Praying the Psalms: Psalm 12

How do we pray when our leaders have forked tongues and a crooked smile? Politicians have a reputation for saying anything to get a vote. They make grandiose promises and they will tickle ears to appease a group only to say the opposite behind close doors. News anchors embellish and speak half truths when reporting a story. Business leaders cook the books or hide assets in illegal tax shelters. As we look at the world today, honesty seems to be missing and truth telling is absent. It is hard to know who is speaking truth and who is speaking lies. And so we come to that opening question, how do we pray when our leaders have forked tongues and a crooked smile? This is exactly the question David, the psalmist, seeks to answer in Psalm 12. Liars seem to be everywhere and his lament leads him to unshakeable trust in the truthful purity of the words of God.

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Commentary

v. 1–2 - The situation of David’s lament is laid out in these first two verses. The urgent plea is found in the first word, “Save.” The godly seem to be absent and gone. The ones who are faithful to God seem to have vanished among men. Everyone left utters lies with flapping lips and a deceitful heart. Everyone, particularly the nation’s leadership, seems to be intent on deceit. You can’t trust anyone and evil motivations seems to be hiding behind words of flattery. Truth telling and truth speaking is absent from the culture, and lies and deceit lurk publicly in the open square.

As we look at the world in which we live, it is amazing how humanity has not changed since David’s day. Through sound bites and new clips, tweets and status updates there are hay stacks of falsehood we must sort through to find the needle of truth. Everywhere around us their is falsehood. There are grand and extravagant promises made by a company if you would only buy their product. There are models that are “photshoped” to look a certain way. There are politicians that dodge questions to avoid speaking truthfully. The media spins every story they get to support their own agenda. Just as it was for David, falsehood surrounds us and the godly people who speak truth are absent.

v. 3–4 - David then begins to pray that God would remove the wicked people who are defined by their flattering lips. David prays that God would take these people and would remove the source of their great confidence——their deceitful tongues. There is a certain amount of arrogance that comes with being a perpetual liar. Their is a prideful self-confidence in their own ability to spin truth to their own advantage and to hide truth by covering it with lies. Those who practice such falsehood conclude, “Who is master over us?” Those who practice such habitual trickery and deception think they will never get caught. There is an idolatrous self-centeredness at the heart of every false word bent on its on self-preservation and self-exaltation. David’s prayer is that these liars would be exposed for who they are and that God would remove their very tongues if necessary.

v. 5–6 - The situation seems bleak. The poor are plundered and the needy groan. Yet, there is hope. David knows that the Lord will arise. He will take those oppressed by the lying snakes and bring them into his own safety. God is against the liars and will stand up against them in opposition. Though they seem like they have no master, the Lord will one day put them in their place. David recognizes that the Lord is the complete opposite from these forked tongue leaders.

David states that “the word of the Lord are pure words, like silver refined in a furnace on the ground, purified seven times”. The Lord always speaks truth. He doesn’t not conceal truth in falsehood or disguise truth through vain flattery. His words are pure just like silver that has been purified through a furnace seven times. The word of the Lord is without blemish, spot, or corruption. Though we may live in the world’s web of lies, God’s word is reliably true. God cannot lie (Titus 1:2). As a result we can trust that his word is true. This is why the Scriptures are reliable and true. If the Bible was given to us by God as he inspired human authors to write his word, we know that all of the Scriptures must be true. It is not corrupted silver where we have to refine through the furnace of hyper-criticalism to discern which part of the Bible is true and which is false. Rather, because God is truth and does not lie, his word cannot have falsehood in it. The reason the Bible is reliable in speaking truth is because God himself is truth. His word is pure.

This can provide great hope as we live in such a sly and fraudulent world. As we interact with our fellow men and women we wonder, who can we trust and who is reliable? Who will love me enough to speak truthfully and not flatter me for their own selfish gain? Whose word is reliable? The answer to these questions is God himself. David recognizes this. Though everyone around him has flattering lips, he trusts and places his hope in the Lord whose words are pure. As we look at the confusion today and the falsehood that surrounds us, we too can trust in the purity and truthfulness of the word of God.

Not only has God spoken his word, but he sent his word into the world. “The word became flesh and dwelt among us” (Jn 1:14). Jesus Christ is the word of God made flesh. In Jesus is truth and in him is purity. Jesus’ coming is the arising of God from his throne and Jesus is the safety for the poor and needy. There is refuge and comfort in truth, and that truth is a person, the Lord Jesus Christ. Through the Gospel message of God’s redemption of sinners and through the atoning death of Jesus, those who are oppressed by liars can be protected in the safety of the gifted purity of Jesus.

v. 7–8 - The Psalm moves from lament to praise. David concludes that even though wicked may be on every side and though falsehood and vileness may be on the prowl against men, the Lord will keep us. He will guard us from the fork-tongue men and women all around us.

