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Monday, December 4th, 2023
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Bible Commentaries
Psalms 12

Lange's Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal and HomileticalLange's Commentary

Verses 1-8

Psalms 12:0

To the chief Musician upon Sheminith, A Psalm of David

1          Help, Lord; for the godly man ceaseth;

For the faithful fail from among the children of men.

2     They speak vanity every one with his neighbour:

With flattering lips and with a double heart do they speak.

3     The Lord shall cut off all flattering lips,

And the tongue that speaketh proud things:

4     Who have said, With our tongue will we prevail;

Our lips are our own: who is lord over us?

5     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.

6     The words of the Lord are pure words:

As silver tried in a furnace of earth,

Purified seven times.

7     Thou shalt keep them, O Lord,

Thou shalt preserve them from this generation for ever.

8     The wicked walk on every side,

When the vilest men are exalted.


Its character.—A prayer of David (Psalms 12:1 a) under the impression of the decrease of piety and faithfulness in the world (Psalms 12:1 b), and the increase of shameless and careless deceitfulness (Psalms 12:2-4). In moral indignation against this, he calls upon God (Psalms 12:3), receives a promise of Divine help for those who request it (Psalms 12:5); he shows plainly the reliability of the promise of Jehovah (Psalms 12:6), and expresses confidence in His protection (Psalms 12:7), once more referring to the present condition of corruption (Psalms 12:8) The Divine promise does not appear in the form of a citation of a prophetical word already given (Ewald), nor as a mere poetical dress (Hupf.), but as a true prophetical revelation. Even Hitzig refers not only to the holy lot which David took with him in war (2 Samuel 5:19; 2 Samuel 5:24); but he brings to mind the prophetical character of David (Acts 2:30), and regards him “as competent to perceive a Divine word on the mirror of his soul which had been purified and unburdened by prayer.”6 There is no reason for transposing the two last verses in order not to conclude with a crying discord (Hupf.). “The psalm is a ring and that oracle is its jewel” (Delitzsch).

Str. I. Psa 12:1. Help.—[Perowne: “‘save’ is more emphatic, because no object is expressed, vid.Psalms 116:1, where in like manner the verb ‘I love’ stands without its object.”—C. A. B.]—Disappear.—[A. V.: “ceaseth.” Barnes: “Their conduct was such that their influence failed or was lost to the community.”—C. A. B.]—Faithful.—The “Amen people,” according to Luther’s gloss. From the position of the predicate, before, in the plural, we would expect the persons to be mentioned, which also the parallel clause favors, as Psalms 31:23. The double reason of the prayer does not force us to regard the plural as abstract = faithfulness (Sept. ἀλήθειαι), or “faith” (Syr.), which indeed is in itself possible.

Psalms 12:2. Lies [A. V.: “vanity”].—This is not to be referred merely to false, unprofitable doctrines (Cocc., Schmidt, et al.).—Double heart.—[Alexander: “By a double heart we are probably to understand, not mere dissimulation or hypocrisy, but inconsistency and instability of temper, which leads men to entertain opposite feelings towards the same object. Comp. the description of the double minded ‘man’ in James 1:8.”—C. A. B.]

Str. II. Psa 12:3-4. [Perowne: “The burning of righteous indignation uttering itself in a fervent prayer for the uprooting of the whole kingdom of lies.”—“The men here described are evidently men occupying a high position, smooth and supple courtiers, perfect in the art of dissembling, yet glorying in their power of saying what they list, however atrocious the falsehood or the calumny.”—C. A. B.]

Psalms 12:4. With regard to our tongues we show strength.—Hupf. translates: We are masters of our tongues; [A. V.: “with our tongues will we prevail”]; on the other hand Ewald and Olsh. with Geier et al.: we are confederates of our own tongues; Hitzig: we strengthen our tongues.—Our lips are our own-[Wordsworth: “the wicked say (or rather are with us, on our side), (comp. 2 Kings 6:16; Psalms 46:7). They rely on their lips, their smooth, flattering speeches fitted to deceive; on their proud and haughty words, able to overcome. This (they say) is our artillery, with it we are invincible.”—C. A. B.]

