They talk about us
Well, that’s no surprise
Can you see them?
See right through them
They have no shield
No secrets to reveal
It doesn’t matter what they say
In the jealous games people play
Our lips are sealed
[“Our Lips Are Sealed,” Beauty and the Beat, 1981]
Silence in the face of a verbal onslaught is admirable. It stalls the escalation of warring words. It presses the pause button, giving everyone a time out. It refuses to join in the “jealous games people play.”
But silence is often deadly to relationships. Stonewalling is one of the four communication breakdowns Dr. John Gottman highlights as relationship killers. We need something else.
In Psalm 64, David isn’t silent. But instead of engaging in verbal jousts, he turns his words toward God in prayer.
Prayer gives us the opportunity to speak our complaints in a relationally safe context. If Facebook is the least appropriate place to vent, prayer is the most.
Hear me, my God, as I voice my complaint;
protect my life from the threat of the enemy (Ps. 64:1).
Having given voice to what’s going on, David turns toward his antagonists (again, in prayer) and points out how they’ve used their words violently against him. Notice the use of verbal words like conspiracy, plots, tongues, words, plans, and talk. Their tongues are their swords. Their words are their arrows.
Hide me from the conspiracy of the wicked,
from the plots of evildoers.
They sharpen their tongues like swords
and aim cruel words like deadly arrows.
They shoot from ambush at the innocent;
they shoot suddenly, without fear.
They encourage each other in evil plans,
they talk about hiding their snares;
they say, “Who will see it?”
They plot injustice and say,
“We have devised a perfect plan!”
Surely the human mind and heart are cunning (Ps. 64:2-6).
Sins of the tongue are among our worst. In fact, they dominate Paul’s vice lists in his New Testament letters.
But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator (Col. 3:8-10).
The acts of the flesh are obvious: … hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy (Gal. 5:19-20).
We are adept at attacking and hurting one another with our words. We excel at defensiveness and contempt. We all are victims of verbal assault. We all bear word wound scars where we’ve been stabbed in the back. And we all have dealt out more than a few of our own.
But God will use the word weapons of those who use their tongues for harm against them. Their words will double back on them. The boomerang will knock them from their feet.
But God will shoot them with his arrows;
they will suddenly be struck down.
He will turn their own tongues against them
and bring them to ruin;
all who see them will shake their heads in scorn (Ps. 64:7-8).
Their arrow words will meet God’s arrows. The scorn they had planned for David will end up on them. But that’s not all. God’s justice will lead to a whole new crop of words: worship words.
All people will fear;
they will proclaim the works of God
and ponder what he has done.
The righteous will rejoice in the LORD
and take refuge in him;
all the upright in heart will glory in him! (Ps. 64:9-10)
This new crop of words proclaim God’s works, rejoice in refuge-giving Yahweh, take glory in him. And in them an amazing transformation has taken place.
Words that were intended to destroy have been replaced by words that worship the creating, saving God. Where silence merely gets us from bad to nothing, prayer gets us from bad to good.
Our Lord used words to create the heavens and the earth. The Word became flesh and lived among us to save us. Words are holy. So, in this world where we humiliate words by using them to destroy instead of create, to kill instead of to save, we restore them to their holiness by stopping the sparring and by starting to pray.