In JRR Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, there is a deceitful man speaking lies to the Théodon of Rohan named Grima. The people called him Wormtongue. He whispered lies into the ear of the king. He was a master of deceit and used his flattering lips to manipulate Théodon, the ruler of the people of Rohan. The white wizard Gandalf who passed through from death to life in his fight against the Balrog comes before Wormtongue and says,

The wise speak only of what they know, Gríma son of Gálmód. A witless worm have you become. Therefore be silent, and keep your forked tongue behind your teeth. I have not passed through fire and death to bandy crooked words with a serving-man till the lightning falls.

As we think about Jesus, the author of truth, I’m sure Jesus will say something very similar to the legion of liars that lead our world today. These witless worms will be made silent. For the Lord Jesus Christ did not pass from death and life to listen to their crooked words. One day Christ will return and the lightening will fall and the forked tongues will be cut from the mouth’s of liars and truth will rule again.

Prayer Guide

  • Present your concerns to the Lord concerning liars who are in authority.
  • Ask the Lord to remove the corrupt from power and leadership.
  • Thank God for the reliability and purity of his word as truth.
  • Thank God for protecting the weak through Jesus, the word of God incarnate.
  • Ask God to help you trust in him and in his promised victory that will come when Christ returns.

Truth is Revealed Both Gradually and Dramatically

when-was-saul-convertedJesus is one with the Father. Jesus invites us to examine his life, because he and the Father are one. As Jesus speaks, it is God who speaks. As Jesus shows love, it is God who shows love. As Jesus stoops down to wash his disciples feet, it is God who humbles himself for this most menial of tasks. From Jesus' conversations, actions, and character we are able to see God himself. Jesus is the image of the invisible God. When we learn of Jesus we learn of God himself. How amazing it must have been to be one of those disciples; to walk the streets of Jerusalem with God; to recline at the table eating with the creator of the universe; to laugh and joke with the great Almighty; to be served and loved by the Son of Man.

Yet, even though God was incarnate in front of them, these men were not able to see fully who Jesus was. Indeed, they would not fully discern the glory of Jesus until after his resurrection. Even still, how blinded we are to the reality in front of us until God reveals it to us in power. Truth never changes, but our awareness of that truth either grows or diminishes with our hardened hearts. Jesus was God whether the disciples discerned his true identity or not, but they slowly over time began to understand who Jesus is.

God works this same way in our own lives as well. Often God's drawing of us to Christ is a slow and gradual experience. It is over the course of many months and many years, as God slowly reveals to us the glory of truth. The fog of falsehood disperses ever so slowly. God is truth and our understanding of him often increases with the passage of time.

Sometimes this truth will be revealed dramatically with a cataclysmic conversion event. Saul of Tarsus as he was on the road to Damascus was on his way to kill more Christians. However when truth was revealed as Jesus blinded him with his glory, God was revealed to wretched old Saul. After that life shattering event, Saul was no longer Saul. He was Paul. No longer a enemy of Christ, Paul was now an ally to him.

Truth can be revealed suddenly. God never ceases to do the miraculous by showing truth, instantaneously transforming a life. These are the people with the far more interesting testimonies. However these sorts of stories are rare for a reason. They are out of the ordinary. It is not the normal story of conversion. For most people who come to realize the truth of the Gospel of Christ, it is not one of these interesting stories like Saul of Tarsus, but much more like the disciples testimony. It has come from the gradual, slow, unexciting awakening to the truth. Then all of the sudden one day the message of the Gospel clicks.

We have heard it time and time again. We have had so many long dialogues about faith and Christ with our friends, but now all of the sudden it makes sense. The fog of falsehood has been lifted completely and you are gloriously aware of the majesty and power of Jesus. You understand why Jesus died, who did not die just a martyrs death, but a substitutionary death in your place. You begin to see that Jesus willingly went to the cross to die the death that you deserved because he lived the life you could not live. The Gospel makes since and you see its glory and bank your life on its truth. You go all in, not holding anything back. Jesus is Lord, and you cannot help but submit your whole life to him.

So which testimony is better? The instantaneous conversion of Saul or the slow conversion of the disciples? I suggest both are equally miraculous works done by God. Anytime a sinner repents and trusts in Christ is a miraculous thing. Although our conversion stories might look very different, it is God who saves us in our sin. It is God who removes the fog whether instantaneously or gradually, but either way he gets all the praise. The glory is His, in the conversion of the detestable persecutor or the church kid who spends his whole life surrounded in truth.

