PSALM TWELVE (11)
PSALM 12 describes the pride of the wicked that the « faithful » Yahwists came up against on their return from the Exile, a pride comparable to that of the builders of the Tower of Babel (Gn 11). Throughout the nine verses of this psalm, the parallel with the short account in the Book of Genesis – also nine verses – suggests itself.
- To the choirmaster, on the octave ; a psalm to David.
- Save me, Yahweh ! For the saints are no more, and the faithful among the sons of Adam have been dispersed.
- They speak “ in vain ” to one another ; with unctuous lips they speak with a double heart.
- Yahweh will sow discord among all the unctuous lips, the tongues with grand words.
- Those who say : Our tongue is our strength, our lips are our own. Who is Lord over us ?
GOD WILL KEEP HIS WORD
- « For the sake of the humble who are plundered, for the sake of the poor who groan, now I arise, says Yahweh. I establish in salvation whoever sighs after it. »
- The words of Yahweh are pure words, silver tested at the surface of the earth, refined seven times.
- You, Yahweh, will preserve them ; You will protect us from this generation forever.
- The wicked prowl about. Littleness is like an elevation for the sons of Adam.
1. To the choirmaster, on the octave ; a psalm to David.
Dedicated to David, the « choirmaster », this psalm turns our hearts towards the Messiah, son of David, whom the faithful Yahwists await. The chant is accompanied « on the octave » like Psalm 6.
2. Save me, Yahweh ! For the saints are no more, and the faithful among the sons of Adam have been dispersed.
The word hâsîd, which we translate by « saint », can be applied to God or to men. When applied to men, it means that the faithful Yahwists have become rare, as Yahweh complained through the mouth of the Prophet Jeremiah : « Run to and fro through the streets of Jerusalem, look and take note ! Search her squares to see if you can find one man, one who does justice and seeks truth ; that I may pardon this city. » (Jr 5.1) But, « the saints are no more ». This is the refrain of all the prophets :
« The godly man has perished from the earth, and there is none upright among men ! They all lie in wait for blood, and each ensnares his brother. » (Mi 7.2)
Then, the chastisement fell on the city of Jerusalem, which was captured in 589, leading to the « dispersion of the faithful among the sons of Adam ». But also the departure of Yahweh’s glory that Ezekiel saw leaving the Temple, the place of its abode (Ez 11.23).
Consequently, « the saints are no more » applies also to God, who is absent from the Country. The ambiguity is deliberate, indicating that the presence of God is conditional on the fidelity of His saints, who for the moment are “ dispersed ”.
The first dispersion of « the sons of Adam » goes back to the time of the Tower of Babel, signifying the chastisement promised from the beginning of the Bible for the pride of men that defies God : « Then they said, “ Come, let us build ourselves a city, and a tower with its top in the heavens ! Let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the whole earth ” » (Gn 11.4) Yahweh punished them and « dispersed them from there over the whole earth » (Gn 11.8).
3. They speak “ in vain ” to one another ; with unctuous lips they speak with a double heart.
« They speak in vain to one another » must not be understood in the commonplace meaning of a simple lie but as the practical “ atheism ” of men who totally disregard God’s will in their lives, while continuing to use the language of religion. Each time that they hypocritically invoke Yahweh, they infringe the commandment of the law of Moses :
« You shall not take the name of Yahweh your God in vain; for Yahweh will not hold him guiltless who takes His Name in vain. » (Ex 20.7)
This was the sin of the builders of the tower of Babel. They boasted thus : « They said to one another : “ Come, let us make bricks, and bake them in the fire ! ” In order to build « a city and a tower with its top in the heavens » (Gn 11.3-4). The unctuous lips of “ one-worldists ” and “ humanitarians ”, proud men who want to pull themselves up to the height of God, to become gods themselves, as Yahweh understood : « Behold, they are all one people, and they all have one language ; and this is only the beginning of their undertakings ! Now, nothing that they propose to do will be impossible for them. » (Gn 11.6)
« With a double heart », the Hebrew “ belêb wâlêb“, literally « with a heart and a heart », form an alliteration that plays on the name of the Tower of Babel, “ bâbêl“, thus designated « because there Yahweh confused [kî shâm bâlal] the language of all the inhabitants of the earth » (Gn 11.9)
The Psalmist continues his parallel with the account of the book of Genesis :
4. Yahweh will sow discord among all the unctuous lips, the tongues with grand words.
The « grand (gedolôt) words » evoke the “ tower ” (migdol) that the proud men of long ago wanted to build : « “ Come, let us build ourselves a city, and a tower with its top in the heavens ! Let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed upon the face of the whole earth ! ” »
The « grand words » also evoke the Prophet Daniel’s vision of « a mouth speaking great things » (Fr. de Nantes 7.8) representing Antiochus Epiphanes’ blasphemous arrogance (167-164 BC).
