Psalm 120:3

 

EXPOSITION

Verse 3. What shall be given unto thee? What is the expected guerdon of slander? It ought to be something great to make it worth while to work in so foul an atmosphere and to ruin one's soul. Could a thousand worlds be bribe enough for such villainous deeds? The liar shall have no welcome recompense: he shall meet with his deserts; but what shall they be? What punishment can equal his crime? The Psalmist seems lost to suggest a fitting punishment. It is the worst of offences -- this detraction, calumny, and slander. Judgment sharp and crushing would be measured out to it if men were visited for their transgressions. But what punishment could be heavy enough? What form shall the chastisement take? O liar, "what shall be given unto thee?"

Or what shall be done unto thee, thou false tongue? How shalt thou be visited? The law of retaliation can hardly meet the case, since none can slander the slanderer, he is too black to be blackened; neither would any of us blacken him if we could. Wretched being! He fights with weapons which true men cannot touch. Like the cuttlefish, he surrounds himself with an inky blackness into which honest men cannot penetrate. Like the foul skunk, he emits an odour of falsehood which cannot be endured by the true; and therefore he often escapes, unchastised by those whom he has most injured. His crime, in a certain sense, becomes his shield; men do not care to encounter so base a foe. But what will God do with lying tongues? He has uttered his most terrible threats against them, and he will terribly execute them in due time.

 

EXPLANATORY NOTES AND QUAINT SAYINGS

Verse 3. -- What shall be given unto thee? or what shall be done unto thee, thou false tongue? What dost thou expect, "thou false tongue," in pleading a bad cause? What fee or reward hast thou for being an accuser instead of an advocate? What shall it profit thee (as we put it in the margin); what shalt thou gain by thy deceitful tongue? or (as our margin hath it again), "What shall the deceitful tongue give unto thee," that thou goest about slandering thy brother, and tearing his good name? Hath thy deceitful tongue houses or lands to give thee? hath it any treasures of gold and silver to bestow upon thee? Surely, as itself is so it gives only "Sharp arrows of the mighty, with coals of juniper" as the next verse intimates... The tongue indeed will speak often in these cases gratis, or without a fee; but it never doth without danger and damage to the speaker. As such speakers shoot arrows, like the arrows of the mighty, and as they scatter coals, like the coals of juniper, so they usually get an arrow in their own sides, and not only burn their fingers, but heap coals of fire upon their own heads. Ungodly men will do mischief to other men purely for mischief's sake: yet when once mischief is done it proves most mischievous to the doers of it; and while they hold their brethren's heaviness a profit, though they are never the better, they shall feel and find themselves in a short time much the worse. -- Joseph Caryl.

Verse 3,4. -- What shall be given? Intimating that his enemy expected some great reward for his malice against David; but, saith the Psalmist, he shall have "sharp arrows of the Almighty, with coals of juniper"; as if he had said, "Whatever reward he have from men, this shall be his reward from God". --John Jackson, in "The Morning Exercises", 1661.

Verse 3,4. -- The victim of slander, in these heavy complaints he has just uttered, may be indulging in excess, which pious friends are represented as coming forward to reprove by reminding him how little a true servant of God can be really injured by slander. Hence, as in the margin of our Bibles, the psalm assumes the dramatic form, and represents his fellow worshippers as asking the complainer: What evil, O servant of God, can the false tongue give to thee! Nursling of Omnipotence, what can it do to thee... The answer of suffering nature and bleeding peace still returns: "It is like the sharp arrows of the mighty, like coals of juniper". An arrow from the bow of a mighty warrior, that flies unseen and unsuspected to its mark, and whose presence is only known when it quivers in the victim's heart, not unaptly represents the silent and deadly flight of slander; while the fire which the desert pilgrim kindles on the sand, from the dry roots of the juniper, a wood which, of all that are known to him, throws out the fiercest and most continued heat, is not less powerfully descriptive of the intense pain and the lasting injury of a false and malicious tongue. --Robert Nisbet.

Verse 3,4. -- Coals of juniper, these "shall be given unto thee". As if he had said, thou shalt have the hottest coals, such coals as will maintain heat longest, implying that the hottest and most lasting wrath of God should be their portion. Some naturalists say that coals of juniper raked up in the ashes will keep fire a whole year; but I stay not upon this. -- Joseph Caryl.

 

HINTS FOR PASTORS AND LAYPERSONS

Verse 3. -- The rewards of calumny. What can they be? What ought they to be? What have they been?

Verse 3. --

  1. What the reviler does for others.
  2. What he does to himself.
  3. What God will do with him.