PSALM 12 OVERVIEW
Title. This Psalm is headed "To the Chief Musician upon Sheminith, a Psalm of David," which title is identical with that of the sixth Psalm, except that Neginoth is here omitted. We have nothing new to add, and therefore refer the reader to our remarks on the dedication of Psalms 6:1-10 . As Sheminith signifies the eighth, the Arabic version says it is concerning the end of the world, which shall be the eighth day, and refers it to the coming of the Messiah: without accepting so fanciful an interpretation, we may read this song of complaining faith in the light of His coming who shall break in pieces the oppressor. The subject will be the better before the mind's eye if we entitle this Psalm: "GOOD THOUGHTS IN BAD TIMES." It is supposed to have been written while Saul was persecuting David, and those who favoured his cause.
Division. In Psalms 12:1-2 David spreads his complaint before the Lord concerning the treachery of his age; Psalms 12:3-4 denounce judgments upon proud traitors; in Psalms 12:5 , Jehovah himself thunders out his wrath against oppressors; hearing this, the Chief Musician sings sweetly of the faithfulness of God and his care of his people, in Psalms 12:6-7 ; but closes on the old key of lament in verse 8, as he observes the abounding wickedness of his times. Those holy souls who dwell in Mesech, and sojourn in the tents of Kedar, may read and sing these sacred stanzas with hearts in full accord with their mingled melody of lowly mourning and lofty confidence.
Verse 1. Help, Lord. A short but sweet, suggestive, seasonable, and serviceable prayer; a kind of angel's sword, to be turned every way, and to be used on all occasions. Ainsworth says the word rendered "help," is largely used for all manner of saving, helping, delivering, preserving, etc. Thus it seems that the prayer is very full and instructive. The Psalmist sees the extreme danger of his position, for a man had better be among lions than among liars; he feels his own inability to deal with such sons of Belial, for "he who shall touch them must be fenced with iron;" he therefore turns himself to his all sufficient Helper, the Lord, whose help is never denied to his servants, and whose aid is enough for all their needs. "Help, Lord," is a very useful ejaculation which we may dart up to heaven on occasions of emergency, whether in labour, learning, suffering, fighting, living, or dying. As small ships can sail into harbours which larger vessels, drawing more water, cannot enter, so our brief cries and short petitions may trade with heaven when our soul is wind bound, and business bound, as to longer exercises of devotion, and when the stream of grace seems at too low an ebb to float a more laborious supplication.
For the godly man ceaseth; the death, departure, or decline of godly men should be a trumpet call for more prayer. They say that fish smell first at the head, and when godly men decay, the whole commonwealth will soon go rotten. We must not, however, be rash in our judgment on this point, for Elijah erred in counting himself the only servant of God alive, when there were thousands whom the Lord held in reserve. The present times always appear to be peculiarly dangerous, because they are nearest to our anxious gaze, and whatever evils are rife are sure to be observed, while the faults of past ages are further off, and are more easily overlooked. Yet we expect that in the latter days, "because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold," and then we must the more thoroughly turn from man, and address ourselves to the Churches' Lord, by whose help the gates of hell shall be kept from prevailing against us.
The faithful fail from among the children of men; when godliness goes, faithfulness inevitably follows; without fear of God, men have no love of truth. Common honesty is no longer common, when common irreligion leads to universal godlessness. David had his eye on Doeg, and the men of Ziph and Keilah, and perhaps remembered the murdered priests of Nob, and the many banished ones who consorted with him in the cave of Adullam, and wondered where the state would drift without the anchors of its godly and faithful men. David, amid the general misrule, did not betake himself to seditious plottings, but to solemn petitionings; nor did he join with the multitude to do evil, but took up the arms of prayer to withstand their attacks upon virtue.
EXPLANATORY NOTES AND QUAINT SAYINGS
Verse 1. Help, Lord. It was high time to call to heaven for help, when Saul cried, "Go, kill me up the priests of Jehovah" (the occasion as it is thought of making this Psalm), and therein committed the sin against the Holy Ghost, as some grave divines are of opinion. 1 Samuel 22:17 . David, after many sad thoughts about that slaughter, and the occasion of it, Doeg's malicious information, together with the paucity of his fast friends, and the multitude of his sworn enemies at court, breaks forth abruptly into these words, "Help, Lord," help at a dead lift. The Arabic version hath it, Deliver me by main force, as with weapons of war, for "the Lord is a man of war." Exodus 15:3 . John Trapp.
