September 24, 2019
by Wendy Westerfield
Laity of Sycamore Tree UMC (Maryville, TN)
Smoky Mountain District
Psalm 12 causes me to rethink the instruction to set aside the problems of everyday life in order to “enter worship.” David shows that we come into the presence of God, not to escape the world, but to deal with the world.
As king, David had front row seats to major political and cultural issues of Israel. In this psalm he bemoans a tsunami of smooth talking lies that corrupt others and sweeps away the faithful. The wind has been knocked out of him. He feels overswept by his people’s faithlessness. The weapon of choice isn’t the arrow or javelin, but speech. Flattery, deception and boasting have swamped his soul. He sees repeatedly how fact-twisting and spin-casting degrades his people. Among the many problems that could distract him from worship, he screams of the deadly wave of polite deception.
Help, Lord, for no one is faithful anymore;
those who are loyal have vanished from the human race.
Everyone lies to their neighbor;
they flatter with their lips
but harbor deception in their hearts.
May the Lord silence all flattering lips
and every boastful tongue –
those who say, “By our tongues we will prevail; our own lips will defend us –
who is lord over us?” Psalm 12:1-4
Absalom’s conspiracy might have been the context. King David’s estranged son sat at the city gate with his 50-man power team to endear himself to the people. He inquired of their complaints, appealed to their pride, and promised them justice. What could be more appealing? Absalom would say, “Look, your claims are valid and proper, but there is no representative of the king to hear you. If only I were appointed judge in the land! Then everyone who has a case could come to me and I would see that they receive justice.” Flattery and deception. He “stole the hearts of the people” 1 Sam 15:3-6. Thanks, kid. Way to care for family.
David can’t stand the seductive, manipulative power of outward sincerity. Empty / smooth / double talk tears apart the worth and integrity of human communication. It erodes our ability to trust each other and destroys relationships. “The tongue of the righteous is choice silver, but the heart of the wicked is of little value” Proverbs 10:20; 17:20. The devastation of a storm of words is extensive: People desert friendships, neglect the poor, play favorites, blame God, argue, give up, and skip basic decency. Manipulation clearly feels empowering; the results, addictive Psalm 12:4.
Thankfully, this psalm focuses on God’s response. David speaks to God and gets a clear answer Psalm 12:5-6:
“Because the poor are plundered and the needy groan,
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 purified in a crucible,
like gold refined seven times.”
God’s action responds to the weathering of the poor and needy. This verbal assault is a type of violence against the poor. The poor are oppressed (Job 29:12-17; Ps 12:5; Is 3:14). The law protects them (Ex 22:22) and the Lord rescues them “from those too strong” (Ps 35:10).
Even the king cries, “Hear, O Lord, and answer me, for I am poor and needy” (Ps 86:1). David prays, “This poor man called, and the Lord heard him; he saved him out of all his troubles” (Ps 34:6). Jesus came to preach good news to the poor (Matt 11:5) because they recognize their need and welcome deliverance.
When propaganda, sales pitches and gossip trouble us, we don’t need to box up those hurts and hide them in a corner until “worship” is over. We bring those experiences to God, the one who knows our hearts are drowning. We can welcome his rescue, safety and protection.