Promise of the Lord (12:5)
5 The Lord answers the cry of the needy, even as he has promised. He hears their groaning (Ex 2:24; Pss 79:11; 102:20) and prepares himself to act in their behalf. The language here resembles God’s promise in Isaiah 33:10: “ ‘Now will I arise,’ says the Lord. ‘Now will I be exalted; now will I be lifted up.’ ” The exaltation of God must bring the abasement and removal of the wicked (Isa 33:11–12). But the psalmist knows that the full deliverance may be a long way off, because he concludes with the realization that for the present time “what is vile is honored among men” (v. 8). The protection is a deliverance from the immediate threat.
God protects the afflicted from their oppressors. The last clause of v. 5 is not clear in the Hebrew. The NIV rendering describes the wicked as “those who malign them.” Other versions, including the LXX, and some commentators see here a reference to God (cf. “I will shine forth for him,” Craigie, 136). It may also refer to the afflicted as those who pant for deliverance (cf. NEB, “I will place him in the safety for which he longs”).
5 The speech of God is the center of the psalm. As noted above, the response of God here bears certain similarities to the response of God in Hab. 1:5–11 and especially 2:2–5. God speaks a promise pregnant with hope and rescue: Now shall I arise! In many prayers for help, the psalmists beg, Arise, O Lord! (qûmâ YHWH; Pss. 3:7; 7:6; 9:19, etc.). Although such a plea is not present in Psalm 12, God’s promise, now shall I arise, announces God’s clear intention to answer the intercession favorably and respond to the need of the sufferer. The now (ʿattâ) of the response signals both that God’s help will be immediate and that God’s help will be the determinative event in the sufferer’s drama. God’s help will not merely even the contest between the sufferer and those who oppress; it will end the contest in the sufferer’s favor. The syntax of the God quotation accents the reason why God chooses to become involved in the matter—because of the devastation of the poor and the groans of the needy. It is neither the righteousness of the intercessor, nor of the sufferer, nor the intercession itself that provides the grounds for God’s response. Rather, it is the suffering of the poor that motivates God’s response. Similar to the exodus story, in which “God heard their groaning (naʾaqāṯām)” and was moved to deliver the people, in Psalm 12 God hears the groans (mēʾanqaṯ) of the needy and is moved to action. As Clifford has noted, the terms “poor” and “needy” are commonly paired in the psalms. Together, the terms “designate economic poverty as well as the powerless state that comes from lack of resources.”
The interpretation of v. 5c is much debated, with the term yāp̱îaiḥ proving a particular point of disagreement. As seen in the translation notes above, the view taken here is that yāp̱îaiḥ is a noun that is related to pwḥ II, “bear witness” (rather than pwḥ I, “breathe”) and that means a witness. As Miller has explained, “The problem of the psalmist is the action of the wicked … specifically in regard to what they say, what they do with their tongue.” The testimony that the witness would provide “on behalf of the poor may have been in juridical proceedings, or it may have been as a witness to transactions or contracts.… Yahweh will protect whoever will stand as witness to transactions either written or oral and thus preserve the right or justice of the” poor.
12:5 / In contrast to what the arrogant tongue says (v. 4), is what Yahweh says (v. 5). The oracle responds to their rhetorical question, “Who is our master?” with Yahweh’s answer, “I will now arise,” says the Lord. We are also presented with a contrast of promises: the enemies’ “we will triumph” versus Yahweh’s “I will now arise” and “protect them.” The oracle also responds in part to the liturgist’s opening petition, “Save, Yahweh” (v. 1), and so promises, “I will set him in salvation” (Hb. ʾāšît beyēšaʿ, niv I will “protect them”). But it also diverges from the opening petitions in two respects. First, while verse 3 requests Yahweh to “cut off all flattering (lit. ‘smooth’) lips,” his promise specifies no more than protection for the oppressed. Second, while the petitions designate God’s people by moral categories, “the godly” and “the faithful,” Yahweh uses social categories, the weak and the needy. He thus clarifies that they become objects of his salvation not by virtue of their moral behavior but because of their helplessness and need of a savior.
The oracle may also contain another promise. Instead of the difficult phrase rendered in the niv as from those who malign them, we should probably read, “I will shine forth for him,” as in a theophanic appearance (see the Additional Notes and the commentary on 50:2; 80:1).