Verse 1. The faithful. "A faithful man", as a parent, a reprover, an adviser, one "without guile", "who can find?" Proverbs 20:6 . Look close. View thyself in the glass of the word. Does thy neighbour or thy friend, find thee faithful to him? What does our daily intercourse witness? Is not the attempt to speak what is agreeable oft made at the expense of truth? Are not professions of regard sometimes utterly inconsistent with our real feelings? In common life, where gross violations are restrained, a thousand petty offences are allowed, that break down the wall between sin and duty, and, judged by the divine standard, are indeed guilty steps upon forbidden ground. Charles Bridges, 1850.
Verse 1. A faithful man must be, first of all, faithful to himself; then, he must be faithful to God; and then, he must be faithful to others, particularly the church of God. And this, as it regards ministers, is of peculiar importance. Joseph Irons, 1840.
Verse 1. Even as a careful mother, seeing her child in the way when a company of unruly horses run through the streets in full career, presently whips up her child in her arms and taketh him home; or as the hen, seeing the ravenous kite over her head, clucks and gathers her chickens under her wings; even so when God hath a purpose to bring a heavy calamity upon a land, it hath been usual with him to call and cull out to himself such as are his dearly beloved. He takes his choice servants from the evil to come. Thus was Augustine removed a little before Hippo (wherein he dwelt) was taken; Paroeus died before Heidelburg was sacked; and Luther was taken off before Germany was overrun with war and bloodshed. Ed. Dunsterville in a Sermon at the Funeral of Sir Sim. Harcourt, 1642.
Verse 1. Help, Lord; for the godly man ceaseth, etc: --
Back, then, complainer, loathe thy life no more,
Nor deem thyself upon a desert shore,
Because the rocks the nearer prospect close.
Yet in fallen Israel are there hearts and eyes,
That day by day in prayer like thine arise;
Thou knowest them not, but their Creator known.
Go, to the world return, nor fear to cast
Thy bread upon the waters, sure at last
In joy to find it after many days. John Keble, 1792-1866.
Verse 1-2,4. Consider our markets, our fairs, our private contracts and bargains, our shops, our cellars, our weights, our measures, our promises, our protestations, our politic tricks and villainous Machiavelism, our enhancing of the prices of all commodities, and tell, whether the twelfth Psalm may not as fitly be applied to our times as to the days of the man of God; in which the feigning, and lying, and facing, and guile, and subtlety of men provoked the psalmist to cry out, Help, Lord; for there is not a godly man left: for the faithful are failed from among the children of men: they speak deceitfully every one with his neighbour, flattering with their lips, and speak with a double heart, which have said, With our tongue we will prevail; our lips are our own: who is Lord over us? R. Wolcombe, 1612.
HINTS FOR PASTORS AND LAYPERSONS
Verse 1. Help, Lord.
- The Prayer itself, short, suggestive, seasonable, rightly directed, vehement.
- Occasions for its use.
- Modes of its answer.
- Reasons for expecting gracious reply.
Verse 1. First two clauses. Text for funeral of an eminent believer.
Verse 1. Whole verse.
- The fact bewailed -- describe godly and faithful, and show how they fail.
- The feeling excited. Mourning the loss, fears for church, personal need of such companions, appeal to God.
- The forebodings aroused. Failure of the cause, judgments impending, etc.
- The faith remaining: "Help, Lord."
Verse 1. Intimate connection between yielding honour to God and honesty to man, since they decline together.
WORKS WRITTEN ABOUT THE TWELFTH PSALM IN SPURGEON'S DAY
In "A Godly Meditation upon 20 select Psalms ... By Sir ANTHONY COPE, Knight, 1547," a thin black letter 4to., is an Exposition, or rather Meditation, on this Psalm. Reprinted 1848.