Psalm Twelve – Translation of the Song

12,1 For the Leader, on the Sheminith. A Song by David.
12,2 Deliver [me], ADONAI, for no more is the devout, for no longer are the faithful among the children of Adam.
12,3 Empty [words] will speak every man to his companion; with smooth lip, and with two hearts, they will speak.
12,4 Cast off, ADONAI, all smooth lips, the tongue that speaks pridefully.
12,5 Those who said, “Through our tongues we will become greater; our lips are with us — who is master over us?”
12,6 Because of the cries of the plundered needy, because of the moaning of the impoverished,
“Now will I arise”, will say ADONAI. “I will set up deliverance by blowing away those [who are braggarts] / by blowing deliverance to [you, the needy].”
12,7 The speech of ADONAI, pure speech,
silver refined, cleared of earth, purified sevenfold.
12,8 You, ADONAI, will guard them, will treasure them, the generation, for all time.
12,9 Circling around the wicked will walk,
when, like maggots, they gorge upon the children of Adam / when raised up be those who are despised among the children of Adam.  

Notes on Translation, Psalm 12:

12.1: the Sheminith is assumed to be a musical instrument, simply because of its context: following as it does upon “for the Leader” and preceded by “on the”. The leader, then, is the lead musician, or perhaps the conductor, of a musical group.


12.2: since the verb “deliver” needs to be followed by an object, the word “me” has been added to the Hebrew which consists of the verb alone, הוֹשִׁיעָה. In both Hebrew and English, the sense is of “save”.


12.2: the verb “is” is used here, because the Hebrew for “devout”, חָסִיד, is singular, though its intent is certainly of the plural.


12.3: “words” has been added to the Hebrew for “empty”, שָׁוְא, for the sake of clarity (the verb “speak” certainly implies words).


12.3: the Hebrew for “companion”, רֵעֵהוּ, is formed of the exact same letters as the Hebrew for “evil”. (See also “Notes on Translation, Psalm 15”,v.3.)


12.3: the root for the Hebrew for “smooth”, חֲלָקוֹת, ח.ל.ק is “segment”, חֵלֶק. That is, the smooth words are not complete lies; they contain a segment of truth.


12.3: the translation here, of the Hebrew word שְׂפַת, could certainly be “talk”, rather than “lip”. The common English expression is “smooth talk”. However, in Hebrew the word shares a root with “edge”, which suits the lips themselves rather than their speech. Moreover, “lip” here connects the verse to verse 4 (“all smooth lips”) which uses the word in its plural form, to mean “lips”, שִׂפְתֵי.


12.3: “with two hearts”: the literal Hebrew is “heart and heart”. That is, one “heart” flatters; the other, disparages (hence, the added “two”). The heart, having the plural form in Hebrew, is not, then, divided; braggarts speak deliberately, hiding their intent deliberately.


12.4: “Cast off”, in the Hebrew, יַכְרֵת, implies a future act.


12.4: “pridefully”, is, in the literal Hebrew — מְדַבֶּרֶת גְּדֹלוֹת —“big things”. That is, the braggarts speak ever more boastfully of their own merits and might.


12.5: the taunt of the braggarts that they are solely their own masters may implicitly be a denial of the idea that God is the divine Master of creation.


12.6: the entire verse could, as validly, be taken as the words of God. Here, however, the singer is voicing his hope, in keeping with his prayer in verse 4, that the plight of the needy will invoke God’s response.


12.6: the Hebrew in the last statement of the verse is ambiguous. Therefore two possible readings have been included. In one, God is blowing away the overblown boasts of the braggarts; in the other, God is speeding deliverance to the needy –God’s breath, in this interpretation, the creative tool Genesis describes as forming humankind.


12.7: the word “speech” is twice repeated, but the Hebrew word alters in its repetition. In the first use, it is written in its usual form — אִמֲרוֹת– but, in the second, its connotation is of many words or sayings – אֲמָרוֹת.


12.7: “sevenfold” is written in Hebrew as one word, שִׁבְעָתָיִם, meaning, literally, 2×7.


12.8: the Hebrew for the verb “guard”, תִּשְׁמְרֵם, has, as its root, the verb “preserve”. Its parallel, “[to] treasure”, connotes a sense of creation; that is, of the creative process.


12.8: the literal Hebrew reads, “will treasure [them] from the generation, that for all time”. That is, God will protect the needy from the wicked forever. Or, God will preserve and value the needy from one generation to another, forever. Both interpretations are valid and do not conflict with one another.


12.9: like the final statement of verse 6, the last phrase of verse 9 can be read in two completely different, opposing ways, indicated in our translation by the backward slash sign: the Hebrew word translated here as “raised up” –רֻם—can, in jarring contradiction, mean “maggots”, רִמָּה. For, as it is written, the Hebrew, if meaning “raised up”, is missing the letter “vav”. However, “maggots” is feminine in Hebrew, whereas the actual written word is masculine. Both interpretations, then, are problematic and the validity of neither can be certain. Similarly, the word translated in the first instance as “despised”, זֻלֻּת, can also mean “satiated”. Again, neither translation is certain. The first instance –that the needy will be raised up, with the implication that the wicked will, accordingly, walk in circles without progressing–  is, while more appealing, also in keeping with the oral tradition in Judaism that the Tanach, when read in chapters, must end on a hopeful note.

These translations are by Rabbi Maccabi and Dr. Rosenberg. The translations are as close to the literal Hebrew as possible.

Click here to study “Literary analysis of Psalm 12”

King James Psalms 12 Translation:

[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 neighbour: 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.