Keil and Delitzsch OT Commentary
Lament and Consolation in the Midst of Prevailing Falsehood
Psalm 11:1-7 is appropriately followed by Psalm 12:1-8, which is of a kindred character: a prayer for the deliverance of the poor and miserable in a time of universal moral corruption, and more particularly of prevailing faithlessness and boasting. The inscription: To the Precentor, on the Octave, a Psalm of David points us to the time when the Temple music was being established, i.e., the time of David - incomparably the best age in the history of Israel, and yet, viewed in the light of the spirit of holiness, an age so radically corrupt. The true people of Jahve were even then, as ever, a church of confessors and martyrs, and the sighing for the coming of Jahve was then not less deep than the cry "Come, Lord Jesus!" at the present time.
This Psalm 12:1-8 together with Psalm 2:1-12 is a second example of the way in which the psalmist, when under great excitement of spirit, passes over into the tone of one who directly hears God's words, and therefore into the tone of an inspired prophet. Just as lyric poetry in general, as being a direct and solemn expression of strong inward feeling, is the earliest form of poetry: so psalm-poetry contains in itself not only the mashal, the epos, and the drama in their preformative stages, but prophecy also, as we have it in the prophetic writings of its most flourishing period, has, as it were, sprung from the bosom of psalm-poetry. It is throughout a blending of prophetical epic and subjective lyric elements, and is in many respects the echo of earlier psalms, and even in some instances (as e.g., Isaiah 12:1-6; Habakkuk 3:1) transforms itself into the strain of a psalm. Hence Asaph is called החזה in 2 Chronicles 29:30, not from the special character of his Psalms, but from his being a psalmist in general; for Jeduthun has the same name given to him in 2 Chronicles 35:15, and נבּא in 1 Chronicles 25:2. (cf. προφητεύειν, Luke 1:67) is used directly as an epithet for psalm-singing with accompaniment-a clear proof that in prophecy the co-operation of a human element is no less to be acknowledged, that the influence of a divine element in psalm-poesy.
The direct words of Jahve, and the psalmist's Amen to them, form the middle portion of this Psalm-a six line strophe, which is surrounded by four line strophes.
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.(Heb.: 12:2-3) The sigh of supplication, הושׁיעה, has its object within itself: work deliverance, give help; and the motive is expressed by the complaint which follows. The verb גּמר to complete, means here, as in Psalm 7:10, to have an end; and the ἁπ. λεγ. פּסס is equivalent to אפס in Psalm 77:9, to come to the extremity, to cease. It is at once clear from the predicate being placed first in the plur., that אמוּנים in this passage is not an abstractum, as e.g., in Proverbs 13:17; moreover the parallelism is against it, just as in Proverbs 31:24. חסיד is the pious man, as one who practises חסד towards God and man. אמוּן, primary form אמוּן (plur. אמונים; whereas from אמוּן we should expect אמוּנים), - used as an adjective (cf. on the contrary Deuteronomy 32:20) here just as in Proverbs 31:24, 2 Samuel 20:19, - is the reliable, faithful, conscientious man, literally one who is firm, i.e., whose word and meaning is firm, so that one can rely upon it and be certain in relation to it.
(Note: The Aryan root man to remain, abide (Neo-Persic mânden), also takes a similar course, signifying usually "to continue in any course, wait, hope." So the old Persic man, Zend upaman, cf. μένειν with its derivatives which are applied in several ways in the New Testament to characterise πίστις.)
We find similar complaints of the universal prevalence of wickedness in Micah 7:2; Isaiah 57:1; Jeremiah 7:28, and elsewhere. They contain their own limitation. For although those who complain thus without pharisaic self-righteousness would convict themselves of being affected by the prevailing corruption, they are still, in their penitence, in their sufferings for righteousness' sake, and in their cry for help, a standing proof that humanity has not yet, without exception, become a massa perdita. That which the writer especially laments, is the prevailing untruthfulness. Men speak שׁוא ( equals שׁוא from שׁוא), desolation and emptiness under a disguise that conceals its true nature, falsehood (Psalm 41:7), and hypocrisy (Job 35:13), ἕκαστος πρὸς τὸν πλησίον αὐτοῦ (lxx, cf. Ephesians 4:25, where the greatness of the sin finds its confirmation according to the teaching of the New Testament: ὅτι ἐσμὲν ἀλλήλων μέλη). They speak lips of smoothnesses (חלקות, plural from חלקה, laevitates, or from חלק, laevia), i.e., the smoothest, most deceitful language (accusative of the object as in Isaiah 19:18) with a double heart, inasmuch, namely, as the meaning they deceitfully express to others, and even to themselves, differs from the purpose they actually cherish, or even (cf. 1 Chronicles 12:33 בלא לב ולב, and James 1:8 δίψυχος, wavering) inasmuch as the purpose they now so flatteringly put forth quickly changes to the very opposite.
