daily reading plan
May 29, 2020 by Steven Lulich
Set a guard, O Lord, over my mouth;
Keep watch over the door of my lips!
As someone whose day job revolves around the world of speech and language, I am automatically drawn to passages that refer to the mouth, the lips, the tongue, the voice. My first inclination is to interpret Psalm 141:3 as a plea for protection against uttering hurtful, foolish, or wicked words. Indeed, this would be a worthy petition! But closer examination of the context suggests that this passage is not referring to what comes out of my mouth; rather, it is referring to what goes into my mouth.
David has just made the remarkable equation between himself and the tabernacle with its ritual system: “Let my prayer be counted as incense before you, and the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice!” (v. 2). The very personal reference to the “door of my lips” therefore seems analogous to the door of the tabernacle, which no one was allowed to enter who was not clean – even among the Aaronic priests (Lev. 21:16-24). Just as nothing unclean was to enter the tabernacle, David pleas with God to protect him so that nothing unclean might pass through the door of his own lips. He goes on to specify what this means: “Do not let my heart incline to any evil … and let me not eat of their delicacies!” (v. 4).
In the Ancient Near East, as in many places around the world even today, eating a meal together is a community-building event. In the context of gods and kings, the suzerain (overlord) makes a sacrifice to his god, and then offers the food to the (subordinate) vassal. When the vassal eats the food provided by the suzerain and sacrificed to the god, he proclaims his allegiance to the suzerain in the presence of the god as witness. After the Levitical priest offered a sacrifice to God, God usually returned a portion of it back to the priest (and to the individual Israelite who brought the sacrifice) so they could eat it (the Day of Atonement sacrifice was a big exception; Lev. 16:27). Eating the sacrifice was a way of proclaiming allegiance to God, even as sharing in the Lord’s Supper is for Christians today.
David prays that God would set a guard over his mouth, and keep watch over the door of his lips, so that he might not be lured away “in company with men who work iniquity”, and so that he might not “eat of their delicacies”, thus proclaiming allegiance to them and their god, who is the father of lies. These verses remind me of Romans 12:1-2 and 1 Corinthians 6:12-20. As Paul does there, we might well ask each other: Do you realize that your own person – body, soul, and spirit – is the temple of God? Do you realize that participation in “the sin that so easily besets us” (Hebrews 12:1) amounts to a traitorous act of treason against God, to whom you had pledged allegiance? Do you realize the importance and gravity of your need to instead present your own bodies as a living sacrifice to God (Rom. 12:1)? Let us therefore cry to God with David, “my eyes are toward you, O God, my Lord; in you I seek refuge; leave me not defenseless!” (v. 8). Let us always remember where our allegiance lies.