Help, LORD; for the godly man ceases; for the faithful fail from among the children of men.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)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.Psalm 12:1. Help, Lord — Hebrew, הושׁיעה, hoshigna, save, Jehovah; namely, me and other good men, from the subtlety and rage of wicked men; for the godly man ceaseth — חסיד, chasid, the kind, or, merciful man, as the word properly means. The faithful fail, &c. — Men have lost, not only serious piety, that even truth and honesty in their conversation and dealings with men. “The universal depravity of Jew and Gentile caused the church of old to pray earnestly for the first advent of Christ; and a like depravity among those who call themselves Christians may induce her to pray no less earnestly for this appearance the second time unto salvation.” — Horne.
For the godly man - The word used here properly denotes the "merciful" man - חסיד châsı̂yd. It is a term applied to the righteous, because it is a prominent trait in the character of a pious man that he is merciful, kind, benignant. Hence, the general character is often denoted by the special characteristic; in the same way as we speak of a pious man as a good man, a just man, a righteous man. The idea suggested by the use of the term here is, that it is always a characteristic of a pious man that he is merciful or benignant. Compare Psalm 4:3; Psalm 32:6, where the same word is rendered "godly;" Psalm 30:4; Psalm 31:23; Psalm 37:28; Psalm 50:5; Psalm 52:9; Psalm 79:2; Psalm 85:8, where it is rendered saints; and Deuteronomy 33:8; Psalm 16:10; Psalm 86:2; Psalm 89:19, where it is rendered "holy." "Ceaseth." The word used here - גמר gâmar - means properly to bring to an end; to complete; to perfect. Hence, it means to come to an end, to cease, to fail.
Gesenius. - This might occur either by their being cut off by death; or by their ceasing to exert their influence in favor of religion; that is, by a general prevalence of wickedness among those who professed to be the friends of God. The latter seems to be the meaning here, since, in the following verses, the psalmist proceeds to specify the manner in which they "fail;" not by death, but by speaking vanity, falsehood, and flattery. That is, their conduct was such that their influence failed, or was lost to the community. No reliance could be placed on them, and, therefore, the psalmist so earnestly calls on God for his interposition. The idea is, that when men professing religion become conformed to the world - when they live like other men - when they cease to exert an influence in favor of piety - when they fall into habits of sin, it is a time to call on God with special earnestness for his aid. Often such conduct on the part of the professed friends of religion makes such an appeal to God more proper than even the death of good men does, for, in the latter case, their influence is simply withdrawn; in the former, not only is this influence which they might exert lost to the church, but there is a positive bad influence to be counteracted. The fall of a professor of religion into sin is a greater loss to the church than his death would be.
For the faithful - Those who profess faith; those who are bound by their vows to be faithful to God and to his cause. The word is equivalent to the believing, and is properly expressive of trust or faith in God.
Ps 12:1-8. On title, see Introduction and see on Ps 6:1. The Psalmist laments the decrease of good men. The pride and deceit of the wicked provokes God's wrath, whose promise to avenge the cause of pious sufferers will be verified even amidst prevailing iniquity.
2 They speak vanity every one with his neighbour: with flattering lips and with a double heart do they speak.
"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. Ainsworth says the word rendered "help," is largely used for all manner of saving, helping, delivering, preserving, etc. Thus it seems that the prayer is very full and instructive. The Psalmist sees the extreme danger of his position, for a man had better be among lions than among liars; he feels his own inability to deal with such sons of Belial, for "he who shall touch them must be fenced with iron;" he therefore turns himself to his all-sufficient Helper, the Lord, whose help is never denied to his servants, and whose aid is enough for all their needs. "Help, Lord," is a very useful ejaculation which we may dart up to heaven on occasions of emergency, whether in labour, learning, suffering, fighting, living, or dying. As small ships can sail into harbours 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. "For the godly man ceaseth;" the death, departure, or decline of godly men should be a trumpet-call for more prayer, They say that fish smell first at the head, and when godly men decay, the whole commonwealth will soon go rotten. We must not, however, be rash in our judgment on this point, for Elijah erred in counting himself the only servant of God alive, when there were thousands whom the Lord held in reserve. The present times always appear to be peculiarly dangerous, because they are nearest to our anxious gaze, and whatever evils are rife are sure to be observed, while the faults of past ages are further off, and are more easily overlooked. Yet we expect that in the latter days, "because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold," and then we must the more thoroughly turn from man, and address ourselves to the Churches' Lord, by whose help the gates of hell shall be kept from prevailing against us. "The faithful fail from among the children of men;" when godliness goes, faithfulness inevitably follows; without fear of God, men have no love of truth. Common honesty is no longer common, when common irreligion leads to universal godlessness. David had his eyes on Doeg, and the men of Ziph and Keilah, and perhaps remembered the murdered priests of Nob, and the many banished ones who consorted with him in the cave of Adullam, and wondered where the state would drift without the anchors of its godly and faithful men. David, amid the general misrule, did not betake himself to seditious plottings, but to solemn petitionings; nor did he join with the multitude to do evil, but took up the arms of prayer to withstand their attacks upon virtue.
