Deceit and Our Deliverer
His name was Gríma Wormtongue. I don’t recall it from the book, but in The Lord of the Rings movie there is a significant turning point involving Théoden, King of Rohan, and this so-called counselor. The frail, feeble, and bewitched Théoden had long been under the beguiling influence of the man who was no true counselor. Rather, he was the deceiving pawn for the work of evil in Middle Earth. Vain speech, flattering lips, and double talk characterized this worm of a man. The turning point comes as Gandalf, with new found strength, appears before the king for the forces of good to begin their assault on the footholds of evil. Gandalf arises to deliver the poor and needy Théoden from his trance-like state.
The scene reminds me of our psalm this morning. The sins of the tongue have a powerful effect on a person, on a people. And this psalm offers both comfort and affliction—comfort for us who have been deceived or lied about and affliction, God willing, for us who have sinned with our speech. Let’s pray once more that God may use our time in his Word to make both the words of our mouths and the meditations of our hearts pleasing to him.
Afflict: Beware the Sins of the Tongue
One of the beautiful things about the Psalms is how they articulate a godly response to the full range of the human experience. Fellas, you may especially identify with me in feeling maybe not the best in articulating my emotions. Or anyone experiencing an intense situation may not capture in words what is all going on internally. So, it is a tremendous help from the Spirit to have this collection of psalms that we can turn to and read and say, “Yes! That. That is what I am feeling. That is what has happened to me.” And by having these words in plain black and white before us, we are comforted and helped. Someone else has experienced and understood what we’re going through. The Psalms go further though in modeling a godly response in a situation. Here we find not only how we feel, but how we ought to move forward in faith.
But as we come to Psalm 12, I want to offer a caution—a caution about too readily identifying with the psalmist in his affliction. We should identify with him, and we’ll get there. But before we do, let’s pause and reflect on how we might actually identify with the afflicter. Before identifying with David’s lament, beware the trendiness of being the victim and promulgating faux-outrage. Those fads are lamentable because some of you have experienced deep pain by the sharp tongue of an abuser or authority. There are many things in our sinful world that justify outrage. But we minimize the searing, raw emotion captured in these verses when our victimhood and outrage is a result of things like Starbucks not having red Christmas cups or our legroom getting cramped on a Delta flight.
So, as we look at V.2, commentators are quick to point out there are three kinds of speech in view: lies, flattery, and double-speak. The word translated “lies” has in view that speech which is worthless, meaningless—those so-called “harmless white lies,” careless words, or thoughtless “OMG.”
Flattery, of course, being one of those things we say that are at best insincere and at worse outright falsehood. Here would be speech that fits J.I. Packer’s description of when “a half-truth masquerading as the whole truth becomes a complete untruth.” Flattery is only concerned with advancing the position or power of the speaker. The third category is more literally translated with “a heart and a heart they speak.” The “heart” being symbolic of the central source of thought and affections. It’s with this concept of the heart that Jesus said it is out of the overflow of the heart that the mouth speaks (cf. Matthew 12:34).
So, verse two describes people who are so duplicitous, so malevolent in their speech that it is as though they have two hearts—with one they speak what their hearer desires and with the other they intend and act the opposite. Our English idiom, someone being “two-faced,” captures the same idea though it is more superficial imagery.
Consider your words this week—your tweets and texts, the comments made to your roommate or spouse, the way you spoke to your kids and colleagues. Were there careless words? Disingenuous compliments? Outright deception? The sins of our speech can often go overlooked as one of those respectable sins in our culture—look no further than politicians on either side of the debate. Yet James gives strong warnings against the dangers of the tongue—a great forest is set ablaze by a small fire (cf. James 3:5). O Lord, deliver us.
Comfort: Lamenting Lies
David’s plea, his lament, as one who suffers by the words spoken is simple, “Save, O Yahweh!” In its simplicity, we hear his desperation. Perhaps you’ve been there, or are there even this morning. The weight of sorrow at the betrayal presses down with such force that all you can barely utter is the simplest of pleas. “Save, O God.” It’s likely hyperbole, but David feels utterly alone and destitute. All of the godly and faithful are gone. None remain to stand in truth with him. Who can he turn to? Who will come to his aid? Who will advocate for him? Who will plead his cause? He is surrounded by a people who openly lie, flatter, and deceive. He turns to his only recourse, his only friend. He does not wail on his bed but cries to the LORD from his heart (cf. Hosea 7:14). “Save, O Yahweh!”
His lament, focused on the righteousness of God, turns to imprecation. Verses three and four are David’s plea for God’s damnation on those whose lips cut down with deceit.
May the LORD cut off all flattering lips,
the tongue that makes great boasts,
those who say, "With our tongue we will prevail,
our lips are with us; who is master over us?" (Ps 12:3-4)
But we find that not only are they lying, they are brazen in it! Their confidence is in their ability to talk their way out of any trouble. They think they can say whatever they please because they will have to give no account. You can imagine them scoffing at David’s prayer. “Yahweh? Save? Where is your God, David? He has forsaken you.” What vanity to think one is great because he can spout off a sentence. What hubris for one to presume she has accomplished so much with a tweet. “Who is master over us?” they ask. “Save, O Yahweh.”
