Words That Devour? Or Words That Heal?

Daily Reflection / Produced by The High Calling
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You love to destroy others with your words, you liar!

Psalm 52:4

As I began pondering Psalm 52, I was struck by the accusation in verse 4: “You love to destroy others with your words, you liar!” All around us today, we see people using words to destroy others. They might be words of ethnic hatred. Or they could be lies meant to assassinate someone’s character. They might be critical words from a demanding parent to a child or brickbats hurled from one spouse to another. In these and so many other situations, we see words used to destroy. Perhaps we might even use words this way.

The New Living Translation captures the basic meaning of Psalm 52:4, though it misses the metaphorical power of the original Hebrew. This verse could be translated literally, “You love all words that devour, you deceitful tongue!” The Hebrew word modifying “words” in this verse (bela') is related to the verb found in Exodus 7, when Moses and Aaron challenged Pharaoh. To show the power of God, Aaron threw down his staff, which turned into a serpent. But then Pharaoh’s magicians attempted to imitate Aaron’s feat. “They threw down their staffs, which also became serpents! But then Aaron’s staff swallowed up [bala'] their staffs.”

Words can be like venomous serpents that devour. They can be agents of pain and suffering. They can destroy reputations and relationships. Psalm 52 associates the devastating use of words with powerful people who “love evil more than good and lies more than truth” (52:3).

But words have an equally opposite power. Yes, they can devour and destroy, but they can also nourish and heal. Proverbs 12:18 observes: “Some people make cutting remarks, but the words of the wise bring healing.” Similarly, Proverbs 16:24 reads, “Kind words are like honey sweet— to the soul and healthy for the body.”

Thus, you and I can use our words to devour and destroy. Or we can use our words to heal and edify. Which will it be for you?

QUESTIONS FOR FURTHER REFLECTION: Can you think of a time when you experienced the devouring quality of words? The healing quality? When are you most tempted to use words to destroy? What helps you to use words that heal? Are there places in your life today where you will have the chance to nurture and heal through your words?

PRAYER: Gracious Lord, as I consider the power of words to devour, I think first of the culture in which I live, one that rewards those who are experts at destruction through words. Yet, as I reflect further, I’m reminded of times when I have used devouring words. How sorry I am for the pain my words have caused. Forgive me, Lord, for employing the power of words to tear down rather than to build up.

Help me, I pray, to be wise in my use of words, so that I might be an agent of your healing power. Help me to utter kind, sweet words that are healthy for body and soul. May your Spirit empower me with words of grace and love. May I never hesitate to offer a word of encouragement or appreciation.

I pray in the name of Jesus, who offers words of life. Amen.

FOR FURTHER READING: Read about Aaron's Blessing in the Bible (Numbers 6:22-27) from the Theology of Work Bible Commentary to explore more about the power of words to bless.