Str. III. Psa 12:5. I will set him in safety who panteth after it.—Eum qui inhiat illi sc. saluti (Maurer, similarly Ewald, Olsh., Hengst., Delitzsch [Alexander]. Comp. Habakkuk 2:3, where panting for an end is described with a similar expression. The translation of Geier, Rosenm., et al., “against whom they puff” [A. V., “from him that puffeth at him”], has against it the construction with לִ. The translation adopted by Mich. and Hupf.=in order that he may recover breath=refresh himself, causes us to miss the object of the verb. [The translation of A. V. et al. is to be preferred. Barnes: “By this construction, also, the connection with the main statement will be best preserved—that the inquiry referred to in the Psalm was done by words, by the breath of the mouth—thus indicating that by a word or breath they could destroy them.”—C. A. B.]

Psalms 12:6. Work-shop.—Since the etymology allows this translation of the obscure Hebrew word, and the additional words “in the earth” are best suited with this, because pure silver flows down out of the ore heaped up in the furnace, Delitzsch prefers this rendering, following Cocc., Mich., Gesenius, Olsh. It may, however, be translated “melting vessel,” that is, crucible or oven; but the earth must then mean either, in an oven belonging to the earth=enclosed with earth (Chald., Maur., De Wette, Hupf. [A. V.], which is against the usage of melting houses, or if it is only an indication of its place it is superfluous; or it must be connected with the participle = purified on account of the earth, that is from its earthly ingredients (Rosenm., Ewald et al.). Against this is the fact that ארץ does not mean the earth as material. The seven times is regarded by most interpreters as a holy number, by Saadia et al. as a round number. Following the Jewish interpreters (who, however, think of the sovereign of the land, among whom Vatab. understands God, vid. Hupf.), Hengst. and Lengerke translate: “silver of a prince of the land,” whilst they regard it as a secondary form of בעל. Hitzig now translates: melted into the bar in the crucible. He regards רע=ארץ, Psalms 68:30. Böttcher would read לָאָבֶץ = to the lustre of white = to the pure bright mass.

Str. IV. Psalms 12:7. This generation.—[Perowne: “Spoken of those who not only live in the same age, but are pervaded by the spirit of that age. So Isaiah 53:8. Here the world as opposed to the Church.”—C. A. B.]

Psalms 12:8. If the wicked walk about on every side in accordance with the increase of vileness among the children of men.—Some, as Grot., Rosenm., Umbreit, following Symm. and Jerome, regard כְ as a particle of time [so A. V., “when the vilest men are exalted”], yet so, that they unite the statement of the reason with that of the point of time. But it is better to regard it as a comparison, because it then expresses a corrective and comforting judgment respecting the previous clause (Hupf.). Hitzig unites the letters to other words and gets the meaning, “Unhappy destiny for the world of man!” In the Chald. and Rabbin מַזָּל means fate, yet in the plural properly signa zodiaci; therefore Hitzig is inclined to think partly of some idiom of common life, partly refers to Judges 5:20, where the stars actively interfere with human affairs. Formerly he translated: if they rise, a terror to the children of men. In a similar way Gesenius Thesaurus. On the other hand G. Baur prefers the translation of Hengst.: lowliness is for men as sovereignty; which is thus improved by Lengerke: humiliation is to the children of men as exaltation; which should mean: they will not long carry it on—pride comes before a fall. Umbreit translates: The wicked walk round about, when the shame of the children of men rises. [Wordsworth translates thus: Thou shalt keep them, O Lord, Thou shalt guard him from this generation forever, although the wicked walk on every side because vileness is exalted among the children of men. The Psalmist foretells two things: that ungodliness will overflow, even unto the end; and that the righteous will be preserved from the flood of iniquity. And thus he prepares the way for the declaration of the Lord Himself in the Gospel concerning the latter days (Matthew 24:12-13.”—C. A. B.]


1. Those are bad times when the number of the friends of God and of the faithful decreases, and the number of the double-tongued, deceitful and false increases in the land. The pious in this case have much to suffer internally and externally, yet they must not only suffer and endure and not make much complaint, still less fear, but they must testify against the mischief and its causes, and constantly implore the help of God.

