Psalm 120:4

 

EXPOSITION

Verse 4. Sharp arrows of the mighty. Swift, sure, and sharp shall be the judgment. Their words were as arrows, and so shall their punishment be. God will see to it that their punishment shall be comparable to an arrow keen in itself, and driven home with all the force with which a mighty man shoots it from his bow of steel, -- "sharp arrows of the mighty". Nor shall one form of judgment suffice to avenge this complicated sin. The slanderer shall feel woes comparable to coals of juniper, which are quick in flaming, fierce in blazing, and long in burning. He shall feel sharp arrows and sharper fires. Awful doom! All liars shall have their portion in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone. Their worm dieth not, and their fire is not quenched. Juniper coals long retain their heat, but hell burneth ever, and the deceitful tongue may not deceive itself with the hope of escape from the fire which it has kindled. What a crime is this to which the All merciful allots a doom so dreadful! Let us hate it with perfect hatred. It is better to be the victim of slander than, to be the author of it. The shafts of calumny will miss the mark, but not so the arrows of God: the coals of malice will cool, but not the fire of justice. Shun slander as you would avoid hell.

 

EXPLANATORY NOTES AND QUAINT SAYINGS

Verse 4. -- Sharp arrows of the mighty, with coals of juniper. The world's sin is the world's punishment. A correspondence is frequently observed between the transgression and the retribution... This law of correspondence seem to be here indicated. Similar figures are employed to express the offence and the punishment of the wicked. "They bend their tongue like a bow for lies." "Who whet their tongue like a sword, and bend their bows to shoot in secret at the perfect." But let the slanderer be upon his guard. There is another bow besides that in his possession. The arrows are sharp and burning; and when they are sent from the bow by the arm of Omnipotence, nothing can resist their force, and in mortal agony his enemies bite the dust. "He hath bent his bow, and made it ready. He hath also prepared for him the instruments of death: He ordaineth his arrows against the persecutors." "God shall shoot at them with an arrow; suddenly shall they be wounded; so shall they make their own tongue fall upon themselves." This train of thought is also pursued in the illustration of fire. James compares the tongue of slander to fire. "And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity: so is the tongue among the members, that it defileth the whole body, and setteth on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire of hell." Such is the tongue, and here is the punishment: "Coals of juniper," remarkable for their long retention of heat. And yet what a feeble illustration of the wrath of God, which burns down to the lowest hell! "His lips are full of indignation, and his tongue as a devouring fire." Liars are excluded from heaven by a special enactment of the Sovereign; and all of them "shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone, which is the second death." "Who among us shall dwell with the devouring fire? Who among us shall dwell with everlasting burnings?" With what solemn awe should we not cry out to the Lord, "Gather not my soul with sinners, nor my life with bloody mens!" --N. McMichael, in "The Pilgrim Psalms", 1860.

Verse 4. -- Sharp arrows of the mighty. He compares wicked doctrine to an arrow which is not blunt, but sharp; and moreover which is cast, not of him that is weak and feeble, but that is strong and mighty; so that there is danger on both sides, as well of the arrow which is sharp and able to pierce, as also of him which with great violence hurleth the same. -- Martin Luther.

Verse 4. -- Arrows. Coals of juniper. When the tongue is compared to "arrows", there is a reference (according to the Midrash), to the irrevocableness of the tongue's work. Even the lifted sword may be stayed, but the shot arrow may not. The special point to be drawn out in the mention of "coals of juniper", is the inextinguishableness of such fuel. There is a marvellous story in the Midrash which illustrates this very well. Two men in the desert sat down under a juniper tree, and gathered sticks of it where with they cooked their food. After a year they passed over the same spot where was the dust of what they had burned; and, remarking that it was now twelve months since they had the fire, they walked fearlessly upon the dust, and their feet were burned by the "coals" beneath it, which were still unextinguished. --H.T. Armfield.

Verse 4. -- Coals of juniper. The fire of the Retham burns for a very long time covered with its ashes; like malignant slander. But the secret malignity becomes its own terrible punishment. --William Kay.

Verse 4. -- Coals of juniper. We here at Wadf Kinnah found several Bedouins occupied in collecting brushwood, which they burn into charcoal for the Cairo market; they prefer for this purpose the thick roots of the shrub Retham, "Genista raetam" of Forskal, which grows here in abundance. --Johann Ludwig Burckhardt, 1784-1817.

Verse 4. -- Coals of juniper. At this time we spoke four "ships of the desert", bound for Cairo, and loaded with "coals of juniper", or, in other words, with charcoal made from the roots or branches of the ratam, or white broom of the desert, the identical bush referred to by the sacred writer. --John Wilson, in "The Lands of the Bible visited and described", 1847.

Verse 4. -- By "coals of juniper," we understand arrows made of this wood, which when heated possesses the property of retaining the heat for a long time; and consequently, arrows of this kind, after having been placed in the fire, would in the hands of the warrior do terrible execution. Some persons think that this verse is not to be understood as a figurative description of calumny, but rather of the punishment which God will inflict upon the calumniator. They therefore regard this as an answer to the question in the preceding verse: "What shall he give?" etc. --George Phillips.

 

HINTS FOR PASTORS AND LAYPERSONS

Verse 4. -- The nature of slander and the punishment of slander.

Verse 4. --

  1. The tongue is sharper than an arrow.

    1. It is shot in private.

(b) It is tipped with poison.

(c) It is polished with seeming kindness.

(d) It is aimed at the most tender part.

  1. The tongue is more destructive than fire. Its scandals spread with greater rapidity. They consume that which other fires cannot touch, and they are less easily quenched. "The tongue", says an Apostle, "is a fire...and setteth on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire of hell". A fiery dart of the wicked one. --G.R.