I re-posted a picture that stated the NIV has changed the meaning of this passage from God’s promise to preserve His Words forever to God’s promise to protect us forever. As it was brought to my attention that many people understand these verses to mean God’s promise to protect His people, I began a search to discover the truth so that I could speak about it with certainty and explain my conclusion. Here are the verses in question and some of the versions.
“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.” – KJV
“6And the words of the Lord are flawless, like silver purified in a crucible, like gold[c] refined seven times. 7 You, Lord, will keep the needy safe and will protect us forever from the wicked,” – NIV
“6 The Lord’s promises are pure, like silver refined in a furnace, purified seven times over. 7 Therefore, Lord, we know you will protect the oppressed, preserving them forever from this lying generation,” – NLT
“6 The words of Jehovah are pure words; As silver tried in a furnace on the earth, Purified seven times. 7 Thou wilt keep them, O Jehovah, Thou wilt preserve them from this generation for ever.” – ASV
“6 The words of the Lord are pure words, like silver refined in a furnace on the ground, purified seven times. 7 You, O Lord, will keep them; you will guard us[b] from this generation forever.” – ESV
So the golden question: Who or what does “them” in verse 7 reference?
“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.” – Psalm 12:1-8 KJV
Arguments for preserving people
There are several decent arguments for preserving God’s people forever such as most of God’s promises are regarding people. The idea is that God is going to rise up in defense of the poor and oppressed being lied on in verse 5 and save and preserve them. The next idea is that God will preserve His people eternally, which is why forever is mentioned. Another argument is the idea that the thought that David would write about God keeping His words comes out of nowhere. The strongest argument is that, grammatically, “them” in verse 7 is a masculine pronoun and can only refer to one or more male antecedents. “Words” is feminine, so “them” must refer to “the poor” (masculine) and “needy” (masculine).
– We can’t make an assumption that “them” cannot reference words simply because there are multiple examples of God promising to keep His Words.
– The argument that this is a promise to preserve the Godly eternally doesn’t follow the psalm and requires us reading into the text to apply an eternal meaning to a psalm talking about an immediate need. God cares about our eternal destination, but He also cares about our current situation, too.
– David is clearly one of the Godliest men to have ever lived, yet he is writing in the third person throughout the psalm. In verse 1, he states many Godly people have given up. He does not categorize himself with the poor or the needy. There are Godly people who are not poor or needy, and there are plenty of ungodly poor and needy people. So we can’t make the people characterized in verse 5 all of God’s people, especially when David made sure to speak of Godly people in verse 1. The sweep is too broad to make a spiritual application of God’s eternal salvation for His people in all living situations based on a small group of people with a physical need that are not classified as His chosen (especially when those lying and those suffering are all in Israel as God’s chosen – not all righteous but all classified as chosen).
I looked at the NIV first (because the meaning is completely different from the KJV). I found a rabbit hole and looked around for a day and a half. I discovered the committee for the NIV appears to HATE the KJV and have an intense desire to see it put out of use while insulting those who teach from it. Although this topic has quite an interesting amount of information, I found this quote very telling since it is the last thing written in their book.
– Edwin H. Palmer – “Do not give them a loaf of bread, covered with an inedible, impenetrable crust, fossilized by three and a half centuries. Give them the word of God as fresh and warm and clear as the Holy Spirit gave it to the authors of the Bible … For any preacher or theologian who loves God’s Word to allow that Word to go on being misunderstood because of the veneration of an archaic, not-understood version of four centuries ago is inexcusable, and almost unconscionable.” (p. 180 pdf)
(Hmm, I’ll address that another time.) I examined about a dozen other versions so as not to focus on the NIV and discovered some versions use “them” in verse 7, and some use “us.” So my next question was “Why do some Bibles say ‘them’ and others say ‘us’?” Apparently, the underlying text is the reason for the difference. “The pre-Christian Greek translation of the Old Testament, commonly called the Septuagint (LXX), reads, “you, O Lord, will guard us, and you will keep us,” etc., understanding the pronouns as first person plural “us” in both cases instead of “them” and “him” as in the Masoretic Hebrew text. Whatever the cause of this difference, the LXX clearly supports the “people” position.” (argument)
To me, that’s a big difference in determining meanings because it shifts the psalm from the 3rd person with David practically narrating us a story to 1st person in which he suddenly joins the poor and needy as being preserved forever. I don’t understand how the promise of God keeping needy and poor people around (preserved) forever is exciting. Is He supposed to be promising to keep them in their state forever, keep that generation safe from itself, keep the oppressed around forever, keep needy and poor people safe from liars forever? You could make a case that these are poor in spirit, but then they can be filled with the Holy Spirit and would no longer be poor and would immediately cancel out being poor forever. The other idea is that it references the Godly people because verse 1 mentions Godly people, but David lets us know in his writings of eternal things like when he speaks of the holy mountain. He also doesn’t include himself in this godly group as they have given up. Plus, there is a 6 verse gap between “godly man” and “them.” So, “us” doesn’t fit in this psalm as being a logical link to preserve us as Christians forever.
