Psalm 64; Proverbs 6; 1 Corinthians 14:6–19

 Psalm 64: This David song opens with a plea for God’s protection–“Hear, God, my voice in my plea.”–to be hidden “from the counsel of evil men,/ from the hubbub of the wrongdoers.” (3). “Hubbub” certainly seems an appropriate word for the noise around us, especially from ubiquitous media and now the multitudinous voices of the Internet.

But the real danger from these “evil men” is their barbed words that do so much damage. As is so often in the Psalms, we once again we encounter the hurtful power of the spoken word–which we can easily extend in our culture to the written word. They have “whetted their tongue like a sword,/ pulled back their arrow–a bitter word–/to shoot in concealment the innocent./ In a flash shot him down without fear.” (4, 5a)

Two themes stand out here. First, there is intent: they “pull back their arrow.” These are not hurtful thoughts uttered inadvertently. There is a plan to hurt the victim. Second, the evil words come  “from concealment.” They are spoken in conspiratorial surprise; the victim has no opportunity to prepare for what is about to happen to him.

Those who speak evil revel in it: “They encourage themselves with evil words.” (6) These people enjoy conspiracy: “They recount how traps should be laid./ They say, Who will see them?” (6b) The source of the conspiracy lies in a man’s heart; the words are merely expression of intrinsic evil: “We have hidden them from the utmost search,/ in a man’s inward self,/ and deep is the heart.” (7)

But we know that God will hear our plea and ultimately, he will strike down the evildoers: “But God will shoot an arrow at them/In a flash they will be struck down.” (8) Perhaps the most satisfying aspect of this is that it is their own words that will be their undoing: “And their tongue will cause them to stumble,/ all who see them will nod in derision.” (9) And this is exactly how it plays out. There is a certain grim satisfaction in seeing conspirators undone by their own words.

Proverbs 6: The editors of the NRSV title this chapter, “Practical admonitions.” And so they are. In keeping with the theme of the psalm above, the very first admonition is the consequences of misspoken words: “you are snared by the utterance of your lips,/caught by the words of your mouth.” (2) And later, a warning about avoiding those of who try to con others: “A scoundrel and a villain/goes around with crooked speech,/… with perverted mind devising evil,/ continually sowing discord.” (12-14) Once again, we are reminded of the power of the spoken word–especially when spoken with evil intent.

The writer then resorts to lists: “There are six things that the Lord hates,/ seven that are an abomination to him:”
 (1) haughty eyes, (2) a lying tongue,
    and (3) hands that shed innocent blood,
   (4) a heart that devises wicked plans,
    (5) feet that hurry to run to evil,
   (6) a lying witness who testifies falsely,
   (7)  and one who sows discord in a family. (16-19)

Pride, lies, murder, conspiracy, seeking out evil, false testimony are certainly the sins we might expect to be in the list. But perhaps most surprisingly and profoundly, “one who sows discord in a family.” One thinks of feuds among siblings over inheritances, or actions such as adultery or abuse that tear a family apart. Not much seems to have changed over the millennia…

1 Corinthians 14:6–19: All three readings today deal with the problem of speech. Here, Paul is dealing with “glossalia,” speaking in tongues. Clearly, it was fairly rampant at Corinth and seen by many–as it is today–as a manifestation of one having a gift from the Holy Spirit. The owners of this gift had doubtless set themselves above the ungifted hoi polloi.

For Paul, the key aspect of glossalia is the ability to interpret what has been uttered. Without interpretation it is gibberish. Words without communication are empty: “if in a tongue you utter speech that is not intelligible, how will anyone know what is being said?” (9)

Interpretation is more important than the actual glossalia: “one who speaks in a tongue should pray for the power to interpret.” (13) As he does so often, Paul makes it clear that he has the gift in greater quantity than others, “I thank God that I speak in tongues more than all of you;” (18) But then he puts the gift into its proper perspective: “I would rather speak five words with my mind, in order to instruct others also, than ten thousand words in a tongue.” (19).

I have witnessed a church torn asunder by a faction that viewed glossalia as evidence of superior spirituality, and the view that those who lacked the “gift” were “in touch with the Holy Spirit.” As a result, I am always suspicious of this particular gift since it is so easy to abuse. Even with interpretation. God has given us us what in my opinion is a superior gift: the ability to speak and communicate clearly in actual language.

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