Healthy, Wealthy, and Wise: Living Ethically in the Light of the Bible
Luke 4:14-21; Philippians 2:12-18; Psalm 120; 2 Kings 24-25
Psalm 120 contradicts the old saying:
Sticks and stones may break my bones,
But names will never hurt me.
This sentiment is also reflected in common law where calling people names will not be viewed as an assault, whereas threatening physical harm can be. The psalmist acknowledges what we know from experience: words can hurt deeply, sometimes even more than being hit.
The poetic language makes verse 4 difficult to translate. In Psalms, hurtful words are often represented as sharp arrows or piercing swords. Words can cut deeply. Broom bushes were burned because the wood stayed hot for a long time even though on the surface the coals looked like they had turned to ash. The imagery conveys the intense internal pain of words even while on the surface nothing looks wrong. Words can have long-lasting effects.
The psalmist finds lying words wherever he goes. Meshek is in northwest Asia Minor, far away from Kedar, in the southeast of the Arabian Peninsula. Mike & The Mechanics sang in “Word of Mouth”:
From the west side to the east side
From the north side to the south
You´ll never get bad information
If you believe in the word of mouth
The psalmist uses the same imagery to the opposite effect: no matter where you go, you find hurtful words. Paul picks up on this same theme, noting that we live in the midst of a warped and crooked generation (Philippians 2:14). Yet we as Christians are to be different. Our words should never lie, but neither should they be filled with grumbling and arguing. How often do we do the right thing, yet at the same time mumble words of complaint or bitterness? We should be different because God is at work within us for good. This is because we believe, not in the word of mouth that the world around us preaches, but in the word of life (v. 16).
This word is found in Scripture, the same words that Jesus read when he began his ministry (Luke 4:17). God’s word is good news to everyone, but in particular to the poor, those in bondage, those disabled. Words must be combined with right action and right attitude. Jesus’ words were true and they were also filled with grace (v. 22). As a result, everyone was amazed and spoke well of him. The psalmist reminds us that this will not always be the response we get. But that does not take away our responsibility to speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15) because we have heard God’s word of truth and experienced his love.