"They speak vanity every one with his neighbour." They utter that which is vain to hear, because of its frivolous, foolish, want of worth; vain to believe, because it was false and lying; vain to trust to, since it was deceitful and flattering; vain to regard, for it lifted up the hearer, filling him with proud conceit of himself. It is a sad thing when it is the fashion to talk vanity. "Ca' me, and I'll ca' thee," is the old Scotch proverb; give me a high-sounding character, and I will give you one. Compliments and fawning congratulations are hateful to honest men; they know that if they take they must give them, and they scorn to do either. These accommodation-bills are most admired by those who are bankrupt in character. Bad are the times when every man thus cajoles and cozens his neighbour. "With flattering lips and with a double heart do they speak." He who puffs up another's heart, has nothing better than wind in his own. If a man extols me to my face, he only shows me one side of his heart, and the other is black with contempt for me, or foul with intent to cheat me. Flattery is the sign of the tavern where duplicity is the host. The Chinese consider a man of two hearts to be a very base man, and we shall be safe in reckoning all flatterers to be such. The same title is prefixed to Psalm 6. This Psalm was composed in the time and upon the occasion of Saul’s ill government, and his persecution of David, and other good men who favoured him.
for the faithful fail from among the children of men; so that there are none left among them but carnal, unregenerate, ungodly, and unfaithful men. The "faithful" are such who are upright in heart and conversation; who trust in the Lord, and believe in the Messiah; who abide by the truths and ordinances of God; and are faithful in what is committed to their trust, whether they be gifts of nature, Providence, or grace; and to their fellow Christians, in advising, reproving, &c. when needful: these may fail in the exercise of grace, and in the discharge of duty, but not so as to perish eternally. The words design the paucity of them, and the sad degeneracy of the times to which they refer: and they may belong either to the times of David, when Saul's courtiers flattered him, and spoke evil of David; when the men of Keilah intended to have delivered him up; when the Ziphites discovered him to Saul, and invited him to come and take him; or when Absalom rose up in rebellion against him, and so many of the people fell off from him: or else to the times of Christ; the people of the Jews in his age were a wicked and faithless generation; and even among his own disciples there was great want of fidelity: one betrayed him, another denied him, and all forsook him and fled; after his death, some doubted his being the Redeemer, and one of them could not believe he was risen from the dead, when he was. And these words may be applied to the antichristian times, the times of the grand apostasy, and falling away from the faith, upon the revealing of the man of sin; since which the holy city is trodden under foot; the witnesses prophesy in sackcloth; and the church is in the wilderness, and is hid there. Yea, to the second coming of Christ, when there will be great carnality and security, and little faith found in the earth. A like complaint with this see in Isaiah 57:1.
(z) "passive pro beneficiario, sive alterius beneficiis gratiosis cumulato", Gejerus. (a) "Misericors", Pagninus, Mariana; beneficus, Junius & Tremellius, Piscator. (b) "Rari quippe boni", &c. Juvenal. Satyr. 13. v. 36. (c) "serva", Pagninus, Cocceius; "da salutem", Junius & Tremellius.<
(a) Who dare defend the truth and show mercy to the oppressed.
EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)1. Help] Render save, as in Psalm 3:7, Psalm 6:4, Psalm 7:1, and elsewhere; and note the connexion with in safety, Psalm 12:5.
for the godly man ceaseth &c.] Godly, or kindly, men are no more: the faithful fail (or as R.V. marg., faithfulness faileth) from among the sons of men. Mercy and truth, lovingkindness and trustworthiness, seem to have become extinct. Similar complaints are common in the prophets. See Hosea 4:1; Micah 7:2; Isaiah 57:1; Isaiah 59:14 ff.; Jeremiah 5:1 ff; Jeremiah 7:28; Jeremiah 9:2 ff. For the meaning of godly see note on Psalm 4:3 and Appendix, Note I. Here it means ‘one who practises lovingkindness towards his fellow-men as a religious duty.’
