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20 August 2016

Psalm 12: The Double Heart

There seems to be a consistent longing among the men of God for a previous, more righteous, age, and this Psalm starts out expressing regret over the decline of civility and righteousness:

Help, Lord; for the godly man ceaseth; for the faithful fail from among the children of men.
They speak vanity every one with his neighbour: with flattering lips and with a double heart do they speak.
-Psalm 12:1-2

David was hardly the only one to lament and long for a more righteous time. Nephi, just prior to the Lord's visit to the Nephites, talked about how he wished he had lived previously, in a time when the people were "easy to be entreated", and Brigham Young spoke to this same theme where he quoted James's words: 

In speaking of the tongue the Apostle says, “But the tongue can no man tame; it is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison.” If the tongue cannot be tamed, it can be bridled. “If any man among you seem to be religious, and bridle not his tongue, but deceiveth his own heart, this man's religion is vain. If any man offend not in word, the same is a perfect man, and able also to bridle the whole body.” If this unruly member is not held in subjection it will work our ruin, for, “The tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity: so is the tongue among our members, and it defileth the whole body, and setteth on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire of hell.” If the tongue is unbridled and uncontrolled, it sets in motion all the elements of the devilish disposition engendered in man through the fall. The Apostle has represented it well, in comparing its influence to the fire of hell which will eventually consume the whole man.
-Brigham Young, JD 9:268

And it's true: words can cut deep wounds. When I was a kid someone taught me to tell bullies, "Sticks and stones can break my bones, but words can never hurt me," but in reality that sort of thing is false bravado. Words can deal deep and lasting hurts. I think it's telling that the Psalmist laments over the loss of righteousness among his people, and the very first proof he offers is that people are speaking wrongly, indulging in flattery, prideful speech, and speaking with a "double heart".

I had to spend some time searching out what, exactly, is a double heart. Elder Brough described what it is to have a single heart this way, using David's mighty men  as an example:

These men did not have a “double heart” which compelled them to seek their own personal interest ahead of that of Israel. Because of their single heart, manifest by pure motives, they did not aspire to a different position or rank within the armies of David. -Monte J. Brough, Oct. 1993

This passage was a favorite of Brigham Young's; he referenced it repeatedly, stressing the importance of serving God with an undivided heart.

I have never asked but one thing of the Latter-day Saints, and that is for them to serve the Lord our God with an undivided heart. One says, “I knew brother Joseph, but I do not know much about brother Brigham.” I do not care for this; the question with me is this, do you know Jesus and the Holy Spirit?
-Brigham Young, JD 10:310

I found a collection of verses that I'll be marking as a scripture chain. These verses are mostly ones that I found using the BYU database that had been quoted or referenced in context with Psalm 12:2 as I was looking through the various places where Brother Brigham referenced this idea of serving God with an undivided heart: 

Psalm 12:2 - they speak vanity, pride, and have a double heart
Hosea 10:1-2 - Judgements on Israel's empty vine and divided heart
Zechariah 8:17 - The Lord hates evil in the heart and false oaths
Deuteronomy 5:32 - Keep the commandments without swerving right or left
Moses 7:18 - The Lord's people are of one heart
D&C 104:3-5 - Cursings on those unfaithful to covenants
Psalm 119:16 - Delight in His statutes; do not forget His word

Then I started looking for connections between the heart and the tongue, and I added a couple from that:

Luke 6:45 - men speak from what's in their heart
Mark 7:21-23 - evils arising in the heart defile the man
Matthew 12:35 - evil hearts cannot speak good things
Moroni 7:9 - false prayers are counted for evil and not received by the Lord

At this point, I go back to my Psalm and reread it to recenter and refocus on the chapter I am studying. One thing that stands out, now that I understand the first two verses better and I'm no longer stumbling over the unfamiliar usage of the words, is the way that the Psalmist has contrasted the words of those who turn from righteousness against the Lord's words. The words of the failing faithful are flattering, prideful, and deceitful. In contrast, the Lord's words are pure, tried in a furnace and "purified seven times".

Another thing that strikes me as I study this passage and the related verses is the way that it sheds light on the character of Christ. In order to exercise faith unto life and salvation, we need several things, among them a correct understanding of His character, perfections, and attributes (See Lectures on Faith, Lecture Third). There is a tendency to focus solely on Christ's mercy, and to overlook or play down His justice and judgements. But if we are worshiping a smooth, easy, non-judgmental Being, then we are not worshiping Jesus Christ; He exemplifies both mercy and justice, having both attributes in perfection. Some of these verses really bring that justice into focus, particularly in relation to the dissenting believer that this Psalm is specifically addressing. These verses (and there were many more that could have been included) talk about how the Lord hates -and hate is a strong word- evils in the heart, how those evils defile us, and make our prayers useless. Useless prayers -one could pray regularly, but if the heart's wrong, you might as well leave it undone, the prayer is rejected. That's a sobering reality. And cursings - if we break our covenants He has said that He will not be mocked, and the consequences -the just wrath of an offended God- will follow.

No wonder Brother Brigham repeatedly emphasized the importance of serving Him with an undivided heart!

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