They speak vanity every one with his neighbour: with flattering lips and with a double heart do they speak.
The LORD shall cut off all flattering lips, and the tongue that speaketh proud things:(Heb.: 12:4-5) In this instance the voluntative has its own proper signification: may He root out (cf. Psalm 109:15, and the oppositive Psalm 11:6). Flattering lips and a vaunting tongue are one, insofar as the braggart becomes a flatterer when it serves his own selfish interest. אשׁר refers to lips and tongue, which are put for their possessors. The Hiph. הגבּיר may mean either to impart strength, or to give proof of strength. The combination with ל, not בּ, favours the former: we will give emphasis to our tongue (this is their self-confident declaration). Hupfeld renders it, contrary to the meaning of the Hiph.: over our tongue we have power, and Ewald and Olshausen, on the ground of an erroneous interpretation of Daniel 9:27, render: we make or have a firm covenant with our tongue. They describe their lips as being their confederates (את as in 2 Kings 9:32), and by the expression "who is lord over us" they declare themselves to be absolutely free, and exalted above all authority. If any authority were to assert itself over them, their mouth would put it down and their tongue would thrash it into submission. But Jahve, whom this making of themselves into gods challenges, will not always suffer His own people to be thus enslaved.
Who have said, With our tongue will we prevail; our lips are our own: who is lord over us?
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.(Heb.: 12:6-7) In Psalm 12:6 the psalmist hears Jahve Himself speak; and in Psalm 12:7 he adds his Amen. The two מן in Psalm 12:6 denote the motive, עתּה the decisive turning-point from forebearance to the execution of judgment, and ימר the divine determination, which has just now made itself audible; cf. Isaiah's echo of it, Isaiah 33:10. Jahve has hitherto looked on with seeming inactivity and indifference, now He will arise and place in ישׁע, i.e., a condition of safety (cf. שׂים בּחיּים Psalm 66:9), him who languishes for deliverance. It is not to be explained: him whom he, i.e., the boaster, blows upon, which would be expressed by יפיח בּו, cf. Psalm 10:5; but, with Ewald, Hengstenberg, Olshausen, and Bttcher, according to Habakkuk 2:3, where הפיח ל occurs in the sense of panting after an object: him who longs for it. יפיח is, however, not a participial adjective equals יפח, but the fut., and יפיח לו is therefore a relative clause occupying the place of the object, just as we find the same thing occurring in Job 24:19; Isaiah 41:2, Isaiah 41:25, and frequently. Hupfeld's rendering: "in order that he may gain breath (respiret)" leaves אשׁית without an object, and accords more with Aramaic and Arabic than with Hebrew usage, which would express this idea by ינוּח לו or ירוח לו.
In Psalm 12:7 the announcement of Jahve is followed by its echo in the heart of the seer: the words (אמרות instead of אמרות by changing the Sheb which closes the syllable into an audible one, as e.g., in אשׁרי) of Jahve are pure words, i.e., intended, and to be fulfilled, absolutely as they run without any admixture whatever of untruthfulness. The poetical אמרה (after the form זמרה) serves pre-eminently as the designation of the divine power-words of promise. The figure, which is indicated in other instances, when God's word is said to be צרוּפה (Psalm 18:31; Psalm 119:140; Proverbs 30:5), is here worked out: silver melted and thus purified בּעליל לארץ. עליל signifies either a smelting-pot from עלל, Arab. gll, immittere, whence also על (Hitz.); or, what is more probable since the language has the epithets כוּר and מצרף for this: a workshop, from עלל, Arab. ‛ll, operari (prop. to set about a thing), first that which is wrought at (after the form מעיל, פּסיל, שׁביל), then the place where the work is carried on. From this also comes the Talm. בּעליל equals בּעליל manifeste, occurring in the Mishna Rosh ha-Shana 1. 5 and elsewhere, and which in its first meaning corresponds to the French en effet.
