Beckett: Psalm 12 – The Faithful Have Vanished

1, Save, O Yahweh, for the godly one is gone; for the faithful have vanished from among the children of man.
2, Everyone utters lies to his neighbour; with flattering lips and a double heart they speak.
3, May Yahweh cut off all flattering lips, the tongue that makes great boasts,
4, those who say, “With our tongue we will prevail, our lips are with us; who is master over us?”
5, “Because the poor are plundered, because the needy groan, I will now arise,” says Yahweh; “I will place him in the safety for which he longs.”
6, The words of Yahweh are pure words, like silver refined in a furnace on the ground, purified seven times.
7, You, O Yahweh, will keep them; You will guard us from this generation forever.
8, On every side the wicked prowl, as vileness is exalted among the children of man.

Verses  1-2

David is capturing the duplicity of the human heart in these verses whilst also praying for God’s salvation to come to these people (“Save, O Yahweh”). Truly, the type of people David is exposing is no different than ordinary people today. Oftentimes, I look around and it appears the faithful—God’s people—are vanishing. Not only are Christians increasingly beginning to accept heresy without hesitation, but many are falling away from the faith as well. I know I am not alone in this observation.

On the other hand, however, I look within our own church body in Africa and see the faith increasing drastically. We have organisations such as Lutheran  Bible Translators who travel to countries like Africa who don’t have Bibles in their native tongue, a situation the missionaries with LBT arduously work to reverse.

There are numerous other efforts worldwide in which the universal Church is being built enormously; it just doesn’t appear that way in our own country to many of us. The Church may be falling apart in some places of our country, but in other places of our country the faithful are also being built, as well as in other countries around the world. We must always remember that God is the one who sustains His Church; it is not us alone. In every age, the Church has gone through troublesome times in many formats and various cultural challenges. And in every age, God has sustained His Church. He will sustain her today.

Most troubling of all is what David notices in his own time—the duplicity of the human heart. In one instance we speak kindly to our neighbour, and in other instances we speak harshly to them. This is sin. We see this every day, especially in politics. During the 2016 election, liberals chanted “Love Trumps Hate” on the streets and all over social media, but they would immediately turn around and express hatred towards conservatives, which continues today. Love trumps hate unless you’re conservative.

And on the other side, conservatives call for freedom to speak openly in public spaces (which they rightly do because many liberals protest conservative public speakers), but in a space when they can speak freely without rude interruption, they often use it as an opportunity to belittle the intelligence of the Left. Of course, not all liberals are hateful in their speech and acts and not all conservatives use free speech to make the other side appear unintelligent, but the point is that both sides claim love over hate and peace over hostility, but neither work together toward a common goal for love and peace.

This is sin, and both parties are exemplary of this duplicity of the human heart—blessing on the one hand and cursing on the other (cf. James 3:8-10). Both are equally at fault because both are equally in need of Christ, whom they significantly leave out of their dialogue. And if they do employ Christ in their dialogue, it is never the Gospel at the centre (what Christ did for you) but the Law (what He commanded). Without Christ and what He did for you, peace and love are impossible.

Consider what St. John says, “If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen” (1 John 4:20). By all means, we can disagree with opposing political parties, but if hate comes from our speech and our actions, the love of God is not within us. When we speak harshly to the other political side, are we speaking from love or enmity? Obviously it is the latter. Such hostile speech only leads to further division; it never leads to reconciliation. Politics is one of the greatest idols we have in our lives.

Verses 3-4

The issue is not politics, but rather the human tendency to speak with “a double heart.” Politics serve merely as a relevant example. The duplicity of the human heart applies more directly to our everyday lives. We will speak kindly to a friend, whilst in that same day we speak harshly towards a person we don’t like or someone who annoys us. I’m certainly guilty of this; I’ll be the first to admit it.

This duplicity is so problematic that David uses a hyperbole as the solution: “May Yahweh cut off all flattering lips, the tongue that makes great boasts.” The hyperbole he is using is not literally cutting off the lips of those who speak with such duplicity, but rather execution. In Hebrew, to “cut off” is euphemistic speech for “to kill” or “to execute.” He is using a hyperbole, yet is he far off?

