Psalm 12: God Preserves His Word for His Godly Needy People
(followed by discussion of preservation by restoration: A role of the ben Chayyim text)
God’s Word preserved for His people over the ages will be a traditional text preserving inerrant autographs, as Psalm 12 says. Some say the Psalm teaches preserving of God’s people, but it says His Word is eternally preserved for His godly faithful people, to whom it promises an ultimate deliverance, however poor or needy they may be.
1. Help Lord; for the godly man ceaseth; for the faithful fail from among the children of men
2. They speak vanity every one with his neighbor: with flattering lips and with a double heart do they speak.
3. The Lord shall cut off all flattering lips, and the tongue that speaketh proud things:
4. Who have said, With our tongue will we prevail; our lips are our own: who is lord over us?
5. For the oppression of the poor, for the sighing of the needy, now will I arise, saith the Lord; I will set him in safety from him that puffeth at him.
6. The words of the Lord are pure words: as silver tried in a furnace of earth, purified seven times.
7. Thou shalt keep them O Lord, thou shalt preserve them from this generation for ever.
8.The wicked walk on every side when the vilest men are exalted.
5. Now I will arise,”says the Lord; “I will set him in the safety for which he longs.”
6. The words of the Lord are pure words; as silver tried in a furnace on the earth, refined seven times.
7. Thou O Lord, wilt keep them; Thou wilt preserve him from this gene- ration forever.
5. I will now arise,” says the Lord.“I will protect them from those who malign them.
6. And the words of the Lord are flawless, like silver refined in a furnace of clay, purified seven times.
7. O Lord you will keep us safe and protect us from such people forever.
The KJV verse 5 says of the oppressed godly man...saith the Lord, I will set him in safety...Verse 6 says God's words are pure (true & inerrant), and verse 7 says that He keeps (performs) them forever. Deliverance of the needy is promised, but that's just an object of God's words that ensure deliverance, (and our very existence) and the emphasis is on what saith the Lord, His words of promise. Verse 7 emphasizes that God keeps and preserves them, His words that certify His care for needy godly people, not only in David's time, but forever. Further, the declared eternal preservation emphasizes the written form of God's Word that certify deliverance of His people forever.
It’s said that 12:7 them is 12:5 people, but them loses its sure sense if severed from its immediate antecedent words (12:6 shifts the focus from people to words). If people were meant, pronoun reference would be distorted. Those favoring preservation of people say gender discord denies words; the 12:7 them (verb suffix) is masculine, and the 12:6 words (substantive) is feminine, and Hebrew pronouns and their antecedents normally agree in gender, but Gesenius says masculine suffixes (especially in the plural) are not infrequently used to refer to feminine substantives. (24) Waltke and O’Connor say the masculine pronoun is often used for a feminine antecedent. (25) Strouse cites normal gender discord of pronouns and their antecedents in Ps.119:111,129, 152,167 where God’s Words, testimonies (fem.) link to they/them (mas.), (26) which look like designed gender discord, (27) relating our need of God’s Word for sustenance (fem) to His power as provider (mas.). More cases of feminine antecedents to masculine them are Isa.3:16 daughters, Ex.1:21 midwives & Gn.26:15 wells (fem.). Hebrew gender discord is rather common, but ante- cedent discord is not, as necessary to avoid much confusion of sense. Passage sense has priority over grammar issues like gender discord, (25), and the Ps. 12:6,7 sense relates them to words in the immediate context.
Word-keeping emphasis increases as them links to words in designed gender discord. A masculine pronoun and feminine antecedent reflect Hebrew use of masculine gender to signify power, and the feminine to signify compassion. (28) Ps.12:6,7 links masculine them to feminine words, thus linking the power of God to keep them to His compassion (stressed in 12:5) applying the power (this relates to Hebrew prior-gender masculine language inclusive of both natural genders; e.g. the Ps.12 godly man refers to men & women). (29) In compassion God preserves His words forever to certify that He obligates Himself to keep them forever on behalf of His needy godly people.*
*It’s said chiastic-inversion parallelism ties verses 12:5 & 7 of like content on the godly man, separated by a dissimilar 12:6 on God’s Words. That’s unlikely due to resultant pronoun ambiguity of reference, and language too dissimilar to link separated verses this way. Dissimilarity includes mismatch of 12:5 him to the first 12:7 them, different 12:5 & 12:7 speakers, 12:5 him protected once but 12:7 them kept & preserved, and no reference to God’s arising and its cause in 12:7, or to generation and eternality aspects in 12:5. And the proposed inversion doesn’t fit Psalm 12 poetic parallelism, as noted below. Indeed, there is no clear evidence of chiasmus in Psalm 12. Further, verse 5 stands apart from the other verses in that it is the only one representing words as spoken by God. Finally, as has been pointed out, (see KJVToday.com commentary on Psalm 12:7) the main subject of the Psalm is not people, but words, whether of good or evil nature, so its is most logical to associate the 12:7 preservation of them with words.
