In the middle of a pandemic, social distancing guidelines have forced us to make distressing sacrifices. Businesses and employees are facing economic hardship. Sport fans and theatergoers are going through withdrawal. We long for physical gatherings with children, grandchildren, parents, and friends. The whole world is learning what it means to lament. As Christians, we should be familiar with lamenting on a more profound level than economics, leisure, or even family. Our lament grows out of our faith in God. We realize that human society does not reflect his goodness like it ought to. Psalm 12 expresses that kind of lament — lamenting corrupt talk.
When the psalmist cries out, “Save, O LORD,” he is not seeking deliverance from personal, physical peril. He laments a morally desperate situation in society: “…for the godly one is gone; for the faithful have vanished from among the children of men. Everyone utters lies to his neighbor; with flattering lips and a double heart they speak” (vv. 1-2). Sinful speech has gone viral.
When the number who fear God diminishes, it has an impact on society. Corrupt talk is one indication. We lie, manipulate, and use pleasant words to mask a vile agenda. We recognize this in the spheres of politics, business, and media, but it appears in the home and neighborhood as well. Integrity of speech is preserved only where there is appreciation for our Divine audience. Consequently, one evidence of the gospel’s transforming power is honest, loving, pure, and grateful speech (Eph. 4:15; 4:25; 5:4).
The Battle of Words
Though a picture may be worth a thousand words, Twitter has proven words still have great power. That power is magnified when coming from those in places of authority or influence. They can inspire, encourage, and advance justice, or they can threaten, shame, and advance wickedness. The psalmist witnesses the latter. He cries out for God to “cut off” the tongue that boasts, “With our tongue we will prevail, our lips are with us; who is master over us?” (vv. 3-4).
David had a broad and varied perspective. Beginning as a lowly shepherd, brought into the court of King Saul, placed in command of Israel’s army, and chosen by God to be Saul’s successor, he saw power from multiple vantage points. Witnessing the powerful using words to rob and grind down the vulnerable moved David to lament.
Similarly, our Lord Jesus rebuked the religious leaders of his day for using their authority to oppress others for personal gain rather than serve the helpless and hurting (Matt. 23:1-24). It broke his heart, as it broke David’s heart, because it breaks God’s heart. So the psalmist could confidently speak for God: “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” (v. 5).
In the battle of words, it is no contest. No edict or resolution, no media campaign or endorsement, no hashtag or twitter feed can succeed against the word of God: “The words of the LORD are pure words, like silver refined in a furnace on the ground, purified seven times” (v. 6).
Hopeful and Watchful
So we proceed with confidence and caution. We are confident that God hears and will protect us: “You, O Lord, will keep them; you will guard us from this generation forever” (v. 7). But we are cautious of the evil around us: “On every side the wicked prowl, as vileness is exalted among the children of man” (v. 8).
While the world exalts vileness, we proclaim “the gospel of the glory of the blessed God” (1 Tim. 1:11). We are not deceived by empty words that recklessly invite the wrath of God (Eph. 5:3-6). Our speech is to “always be gracious” and beneficial to others (Col. 4:5). We “so speak and so act as those who are to be judged under the law of liberty” (Jas. 2:12). Others may find their power in the hashtag, but we will find ours in the cross (1 Cor. 1:18).
“It should be our daily prayer that we may rise above our age as the mountain-tops above the clouds, and may stand out as heaven-pointing pinnacle high above the mists of ignorance and sin which roll around us.”
C. H. Spurgeon on Psalm 12:7
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