Yesterday, we considered Psalm 140, in which David appeals for deliverance from evil men. Psalm 141 continues that theme, but he adds a new element to it as he considers his own sin. Ligon Duncan once preached a sermon on each of these psalms. He titled the first sermon (Psalm 140) “Save Me from Evil Men” and the second (Psalm 141) “Save Me from Evil Me.” I will borrow, and slightly adapt, his title for this devotion.
Psalm 141, as I have said, flows naturally from its predecessor. In Psalm 140, David prayed for deliverance from those who were deliberately plotting character assassination. He repeats this plea in Psalm 141 (vv. 5–10). But as he continues to ask for deliverance from evil men, he sees the need to pray about his own response. He therefore begins this psalm by appealing to the Lord to hear him (vv. 1–2) and then petitions the Lord to help him be on guard in three areas (vv. 3–5).
First, David pleads for help in guarding his tongue. “Set a guard, O LORD, over my mouth; keep watch over the door of my lips” (v. 3). Is it not true that we are so easily tempted to respond to slander with slander, gossip with gossip, and backbiting with backbiting? Are we not in danger of losing our integrity by the way we respond to our detractors? Johann Heerman captured our temptation well in his hymn “O God, Thou Faithful God”:
Keep me from saying words
that later need recalling;
guard me, lest idle speech
may from my lips be falling:
but when, within my place,
I must and ought to speak,
then to my words give grace,
lest I offend the weak.
When we are unfairly attacked and criticised, we need to be on guard against responding in kind. We need to pray that the Lord will set a guard over our mouth and help us to avoid sinning in the way that we respond to our detractors.
Second, David pleads with the Lord to watch his heart. “Do not let my heart incline to any evil, to busy myself with wicked deeds in company with men who work iniquity, and let me not eat of their delicacies!” (v. 4). Even if he was able to guard his tongue, he realised the danger of bitterness growing within his heart. His enemies considered it a delicacy to bitterly attack him and he needed God’s help to avoid responding in kind.
Bitterness eats like a cancer. Bitterness divides. Bitterness causes trouble and, in the end, many are defiled by it (Hebrews 12:15). Bitterness leads to the inevitable fruit of death. When we are wronged by others, we need God’s grace to steer clear of bitterness. We do not honour God or help ourselves or others by responding to those who sin against us by sinning against them.
Third, David asks God to keep him humble and open to correction. “Let a righteous man strike me—it is a kindness; let him rebuke me—it is oil for my head; let my head not refuse it” (v. 5). While he would not take responsibility for false accusations, he did not want his rejection of false accusations to harden his heart to correction when it was warranted.
Wisdom is able to discern between the wounds of a friend, which are meant to help, and the kisses of an enemy, which are designed to destroy. As we rightly reject accusations against us that have no merit, we must not fall into the trap of thinking that we are beyond correction. That is an evil from which we must be delivered.
Psalm 141 reminds us that, even as we pray for deliverance from those who unjustly attack us, we must at the same time guard our own heart and ask for grace to not respond to sin with sin. I pray that we will learn this lesson well.