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Bible Commentaries
Psalms 12

Utley's You Can Understand the BibleUtley Commentary


Psalms 12:0


God a Helper Against the Treacherous MT Intro “For the choir director; upon an eight-stringed lyre. A psalm of David” Psalms 12:1-5 Man's Treachery and God's Constancy Psalms 12:1-2 Prayer for Deliverance from Personal Enemies (A Lament) Psalms 12:1-2 Prayer for Help Psalms 12:1-2 Against a Treacherous World Psalms 12:1-2
Psalms 12:3-5 Psalms 12:3-4 Psalms 12:3-4 Psalms 12:3-5
Psalms 12:5-6 Psalms 12:5
Psalms 12:6-8 Psalms 12:6-7 Psalms 12:6 Psalms 12:6
Psalms 12:7-8 Psalms 12:7-8 Psalms 12:7-8
Psalms 12:8

READING CYCLE THREE (see “Guide to Good Bible Reading”)


This is a study guide commentary which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

Read the chapter in one sitting. Identify the subjects (reading cycle #3). Compare your subject divisions with the five translations above. Paragraphing is not inspired, but it is the key to following the original author's intent, which is the heart of interpretation. Every paragraph has one and only one subject.

1. First paragraph

2. Second paragraph

3. Third paragraph

4. Etc.

Verses 1-5

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Psalms 12:1-5 1Help, Lord, for the godly man ceases to be, For the faithful disappear from among the sons of men. 2They speak falsehood to one another; With flattering lips and with a double heart they speak. 3May the Lord cut off all flattering lips, The tongue that speaks great things; 4Who have said, “With our tongue we will prevail; Our lips are our own; who is lord over us?” 5”Because of the devastation of the afflicted, because of the groaning of the needy, Now I will arise,” says the Lord; “I will set him in the safety for which he longs.”

Psalms 12:1 “Help, Lord” What a powerful cry for help (BDB 446, KB 448, Hiphil imperative). In the OT this term has the implication of physical deliverance but in the NT it takes on the emphasis of spiritual salvation. See SPECIAL TOPIC: SALVATION (OLD TESTAMENT TERM).

I have often thought how sad it would be for someone to be physically delivered (i.e., health, war, financial) but miss the joy and benefit of spiritual deliverance! In the NT healing did not always result in a spiritual transformation. What humans need most is God, not a change of circumstances!

“for the godly man ceases to be” Notice the parallelism between line 1 and line 2. These both speak of the death of faithful followers. This is a corporate lament, although the LXX has “me” in Psalms 12:1-2.

For “faithful” (BDB 52 I) see Special Topic below.

SPECIAL TOPIC: Believe, Trust, Faith, and Faithfulness in the Old Testament (אמן)

NASB, NKJV, NRSV“disappeared” LXX, NJB, JPSOA, REB“vanished”

The “cease to be” of line one is parallel to this word (BDB 821 II), which is found only here in the OT. Some suggest a different root (BDB 67) which is found in Isaiah 16:4.

The UBS Text Project (p. 177) offers two ways to understand this verb.

1. their numbers are greatly reduced (LXX)

2. they have completely disappeared (cf. Psalms 12:1a and Psalms 12:3a)

Psalms 12:2-4 Notice the theme of “speaking” (i.e., lips, tongue). The false message of the double-hearted person is contrasted with the true message of YHWH's revelation (cf. Psalms 12:6).

Every day believers must ascertain which messages they hear are true/false; from fallen humanity/from God (cf. Deuteronomy 13:1-5; Deuteronomy 18:14-22; Matthew 7:0; 1 John 4:1-3)!

Psalms 12:2 “speak falsehood” This is literally “emptiness” or “vanity” (BDB 996). This “emptiness of speech” is a recurrent theme (cf. Psalms 41:6; Psalms 144:8, Psalms 144:11; Proverbs 30:9; Isaiah 59:4; Ezekiel 13:8-9; Hosea 10:4).

In some contexts it is used of false testimony (cf. Exodus 20:16; Exodus 23:1; Deuteronomy 5:20) in court. In other places it refers to false prophecies (cf. Lamentations 2:14; Ezekiel 22:28; Zechariah 10:2).

One thing is sure, this word characterizes false followers! Their mouths reveal their double heart (cf. Psalms 12:2; Matthew 12:34; Matthew 15:18; Mark 7:20-23; Luke 6:45; James 3:2-12).

Psalms 12:3 The psalmist calls on YHWH to silence (lit. “cut off” BDB 503, KB 500, Hiphil jussive) the

1. flattering lips (lit. “smooth lips,” cf. Psalms 5:9)

2. tongue that speaks great things

Psalms 12:4 This verse shows the true heart of the “double heart” (lit. “a heart and a heart”). This person is one who does not allow YHWH to control his/her life! This is the essence of fallen humanity's attitude.

“Who have said” The NASB Study Bible (p. 751) reminds us that the psalmist often quotes or alludes to the false words of the wicked (cf. Psalms 12:2 and 10:11; also note 2 Peter 3:1-4; Jude 1:18-19).