Couplet-clause parallelism in each individual verse is a definite type in Psalm 12, and it offers no possibility of the inversion so that them refers to words by the parallelism criterion. One other possible sense of parallelism is a broad one in which verses 2-4 link together, verse 2 introducing the nature of words of evil men, and verses 3 & 4 together advancing this theme. In verse 5 God speaks of how He will deal with the situation, and verses 6 & 7 join in advancing this opposing theme, which begins an antithetical parallelism (see Preservation and Psalm 12:6-7 bibleword.org for further comment). Verses 1 & 8 would correlate a beginning of man's trickery by words with its potential end result that necessitates God's intervention.
In summary, poetic style separates 12:5 from 7 to deny them is people, and it ties gender discordant them to words, the 12:5 godly man (mas.) being de- livered by God’s 12:6 words of compassion (fem.), and 12:7 them being words also of power (mas.) to deliver. And 12:5 & 12:7 differ by speaker & pronoun number to deny a link in a common reference to people, but 12:6 & 12:7 link them in a direct reference to words, in conjunction with a more distant reference to godly needy people.
An initial NASV them suggests words, but the following him in place of them implies people as objects of preservation; they’re objects of word-keeping. Thus words that certify people-deliverance are lost, and him links to them, mixing the singular & plural in ambiguity of sense (here them can be words or people). him, good Hebrew, is poor English; this 3rd-person/masculine/sing- ular pronoun signifies, not people, but 3rd-person/masculine/ singular word. Hebrew lacks neuter grammatical gender, and him/he often signify it/that in English [e.g. in Num.22:20 God speaks, the Hebrew saying, the word that I shall speak to you, him (it / that) you shall do]. (30) Thus Ps.12:7 Hebrew says, Thou shalt keep thy words O Lord, thou shalt preserve thy word forever. Thy word is thy words, and them signifies word for clarity, for it/that is confusing and awkward here. Psalms number discord is usually a poetic-style factor, but it's didactic here, emphasizing God’s written words preserved forever. Words are written or spoken, but word stresses the written (His written words are His word). His words preserved for us require the written form, and He preserves them forever to prove that He obligates Himself to keep them forever (by the Living Word). A second KJV them does not lose the purpose of the words/ word shift, declared eternal preservation establishing the written form.
The NIV, like the extant Septuagint, has us for the 12:7 double them. Us, incorrect by definition in the first use and by pointing in the second, makes people objects of keeping & preserving, but they're objects of word-keeping. Linguistic sense requires use of such people with us, but the two terms mask interpretation error due to making them signify people, a sense of eternal pre- servation of the needy from a generation of evil men of David’s time that can’t live forever. This error occurs if us is used with the correct this generation, making incorrect such people necessary. More linguistic error due to this approach further shows such people is incorrect, from such people missing the sense; this generation is that of David and joins from with to/for to note a period from that time to eternity (the Hebrew says this), or for ever. Further, this acts as a relative pronoun, (31) so we read from the generation this (which) is to forever, not from the generation such is to forever. But eternal preservation of God’s written words is fully logical, with no faulty language or sense.
Scholars ignore God’s preservation role that can involve restoration (their preferred Greek text was lost for ~1400 years, and it exists in scattered form among manuscripts). To them Ps.119:89 For ever O Lord thy word is settled in heaven means preservation exists only in heaven. But the sense here is God’s Word supervised & verified in heaven where there’s no confusion. Context supports this, earthly preservation being the reason why the writer can obey God’s testimonies (Ps.119:88) and why earth endures by God’s laws (119:91). Ps.119:96 notes an end (a limit) to typical earthly perfection, but says God's commandment (to people) is exceeding broad (unlimited in its perfection), so God’s word known to us on earth is fully preserved.