It really isn’t true, is it, about sticks and stones and words never hurting? In fact, words may hurt the most. Words can cut the deepest. Words twisted and manipulated by a father stick with you for decades. The things said in the heat of an argument endure in the memory leaving distrust and suspicion. It is worse still yet when what has been said was blatantly false. The accusation was baseless and crafted to cut down. The comment served only to advance the position of the speaker. When these first four verses are read, perhaps it resonates with you because that atmosphere of deceit is the toxic air you breathe at work day-in and day-out.
“The godly one is gone… the faithful have vanished.” Look at these words—you are not alone. Someone has traversed this path before you. Look around you—you are not alone. The godly and faithful gather together to be renewed. Look up—you are not alone. God hears your lament and moves toward you in compassion to save.
Afflict: Yahweh Arises Against Malevolent Deceivers
The Lord’s response in v.5 testifies to his care of his own. He doesn’t just hear but moves to bring us to the safety for which we long. That last word in v.5, “longs,” is elsewhere translated as breath or puff. The psalmist is in such desperation for safety that a fleeting exhale is all that he can manage in his plea for deliverance. “Save!”
Because of the poor and needy, the Lord arises to act. Put yourself in the throne room of the prophet Isaiah’s vision,
In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him stood the Seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said:
"Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts;
the whole earth is full of his glory!"
And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. (Is. 6:1-4)
The prophet feared for his life just at the sight. What fear we ought to feel if the Lord arises from his throne to carry out justice against us for our flattering and boastful lips! Apart from Christ, the sins of our tongue usher us to the feet of the Righteous One before whom we most certainly will give an account. In his presence, none will talk their way out of sure condemnation. There is only comfort here for David if Yahweh arises against those malevolent deceivers that surround him. We must pay attention to the Lord’s movement here and repent of our thoughtless words and vain speech. If we are not united by faith to Jesus, there is no safety for our souls.
Comfort: Yahweh is the Moved Deliverer
And yet when the Spirit does his regenerating work, he changes our heart to love the beauty of the truth and goodness of Jesus. We see O how different the Lord’s words are from the Wormtongues around us. The words of the Lord are pure—they are untainted with guile or deception. The Lord, in his holiness, cannot communicate anything but unfettered truth. What’s more is that he accomplishes all that he intends (cf. Psalm 115:3). So, when the Lord says that he will place in safety the poor and needy who long for his deliverance, he will do it! Nothing will hinder our Father in Heaven.
It’s like Amazon. Bear with me here. If you forgot hot dogs for your cookout tomorrow, you can order them on Amazon right now. Don’t actually do this, because we’re at church right now. But hypothetically, you could order your hot dogs on Amazon—just click “Buy Now” and they will show up at your house. By a few simple taps on your phone, you will get hot dogs. Sure you can track the shipping, but you know they will be delivered. How much exceedingly more certain we can be that when the Lord has said that he will do something, we can consider it done.
Therefore, we join the psalmist in declaring v.7—Yahweh will keep and guard his word. The promises he has made are trustworthy and reliable, for it is impossible for God to lie (Hebrews 6:18).
Therefore, Christian, we have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us. When our hearts break because of deceit and betrayal, we cling to the promises God has made. When we feel forsaken and alone, we flee to his pure words. In the midst of the darkness, the candlelight to guide our steps is the confidence of knowing our God hears our puffs of longing and arises to act.
But not only will God keep his words, his promises, but he will keep us. Look with me at v.7,
“You, O LORD, will keep them [his pure words];
you will guard us from this generation forever.” (Ps. 12:7)
Our assurance to persevere in the faith in the midst of lies, flattery, and two-faced deception is not our ability to remember God’s promises. Our endurance is not based on our effort to recall his Word. We persevere in the faith because of him who is able to keep us from stumbling and present us blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy (Jude 24). If this morning you find yourself readily identifying with David’s lament, look to Christ who is able to save you and see you through to the very end.
But Not Yet
However, that end may still be far off. By concluding the psalm in v.8 with a return to the prevalence of the wicked and vileness that surrounds him, David indicates his plea had not yet been answered. The Lord’s pure word had not yet come about. Yahweh will keep his word and guard his own, v.7, yet v.8 remains to be the present situation. His delay does not mean the promise is void—it means the time of fulfillment has not yet come.
To re-appropriate a phrase from C.S. Lewis, I think there is a bit of “chronological snobbery” in our day to think that the time and culture we live in is the worst ever. Three-thousand years ago David writes of wickedness on every side and the exaltation of vileness. Sure, the sins of our day are more quickly shared, but I think our context is more similar than dissimilar. We live in the same tension—we are confident of God’s definitive and final deliverance just as sure as the tomb was empty.
And yet v.8. And yet Monday morning. And yet the broken relationships, the betrayal, the deceit, the defamation continue. We live in the tension of God’s promises already being given but not yet being fulfilled. In that waiting, we repent of the sins of the tongue lest the Lord arise against us, and we rest by faith in God’s promises to deliver. That’s why at the Table, we eat this bread and drink this cup week-in and week-out until the Lord comes. In this meal, we recognize the rock-solid truth of our deliverance from wickedness and vileness both within and without while simultaneously recognizing the full realization of that deliverance is not yet here. So, we eat and drink with sorrow and hope. We eat and drink in faith in the One who will keep us, who will guard us.