Psalms 12:5 YHWH explains why He will “arise” (BDB 877, KB 1086, Qal imperfect, see full note at Psalms 3:7).

1. because of the devastation of the afflicted

2. because of the groaning (BDB 60 I) of the needy

YHWH is affected by the prayers and circumstances of His people (i.e., Exodus 3:7; Exodus 2:25; Nehemiah 9:9; Isaiah 63:9; Acts 7:34). YHWH (unlike the idols) is the God who hears, sees, and acts!

“safety” This noun (BDB 447) is from the verb “help” (BDB 446, KB 448) used in verse Psalms 12:1. It seems to be similar to an Arabic root which denotes that which is wide or spacious (cf. Psalms 4:1; Psalms 31:8; Psalms 118:5). This is the opposite idiom from “narrow” or “stressed.”

“he longs” This verb (BDB 806, KB 916, Hiphil imperfect) basically means “to breathe” or “to blow out breath.”

1. used of YHWH's snorting in disgust Psalms 10:5

2. used of testimony in court Proverbs 6:19; Proverbs 12:17; Proverbs 14:5, Proverbs 14:25; Proverbs 19:5, Proverbs 19:9

3. in the cool of the day Song of Song of Solomon 2:17; Song of Solomon 4:6

4. used of panting or sighing for something

a. place of safety Psalms 12:5

b. vision being fulfilled Habakkuk 2:3

The LXX translates this line of poetry as YHWH speaking, “I will place in safety; I will speak freely against it (or ‘him').” The JPSOA has “I will give help, He affirms him.”

Verses 6-8

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: Psalms 12:6-8 6The words of the Lord are pure words; As silver tried in a furnace on the earth, refined seven times. 7You, O Lord, will keep them; You will preserve him from this generation forever. 8The wicked strut about on every side When vileness is exalted among the sons of men.

Psalms 12:6-8 Contrast the revelation of YHWH with the worthless attitude of the wicked. YHWH's message is characterized as

1. pure words (cf. Psalms 19:8; Psalms 119:140)

2. refined silver (Psalms 18:30; Proverbs 30:5)

He is faithful to His word (cf. Psalms 12:7). The wicked reveal themselves by their words and actions (cf. Matthew 7:15-23, Matthew 7:24-27).

Psalms 12:6

NASB“a furnace on the earth” NKJV“a furnace of earth” NRSV“a furnace on the ground” NJB“which comes from the earth” JPSOA“an earthen crucible” REB“tested for soil”

The word translated “furnace” (BDB 760, KB 833) is found only here in the OT. Many scholars believe it is a technical term from metallurgy denoting an earthen mold in the ground made from dirt or clay.

The MT has “to the ground” or “on the ground,” which seems to refer to an earthen mold into which the refined silver is poured.

“seven times” Seven is the symbolic number of perfection which originated from the seven days of creation in Genesis 1-2.


Psalms 12:7 “protect. . .guard” These verbs (BDB 1036, KB 1581, Qal imperfect and BDB 665, KB 718, Qal imperfect) are used many times in the Psalms to express the psalmist's cry for YHWH's presence to avail against the opponents or circumstances.

“from this generation” This phrase in Psalms 12:0 refers to those who

1. speak falsehood, Psalms 12:2

2. have flattering lips, Psalms 12:2

3. have a double heart, Psalms 12:2

4. speak great things about themselves, Psalms 12:3-4

5. devastate the needy, Psalms 12:5

6. are the wicked who strut about, Psalms 12:8

“forever” This may be a title for YHWH, “the Eternal One” (AB, p. 75). If so, it parallels YHWH in the previous line of poetry.

Psalms 12:8

NASB, NKJV, NRSV“vileness” NJB“depravity” JPSOA“baseness” REB“of little worth”

This noun (BDB 273) is found only here in the OT. The verb form (NIDOTTE, vol. 1, p. 1109) means

1. in Qal, “be frivolous” or “be despised”

2. in Hiphil, “to treat lightly”

If one tries to see how the two lines of Psalms 12:8 form a synonymous parallelism, other textual emendations have been suggested.

1. revocalization “hold vile”

2. different supposed root “pit”

3. emendation “stolen goods” (cf. LXX)

4. emendation “astral bodies”

It seems best in this etymological issue involving rare words, to let

1. the meaning of the whole Psalm

2. the central truth of the strophe

3. the possible parallelism of the lines

4. possible cognate roots

give us the best guess!


This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

These discussion questions are provided to help you think through the major issues of this section of the book. They are meant to be thought-provoking, not definitive.

1. What is a double heart (Psalms 12:2)?

2. What does Psalms 12:4 mean?

3. Why are a person's words so important?

Bibliographical Information
Utley. Dr. Robert. "Commentary on Psalms 12". "Utley's You Can Understand the Bible". https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/ubc/psalms-12.html. 2021.
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