(Note: On this word with reference to this passage of the Psalm vid., Steinschneider's Hebr. Bibliographie 1861, S. 83.)
According to this, the ל in לארץ is not the ל of property: in a fining-pot built into the earth, for which לארץ without anything further would be an inadequate and colourless expression. But in accordance with the usual meaning of לארץ as a collateral definition it is: smelted (purified) down to the earth. As Olshausen observes on this subject, "Silver that is purified in the furnace and flows down to the ground can be seen in every smelting hut; the pure liquid silver flows down out of the smelting furnace, in which the ore is piled up." For it cannot be ל of reference: "purified with respect to the earth," since ארץ does not denote the earth as a material and cannot therefore mean an earthy element. We ought then to read לאבץ, which would not mean "to a white brilliancy," i.e., to a pure bright mass (Bttch.), but "with respect to the stannum, lead" (vid., on Isaiah 1:25). The verb זקק to strain, filter, cause to ooze through, corresponds to the German seihen, seigen, old High German sihan, Greek σακκεῖν (σακκίζειν), to clean by passing through a cloth as a strainer, שׂק. God's word is solid silver smelted and leaving all impurity behind, and, as it were, having passed seven times through the smelting furnace, i.e., the purest silver, entirely purged from dross. Silver is the emblem of everything precious and pure (vid., Bhr, Symbol. i. 284); and seven is the number indicating the completion of any process (Bibl. Psychol. S. 57, transl. p. 71).
The words of the LORD are pure words: as silver tried in a furnace of earth, purified seven times.
Thou shalt keep them, O LORD, thou shalt preserve them from this generation for ever.(Heb.: 12:8-9) The supplicatory complaint contained in the first strophe has passed into an ardent wish in the second; and now in the fourth there arises a consolatory hope based upon the divine utterance which was heard in the third strophe. The suffix eem in Psalm 12:8 refers to the miserable and poor; the suffix ennu in Psalm 12:8 (him, not: us, which would be pointed תצרנוּ, and more especially since it is not preceded by תשׁמרנוּ) refers back to the man who yearns for deliverance mentioned in the divine utterance, Psalm 12:6. The "preserving for ever" is so constant, that neither now nor at any future time will they succumb to this generation. The oppression shall not become a thorough depression, the trial shall not exceed their power of endurance. What follows in Psalm 12:8 is a more minute description of this depraved generation. דּור is the generation whole and entire bearing one general character and doing homage to the one spirit of the age (cf. e.g., Proverbs 30:11-14, where the characteristics of a corrupt age are portrayed). זוּ (always without the article, Ew. 293, a) points to the present and the character is has assumed, which is again described here finally in a few outlines of a more general kind than in Psalm 12:3. The wicked march about on every side (התחלּך used of going about unopposed with an arrogant and vaunting mien), when (while) vileness among ()ל the children of men rises to eminence (רוּם as in Proverbs 11:11, cf. משׁל Proverbs 29:2), so that they come to be under its dominion. Vileness is called זלּוּת from זלל (cogn. דּלל) to be supple and lax, narrow, low, weak and worthless. The form is passive just as is the Talm. זילוּת (from זיל equals זליל), and it is the epithet applied to that which is depreciated, despised, and to be despised; here it is the opposite of the disposition and conduct of the noble man, נדיב, Isaiah 32:8, - a baseness which is utterly devoid not only of all nobler principles and motives, but also of all nobler feelings and impulses. The כּ of כּרם is not the expression of simultaneousness (as e.g., in Proverbs 10:25): immediately it is exalted - for then Psalm 12:8 would give expression to a general observation, instead of being descriptive - but כּרם is equivalent to בּרם, only it is intentionally used instead of the latter, to express a coincidence that is based upon an intimate relation of cause and effect, and is not merely accidental. The wicked are puffed up on all sides, and encompass the better disposed on every side as their enemies. Such is the state of things, and it cannot be otherwise at a time when men allow meanness to gain the ascendency among and over them, as is the case at the present moment. Thus even at last the depressing view of the present prevails in the midst of the confession of a more consolatory hope. The present is gloomy. But in the central hexastich the future is lighted up as a consolation against this gloominess. The Psalm is a ring and this central oracle is its jewel.
The wicked walk on every side, when the vilest men are exalted.