GETTING THE MESSAGE/‘The faithful have vanished’
Psalm 12 begins with a lament: “Save, O Lord, for the godly one is gone, for the faithful have vanished from among the children of man.” There are times when the godly depart from the world and few arise to replace them. The result is that small remnants of believers remain in the midst of a corrupt society, which is good reason to utter laments and call upon the Lord.
The corruption of mankind is evident in falsehood, flattery and hypocrisy (verse 2). In our day people have little trust in government leaders for these reasons. Lying and hypocrisy are common. It’s not a new trend of course, though it always seems worse in the time you are living in. Nevertheless, it’s a societal state worthy of lament.
It’s a worse situation when there is flattery and hypocrisy in the church, especially among leaders in the church. The gospel is replaced with messages to suit the passions of people (2nd Timothy 4). The truth of God is dishonored, and Christ is rejected. This is also trending in our land.
Sinful people are in such a condition that the only hope for them is to turn from their way to the Lord. The way to Christ is not through flattering words. John the Baptist made the way for Christ by warning men to flee from the wrath of God. He was anything but a flatterer.
When a sinner hears the voice of Christ, he sees himself in a different light. He sees the truth of his condition and the misery of it. He sees how great a Savior Christ is. He believes Christ when he says you need to be clean and I will make you clean. He may be like the Pharisee Nicodemus, not knowing what it means to be born again, and then later finding his hope in the death and resurrection of Christ. What society needs, what men need, is for the Lord to come down. Save, O Lord (verse 1).
The root of man’s sin is vanity. Man makes great boasts with his tongue (verse 3). They say, “With our tongue we will prevail, our lips are with us; who is Lord over us? (verse 4). This is an echo of Pharaoh; “Who is the Lord that I should listen to his voice?” And Pharaoh is an echo of the devil. Rather than listen to the Lord, men listen to their own voice. Men dream of living apart from God, but there is no life, no hope, apart from the living God. The hope for man is in Christ.
The Lord will cut off all flattering lips (verse 3). Today men put their hope in technology and science. Neither is evil in themselves, but can be used for good. We are thankful for the advances in both fields to relieve men of temporal ills and misery. Nevertheless, a leper cured of his leprosy rejoices, but if he doesn’t have Christ, his hope is short-lived. Christ came to save sinners. Those without him remain hopeless having not been reconciled to God. The works of men cannot alter that reality.
There are times the people of the Lord call upon the Lord to turn their land back toward the fear of the Lord, but things keep getting worse. You see this in verse 5, “The poor are plundered and the needy groan.” This refers to the sufferings of the faithful remnant of believers.
The Lord promises to strengthen his people in this difficult time: “I will now arise,” says the Lord, “I will place him in the safety for which he longs” (verse 5). The way he upholds his people in tribulation is through his word: “The words of the Lord are pure words, like silver refined in a furnace on the ground, purified seven times” (verse 6). His word is the safety of his people.
The Lord’s people believe that the word of the Lord is infallible truth, but when times are very difficult we see here that the Lord will accompany his word with clarity, conviction, and great assurance for his people to give them courage and strength to meet the evil day. It’s a promise that directs us to go to the word with urgency and diligence, believing that the Lord will bless as he promised.
The assurance of the Lord upholding his people continues in verse 7. Though “the wicked prowl on every side” (verse 8), the Lord will keep his people and guard them from “this present generation.” The present “generation” refers to all those rebellious against God in the world.
There will come a time when the righteous and the rebellious will be separated forever. That time is not yet so believers are not to be surprised at trouble in this world. But Christians are not to lament without hope. The Lord is our hope. What greater hope can one have?
The Rev. Chris Shelton is pastor of Union’s First Presbyterian Church.