Arguments for preserving words
When we look at the psalm quickly, it might appear that David is crying out for help for those unable to defend themselves. Why do they need help? People are lying on them. One of eight verses talks about the poor and needy, yet the second half of the verse talks of how the Lord will come to their aid. However, the psalm is not just about the poor as David could have talked about people needing shelter, protection from violence, food, etc. It is a contrast of the temporary, damaging, and lying words of evil men vs. the eternal, precious, and true words of holy God. Look at the number of references David makes to lies and speech. Notice the effort he uses to pen colorful phrases in describing talk.
“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.” – Psalm 12:1-8
Since the Holy Spirit inspired the Scriptures, and God is not the author of confusion, it would make more sense for verse 7 to precedeverse 6 if God’s promise was to preserve the needy and poor forever. Yes, the promise is there to provide safety and is still important for the people that God rise up for their cause; however, the promise is only great because the Lord will keep His Words. Five out of eight verses (5/8) very clearly deal with speech. Verses 1 – 4 discuss what the ungodly are saying, to whom, and the lies they are telling in the process. The turning point is verse 5 in which the LORD speaks. In contrast to the lies and liars whose words will be stopped, we now have promises of the LORD Who is true Whose Words will not return void.
Logically, it makes sense that God promises to keep His Words throughout lying generations because we have several places in the Bible that agree that God does not lie and is faithful to keep His promises. Spiritually, it makes sense because God has laws written to prevent oppression of the underprivileged, and there is no connection between the temporal physical and the eternal spiritual as a promise for God’s people here. Poetically, it makes sense due to all the colorful descriptions David gives and the lengths he goes to contrast the vain words of men and the valuable words of God. The Lord doesn’t make an entrance at verse 5. He’s addressed in verse one and is already spoken of as stopping liars in verse 3. The only question remaining is how “them” in verse 7 can refer to “words” if there must be gender agreement since the only masculine nouns close to verse 7 that could be referenced are in verse 5.
Now, it gets really interesting. The pivotal arguments for making the pronoun “them” refer to the antecedents “needy” and/or “oppressed” is the idea that “them” must refer to people due to the cry for the Lord’s help in verse 1. The other argument is that “Examining the words “poor”, “needy” in verse 5, we see that their Hebrew words are `aniy (aw-nee’, Strong’s #6041) and ‘ebyown (eb-yone’, Strong’s #34) respectively. These words are both in masculine form.” [argument] “Words,” in verse 6, is in the feminine form ‘emrah (em-raw’, Strong’s #565). Because “words” is feminine, the Hebrew written pronoun to reference it should also be in the feminine form.
That argument is logical; however, it’s not finished. When we look at the way the writing is paralleled in verses 6 and 7, we see “words” is compared and made equal to the word “silver.”
6: The WORDS of the Lord are pure words: as SILVER tried in a furnace of earth, purified seven times.
WORDS = SILVER
7: Thou shalt keep THEM, O Lord, thou shalt preserve THEM from this generation for ever.
There is a note from the translators that stated the second “them” of verse 7 is noted “Heb. him. i. every one of them” (KJV 1611) page.
This means verse 7 reads as: “Thou shalt keep THEM, O Lord, thou shalt preserve EVERY ONE OF THEM from this generation for ever.”
This isn’t “everyone” as a collective group of individual people but “every one” as a collective group of individual things. The “him” is the masculine pronoun that references the silver spoken of in verse 6. That means that WORDS = SILVER, and WORDS is to THEM (1st) and SILVER is to HIM.
