Verse 3. Who whet their tongue like a sword. Slander has ever been the master weapon of the good man's enemies, and great is the care of the malicious to use it effectively. As warriors grind their swords, to give them an edge which will cut deep and wound desperately, so do the unscrupulous invent falsehoods which shall be calculated to inflict pain, to stab the reputation, to kill the honour of the righteous. What is there which an evil tongue will not say? What misery will it not labour to inflict?
And bend their bows to shoot their arrows, even bitter words. Far off they dart their calumnies, as archers shoot their poisoned arrows. They studiously and with force prepare their speech as bent bows, and then with cool, deliberate aim, they let fly the shaft which they have dipped in bitterness. To sting, to inflict anguish, to destroy, is their one design. Insult, sarcasm, taunting defiance, nicknaming, all these were practised among Orientals as a kind of art; and if in these Western regions, with more refined manners, we are less addicted to the use of rough abuse, it is yet to be feared that the less apparent venom of the tongue inflicts none the less poignant pain. However, in all cases, let us fly to the Lord for help. David had but the one resource of prayer against the twofold weapons of the wicked, for defence against sword or arrow he used the one defence of faith in God.
EXPLANATORY NOTES AND QUAINT SAYINGS
Verse 3. Who whet their tongue, etc. The verb means, says Parkhurst, "to whet, sharpen," which is performed by reiterated motion of friction; and by a beautiful metaphor it is applied to a wicked tongue. It has, however, been rendered, vibrate, as it is certain a serpent does his tongue. Richard Mant.
Verse 3. The ingenuity of man has been wonderfully tasked and exercised in two things, inventing destructive weapons of war, and devising various methods of ruining men by wicked words. The list of the former is found in military writings. But the various forms of evil speaking can hardly be catalogued. Evil speakers have arrows, sharp, barbed, dipped in poison. They have "swords, flaming swords, two edged swords, drawn swords, drawn in anger, with which they cut, and wound, and kill the good name of their neighbour." Sins of the tongue are commonly very cruel. When slander is secret, as it commonly is, you cannot defend yourself from its assaults. Its canons are infernal. One of them is, "If a lie will do better than the truth, tell a lie." Another is, "Heap on reproach; some of it will stick." William S. Plumer.
Verse 3-4. We saw in the Museum at Venice an instrument with which one of the old Italian tyrants was accustomed to shoot poisoned needles at the objects of his wanton malignity. We thought of gossips, backbiters, and secret slanderers, and wished that their mischievous devices might come to a speedy end. Their weapons of innuendo, shrug, and whisper, appear to be as insignificant as needles: but the venom which they instil is deadly to many a reputation. C. H. Spurgeon, in "Feathers for Arrows; or, Illustrations for Preachers and Teachers," 1870.
Verse 3-4. David, upon sad experience, compares a wicked, reviling tongue to three fatal weapons -- a razor, a sword, and an arrow. To a razor, such a one as will take off every little hair: so a reviling tongue will not only take advantage of every gross sin committed by others, but those peccadilloes, the least infirmities which others better qualified cannot so much as discern; secondly, to a sword that wounds: so the tongues of reproaching men cut deeply into the credits and reputations of their brethren, but a sword doth mischief only near hand, not afar off; and, therefore, it is in the third place compared to an arrow, that can hit at a distance: and so revilers do not ill offices to those only in the parish or town where they live, but to others far remote. How much, then, doth it concern every man to walk circumspectly; to give no just cause of reproach, not to make himself a scorn to the fools of the world; but, if they will reproach (as certainly they will), let it be for forwardness in God's ways, and not for sin, that so the reproach may fall upon their own heads, and their scandalous language into their own throats. Jeremiah Burroughs.
Verse 3,7-8. The most mischievous weapons of the wicked are words, even bitter words; but the Word is the chief weapon of the Holy Spirit: and as with this sword the great Captain foiled the tempter in the wilderness, so may we vanquish "the workers of iniquity" with the true Jerusalem blade. J. L. K.
HINTS FOR PASTORS AND LAYPERSONS
Verse 3. Bitter words. An excellent topic in reference both to the sinner and to professed saints.
Verse 3. The whetting of the tongue. Fresh faults discovered, evil motives imputed, exaggerations invented, lies forged, innuendoes suggested, old slanders furnished, and ancient hatreds rekindled.