Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
The tradition of the Davidic authorship must be discarded here. The psalm is an elegy, but not for personal suffering. It is a lament over the demoralisation of men and the corruption of social life. Neither faith nor law are left; falsehood, duplicity, and hypocrisy succeed everywhere, and the honest men are so lost in the mass of wickedness that they seem to have disappeared altogether. We find similar complaints in Micah 7:2, Isaiah 57:1, and Jeremiah 5:1. But God has not left Himself without a witness. Prophetic voices have been raised—perhaps Isaiah’s—in noble assertion of truth and justice, and the poet recalls one such voice, proclaiming the coming and the establishment of a righteous kingdom upon earth, the hope of which had already become the consolation and stay of the faithful.
The insertion of this oracle in Psalm 12:5 interferes with the rhythm, which else is even and regular.
For Title, see Introduction to Psalms 6.
To the chief Musician upon Sheminith, A Psalm of David. Help, LORD; for the godly man ceaseth; for the faithful fail from among the children of men.(1) Ceaseth.—Intransitive, as in Psalm 7:9.
The faithful.—The Vulg. and Syriac treat this word as abstract: “truth,” “faithfulness.” So Ewald; but the parallelism here, as in Psalm 31:23, requires it in the concrete. (Comp. 2Samuel 20:19.) The Hebrew is cognate with “amen,” and Luther has “amen’s leute,” people as good as their word.
They speak vanity every one with his neighbour: with flattering lips and with a double heart do they speak.(2) Vanity.—So in Psalm 41:6 and Job 35:13. Literally, evil. “Falsehood” would be better. This verse may have been in St Paul’s mind (Ephesians 4:25).
Flattering lips.—Literally, lips of smoothness, (Comp. Note, Psalm 5:9.)
With a double heart.—Literally, with a heart and a heart. (Comp. 1Chronicles 12:33.) “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.”—Thos. Adams, A.D. 1614.
The LORD shall cut off all flattering lips, and the tongue that speaketh proud things:(3) The Lord shall.—Translate, May Jehovah cut off.
Proud things.—Literally, great things. Vulg., linguam magniloquam.
Who have said, With our tongue will we prevail; our lips are our own: who is lord over us?(4) With our tongue.—This is the proud saying just mentioned, and is plainly a boast of the power possessed by those who have the ear of persons in authority, and can adroitly “make the worse appear the better cause”; or being themselves in high places, can, like Angelo in Measure for Measure, defy the accusations of their victims:—
“Who will believe thee, Isabel?
My place in the State
Will so your accusation overweigh
That you shall stifle in your own report,
And smell of calumny.”
But there is great difference of opinion as to the proper rendering, “with our tongues will we prevail.” Some render, “we are masters of our tongues”; others, “with our tongues we confederate”: i.e., “our tongues are our allies.” The last rendering agrees best with the next clause.
Our lips are our own.—Literally, are with us: i.e., on our side. (Comp. 2Kings 9:32.)
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.(5) For the oppression—i.e., on account of the oppression. Here, as in so many psalms and prophecies, we have an ancient oracle of God introduced. The poet first quotes it, and then in Psalm 12:6 contrasts its truth and genuineness with the false speeches of hypocrites.
I will set.—Literally, I will set in safety; he blows at it: which may mean either, “I will ensure him of the safety for which he panteth,” or “I will set him in safety who panteth for it.” This sense is fixed by Habakkuk 2:3 : “it panteth to its end,” i.e., for its accomplishment.
The words of the LORD are pure words: as silver tried in a furnace of earth, purified seven times.(6) As silver.—This solemn promise of Jehovah may be relied on, for His words are not like those of deceitful men—alloyed with self and falsehood—but are pure as silver seven times smelted.
In a furnace.—Either a “workshop” or a “crucible,” according as derived.
Of earth.—These words are difficult; they must mean either in earth, referring to the ashes in which the smelted silver falls, or as to earth, i.e., as to the alloy, or as we say, purified of the alloy.
But erets is never else used for the material, earth, and Hitzig’s emendation, rats = bar, or piece (Psalm 68:30), “melted into a bar from the crucible,” is almost convincing in its simplicity and aptness.
The wicked walk on every side, when the vilest men are exalted.(8) The wicked.—Gesenius translates this verse, “The wicked walk on every side like the rising of a tempest upon the sons of men.” There seems no reason to question his rendering of the word zullûth (Authorised Version, “vilest”), which is peculiar to this passage; but by comparison with Psalm 39:6; Psalm 58:7, we may render the first clause, the wicked vanish on every side; and a slight change gives for the second clause, at the rising of a tempest on the sons of men.