Silver is masculine singular (keceph Strong’s H3701). Verse seven is one complete sentence in which the pronouns must refer to their antecedents “words” (feminine plural) and “silver” (masculine singular). Hebrew grammar states that if the nouns are all feminine, the pronouns must match and be in the feminine form. However, when there is at least one masculine noun referenced, the pronouns describing them must be in the masculine form (“It should also be noted that masculine plural is used for a mixed gender group. Even if there are ninety-nine women and only one man in the group, the masculine plural is used. The feminine plural is used only when the group is exclusively female.” – Hebrew lesson). This is why we see the Bible will say “women” to reference women, “men” to reference men, and “men” to reference both women and men.
So, grammatically, when the translators write out verse 7, they show: words (feminine plural) + silver (masculine singular) = them (masculine plural referencing every one of the silver words)
The Lord shall keep them (the words of the Lord) and shall preserve them [every one (him) of the words (them) which are as silver] from this generation for ever.
Additionally, this is not the first time we see a masculine pronoun stand for a feminine noun. There is an exception rule, and I wanted to find out an example of a masculine describing the feminine object.
– “152 Concerning thy testimonies, I have known of old that thou hast founded them for ever.”- Psalm 119:152
Psalm 119:152 – the testimonies (`edah Strong’s H5713) is feminine: “a) always plural and always of laws as divine testimonies.” “Them for ever,” (`owlam Strong’s H5769) in this verse, refers to testimonies and is masculine. When I searched for grammar rules for Psalm 119:152, I found this page: “Article on Preservation Verse” – article. One of the clearest examples listed for an exception to the rule is Exo 15:20-21:
– “20 And Miriam the prophetess, the sister of Aaron, took a timbrel in her hand; and all the women went out after her with timbrels and with dances. 21 And Miriam answered them, Sing ye to the Lord, for he hath triumphed gloriously; the horse and his rider hath he thrown into the sea.” – Exo 15:20-21
We can see that the women followed Miriam, also a woman, who led them in a praise and worship song to the Lord. “All the women” is ‘ishshah (Strong’s H802). “Them” is the pronoun that references “all the women” from verse 20 and is also masculine (commentary). So the idea that “them” or a masculine word/object would be used to reference feminine plural nouns is absolutely not foreign to Hebrew writing and not a reason to assume Psalm 12:7’s “them” cannot describe “words” in verse 6 of the psalm.
Psalm 12:6-7 is God’s promise to preserve His Words eternally. While He cares for His people and offers eternal life, it’s only because He will not go back on His Word that we can have any sure promise.
– “8 The grass withereth, the flower fadeth: but the word of our God shall stand for ever.” – Isa 40:8 [The paper it’s written on (papyrus) may fall apart, but God’s Word is firm.]
– “89 For ever, O Lord, thy word is settled in heaven.” – Psalm 119:89
How Firm a Foundation
“How firm a foundation, ye saints of the Lord,
Is laid for your faith in His excellent word!
What more can He say than to you He hath said—
To you who for refuge to Jesus have fled?”
Standing on the Promises
Standing on the promises of Christ my King,
through eternal ages let his praises ring;
glory in the highest, I will shout and sing,
standing on the promises of God.
standing on the promises of Christ my Savior;
I’m standing on the promises of God.
Standing on the promises that cannot fail,
when the howling storms of doubt and fear assail,
by the living Word of God I shall prevail,
standing on the promises of God.
Standing on the promises of Christ the Lord,
bound to him eternally by love’s strong cord,
overcoming daily with the Spirit’s sword,
standing on the promises of God.
Standing on the promises I cannot fall,
listening every moment to the Spirit’s call,
resting in my Savior as my all in all,
standing on the promises of God.
Is Psalm 12:7 a Promise that God would preserve His Words? – page
Psalm 12:6-7 A Great Word Preservation Passage – Or Is It? – page
Not a promise for words – page
Examining Psalm 12:6-8 (in KJV with marginal notes) – page – Although this writer does not connect the simile of words and silver to “them/him, every one of them,” it allows us to see the notes written in the margin to follow the translators reasoning.
Ridiculous Attacks on Psalm 12 – The only thing I picked up the first time I listened was pronoun agreement, which led me to further studies and Hebrew Lesson Six – page.
Why the KJB is the Correct Translation –
Article on Preservation Verse (grammar lesson) – page