Sermons and Articles | Ken Puls
A Place of Safety
Have you ever been so overwhelmed with what is going on around you that you just wanted to escape—you just wanted it all to go away? Have you ever been so exasperated or confused or bewildered that just didn't know what to do next or where to go or how to respond? Maybe it was listening to news and hearing all the crazy things going on in the world. Maybe it was closer to home—struggles on the job, in the home, or in your own heart.
Open your Bibles this evening to Psalm 12.
Here David both teaches us how to bring our struggles to God and shows us where to go and what to do when we are beaten down and confounded by life.
In this psalm David faces a perplexing problem. He has seen a terrible injustice and feels helpless to do anything about it. He sees first hand the ravages and consequences of evil. The devastation left in the wake of sin so grieves and overwhelms his soul that he is compelled to cry out to God in prayer.
I want to look at this psalm tonight as we prepare to pray together and uncover the answer to David's distress. The problem he faces is one that we face as well—one that still perplexes us in our day as we live with the consequences of sin in a fallen world. In this psalm God comforts David and helps him to understand—even as David sings he finds his answer.
Let's begin by reading Psalm 12 together.
The title to this psalm indicates that it was composed by David and was meant for use in public worship. Songs directed to the Choirmaster (some versions have Chief Musician) were specifically intended for public worship. The inscription includes a musical direction as well, "according to Sheminith" meaning eight or octave. Some translators have suggested that this refers to an eight-stringed instrument, but it is more likely a musical marking indicating that the song was to be sung down in a low key (upon the eighth lowest string). The psalm is a lament and so a low and somber key would be very fitting.
The psalm begins with a prayer in verse 1:
Unlike many of the psalms that begin with joy and praise, this psalm begins abruptly with a cry for help. In fact the first word that David utters is the word "Save"! The Hebrew word for "Save" in verse one comes from the root YASHA' from which the name Jesus is derived. It is the word David uses in Psalm 3:7–8 where he acknowledges that salvation comes from God.
David's cry for help is followed by an explanation: David sees that the godly and the faithful are vanishing. Now to understand David's distress, it helps to know the background of the psalm. This psalm was written in the midst of events recorded in 1 Samuel, chapters 18 to 22.
Let's look for a moment at these chapters in 1 Samuel. They record some dark days in the life of David. His troubles begin in Chapter 18. David has befriended Saul's son, Jonathan. David has a prominent position in the military and God prospered all he did.
In 1 Samuel 18:5 we read:
Now this appears to be something good, something in David's favor. God is prospering him. But as David grew in favor with the people, Saul's jealously began to grow and he became envious of David. In verses 6–9 we read:
In the eyes of Saul, David had become a threat. Even after Saul agreed to allow David to marry his daughter and become his son-in-law—even after bringing him into his own house—the envy was still brewing. Saul wanted to remain king and David's growing popularity with the people didn't sit well with his political agenda.
At the beginning of Chapter 19 Jonathan tells David that Saul was feeling threatened and was in fact plotting to kill David.
Because of Jonathan's warning, David was able to escape and by chapter 21 we find David fleeing for his life.
First he went to Nob, a city of priests, to see Ahimelech the high priest. Listen to the account in 1 Samuel 21:1–9.
What did David tell the high priest? He told him that he was there on the king's business and needed provisions.
Was David honest with the high priest? No. He in fact was deceptive. David was not there at Saul's request and he did not tell Ahimelech and the priests his real intentions.
But the priests trusted David—they knew him—he was a great warrior, faithful to God and to the king and so they consented to help him. They even gave him bread from the altar that should have fed the priests and they gave him Goliath's sword.
In verses 10 to 15 David continues his flight by going to Gath, a city of the Philistines. In Gath, David is almost recognized but he manages to escape by more deception—by pretending that he is insane. We reach chapter 22 of 1 Samuel and find David hiding out in the cave of Adullan. There many who were upset with Saul and disgruntled with the state of the kingdom came to help David—about 400 men. Then David went Moab. But Saul was growing wise to David's whereabouts and so David is warned in verse 5.
What follows in the rest of chapter 22 is a great atrocity. David is out of Saul's reach, but Saul is outraged that so many are defecting to join with David. We pick up the account in verse 6:
But remember back in chapter 21, where David schemed to get provisions from the priests. In verse 7 of chapter 21 we read:
Now in verse 9 of chapter 22, Doeg speaks up.
This news enrages Saul and so we read how Saul enacts his vengeance:
Word of this terrible atrocity reaches David at the end of the chapter.
This incident is likely what drove David to flee to God and pray the words of Psalm 12. Eighty-five men who served as God's priests, along with their families and possessions were cut down and destroyed. God's own servants—His priests—killed in the midst of political ambition and jealousy. It was outrageous. It was overwhelming. It was crazy.
How could God allow this to happen? How could He permit such injustice and suffering? And what is worse, David has to confess in verse 22 that it was his own deceptions that placed the priests in jeopardy. He was not honest with them. He did not even tell them he was fleeing or that Saul might come looking for him.
The priests' desire to help David and serve him was turned against them and they were murdered. And so David begins his prayer in Psalm 12:
He continues in verse 2 describing the sin that threatens his soul.