5. Those who say : Our tongue is our strength, our lips are our own. Who is Lord over us ?
When we hear this blasphemy of the wicked, we understand the fervour with which the Psalmist celebrates the Name of Yahweh by way of protest :
« Yahweh, Our Lord, how magnificent is Your Name throughout all the earth. » (Ps 8.2)
Those who place their confidence in « grand words » refuse the very authority of Yahweh, as in the time of the Tower of Babel : « Behold, they are all one people, and they all have one language ; and this is only the beginning of their undertakings ! Now, nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them. » (Gn 11.6)
Neither God nor master ! Such is their motto.
Jeremiah deplored the same rebellion on the eve of the siege of Jerusalem : « Behold, you trust in deceptive words to no avail. » (Jr 7.8) Neither the chastisement of the Tower of Babel nor the Exile at Babylon sufficed to open the eyes of this hardened people. That is the Psalmist’s complaint
But here is their hope :
6. « For the sake of the humble who are plundered, for the sake of the poor who groan, now I arise, says Yahweh. I establish in salvation whoever sighs after it.
This verse 6 contains a quotation from Isaiah :
« Now I will arise, says Yahweh, now I will lift myself up; now I will be exalted. » (Is 33.10)
This triple « now » warns of the imminence of God’s intervention, in reply to the « now » that marks the hour of the wicked :
« Now, Yahweh said, nothing that they propose to do will be impossible for them. Come, let us go down, and there confuse their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech. » (Gn 11.6-7)
The Psalmist actualises the divine oracle by announcing the imminent coming of « salvation »; literally, « I establish in salvation » could be translated : “ I establish in Jesus ” (be-yesha’), whoever, « humble », « poor », sighs after Him. For He will be salvation !
7. The words of Yahweh are pure words, silver tested at the surface of the earth, refined seven times.
The parallel with the account of the Tower of Babel sheds light on this verse that most exegetes admit they do not understand : « They said to one another, “ Come, let us make bricks, and bake them ! ” They had brick for stone, and bitumen for mortar. (Gn 11.3)
« The words of Yahweh », refined like native silver already pure when it is found, without it being necessary for it to pass through the fire of the crucible, are like an antidote to the construction of the Tower of Babel that was built on empty, « grand words », uttered “ in vain ”, with mortar and bricks baked in fire to build « a city, and a tower with its top in the heavens ». The expression ba’alîl is not used elsewhere in the Bible and exegetes do not know how to translate it. It forms a second alliteration with the name of the Tower of Babel. « At the surface » conveys well the opposition between the sure word of Yahweh on which the hope of the faithful is based, and the « grand words » that exalt the ambition of the constructors of the Tower of Babel.
8. You, Yahweh, will preserve them ; You will protect us from this generation forever.
Yahweh will preserve the « poor » and the « humble », all the Jews exposed to the apostasy of false brethren from the time of the return from the Exile. Unfailing hope.
9. The wicked prowl about. Littleness is like an elevation for the sons of Adam.
When apostasy holds sway, salvation is in making oneself little. This conclusion is an anticipation of the Magnificat in which Mary, at the beginning of the New Testament, would celebrate the Omnipotent One who exalts the humble (Lk 1.52). But this was already the lesson of the Exile, meditated by the sages of the Old Testament : « Before destruction, a man’s heart is haughty, but humility precedes glory. » (Pr 18.12)
This is an eternal lesson that Pope Saint Pius X recalled in his Letter on the Sillon, condemning in the same terms as the Psalmist « these grand words by which human pride is exalted. » He exalted, on the contrary, « the lowly of this earth who are content to plough their furrow modestly at the level where Providence has placed them. They are diligently discharging their duties with Christian humility, obedience, and patience, those whom the Lord will take one day out of their obscurity in order to place them in Heaven amongst the princes of His people. »
Brother Bruno of Jesus-Mary
He is risen ! n° 41, January 2006