2. The ungodly sin not only with their tongues, but also in acts by which the members of the Church of God are oppressed and threatened. But in spite of their vain glory and great boasting they are not in the position to carry out their wicked devices. They accomplish nothing by their hypocrisy and flattery, and do not attain their end any more by their threats than by their deceitful enticements, or indeed by their slander. God watches over His people and protects those who sigh after Him.

3. In times of trouble God comforts the afflicted by His holy word, and awakens in the Church itself voices which testify to the truth of the Divine promises, and to the reliability of the hope of salvation which is based upon them.


The world attacks the congregation of the Lord but God defends it.—It is not promised to the pious that they shall live without opposition; but that God will preserve them from the wicked generation and save them.—The growth of the congregation is at times interrupted, but it cannot be destroyed; for the Lord is its help and its salvation.—In the days of their affliction the pious have still, 1) the consolation of prayer; 2) the promise of the word of God; 3) the refreshment of the communion of saints.—God answers the supplication of His people; will not the people respond to the promises of the word of God?—The wicked man goes about for a short time, until he is cast down by the hand of God from his imaginary height. The same hand of God raises the pious from the depths of temporal need to the loftiness of eternal salvation.—The demeanor of the wicked corresponds with the vileness of corrupt human nature; the conduct of the pious expresses the nobility of the children of God.

Luther: Only he who is true to God, is true to men; but faith and the grace of God are necessary to both.—Calvin: God offers in His word only that which He will fulfill in deed.—Starke: If believers have diminished already in the time of David, how much more now with us, who are near the last days, when little faith and love is to be found.—If believers are few, then see to it that thou art found in the little band (Luke 12:32).—Ye men, watch over your tongue and your heart, that the former may speak the truth, the latter be without guile. To speak unprofitable things is an impure fruit of a bad heart. So long as we are not humbled under God and bowed down in heart, so long we are exposed to the judgment of being rooted out.—The sigh of the miserable awakens the vengeance of God; therefore trouble them not, else their sighs will make you anxious.—The greater our need, the nearer God.—The greater the fire, the nobler the trial.—False doctrine is neither gold nor silver, but only scum.—As long as we are in the world, we are obliged to be among the wicked, only we have to pray, that we may be delivered from their wickedness.—Osiander: The pious are sown scantily, but tares grow of themselves.—Menzel: Tyranny is indeed hard; but false doctrine is much harder; for tyranny kills the body, but false doctrine the soul.—Frisch: Hold to the few believers that are left; but take to heart the universal corruption and lament over it to the Lord.—Herberger: Help, Lord! That is short, but a good prayer.—All saints must believe, and only believers are saints before God.—Umbreit: Nothing hurts believers more than the lack of truthfulness and uprightness in the world.—Stiller: We need not fight with human strength; our only weapon is the word of God.—Diedrich: God’s people increase but slowly, and ever under the cross.

[Matth. Henry: There is a time fixed for the rescue of oppressed innocency, that time will come, and we may be sure it is of all others the fittest time.—In singing this Psalm and praying over it, we must bewail the general corruption of manners; thank God that things are not worse than they are, but pray and hope that they will be better in God’s due time.—Barnes: The fall of a professor of religion into sin is a greater loss to the Church than his death would be. There is usually a greater degree of recklessness among men in regard to their speech than in regard to their conduct; and many a man who would shrink from doing another wrong by an act of dishonesty in business, may be utterly reckless as to doing him wrong by an unkind remark.—Spurgeon: “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.—As small ships can sail into harbors 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.—Jesus feels with His people, and their smarts are mighty orators with Him. By-and-by, however, they begin to sigh and express their misery, and then relief comes post-haste.—C. A. B.]


6[Delitzsch: “The true Church of Jehovah was then as ever a Church of confessors and martyrs, and the sighing after the future of Jehovah was then no less deep than now the ‘come Lord Jesus.’ ”—C. A. B.]

Bibliographical Information
Lange, Johann Peter. "Commentary on Psalms 12". "Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal, and Homiletical". https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/lcc/psalms-12.html. 1857-84.
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