are in need, no matter what that need is. Notice I say when we are in need, not in want; there is a significant difference.
God was ultimately risen for us on Mt. Calvary when He chose to die for our sins. He was lifted up for us so that we might be lifted up in Him. The Word of His salvation is beautiful, “like silver refined.” He is the guard—the protector—of our salvation. Even as we live in this world where the wicked prowl on every side, our salvation is held firmly in His hands. “I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. I and the Father are one” (John 10:28-30). Since no one can snatch us out of the Father’s hand, and because Christ is one with the Father as being God Himself, we can never be snatched out of Christ’s hand either. He holds us firmly within His grasp as Protector of our salvation, and none can take us from Him.
Psalm 12 Prayer
Father, cut out the duplicity of my human heart and replace it with a new one where its speech reflects Your grace and mercy always. Help me to speak graciously towards my neighbor. Take the bitterness off my tongue and replace it with Your sweet mercy. Forgive me for my harshness. Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me (Psalm 51:10). Teach me how to speak with gentleness, just as You have treated me gently. Help me to show others the mercy You have shown me, that they may ever more grow to know You as God our Savior. In the name of Jesus I pray, amen.
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