12:5 are plundered … groan. The word for “plundered” refers to the exploitation of the oppressed, which elicits the groaning of the needy. The word for “groan” references moaning and weeping, like that of Malachi 2:13, where the suppliants cover the altar with weeping and tears (NIV: “wail”) because the Lord no longer accepts their sacrifice. This sounds much like the oppressed servant who cries against the oppressor to the Lord (Deut. 24:15; Prov. 21:13). The Septuagint translation (stenagmos) is used by Paul in Romans 8:26 to refer to those “groans” or “sighs” in prayer that are too deep for words. When God hears the groans of the oppressed, he is moved to compassion and action, and Paul’s words suggest the same response as the Spirit intercedes for us with “wordless groans.”
The words of the Lord are “like silver purified in a crucible” (12:6). This crucible from Tel Akko is dated to the Late Canaanite (Bronze) period (1500–1300 BC).
I will now arise … I will protect them. The Lord has controlled the situation all along and now at last takes action against this distorted and godless world. This is a veiled statement of God’s sovereignty over the world—he never loses control, whatever the circumstances may suggest. The Hebrew behind God’s promise “I will protect” means, “I will fight” (’ashit). God is not merely a defensive God (“protect them”), but he is constantly on the offense on behalf of his people (“I will now arise”). In Psalm 3:6 the same verb (shyt, “assail”) conveys the notion of war.
those who malign them. The Hebrew word for “malign” means “breathe,” which occurs in Song of Songs 4:16 to mean “blow,” and in Psalm 10:5 as “sneers” (NIV) or “puffs” (RSV, ESV). In keeping with the psalm, it has to do with malignant speech.
Ver. 5. For the oppression of the poor, for the sighing of the needy, now will I arise, with the Lord; I will set him in safety from him that puffeth at him.—The poor set in safety:—
God’s family in all ages have resembled each other. Hence the Word of God is rich in consolation.
- God’s Word deals with and is addressed to characters. Two such are named.
- The poor—the poor in spirit, conscious that they have no good in themselves. God brings all His people to this state.
- The oppression of the poor. Poverty gives room for oppression. The rich are not oppressed. And so it is spiritually. Hezekiah, near to death, cries out, “Lord, I am oppressed; undertake for me.” The law on a man’s conscience does this. “It strikes the dying dead.” Thus the Lord deals with His people to bring them down. But their sighing is a sign of life. The dead in sin feel nothing. They may have alarming fears of hell, but no trouble of conscience; they, as Isaiah says, may “cry for sorrow of heart and howl for vexation of spirit,” but “they do not cry unto God with their heart when they howl upon their beds.”
- For the sighing of the needy. A man may be poor without being needy, without having any desire for what he does not possess; he may be content with his poverty.
- But the needy are they who are not content, who feel and utter their need. This is true of spiritual things. He is full of needs. He wants more and more of the grace of Jesus.
- He sighs. He is sighing after God, sighing unto the Lord under the burden of his sins; he wants the light, life, liberty, peace of the Gospel of God.
III. The answer to these cries.
- “Now will I arise.” As if the Lord had been looking on but sitting still; as a father may watch his child at play, but let him perceive the child in danger, then will he start up and rush to the rescue. It is this sitting still of the Lord that so puzzles and perplexes God’s family; that He should seem to take no notice of them. But He will not be always so. A time is fixed when He will arise.
- “I will set in safety, … puffeth at him.” Then poor people are puffed at, not only poor and oppressed. Yes, for Satan is one that puffs at them. Sinners do also. And saints can do it too. Then much of pride and annoyance are to be found in God’s children. But the Lord will set them in safety. Not, perhaps, deliver them, but set them in Himself, a safe spot indeed. And there is the puff of flattery, and of enmity. Through much tribulation we must enter the Kingdom. But thither we shall be brought. (J. C. Philpot.)
Divine interposition in time of great peril:—
On one occasion, being driven from my station, two teachers and myself escaped for our lives to another missionary station at the other end of the island. We remained there for some time, and one afternoon, tired with watching (for the savages were constantly trying to take our lives) I fell fast asleep. About nine at night a retriever dog, that had been trained to warn me of approaching danger, sprang upon me and awakened me. I jumped up and saw a number of savages approaching; they went to the beautiful new church and set it on fire. I called the other missionary, and told him that in a few moments our house would be in flames. He suggested that we should prepare for the great change, for that night we would be with Jesus. He prayed to God to have mercy upon us. I went out and pulled the fence down that joined the church to the house. I was quickly surrounded by the savages, who lifted their clubs to strike me. Jesus has all power in heaven and earth; no blow could be struck without His permission. “I defy you, in the name of Jesus!” I shouted; “you think I am alone, but my God is here. He will protect me. I defy you, in the name of Jesus!” Just as I uttered those words a tornado burst upon us. The wind blew the flames from our house, and the rain soon extinguished the fire. The savages were affrighted. They said, “Jehovah God is fighting for them,” and then disappeared into the neighbouring wood. The age of miracles has passed, but the God of miracles still lives and reigns. I firmly believe that in answer to prayer God sent that tornado. (J. Paton.)
