The Fires of Hell

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As you read Psalm 5, you cannot help but notice contrast between the righteous and the wicked. David appeals to God to hear his appeals and to bring the wicked to their deserved end.

But what may not immediately leap off the page is the evidence of righteousness and wickedness. In this psalm, the evidence is found primarily in speech. Notice how David describes his righteous speech in the opening three verses: his “words,” his “groaning,” his “cry,” his “pray[er],” and his “voice.”

He then contrasts this with “wickedness” and “evil” (v. 4), which is, again, manifested in speech. He speaks of the “lies” and “deceit” of the wicked in v. 6. He detects “no truth in their mouth” and senses that “their throat” is an open grave as they flatter with their “tongue” (v. 9). Because of this, he prays that their guilt will fall on their own head.

The human tongue has always been a problem. James described the tongue as “a fire” and “a world of unrighteousness,” which is “set on fire by hell.” It is untameable, “a restless evil, full of deadly poison” (James 3:1–12). And little wonder, for it is “out of the abundance of the heart” that “the mouth speaks” (Matthew 12:34). And, as Jeremiah tells us, “the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick” (Jeremiah 17:9). Is it any wonder that the most deceitful of all things—the human heart—produces the most damaging of all actions?

There is a great deal that we can draw from this particular psalm, but surely, as we notice its contrast between the righteous and the wicked, and observe that the evidence presented in each case is the use of the tongue, we should be asking ourselves questions about the use of our own tongue.

How are you doing at controlling your words? If you are in lockdown with other people, whom you are seeing all day, day in and day out, for weeks on end now, are you speaking kind, edifying, upbuilding words to them? Or have you grown curt and irritated in your speech and your demeanour? Do your words display love and compassion or might they be characterised more as an open grave and set on fire by hell?

How do you speak to your spouse? How do you speak to your children? How do you speak to your parents? How do you speak to your siblings? Would your words characterise you as righteous or wicked?

In times like these, there is a further application to this, because our words come not only from our lips but also from our fingers. Much of our communication comes in the form of instant messaging and social media. On these platforms, this word is perhaps equally necessary. Social media spaces—even Christian social media spaces—are often defined more by their toxicity than by their compassion and love. How is your use of the written (or typed) word? Are you using instant messaging and social media opportunities to build others up or to tear others down? Are you using these platforms to spread the truth of God or to promote the latest unverified conspiracy theories? Are you careful in what you share, looking to ensure that you are having nothing to do with “irreverent, silly myths” but are instead “train[ing] yourself for godliness” (1 Timothy 4:7)?

Words are powerful things, which reveal the inner workings of the heart. Do your words reveal the fruit of righteousness or do they lead down the path of death? Is your tongue set on fire by hell?

David prayed, “Lead me, O LORD, in your righteousness because of my enemies; make your way straight before me” (v. 8). Make that your guiding prayer before you speak (or type), and then trust the Lord to bless the righteous and cover them with favour as a shield (v. 12).

Stuart