Psalm 12: Words Matter   Leave a comment




Psalm 12


I write this post in politically perilous times.  A vocal element of the body politic in the United States of America–my homeland–is openly authoritarian and fascistic in its inclination.  Some elected members of the United States Congress support Russia in its war against the people of Ukraine and with that the insurrection of January 6, 2021, had succeeded.  They say so openly.  Antisemitism is more commonplace and edging back into the political mainstream.  So is its equally vile cousin, Christian Nationalism, laced with racism.

Words matter in the Bible.  Mythology tells us that God spoke the created order into existence (Genesis 1).  The Law of Moses condemns bearing false witness.  The penalty for perjury in the Law of Moses is to suffer the same fate one would have had the innocent person suffer.  Psalm 12 condemns those with slippery and slick language–those with pernicious speech and flattering words.  The imagery of cutting off lips and cutting off tongues is vivid in Psalm 12.  This may disturb a reader, but, in context, those lips and tongues form words that serve as a weapon or an army for the wicked.

Poetry is poetry, of course.  I oppose maiming anyone, especially in the name of God.  Neither does this text favor maiming any person.  Psalm 12 uses shocking language to attract attention.  Shocking and sometimes inexact language is a rhetorical tool commonplace in the prophetic books and the Book of Psalms.

Words matter.  Just as God, mythologically, spoke creation into existence, our words–in oral and written forms–help to shape our circumstances and those of others.  This is why libel and slander are offenses that lead to court cases.  This is why language that provokes violence falls outside the bounds of constitutional protection.  This why if I were to engage in speech that led to someone’s needless injury or death, I would be criminally liable.  I am a nice person who tries to keep faith with objective reality and live peaceably with others individuals in community, fortunately.

We ought to interpret Psalm 12 in the context of mutuality, a virtue hardwired into the Old and New Testaments.  We human beings, who depend entirely upon God, depend upon each other, too.  We are interdependent.  We have responsibilities to and for each other.  So, slick, slippery, and pernicious speech endangers the common good.  Those who engage in such speech may be self-serving, but they also endanger themselves.  The common good is their good, also.

May your words, O reader, build up the common good.  And may you oppose those whose words endanger the common good.  The love of God and your neighbors compels such attitudes and actions.






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