24. Gesenius’ Hebrew Grammar. 2nd English Ed, Cowley, A.E. 1910. Para. 135o.
25. Waltke, B.K. & O’Connor, M.P. 1990. An Introduction to Biblical Hebrew Syntax. Eisenbraums. Winona Lake, IN. #16.4b, p302.
26. Strouse, T.M. A Critique of “God’s Word in Our Hands:” The Bible Preserved for Us. The Burning Bush. 11/1 June 2005. p28
27. Gesenius, Op. Cit. para. 110k illustrates this.
28. Gesenius, Op. Cit. paragraph 122h – see footnote #3
29. Gesenius, Op. Cit. para.122g
30. Another NASV him/he problem is, safety for which he longs. The sense of the Hebrew is the KJV puffeth, a blast of evil men’s breath (NIV agrees), not a godly man’s longing.
31. Gesenius said the Masora teaches this. Op. Cit. para. 126y.
The Role of the ben Chayyim Text in Preservation
As noted on the home page, God's preservation of the Hebrew/Aramaic Text would be historically continuous for His true people, but error periodically entering the text would necessitate periodic text restoration to enable the world at large to catch-up in its knowledge of truth. The restoration seems to occur before serious error is incurred, judging by the relative states of the latest historical texts, ben Asher & ben Chayyim that involve a little debate about relative accuracy. Differences are almost entirely those involving mere spelling & capitalization that usually cause no change in the understanding & translation of the texts. At times, a few of the spelling differences do affect the sense of a term significantly, and these are the ones that would create a need for restoration, although they appear to be few in number, likely less than a dozen. The ben Asher text that was established in the 10th century A.D. is favored by modern English translators, while the ben Chayyim, established in the early 16th century A.D. was favored by KJV translators. The ben Chayyim shows evidence of being a restoration of the true text that would be indicative of Providential intervention in text history. We offer a few examples of differences in the two texts that are noted on the internet, differences by which the ben Asher readings violate the concept of exact equivalence by changing passage sense.
1. ben Chayyim as it appears in the KJV at Ezekiel 30:18.
KJV: At Tehaphnehes also the day shall be darkened, when I (God) shall break there the yokes of Egypt: and the pomp of her strength shall cease in her: as for her, a cloud shall cover her, and her daughters shall go into captivity.
The usual rendering of the Hebrew here is darkened, and ben Asher offers, concerning the day, shall be held back, resulting in a condition of physical darkness. However, this adds a sense of failure of the dawn to appear, which isn't the same contextually as a day being darkened, in the sense of a dark day coming when trouble invades Egypt, and this latter sense clearly is the one supported by the context. The dawn being held back might imply the correct sense, but this is not nearly as clear as the wording in the ben Chayyim text.
2. ben Chayyim as in the KJV at Zephaniah 3:15
KJV: The Lord hath taken away thy judgments, he hath cast out thine enemy: the king of Israel, even the Lord is in the midst of thee: thou shalt not see evil any more.
The ben Asher offers fear in lieu of see, which is a result of a small spelling difference. The term fear adds a wrong sense since not to see (experience) evil refers to the subject situation for Israel at a future time when God will protect and sustain her from that time forward, likely during the Millennium & Eternal State. Most modern English versions nonetheless offer fear, evidently since they favor the ben Asher.
3. ben Chayyim as in the KJV at Isaiah 27:2
KJV: In that day sing ye unto her, A vineyard of red wine. 27:3 I the Lord do keep it; I will water it every moment: lest any hurt it, I will keep it night and day.
The ben Asher offers for red wine a pleasant vineyard
Again there is a small difference in spelling that changes the sense of terminology. The term pleasant vine is hardly sufficient to describe the way the Lord views His nation of Israel in this context. The term red wine speaks of the choicest wine that refers figuratively to Israel enjoying the highest regard of the Lord that will one day bring Israel to the pinnacle of His favor, again likely referring to the Millennium & Eternal State
4. ben Chayyim as in the KJV at Proverbs 8:15,16
KJV: By me (wisdom) kings reign, and princes decree justice. By me princes rule, and nobles, even all the judges of the earth.
The ben Asher offers righteousness in lieu of earth.
