The children’s rhyme about sticks and stones is actually one that is wildly off the mark. Scripture teaches us that the tongue is one of our most potent organs. When we walk with the Lord, our wholesome speech is a tree of life (Prov. 15:4). If we are given over to evil, the tongue has the capacity to burn down entire forests (Jas. 3:5-6). This psalm gives us a close look at the destructive power of speech.
“Deliver me, O Lord, from the evil man: Preserve me from the violent man; Which imagine mischiefs in their heart; Continually are they gathered together for war. They have sharpened their tongues like a serpent; Adders’ poison is under their lips. Selah. Keep me, O Lord, from the hands of the wicked; Preserve me from the violent man; Who have purposed to overthrow my goings . . .” (Psalm 140:1-13).
Summary of the Text
The occasion for this psalm is likely from the time when David was on the run from Saul, and his enemies at court refused to miss any opportunity to malign him. David cries out for deliverance from the evil and violent man (v. 1). Their mischievous plots begin in the heart (v. 2), move to their poisonous speech (v. 3), and end with the violence of their hands (v. 4). These evil ones are doing what they do on purpose. It is thought out, premeditated. They lay the traps and snares beforehand (v. 5).
David turns to his God as his only possible deliverance (v. 6). The Lord who is the strength of his salvation is the same one who placed a shield over his head on the day of battle (v. 7). His enemies are conceited and so he prays that they would not succeed, lest they become even more full of themselves (v. 8). David prays for a divinely appointed recoil (v. 9). From the context, we see that the retribution he wishes for them is that they fall into their own traps (v. 10). Let the malicious hunter let loose the dogs of his cruelty, and may they turn back around and start hunting him (v. 11). God undertakes for the afflicted and poor (v. 12). The righteous will return thanks to God’s name, and the upright will dwell in His presence (v. 13).
Notice that this psalm begins with the psalmist on the run, looking out for any possible snares and traps. A mere thirteen verses later, he is dwelling in the presence of God.
We live in a world where actions follow words, and words have the power to result in action. An intelligent Christian should be able to see and predict the trajectory of malice. The road along which this evil runs can be described as a plotting heart (v. 2), a venomous tongue (v. 3), and violent hands (v. 4). At some point, you always get where you are going.
It has become fashionable for the liars of our generation to mock the idea that Christians are being “othered.” But we most certainly are. And however easy it is for someone to say, “Oh, poor widdle Cwistians! Did somebody differ wiff you on Twitter? That’s not persecution. That’s paper-cut persecution.” But that is not what Jesus taught us. “Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake” (Matt. 5:11). Being reviled most certainly is persecution, and as we see in this psalm, it is the preparation for more direct action to follow.
The verbal ostracizing is the artillery attack before the invasion.
How Poison Works
The viper bites, and poison is introduced into the body. Now that body has a circulatory system which is the system which keeps the body alive. That body cannot exist without it. Your red blood cells deliver oxygen to every point in your body, and so this amazing system is your essential friend. But the circulatory system is also involved in distributing any poison that is introduced into the body to every part of your body.
Now in any social group—church, school, town, state, or nation—that circulatory system is made up of words. And lies, venomous lies, are the poison.
Protecting the Commonwealth
If you doubt the truth proclaimed in this psalm—about the potency of lies—just look around. Over the last several years, you have witnessed a great nation reduced to a shambolic mess, and all through the power of poisonous lips. We have faced no great invasion. We have not been struck by a giant asteroid. We have not been visited with the frogs of Egypt. We have not seen the Black Death sweep through our cities. The seven angels of Revelation have not emptied their bowls on us.
But we have been lied to a lot, and the result is devastation. What we have seen is lies, lies everywhere. Lies about Darwinism. Lies about multiculturalism. Lies about victim priestesses. Lies about woke. Lies about climate change. Lies about the extent of governmental authority. Lies about evangelical steadfastness. Lies about secularism. Lies about white supremacy. Lies about privilege.
And the lie of a defeated foe is destructive nonetheless, provided that the foolish believe it.
Mouths Full of Gospel
We have many examples of lies and liars being answered in Scripture. That is a lawful response, and in many cases it is a necessary response. Think about Paul, answering questions to the Galatians about how many times he had visited Jerusalem (Gal. 1:17). Think about Jesus, refuting charges that He was casting out demons by the prince of demons (Matt. 12:27). Think about Job, answering charges that he must have brought all his calamities down on himself (Job 42:7). So it is lawful to answer the charges, and at times necessary.
But at the same time, our central response must be to point to the cross of Christ where the prince of lies was thrown down and humiliated. They fell into the trap that they themselves had prepared. They managed, with their lying tongues, to have the Lord nailed to the cross. And when they had done so, they found all their lies were completely overthrown, forever and all. If the princes of this world had known what they were about, they wouldn’t have done it (1 Cor. 2:8). We should talk about all this a lot more, with our mouths full of gospel.