Flattery may harm us as much as lies — Psalm 140

Psalms of David

We are back in lament teritory. These last two years of Covid-19 restrictions, if you include the period of aproaching storm before it got here, has been a time where nearly everyone has been lamenting their lack of freedom, many having lost families and friends, knowing people with long covid, or having the worry of knowing people with the disease or having been infected themselves. Others have lost income from being furloughed or have lost their jobs. No one is unaffected.

A black and white image of a sorrowful woman with her face in her hands.

The books of Psalms are roughly themed like this:

Book 1: Psalms 1 – 41: God is beside us.
Book 2: Psalms 42 – 72: God goes before us
Book 3: Psalms 73 – 89: God is all around us.
Book 4: Psalms 90 – 106: God is above us.
Book 5: Psalms 107 – 150: God is among us.

To the choirmaster. A Psalm of David.

140 Deliver me, O Lord, from evil men;
    preserve me from violent men,
who plan evil things in their heart
    and stir up wars continually.
They make their tongue sharp as a serpent’s,
    and under their lips is the venom of asps. Selah

Guard me, O Lord, from the hands of the wicked;
    preserve me from violent men,
    who have planned to trip up my feet.
The arrogant have hidden a trap for me,
    and with cords they have spread a net;
    beside the way they have set snares for me. Selah

I say to the Lord, You are my God;
    give ear to the voice of my pleas for mercy, O Lord!
O Lord, my Lord, the strength of my salvation,
    you have covered my head in the day of battle.
Grant not, O Lord, the desires of the wicked;
    do not further their evil plot, or they will be exalted! Selah

As for the head of those who surround me,
    let the mischief of their lips overwhelm them!
10 Let burning coals fall upon them!
    Let them be cast into fire,
    into miry pits, no more to rise!
11 Let not the slanderer be established in the land;
    let evil hunt down the violent man speedily!
12 I know that the Lord will maintain the cause of the afflicted,
    and will execute justice for the needy.
13 Surely the righteous shall give thanks to your name;
    the upright shall dwell in your presence.

Psalm 140 ESVUK

Psalm 140 is split into four sections by the Hebrew word Selah, which indicates a pause or instrumental break to give people a time to ponder what they have been singing. The four sections, based on what David says, are: Deliver me, Guard me, You are my God and God is among us.

Deliver me

We need deliverence from things that have happened in the past. David is contending with people who have tongues of venom like asps, what they say might seem nice, even flattering, but they are lying and their motives are not to help but to do violence. Flattery can harm us as much as lies, both give us an untrue impression of ourselves.

Guard me

We need to be guarded against what may come. Being a follower of God does not stop the pressures of the world getting to us, but God does walk with us through whatever life throws at us. It is like the vaccines we have for Covid-19, we can still catch the disease but it protects us from the worst of the effects of the disease, over 60% of intensive care covid patients come from the small proportion of people who are unvaccinated or are within 14 days of their first dose. (Data from the British Medical Journal).

Following Jesus does not protect us from the world, but the world does not overwhelm us.

You are my God

David switches his focus from himself and everything changes, this is no longer about David’s enemies but about God. Focussing on God may transform our struggles, but as Psalm 88 has shown sometimes a conventional faith in God will not save us, we need a deep strong unconventional faith. Psalm 88 was probably written with the hindsight of the exile in Babylon behind them, a time when the nation’s faith deepened. They had to let go of the conventions of their beliefs and cling to God alone. David does not have the benefit of this hindsight. But he still has God. He praises God for being his God and he remembers things that God has done for him in his past, he does not want the evil people to win, so he tells pours that to God too.

God is among us.

Having met with God, David goes back to the problem of his enemies. Nothing physically has changed, he still has enemies, but everything has changed David has confidence that was not there before, confidence that God will act.

David’s call for vengeance in not disproportional. He is asking that what the evil people will happen to them. This is in line with God’s law. The punishment should not exceed the crime and there is room for leniency, David is asking that whatever these plotters are planning to do for others will happen to them, what we call poetic justice. God favours the afflicted and needy. God is on their side because they are still people worthy of respect. God gives respect to those who would otherwise not be given respect.

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