A Reflexion on Psalm 12: Persevering in Adversity and Trusting God’s Promises

Help, Lord; for the godly man ceaseth; for the faithful fail from among the children of men. 

They speak vanity every one with his neighbour: with flattering lips and with a double heart do they speak.

The psalmist begins by lamenting how few are the faithful, focussing on the emptiness of their conversation. He emphasises the superficiality of their words and the duplicity of their intentions. The sign of godly people, of a faithful generation, is honest speech from a sincere heart, which seeks not to please others but to honour the truth. This sort of conversation goes deeper, to what is truly important in life, and seeks to know the great answers to life and to know the soul of another human being. Therefore the speech of the godly is honest and seeks truth, and it leads to friendship and love. This honours God because He is friendship, He is love. 

The Lord shall cut off all flattering lips, and the tongue that speaketh proud things:

Who have said, With our tongue will we prevail; our lips are our own: who is lord over us?

The psalmist writes that the lord will retaliate, for those who are insincere in speech are proud of heart, therefore offending God who is Truth and Light. For when we do not revere God with our lips, it is because we instead serve our own intentions. Thus we would say, ‘With our tongue will we prevail; our lips are our own: who is lord over us?’ For the tongue shall follow the heart’s intentions: If they be honest, so will one’s lips be honest; if they are self-serving, then one’s lips will flatter and serve the godless heart. Honesty and pride oppose one another, for honesty must acknowledge one’s weakness and dependence on God as well as the greatness to which God has called the soul, and in this is humility. But the proud heart will use its tongue to ‘prevail’ as it seeks its own intention. It will then increase in pride to believe that it does not owe its lips to the Creator who made them, and it will attain the height of pride in total opposition to God as its Lord. 

For the oppression of the poor, for the sighing of the needy, now will I arise, saith the Lord; I will set him in safety from him that puffeth at him.

Having made his petition and listing the grievances he sees, and having confessed the consequences of the sin surrounding him, the psalmist speaks the Lord’s answer: ‘For the oppression of the poor, for the sighing of the needy, now will I arise, saith the Lord: I will set him in safety from him that puffeth at him.’ The Lord answers that because one suffers, God pities him; because one acknowledges his neediness to the Lord, then God will save him. It is noteworthy that God emphasises not the prayer of the needy, but states that He will arise simply because the poor are suffering. This is because we have no merits, and God is mercy. One must not rely on his own prayers to God; one must rely on God through prayer. If the needy will only sigh, not hiding their poverty and dependence on God, then He will rush to save them, protecting them from the haughty persecutor. As the RSV reads, God ‘will place him in the safety for which he longs.’ This safety is the bosom of God the Father. To know God in His deepest identity, which is mercy—giving more than one deserves, giving of himself for the happiness of His creatures—this inspires the soul with confidence in God and the desire to belong to him—and this is faith and hope. 

The words of the Lord are pure words: as silver tried in a furnace of earth, purified seven times.

His words are pure in their beauty and simplicity. They delight those who receive them, and are helpful, reliable. They are like silver: For they are of great value, to be treasured; but they are also useful (for silver can be made into utensils). Finally, they are tried and true: Tested seven times, they show themselves perfect, unable to fail. These words strengthen the faith of the hearer, who believes that even fire and trials cannot threaten the covenant God has established, but will rather show it to be more sure and trustworthy than it was seen to be before. 

Thou shalt keep them, O Lord, thou shalt preserve them from this generation for ever.

Our salvation, peace, and joy consist less in what we do and entirely in what God does. Once we are His through Baptism, He will keep us. We must trust in His love to keep us in Him, for we are already His. And in Him, if only we trust Him and remain faithful to Him, abiding in Him, then we shall attain perfect happiness with God in Heaven. For now on earth we know the unfathomable love that has made us His children, but we await an even greater joy in the beauty of a greater love: ‘Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is.’ (1 John 3:2) 

The wicked walk on every side, when the vilest men are exalted.

Strengthened with this hope of peace and perfect happiness with God in Heaven, and surefooted on faith in His faithfulness and love, we can and shall walk on the path He set for us. We shall do His work, as His coworkers, and this work is love and mercy. The psalmist closes with this reminder, that to admire sin and praise the wicked is what brought about the situation of godlessness mentioned at the beginning of the psalm. Therefore this is a call to bold action, to uncompromising virtue in the face of evil. When the wicked walk all about us, we must remember the faithful promises of God and seek Him as our treasure, lest we become too weary in this short life and fall to the wiles and persecutions of temptation and adversity. And when we are at peace, we must remain vigilant to root out evil, shed light on deceit and falsehood, condemn wickedness and correct and punish the wicked. And we must stand strong and persevere bravely on the path the saints have already trodden, loving the good, praising the beautiful, seeking truth. As to be surrounded by many wicked is perilous, so to be surrounded by true friends and stay nourished with good conversation is a sure fortification against despair, weariness, and fear. We must use good conversation to build real friendships, seeking virtue together for one another’s good; and so we will defy evil, defend truth and beauty, and find eternal happiness in the reality of God’s love. 

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