Hide me from a band of evil men, from a crowd of evildoers, who whet their tongues like swords; they aim their arrows — cruel words — to shoot from hiding at the blameless man … They arm themselves with an evil word … (64:3-6)
These verses have a very first world flavor to them. Many times, the Psalmist writes of being under physical attack. There are many people in this world who suffer the very real fear of physical danger. For many of us in the US and other Western, developed countries, our physical safety is not the primary question. Although we are aware of school shootings and violence in our cities, for many people, myself included, such incidents feel far away. There is no question that they are real problems, but the fear that feels most real to those who lives their lives in relative safety are from those who use words, not weapons, as threats.
It is not true that “sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me.” Aggressive words do hurt. The modern workplace and modern politics may have no place for duels, or stepping outside and settling our disputes like gentlemen by beating each other up, or a good old fashioned sword fight. Rather, we see verbal attacks, condescension and ridiculing comments. We see people working (or playing?) on their devices during meetings, pointedly ignoring the person making a presentation. In schools, despite workshops and assemblies on bullying, we see closed cliques of teens deliberately shutting out those who don’t dress or speak or fit in the right way.
Email, texting, social media posts, all provide a forum to attack. We might even long for the simpler days of the Psalmist when the evildoers had to put quill on parchment to pen an insulting letter, or at least go out into the public square and show their faces if they wanted to engage in a verbal assault. There were no anonymous comment streams at the end of newspaper columns, behind which the cowards could spew their venom.
All who have been in the crosshairs of a barrage of hostile, violent, words have uttered words to whatever Higher Power we appeal to, “Protect me from this cruel assault!”