We may recite, “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me”—but we use the expression precisely when hurtful words are uttered. Truth is often an early casualty in political campaigns. Words do damage, and Psalm 12 is David’s cry to the Lord as his enemies attack.
The words of the wicked destroy. “Everybody” lies. The Psalm begins with a cry to the Lord for help. The godly have vanished, and everybody, at least so it seems, is lying. Lying characterizes the world that lives in rebellion against God.
You may think of slander when lies come to mind—falsehoods that directly attack. Interestingly, David focuses on flattery. Flattery is rooted in deception and is as destructive of a direct attack.. The Hebrew idiom, appropriately, is “a heart and a heart” (think of “double minded”). David, like James many years later, understands the source of lying. “They speak with a double heart. The original is, ‘A heart and a heart:’ one for the church, another for the change; one for Sundays, another for working days; one for the king, another for the pope. A man without a heart is a wonder, but a man with two hearts is a monster.” (Charles Spurgeon, The Treasury of David, on Psalm 12:2).
So David prays, may the Lord destroy boastful tongues. Imprecatory prayers are difficult—and they should be troubling. David’s prayer for vindication is not mere personal, but he is the king, anticipating the Messiah. You pray “Thy kingdom come.” The boasting, upon which David prays God’s judgment, is a self-conscious rebellion against God. The lips claim to be sovereign. But the lying has a long pedigree. In John 8:44 Jesus identifies the source of opposition to him. His opponents are children of the devil, who is the father of lies. Throughout Scripture the boastful tongue rises against God.
Listen to the flawless words of the Lord. The Lord hears and responds. The air seems full of the soundwaves of lies—but what the Lord listens to is the sigh of the weak and the groaning of the needy. He cannot remain silent, but rises to defend his own. Do you see the back and forth in the Psalm—David’s plea followed by the answer from the Lord? You can take heart when evil is spoken against you. The first century church had lies spread about them, and the church today is facing times when it is likely to be attacked for violating standards of political correctness. Be prepared for those lies, and cry out with David.
The flawless Word protects you forever. In contrast with lying words, the Lord speaks, and his Words are flawless. Instead of the corruption of the lying mouth, the Lord’s words are like silver purified seven times. Creation begins with God speaking the universe into existence. Following Satan’s lie to Adam and Eve with its tragic results, God speaks not only judgment, but also promise of the Seed of the Woman who would crush the head of the deceiver. Throughout the history of his Old Testament covenant people, God sent prophets to say, “Thus says the Lord. In them God truly spoke, but they anticipate the final, definitive speaking of the God, the speaking in the one who is Son. God calls you to listen to him as he reveals God to you. The Word of God closes in Revelation 22:12-17, with that Son speaking words of hope, comfort, and blessing to his suffering people. David sings triumphantly in verse 7 that the Lord will keep you safe from such people forever. “For ever, is added, that we may learn to extend our confidence in God far into the future, seeing he commands us to hope for succor from him, not only once, or for one day, but as long as the wickedness of our enemies continues its work of mischief.” (John Calvin on Psalm 12:7).
How does the final verse fit in? David has prayed for God’s protection in the face of blaspheming tongues. The Lord has answered with his perfectly pure, powerful Word, ultimately the Word made flesh. But the Psalm concludes with the wicked strutting and calling good what God calls evil. Is the prayer for nothing? No. David recognizes that God has already delivered, but that salvation is not yet complete. He, and you, know who triumphs, but don’t fall into a triumphalism. Until the final day, there will still be evil men speaking against God and his people.
When you hear the boasting of the wicked, tune your ear to the perfectly pure word of the Lord. Trust the One who is the way, the truth, and the life. And reflect his glory with your tongues, not only in singing in worship, but also in speaking to his glory in your daily life.