Verse 5.—“For the oppression of the poor,” etc. When oppressors and persecutors do snuff and puff at the people of God, when they defy them, and scorn them, and think that they can with a blast of their breath blow them away, then God will arise to judgment, as the Chaldee has it; at that very nick of time when all seems to be lost, and when the poor, oppressed, and afflicted people of God can do nothing but sigh and weep, and weep and sigh, then the Lord will arise and ease them of their oppressions, and make their day of extremity a glorious opportunity to work for his own glory and his people’s good. Matt. 21:6, 7. “And the remnant took his servants, and entreated them spitefully, and slew them. But when the king heard thereof, he was wroth: and he sent forth his armies and destroyed those murderers, and burned up their city.”—Thomas Brooks.
Verse 5.—Fear ye, whosoever ye be, that do wrong the poor; you have power and wealth, and the favour of the judges, but they have the strongest weapons of all, sighings and groanings, which fetch help from heaven for them. These weapons dig down houses, throw up foundations, overthrow whole nations.—Chrysostom.
Verse 5.—“For the sighing of the needy, now will I arise, saith the Lord.” God is pleased to take notice of every grace, even the least and lowest, and every gracious inclination in any of his servants. To fear his name is no great matter, yet these have a promise. To think on his name less, yet set down in a “book of remembrance.” God sets down how many good thoughts a poor soul hath had. As evil thoughts in wicked men are taken notice of—they are the first fruits of the evil heart (Matt. 15:19)—so good thoughts are they which lie uppermost, and best discover a good heart. A desire is a small matter, especially of the poor man, yet God regards the desire of the poor, and calls a good desire the greatest kindness; “The desire of a man is his kindness.” A tear makes no great noise, yet hath a voice, “God hath heard the voice of my weeping.” It is no pleasant water, yet God bottles it up. A groan is a poor thing, yet is the best part of a prayer sometimes (Rom. 8:26); a sigh is less, yet God is awakened and raised up by it. Psalm 12:5. A look is less than all these, yet this is regarded (Jonah 2:4); breathing is less, yet (Lam. 3:56), the church could speak of no more; panting is less than breathing, when one is spent for lack of breath, yet this is all the godly can sometimes boast of. Psalm 42:1. The description of a godly man is ofttimes made from his least quod sic. Blessed are the poor, the meek, they that mourn, and they who hunger and thirst. Never did Hannah pray better than when she could get out never a word, but cried, “Hard, hard heart.” Nor did the publican, than when he smote his breast and cried, “Lord, be merciful to me a sinner.” Nor Mary Magdalene, than when she came behind Christ, sat down, wept, but kept silence. How sweet is music upon the waters! How fruitful are the lowest valleys! Mourning hearts are most musical, lowest most fruitful. The good shepherd ever takes most care of his weak lambs and feeble sheep. The father makes most of the least, and the mother looks most after the sick child. How comfortable is that of our Saviour, “It is not the will of your Father which is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish!” And that heaven is not to be entered but by such as are like the little child.—John Sheffield, 1654.
Verse 5.—“The oppression of the poor.” Insolent and cruel oppressing of the poor is a sin that brings desolating and destroying judgments upon a people. God sent ten wasting judgments one after another upon Pharaoh, his people, and land, to revenge the cruel oppression of his poor people. “Rob not the poor, because he is poor: neither oppress the afflicted in the gate: for the Lord will plead their cause.” Prov. 21:22, 23. To rob and oppress the rich is a great sin; but to rob and oppress the poor is a greater; but to rob and oppress the poor because he is poor, and wants money to buy justice, is the top of all inhumanity and impiety. To oppress any one is sin; but to oppress the oppressed is the height of sin. Poverty, and want, and misery, should be motives to pity; but oppressors make them the whetstones of their cruelty and severity, and therefore the Lord will plead the cause of his poor oppressed people against their oppressors without fee or fear; yea, he will plead their cause with pestilence, blood, and fire. Gog was a great oppressor of the poor (Ezekiel 38:8–14), and God pleads against him with pestilence, blood, and fire (verse 22); “and I will plead against him, with pestilence and with blood; and I will rain upon him, and upon his bands, and upon the many people that are with him, an overflowing rain, and great hailstones, fire and brimstone.”—Thomas Brooks.
 Jacobson, R. A., & Tanner, B. (2014). Book One of the Psalter: Psalms 1–41. In E. J. Young, R. K. Harrison, & R. L. Hubbard Jr. (Eds.), The Book of Psalms (pp. 154–155). Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge, U.K.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.