Saturday, December 28, 2013

Psalm 140

Psalm 140:11 states (in the King James Version): “Let not an evil speaker be established in the earth: evil shall hunt the violent man to overthrow him.”

The Hebrew that the KJV is translating as “evil speaker” is ish lashon, which literally means “man of tongue.”

The Septuagint has aner glossodes, which Brenton translates as “a talkative man.”  On my BibleWorks, I found glossodes in two other places.  First, there is Sirach 9:18, which the NRSV translates to say: “The loud of mouth are feared in their city, and the one who is reckless in speech is hated.”  Second, there is Sirach 25:20, which says in the NRSV: “A sandy ascent for the feet of the aged– such is a garrulous wife to a quiet husband.”

And the Vulgate understands Psalm 140:11 to be about a man full of tongue.

E.W. Bullinger makes the point that the ish lashon in Psalm 140:11 is an “evil speaker” or a “slanderer”, not someone who is talkative.  Augustine, however, who is using the LXX, believes that the verse is criticizing a talkative person.  Augustine states: “‘A man full of words‘ loves lies. For what pleasure has he, save in speaking? He cares not what he speaks, so long as he speaks” (Tweed’s translation, see here). Augustine apparently believes that a talkative person is not very particular about what he says, and thus he is prone to lie.

In my notes, I speculated that the reason that the person in Psalm 140:11 is called a “man of tongue” may be that the man is skilled in speaking.  Psalm 140:3a states, after all, that the Psalmist’s enemies “have sharpened their tongues like a serpent.”  Sharpening, as in making more effective?  Throughout the book of Psalms, there are villains who are skilled in speaking, and they use their skill for evil purposes: to flatter, and to slander.  What can a person who is quiet or clumsy with words do around such people?  Well, the Psalmist proposes trusting in God!

Personally speaking, I don’t take every single statement in the Bible as an absolute principle.  I don’t believe that God condemns talkative people, any more than I believe that God condemns quiet, introverted people—-the types some evangelicals would accuse of not being “loving” enough.  But I do believe that I can learn some practical principles from Psalm 140:11 and its interpreters: the principle of being discrete with my speech; the principle of listening, rather than being quick to talk; and the principle of valuing authenticity, truth, and substance rather than skill in speech.

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