Description of the Problem
The evil exposed in this psalm concerns the use of speech by the wicked. David looks at humanity—and he sees dishonesty. He says they speak "with a double heart" in verse 2, meaning they are deceitful. The Hebrew here is literally "with a heart and a heart." They say one thing and mean another. They don't mean what they say. They lie if a lie will better accomplish their purposes. They have one heart they bring with them to worship before God and another they take with them out into the world with their neighbors. One heart pretends to be honest and good, the other is committed to the selfish pursuits of sin. They flatter others, saying good things so that others will do what they want.
Now David saw this in the political intrigue that was threatening his life. He saw it among his enemies. BUT this threat is not just rising from the outside. We saw in David's own attempts at deception—one that ended with disastrous consequences—this is something he is struggling with in his own heart as well.
Where can we find truth? Who can we believe? Lies and flattery are all around and even in us!
The following verses express his expectation of the Lord.
In verse 3 David voices his hope that God will hear his prayer and act in judgment. There will come a day when the Lord will cut off His enemies and judge the wicked for their sinful actions and words.
God is concerned with our speech. He holds words in high regard. With words He Himself spoke the world into being. With words His Gospel is proclaimed to sinners. We must take words seriously and use words carefully. We are warned in Psalm 34:
In Psalm 120 the Psalmist prays:
In verse 4 of Psalm 12 David continues with the description of the wicked.
This is the boastful testimony of the wicked—those who have no regard for God or His authority. They speak with arrogance. They will have their own say in their affairs. They deny God's ownership, though God created all things. They would not have Him rule over then. God has created all things. He has given us lips. They say "Our lips are with us." God has given us lips for a purpose—that we might pray and praise and honor Him—that we might speak truth and proclaim His Word. But they say, "with our tongues we will prevail" and "who is master over us?" David sees the great folly in this empty boast and his expectation is that God will make all things right. David has cried out against injustice and now in verse 5 we see God's response.
David's prayer from verse one is answered here in verse five where the Lord arises and comes to help His people. He has not forsaken them. He remembers our afflictions and troubles.
There is connection here between verse 1 where David offers his prayer and verse 5 where God answers David's prayer. The connection is ease to see. The ESV helps us make the connection by the way it translates the verb in verse 1 with the noun in verse 5. The Hebrew word translated "in safety" in verse five is the noun form of the verb "Save" which begins verse one. When David uses the word "safety" in verse 5, it indicates a direct answer to the petition in verse one that God would save.
God promises to set the needy in a place of safety, but notice what that safety is! The following verses contain the answer:
The Place of Safety
The place of safety is in the Word of God. Deceit and oppression were in the lies of sinful hearts. But safety—our salvation is found in the true and sure Word of God.
The falsehood and deception of the wicked heart is here abruptly contrasted with the purity of God and His Word. Man's words are vanity, flattery, emptiness, deceit, arrogance, boasting, pride… But the Word of God is pure, kept by God's promise. Man's words are dross compared to the precious gold of God's Word. God's Word is pure and precious. It can sanctify and protect God's people who stand upon it.
In Psalm 19, beginning with verse 7, David says of God's Word:
God's Word is free of any error or falsehood. It does not mislead. It is not deceitful. God's Word can be trusted and rested upon absolutely.
God's Word gives us hope, because while we struggle with sin around us and in us, it points us to Christ and to the gospel. Though we may see great injustice and persecution of God's people, we understand that God works all things together for His own glory and for good for those who love Him.
The greatest injustice ever enacted—crucifying the Son of God—was God's way to bring reconciliation, redemption and salvation to all who cry out to Him to be saved! We must keep our eyes fixed on God's Word, centered on the cross—our souls safely anchored in Christ and the gospel.
Finally, look at the final verse of the psalm. This psalm doesn't end in the way you might expect.
This is not how you might think a psalm expressing confidence in God and His Word should end. This just doesn't fit our expectations for a final verse in a song crafted to give praise to God. We like our songs to end on high notes with major chords, not with low and somber lyrics.
C.H. Spurgeon refers to this as a "return to the fount of bitterness, which first made the Psalmist run to the wells of salvation." The overwhelming circumstances that grieved David's heart at the beginning of his prayer have not changed. The trouble still exists. The consequences of sin still loom large.
The righteous still struggle and battle with sin in their hearts. And the wicked are still walking all about and around the few righteous. The worst of them are exalted, commended by the world. BUT what has changed at the end of this psalm is David's outlook. He has been brought back to the Word of God. He has been reminded that there is a place of safety—a place where we can take refuge as well.
God may not always take away the immediate circumstances that overwhelm us or bring us immediate relief from heavy consequences, but His ear is always open for us to call to Him in prayer and His Word is always faithful and true.
I cannot emphasize enough how needful it is keep yourself near to God in His Word and in prayer. This is why we take time to pray and study His Word together. It is why we should discipline ourselves to prayer and the Word every day.
In this life, on this side of heaven, we will have struggles in the fight against sin, from the outside and even more, from the inside—in our own hearts. But God has given us the means to press on. Let's take every advantage to take refuge in the place of safety that God Himself provides.
Let's go now to a time of prayer.
©2015 Ken Puls