When I was a kid, there was a popular magic trick performed every year at our holiday Bible club: the magic sin box. The metal box with fitted with a removable lid and housed a wooden cube. Each side of the cube was painted a different colour with a different sin listed on it: lying, pouting, swearing, etc. The leader selected a volunteer, whose goal was to select one sin, show it to the audience, and place the cube with the chosen sin face up in the box. The volunteer put the lid back on and handed it back to the “magician,” who then correctly predicted the chosen sin.
The trick always began the same way. The leader selected a volunteer and asked that volunteer if he or she wanted to see the worst sinner in the world. The volunteer invariably wanted to do so. The leader then lifted the lid from the box and looked underneath it, pretending that there was a picture of the world’s worst sinner there. After checking that the volunteer was certain he or she wanted to see the world’s worst sinner, the leader revealed a mirror on the underside of the lid, making the point that we should consider our own sin before we call out the sin of others.
This is one lesson that we should draw from Psalm 64. We live in a world in which it is all too easy to separate people into categories and to demonise the other category. People who fall into your category—religious, political, institutional, etc.—are the good guys, while everybody in the other category is evil. We eagerly want to catch a glimpse of the world’s worst sinner under the lid of the box and are distraught when we look into the mirror of the word and find our own image staring back at us.
David begins by praying to God about “the enemy,” “the wicked,” and “the throng of evildoers” (vv. 1–2). We might immediately be tempted to picture what these people look like. We might imagine the faces of those we consider to be wicked. But then David tells us what characterises the “wicked” and “evildoers.” They silently sharpen their tongue to use as weapons at the first available opportunity (vv. 3–4). They secretly plot evil and speak wickedly of others, believing that their plans cannot be seen and their words not heard (v. 5). They actively look for opportunities to speak evil of others (v. 6). David concludes, “For the inward mind and heart of a man are deep” (v. 6).
If we are tempted to immediately put people into boxes of evil and good, David’s words here present us with an opportunity for self-reflection. How often do we use our tongues as swords? Rather than using our words in an encouraging, affirming way, we seize opportunities to break others down. Often, like archers, we do so from a distance. Rather than addressing our victim directly, we talk about them. We might couch our language in such a way as to hide our real motive, but the goal is to damage their reputation or character. We want people to see how foolish or godless they are being. We are not content to let love cover a multitude of sins but want everybody to see them for who (even if only in our perception) they truly are.
Worse still, how often do we give careful forethought to acting in this way? We secretly plan to use our words to bring others down, carefully crafting our intentions in such a way as to do maximum damage while making ourselves look innocent and good. We take comfort in the fact that our actions are so well thought out that nobody will see through them to our real intention. Indeed, our hearts and minds are deep.
David wants us to consider ourselves in light of his words. Rather than peeking under the lid of the magic sin box to see the worst in others, he wants us to look for the worst in ourselves and admit it. He warns starkly of the consequences of not doing so. God, he says, will act against those who plot so deviously. He will shoot his own arrows at them and cause their own words to be their downfall (vv. 7–9).
As you head into a new day, will you carefully evaluate your own life and your intentions in light of this psalm? Will you allow this to be a mirror to highlight your own sin? If not, expect God to fire his arrows of chastening at you. If so, there is cause for rejoicing. “Let the righteous one rejoice in the LORD and take refuge in him! Let all the upright in heart exult!” (v. 10).