The spelling difference in this case is major, and leads translators to consult the LXX (Septuagint) that renders earth, as in the ben Chayyim. Other ancient versions agree with the type of rendering in the ben Asher, which evidently resulted from the notion that rendering earth makes the rule of wisdom too universal since some rulers seem devoid of wisdom. Actually, wisdom is from the Lord, and at times God's wisdom decrees that some nations suffer under a despot to recompense and correct their evil ways. Thus earth rightly refers to universal subjection of all earthly rulers to God's wisdom, whether the result be one of joy or sorrow. Indeed, the context of Proverbs 8 strongly implies that wisdom here figuratively refers to the eternal Christ in His relationship to God the Father as personified wisdom of God sent to teach those of the earth what God is like.*
*In Proverbs 8 wisdom is spoken of in the KJV as brought forth, which has the sense of presented, meaning God presented His Son as the fullness of wisdom at the proper time in His plan for mankind. The translators evidently realized that another sense of the Hebrew, that of being born, is very misleading since Christ is eternal God just as much as God the Father is. It seems likely that the translators were aware of the 4th-century heresy of Arianism that utilized the Hebrew term in the sense of born to suggest that Christ was created by God the Father so that He would be inferior to the Father. It's amazing to see just how extensive the knowledge of KJV translators really was, and how careful they were to avoid error.
5. ben Chayyim as in the KJV at 1 Kings 20:38
KJV: So the prophet departed, and waited for the king by the way, and disguised himself with ashes upon his face,
The ben Asher offers a term like bandage in lieu of ashes.
There is error in the ben Asher due to a minor spelling difference in pointing (vowels) that changes the sense of a term. At first glance bandage seems to fit since the prophet incurred a deliberate wound to disguise himself. However, a bandage would likely cover the wound, and ruin the purpose of wounding, and a bandage disguise could be utilized without a wounding, so the ben Asher term doesn't fit the context. As part of a ruse, wounding was for an effect visible to the king.
Now the more general sense of the ben Chayyim term, a covering, must be considered (sash or headband are suggested - a proposed headband over his eyes would only arouse suspicion and impair the prophet’s vision). The specific covering isn’t known, but context indicates it refers to a film of mud or sooty ash residue masking the face, without covering the wound. Ashes is correct, symbolizing failure & repentance (sackcloth & ashes), the image the prophet utilized to get a right response to the ruse. King Ahab condemned the prophet for failure to guard a war prisoner, and by the prophet, God con- demns Ahab for failing to destroy an enemy king. The prophet’s feigned repentance reflects Ahab's need to repent, and may imply that Ahab can’t feign repentance.
Joshua 21:36-37 & Nehemiah 7:68 - Supported by the majority of manuscripts, but missing in the ben Chayyim text
Joshua 21:36-37 And out of the tribe of Reuben, Bezer with her suburbs, and Jahazah with her suburbs, Kedemoth with her suburbs, and Mephaath with her suburbs; four cities.
The total number of cities noted here and related verses is 12, as verified by Joshua 21:40, and if verses 36 & 37 are omitted, the total would be only 8, so internal evidence plainly establishes the authenticity of the two verses.
Nehemiah 7:68 Their horses, seven hundred thirty and six: their mules two hundred forty and five:
This verse is found verbatim in Ezra 2:66, and Nehemiah & Ezra were both involved in the contextual topic, restoration of Jerusalem after the Babylon- ian Captivity, so again internal evidence establishes verse authenticity.
These verses have no doctrinal importance, and can be meant to illustrate how misleading man’s contribution in sustaining God’s Word can be. Man’s external manuscript evidence is subject to much copyist error that can often be repeated, so majority manuscript support for readings can be misleading, contradicting internal evidence that establishes the true readings. Problems arise since scholars emphasize majority manuscript support for readings, and give extra weight to a small minority of older Alexandrian manuscripts exhibiting many doctrinally or textually unsound readings. God’s restoration of truth is vital to overcome error of men, and restoration is indicated by what He has given to His people, the Rabbinic bibles, the Felix Pratensis text, followed by the ben Chayyim, to correct a little cumulative error in the older ben Asher (in 9 verses; see examples below – so few differences testify to excellent preservation of the Masoretic Text as a whole). The ben Chayyim is the primary restoration text, and the Pratensis acts as a supplement that helps to guide work of translators who recognize the superseding importance of internal evidence. The KJV Hebrew/Aramaic basis can be described as the ben Chayyim text supplemented slightly by the Pratensis, and an authorized version like the KJV would be the tool providentially integrating a little of the Pratensis in the latest restoration of total accuracy