How did your conversion happen? Was it dramatic or slow and gradual? Love to hear your story in the comments!

The Arts are the Pulse of Culture

Francis-SchaefferI'm currently reading The God Who is There by Francis Shaeffer. I have been amazed by the cultural analysis he has done in the first half of the book, especially his analysis of art. The philosophical teachings found in much of the artwork the past two centuries absolutely fascinates me.

It is amazing to me the power in such a medium. The arts have indeed shaped the culture around us. Paintings, literature, and architecture are not merely entertaining hobbies but philosophy on display. Artist comment on their society, creatively displaying their worldview, their quest for meaning, and their final conclusions.

The amazing thing Shaeffer pointed out was that many of these men lived in complete and utter despair, particularly the modern painters such as Van Gough. Their artwork shows they were seeking for a universals while building and focusing on the particulars. These men were searching for answers in a world devoid of God and a world devoid of truth. The lives of such men are tragic, and their final conclusions are epitomized in their epic demise by the taking of their own life. After searching for meaning and significance, they found themselves in a dark hole of meaninglessness.

Francis Shaeffer concludes with this observation

These paintings, these poems, and these demonstrations which we have been talking about are the expression of men who are struggling with their appalling lostness. Dare we laugh at such things? Dare we feel superior when we view their tortured expressions in their art? Christians should stop laughing and take such men seriously. Then we shall have the right to speak again to our generation. These men are dying while they life; yet where is our compassion for them? There is nothing more ugly than a Christian orthodoxy without understanding or without compassion.

What an accurate critique. The tortured work of these men reveal the desperateness of those around us. Just as these artist express their own lostness in their artwork, they are in good company. There are neighbors, co-workers, and friends who are lost in the nebulous of the denial of absolute truth, seeking a meaning in a world where —at least in their worldview— is not possible. Subjectivism and existentialism merely mask the reality of their worldview - hopelessness and despair.

How does this reality change the way we look at the expressions of art around us? I suggest the following ways.

We Must Take Art Seriously

Christians are not very artistically inclined. Although there seems to be a reclaiming of the arts among Christians, many Christians have failed to take the medium seriously.  We must understand that art shapes culture. It speaks into the souls of men in a deep and profound way. Art teaches. Always. This means that Christians must greatly understand the profoundness of the medium. As Christians, we know why men and women create art, it is because of the imago dei. There is something about our created nature in the image of God that compels us to create, explore, imagine, and speak. Christians must not dismiss the art of culture as immaturity, foolishness, or even irrelevance. Where philosophy teaches in the academy, art takes the philosophy of the academy and presents it initially to culture.

We Must Examine Art Critically

Christians must be cautious not to immediately accept all art forms and the message they communicate. Although we can enjoy the skill, precision, and creativity implored enjoying must not lead us to accepting. Let me give us a relevant example in the medium of film, the most powerful cultural shaper in western civilization.

The movie Avatar was a box office hit that made millions of dollars. It was a visually amazing epic adventure on an uncharted world. Although we can go see Avatar and enjoy the medium and creativity of the film, we must not accept its philosophical message, which is a retelling of the eastern worldview (which is become increasingly westernized), panenthism, which is a worldview in which a impersonal divine spirit indwells and connects all things together (think the force from Star Wars). This is completely contrary to the Christian worldview who says that God is not an impersonal spirit, but the personal God who exists in trinity.

The great danger is that so many christians embrace the art without critically thinking about its message. Art has a way of teaching us and shaping us in a way that we don't realize is happening. The message of the theater, of novels, and of artwork instructs often times subconsciously. Christians must examine art seriously, but also critically.

We Must Observe Art With Scrutiny

We can know a great deal about our culture and about our society if we carefully examine the art it produces. From the latest oscar winning film to the latest Justin Beiber album (which can hardly be considered art). The arts reveal the values, the morality, and the worldview of those who are creating.

Christians must learn to view art with evangelistic interest. As we observe the art of culture, we must look for Gospel incompatibilities (this is not compatible with a Christian worldview) and Gospel bridges (that points to the meta narrative of Scripture). Christians must get their head out of the sand and observe the people and the culture God has placed us in. Then with investigative critical thinking we can accurately and contextually communicate the Gospel, answering the questions that the culture is asking.  The Christian must take the pulse of culture by observing the arts.  In order to share the Gospel effectively, we must no the walls and barriers of the people we are trying to reach.