Psalms of David
Psalms in Book 1 (Psalms 1 to 41) are mostly personal songs, so I will be looking at how they apply to us personally. Social and communal aspects of life and work do not come in until the later books of psalms.
It is easy to get disheartened, even depressed by the state of the world. Many people have done it. Without an eye to history we see things as getting worse, youths used to be obedient in our day, we say, but now:
The children now love luxury. They have bad manners and contempt for authority; they show disrespect for elders and love chatter in place of exercise.Usually attributed to Socrates.
The books of Psalms are roughly themed like this:
Book 1: Psalms 1 – 41: God is beside us.
Book 2: Psalms 42 – 72: God goes before us
Book 3: Psalms 73 – 89: God is all around us.
Book 4: Psalms 90 – 106: God is above us.
Book 5: Psalms 107 – 150: God is among us.
To the choirmaster: according to The Sheminith.[a] A Psalm of David.
12 Save, O Lord, for the godly one is gone;Psalm 12 ESVUK
for the faithful have vanished from among the children of man.
2 Everyone utters lies to his neighbour;
with flattering lips and a double heart they speak.
3 May the Lord cut off all flattering lips,
the tongue that makes great boasts,
4 those who say, “With our tongue we will prevail,
our lips are with us; who is master over us?”
5 “Because the poor are plundered, because the needy groan,
I will now arise,” says the Lord;
“I will place him in the safety for which he longs.”
6 The words of the Lord are pure words,
like silver refined in a furnace on the ground,
purified seven times.
7 You, O Lord, will keep them;
you will guard us from this generation for ever.
8 On every side the wicked prowl,
as vileness is exalted among the children of man.
The quote above is not by Socrates but is slightly changed from a dissertation by a Cambridge student, Kenneth Freeman, as a summary of complaints against children from ancient times. But whether we take this as ancient writing, or simply several generations old, it was published in 1907, and it is clear that longing for the good old days does us no good. The good old days are a myth.
Dystopian poems and songs go back further than this, Psalm 12 can look like this as it starts and finishes with those who oppose God and rule by lies and flattery in control. It sounds like it could be set in any modern political system. It is easy for good people to become despondent, why do those with ulterior motives always get the upper hand? Good people are trapped by the bad ones. It has been said that the only lesson you can learn from history is that people do not learn lessons from history. However, I do not believe that is necessarily true.
But that is not the purpose of Psalm 12 at all. It is a song of praise to God. Although it goes full circle it is a statement from a believer that God protects the faithful. It is also prophetic as it is not only a plea to God but it allows God to speak.
The wicked are overpowering us and the righteous are running out is a common theme in the Psalms. David asks God that those who flatter the liars that are in control will come to an end. There is no wish for them to die here, David wants them to repent, to turn back on what they have done.
But what God says in this psalm is not the same as what David has prayed for. David is taking what by twenty-first century standards would be a right of centre, He is concerned with truthfulness and those who suck up to the less than moral people in power. God’s reply is concerned with a different group altogether, the poor and the needy. Those who are vulnerable and without power,
This is not socialism as we understand it today. There is no hint that private property should become part of the public sector. That there would be sometime a private and public sector was way beyond their imaginings. Property was private under God, not state ownership. People were allowed to make profit from what they owned within reason, the poor and foreigners had to be allowed by not reaping fields right up to the edges and in the corners. If a family was to sell its property it had to be returned in a year of Jubilee, every 49 or 50 years, so that future generations do not suffer from the mistakes of their forebears. The Bible allows for private property, but not for exploitation.
God’s promise in verse 5 is to protect the poor. Those who wish to exploit them had better watch out.
It goes on to Jesus too. Jesus said, “Not so with you,” to his disciples concerning people in power exercising authority over other people (Mark 10:43, source a sermon in Holy Trinity Church, by Mike Wilkins, 2nd October 2022). Christian leadership should be about being a servant, said Jesus. Yet it was as soon as I got home from that service that I saw on Twitter allegations of religious abuse by Christian leaders who take an authoritarian stance. This should never happen, yet it is common, even if the majority of these allegations are false. I believe that most are true. The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, at the last Lambeth Conference said that abuse had happened in all churches of all different kinds of churchmanship.
God is on the side of the vulnerable, in Psalm 12 it is poor and needy. Other verses mention widows and orphans. It is easy to find God. Wherever Christians try to build a wall between themselves and other people, God is on the other side of that wall.
Authoritarian Christian leaders are separating themselves from God.
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