Theme: “People of the Lie”
In this week’s lessons we see that although great harm is done by evil people through their words, the word of the Lord remains a sure foundation and support for all those who put their trust in him.
Scripture: Psalm 12:1-8
Psalm 12 is said to have been written by David, and there were surely many times in his life when David felt like this. But it is striking that the psalm contains nothing of a strictly personal note. There is no first person language, no “I,” “me” or “my.” The late Lutheran commentator Herbert Carl Leupold says, “This is one of the many instances when the psalms rise above the purely personal and local and look to the later needs of the church of God.”1 In other words, we can identify easily with what it describes.
What is the situation? As I have already indicated, the writer is surrounded, not by upright and trustworthy people, but by “people of the lie.” He is surrounded by people who use words not to advance truth but to advance their own evil ends. There are four things they do.
l. They lie. This is the most embracing expression for the misuse of words in these verses, but it does not mean exactly what the word “lie” means to us in English. To us a “lie” means falsehood, a distortion of truth. The Hebrew word, while it includes this idea, actually means “emptiness,” thus including also the additional ideas of insincerity and irresponsibility.2 Our best expression for this is “empty” or “vain” talk, or what we would describe as “vanity.” It is the essence of most cocktail party conversations.
2. They flatter. Flattery goes a step beyond mere emptiness, because it contains the additional element of a corrupt or evil motive. People flatter others for bad purposes, such as to get something out of them, deceive them or cheat them. There have been periods of history when flattering speech has been developed to a high degree, as in diplomatic or courtly language. King Solomon must have endured a great deal of it at his court, because the book of Proverbs, which he wrote, warns against flattery often (26:28; 28:23; 29:5). Daniel says that flattery will be a tool of that wicked world ruler who will arise at the last day (Dan. 11:32). Jude links flattery to the ways of the ungodly who will be condemned in the final judgment (v. 16). We have plenty of this today. The Hebrew word actually means “smooth,” and there is much smooth talk about us. Smooth talk is glib, facile, pleasing and deadly.
3. They deceive. The Hebrew text is idiomatic at this point, for it says literally, “They speak with a heart and a heart.” It is the Hebrew way of describing “double talk” or, as we would say, “talking out of both sides of our mouths.” It is using a word that means one thing to advance something that is its exact opposite.
I suppose there is no area of modern life in which this is more obvious than in the misuse of language to legitimize abortion. Abortion is killing a baby while it is still in the womb. In past generations there were some who would do this, as today, but they were not deceived in what they were doing. They knew they were killing the child. Today we have abortions on a large scale. But because murder is still unacceptable to most people, even of the frailest members of the human race, there has been a concerted attempt to rename what is done. First, the baby became a fetus, then only tissue. No one can get disturbed about aborting tissue; that is like removing a mole. Then even the word “abortion” was changed. It is now a “surgical procedure” or, even worse, a heroic exercise of the right of “free choice” by the mother.
What is the range of meaning for the Hebrew concept of lying?
What additional element of meaning does flattery have?
Dr. Boice goes on to describe flattery as being “pleasing and deadly.” Give an example to which this might apply.
How does the Hebrew language understand the idea of deceit?
Application: Can you recall an occasion when you were the recipient of any of these sins of the tongue? How did you handle the situation and work through it? When was the last time you committed one of these sins against someone else? Have you dealt with it in the biblical way by repenting of it, and making things right with them, including restitution?
1H. C. Leupold, Exposition of the Psalms (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1969), p. 129.
2See Derek Kidner, Psalms 1-72: An Introduction and Commentary on Books I and II of the Psalms (Leicester, England, and Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity, 1973), p. 75.