Psalm 141: Safety in the Face of Evil
July 16, 2022
TODAY'S BIBLE READING:
When we think of “evil” (141:4), we often think of other people—“evildoers” (141:4, 9). There certainly are “other people” in this world who do evil. And we certainly do need to be protected against the doers of evil. It would be naïve in the extreme not to admit that at times this world is a dangerous place, and there are evil people who wish to do evil—and will do so if they are not prevented. But the Bible’s description of evil is not so Cyclops-like in its mono-focal that it ignores the other side of “evil.” Namely, that we ourselves are also tempted to do evil. It is because of ignoring this reality that sometimes people who are most effective at waging against evil in other people, seem themselves to be so captive to their own (often hidden) evil tendencies.
In this psalm, David is “calling” out to God (141:1), but the first thing he is asking for from God is that his own “heart [not] be drawn to what is evil.” Would you pray that for yourself today? It is important for the Christian to not only know the Word, but also to know his own heart, so that he can rightly apply the Word. What evil draws your attention? What is your temptation to evil? Call out to God to ask him not to let your heart be drawn to that evil. You need his help. Ask for it!
But even more daringly, David is willing to submit to the rebukes of others in his quest for avoiding evil in his own life. “Let a righteous man strike me—that is a kindness; let him rebuke me—that is oil on my head” (141:5). It easy sometimes to treat the prevention of evil in our own lives as merely a private affair. But we all sometimes need a well-timed rebuke. There is all the difference in the world between the kind word in season of a “righteous man,” and the nastiness of a Pharisee seeking to tear down your positive desires to do things for God. As one dear old friend once said to me regarding how to tell the difference: consider the source. If someone is godly, if someone is known to you and you know them, if they are for you and believe in you, then listen to their counsel carefully. Be slow, very slow, to ignore the correction of that sort of person in your life. On the other hand, do not be blown around here and there by every wind of (false) teaching and overly zealous pious criticism. You need correction from time-to-time, but you need it from a “righteous man,” not from just anyone.
Having dealt with his own internal tendencies towards evil first—which is always necessary when we consider dealing with someone else’s (did not a Greater Teacher say, “First remove the log from your own eye so that you can see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s”? Matthew 7:5), David confidently predicts what will happen to unrepentant evildoers in verses 6 and 7. There is a place for prophetic denouncement of immorality, but it must come from righteous lips, with an authenticity in relationship with God, or there will be no real authority in speaking for God.
And, lastly, in this model psalm in dealing with evil, David ensures that his eyes are not fixed on evil. Here is the great secret to combat evil—whether in ourselves or in other people: fix your eyes on Jesus. “But my eyes are fixed on you, Sovereign Lord” (141:8). With his eyes fixed there, he takes “refuge” in God. He is sure that while the wicked will fall into their traps (a constant refrain of wisdom literature that one who digs a pit to trap someone else will in all likelihood fall into that trap themselves), he will “pass by in safety” (141:10).
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Josh Moody (Ph.D., University of Cambridge) is the senior pastor of College Church in Wheaton, IL., president and founder of God Centered Life Ministries, and author of several books including How the Bible Can Change Your Life and John 1-12 For You.
To receive God Centered Life devotionals directly in your inbox, as well as other resources, enter your email address in the form at the bottom of this page and click "subscribe."