1, 2. A cry for help in the midst of prevailing faithlessness.Verse 1. - Help, Lord; rather, Save, Lord, as in the margin (comp. Psalm 20:9; Psalm 28:9; Psalm 60:5, etc.). For the godly man ceaseth. "Ceaseth," i.e., "out of the land " - either slain or driven into exile. We must make allowance for poetic hyperbole. For the faithful fail from among the children of men (compare, for the sentiment, Micah 7:2). The writer, for the moment, loses sight of the "remnant" - the "little flock " - which assuredly remained, and of which he speaks in vers. 5 and 7. Psalm 16:1; Psalm 36:8) he needs no other refuge. However well-meant and well-grounded the advice, he considers it too full of fear and is himself too confident in God, to follow it. David also introduces his friends as speaking in other passages in the Psalms belonging to the period of the Absolom persecution, Psalm 3:3; Psalm 4:7. Their want of courage, which he afterwards had to reprove and endeavour to restore, showed itself even before the storm had burst, as we see here. With the words "how can you say" he rejects their proposal as unreasonable, and turns it as a reproach against them. If the Chethb, נוּדוּ, is adopted, then those who are well-disposed, say to David, including with him his nearest subjects who are faithful to him: retreat to your mountain, (ye) birds (צפּור collective as in Psalm 8:9; Psalm 148:10); or, since this address sounds too derisive to be appropriate to the lips of those who are supposed to be speaking here: like birds (comparatio decurtata as in Psalm 22:14; Psalm 58:9; Psalm 24:5; Psalm 21:8). הרכס which seems more natural in connection with the vocative rendering of צפור (cf. Isaiah 18:6 with Ezekiel 39:4) may also be explained, with the comparative rendering, without any need for the conjecture הר כמו צפור (cf. Deuteronomy 33:19), as a retrospective glance at the time of the persecution under Saul: to the mountains, which formerly so effectually protected you (cf. 1 Samuel 26:20; 1 Samuel 23:14). But the Ker, which is followed by the ancient versions, exchanges נודו for גוּדי, cf שׁחי Isaiah 51:23. Even reading it thus we should not take צפור, which certainly is epicoene, as vocative: flee to your mountain, O bird (Hitz.); and for this reason, that this form of address is not appropriate to the idea of those who profer their counsel. But we should take it as an equation instead of a comparison: fly to your mountain (which gave you shelter formerly), a bird, i.e., after the manner of a bird that flies away to its mountain home when it is chased in the plain. But this Ker appears to be a needless correction, which removes the difficulty of נודו coming after לנפשׁי, by putting another in the place of this synallage numeri.
(Note: According to the above rendering: "Flee ye to your mountain, a bird" it would require to be accented נודו הרכם צפוז (as a transformation from נודו הרכם צפור vid., Baer's Accentssystem XVIII. 2). The interpunction as we have it, נודו הרכם צפור, harmonises with the interpretation of Varenius as of Lb Spira (Pentateuch-Comm. 1815): Fugite (o socii Davidis), mons vester (h. e. praesidium vestrum, Psalm 30:8, cui innitimini) est avis errans.)
In Psalm 11:2 the faint-hearted ones give as the ground of their advice, the fearful peril which threatens from the side of crafty and malicious foes. As הנּה implies, this danger is imminent. The perfect overrides the future: they are not only already in the act of bending the bow, they have made ready their arrow, i.e., their deadly weapon, upon the string (יתר equals מיתר, Psalm 21:13, Arab. watar, from יתר, wata ra, to stretch tight, extend, so that the thing is continued in one straight line) and even taken aim, in order to discharge it (ירה with ל of the aim, as in Psalm 54:5, with acc. of the object) in the dark (i.e., secretly, like an assassin) at the upright (those who by their character are opposed to them). In Psalm 11:3 the faint-hearted still further support their advice from the present total subversion of justice. השּׁתות are either the highest ranks, who support the edifice of the state, according to Isaiah 19:10, or, according to Psalm 82:5, Ezekiel 30:4, the foundations of the state, upon whom the existence and well-being of the land depends. We prefer the latter, since the king and those who are loyal to him, who are associated in thought with צדּיק, are compared to the שׁתות. The construction of the clause beginning with כּי is like Job 38:41. The fut. has a present signification. The perf. in the principal clause, as it frequently does elsewhere (e.g., Psalm 39:8; Psalm 60:11; Genesis 21:7; Numbers 23:10; Job 12:9; 2 Kings 20:9) in interrogative sentences, corresponds to the Latin conjunctive (here quid fecerit), and is to be expressed in English by the auxiliary verbs: when the bases of the state are shattered, what can the righteous do? he can do nothing. And all counter-effort is so useless that it is well to be as far from danger as possible.
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