Poetic Justice

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The child’s retort about “sticks and stones” is entirely misguided. Words really can hurt; words can be cruel, and words can be savage. One of the things we must do is learn how to guard our own tongues (in the first instance), and learn how to deal with the slanderous accusations of others. This is equally true, incidentally, in the world of children. Words are weapons which children have, and which children know how to use. Their father Adam taught them where the trigger is—you must teach them where the safety is.

“Hear my voice, O God, in my prayer: Preserve my life from fear of the enemy. Hide me from the secret counsel of the wicked; From the insurrection of the workers of iniquity . . .” (Psalm 64:1-10).

David usually mentions his enemies in his prayers, but this prayer is entirely about them. This is made apparent in the first petition, where he asks God to hear him and preserve his life from fear of the enemy (v. 1). He asks to be hidden from the “secret counsel of the wicked” (v. 2). These are the people who sharpen their tongues on the grindstone (v. 3), dipping the arrows of their words into the poison of bitterness (v. 3). They take counsel in secret, and they shoot from secret places (v. 4). Their target is the righteous man. The wicked get discouraged from time to time, and so they take care to encourage one another (v. 5). They look for dirt like they were on a treasure hunt (v. 6). Theirs is not a superficial malice (v. 6). But vengeance belongs to the Lord, and He is not absent. God will shoot at them (v. 7). The work of their tongues will recoil upon them (v. 8). When this happens, men will see and declare that God was at work in this (v. 9). Poetic justice is therefore the hand of God (v. 9), and so the righteous are glad in how the story ends (v. 10).

The first lesson to learn is that slander of the righteous is not something that happens by accident. It is the result of “secret counsel” (v. 2). The words are sharpened beforehand, with malice aforethought (v. 3). They give one another pep talks if they start to lag in the work of tearing a righteous man down (v. 5). They lay traps beforehand (v. 5). They do “opposition research,” looking for something that will stick. And if they heap on enough calumny, something from it is sure to stick. Jesus says that out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks (Matt. 12:34). The psalmist here says that this malevolent abundance runs very deep (v. 6). This kind of thing is not the result of a half-thought-through throwaway line.


The fact that such things come from a secret place does not mean that you know where it came from. Remember the laws of justice, which apply to us as much as to anybody.

Scripture teaches that vengeance belongs to God (Rom. 12:19). We are not to seek out personal vengeance, not because it is wrong, but because it belongs to the Lord. It is fully appropriate to ask the Lord to take up your cause (as David does here). It is fully appropriate to plead with Him to do so—we see this in both the Old and the New Testaments (Rev. 6:10). In some instances, it is appropriate to take action yourself when you have been invested with the office that is responsible to do so (Rom. 13:1-7). And when God intervenes, it is important that your satisfaction in this not be a form of ungodly gloating.

“Rejoice not when thine enemy falleth, and let not thine heart be glad when he stumbleth:  Lest the Lord see it, and it displease him, And he turn away his wrath from him” (Prov. 24:17-18).

You have often been urged to “read the story you are in.” This means at least two things. In the first place, it means being steeped in the stories of Scripture. Tell them over and over—get them down into your bones. The serpent is crushed by the seed of the woman that he led astray (Gen. 3:15). He was crushed because he stirred up a crowd to cry “crucify Him.” If the rulers of this age had known . . . Haman built a gallows for Mordecai, and wound up being hanged on it himself, just as the inventor of the guillotine died by his own device.

In the second place, it means honoring and obeying direct instructions like this one. When the wicked cut themselves with their own tongues, when they fall into their own pits, when their plots collapse, all men are supposed to “declare the work of God.” A man reaps what he sows. We are supposed to look at the story and see what is happening in it. “They shall wisely consider of his doing . . .” This means you have to be able to tell the difference between the protagonist and the antagonist, and you have to be able to tell which one you are.

Having read the story, you must know how to glory in the wisdom of the storyteller (v. 10). There is sin in gloating over His endings, and there is sin in just sitting there as though He hadn’t told His story at all.

A small child, playing hide n’ seek, will often give himself away, running out of hiding. Why? The answer is because they can’t handle the suspense. You have heard before that God loves cliffhangers. That means we need to adjust our thinking so that we come to love them too. Count it all joy . . . On the mount of the Lord it will be provided . . . This is true when it comes to physical threats and circumstantial trials. But it also true when it comes to slander. God will vindicate you, sure enough, but He will do it in the right chapter.

Thomas Sowell once wisely said that charges of racism are like ketchup—they go on anything. I have been accused of misogyny and racism so many times I have lost track of them all. But Jesus says that we should rejoice when this sort of thing happens (Matt. 5:11-12). No, wait . . . He actually said that when this kind of thing happens, we should be exceedingly glad. But don’t you want to get in there and explain to them one more time that it just isn’t true? Look at the first part of this psalm again. They know that.

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