As Christians, we know well “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23a), meaning all sin is equally punishable by death. Every sin, no matter how we measure them on our unequal scales, is punishable by death. God does not rank sin from bad to worst; that is a human practice. To God, every single sin we commit is punishable by death. That is the Law. If you violate one commandment of the Law, you are guilty of breaking the entire Law, and the punishment is death.

But there is also the Gospel in the second half of this Romans passage often left out when quoted: “but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Yes, all sin is punishable by death, even the “least” of these sins, but fret not! We receive forgiveness and salvation for free from God in Christ Jesus our Lord! In verse 4, the wicked express their confidence in themselves. To them, they have no master, for they serve themselves. But we who have received salvation from God have a merciful Master.

Verses 5-8

Our Master is a God who exalts the poor and the humble. We serve a God who hears the cries of the poor and answers them with no contingencies attached. God hears the cries of the poor in Africa, Haiti, Guatemala, and various other countries, and He sends His people to meet not only their physical needs, but also their spiritual needs.

Yet in the West, we are also in need. I’m not only speaking of the poor in our own country, but also those who are relatively wealthy and are in need of Christ. Before God drew me to Himself, I was in need of love, grace, and rest, which I could only find in Him. So, He drew me to Himself where I found the greatest love, grace, and rest. It is not only the poor who desperately need God, but also the rich, and perhaps even more so. After all, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God” (Matthew 19:24).

Imagine, for a moment, a camel walking through the eye of a needle. The image to the right is the eye of a needle. How the heck can a camel walk through that?

Exactly. It can’t. And that’s the point Jesus is making. It is so impossible for a camel to walk through the eye of a needle that it is more impossible for a rich person to enter God’s kingdom. Why? Because of his pride—his trust in himself and his riches rather than the God of mercy. 

We live in an age where the more and more you have, the less and less you need God. The more you have, the easier it is to make your life better. So, the thought is, why do I need God when He’s supposed to make my life better and I have all I need to make my life better? (Of course, we need God not because He promised to make our lives better, but to forgive our sins and be with Him in eternity. Christians are promised tribulation in this life, not prosperity [John 16:33], but that’s a subject for another day.) 

You can see why it’s impossible for a wealthy person to walk through the eye of a needle—to enter the kingdom of God. Unless the Spirit decides to convict him with the weight of his sin and he repents, he will not enter the kingdom of God. 

Most of you reading this are probably considered middle class economically, so you may be thinking, “I’m not rich!” But you are. Compared to hundreds of other countries in the world, you are far richer than millions of people. If you have a smartphone, a functioning computer/laptop, a flat screen TV, a video game console, a vehicle, and various other luxuries, you are far wealthier than millions of people on the planet. It is just as impossible for the middle class in America to walk through the eye of a needle as it is for a celebrity to walk through the eye of a needle because both have riches where they think God is irrelevant (yes, there are exceptions, thanks to the work of God in the Holy Spirit).

God is our Master, whether we serve Him or not. He is Master of the universe and He is Master of our lives. Yet as His children, He is our merciful Master. He rises for us when we are in need, no matter what that need is. Notice I say when we are in need, not in want; there is a significant difference.

Jesus was risen for us on Mt. Calvary when He chose to die for us. He was lifted up for us so that we might be lifted up in Him. Not only may some of us be lifted up on a cross for Christ whether literally or not (i.e. martyrdom), but all of us Christians will be lifted up in the bodily resurrection.

The Word of His salvation is beautiful, “like silver refined.” He is the guard—the protector—of our salvation. Even as we live in this world where the wicked prowl on every side, our salvation is held firmly in His hands.

“I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. I and the Father are one” (John 10:28-30).

Since no one can snatch us out of the Father hand, and because Christ the Son is one with God the Father, we can never be snatched out of Christ’s hand either. He holds us firmly within His grasp as Protector of our salvation, and none can take us from Him.

Psalm 12 Prayer

Father, cut out the duplicity of my human heart and replace it with a new one where its speech reflects Your grace and mercy always. Help me to speak graciously toward my neighbour. Take the bitterness off my tongue and replace it with Your sweet mercy. Forgive me for my harshness. Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me [Psalm 51:10]. Teach me how to speak with gentleness, just as You have treated me gently. Help me to show others the mercy You have shown me, that they may ever more grow to know You as God our Saviour. In the name of Jesus I pray. Amen.

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