The Righteous One’s Hope
 in A
Sea of Malicious Tongues

a brief study of Psalm 52, adapted from PCC Prayer Meeting Exhortation on 25 April 2008

Psalm 52 was penned at the time when David heard news that Doeg the Edomite had reported to Saul that he had seen him at the house of Ahimelech the priest.

David was at that time in the service of king Saul as one of his army captains. Saul had become very jealous because David was doing very well and becoming very popular particularly amongst the women. So he wanted to kill him off.

When David finally confirmed that this was Saul’s intention, he decided to run away.

One of the first places he ran to was Nob a city where the priests of the LORD were residing. There, he would meet with Ahimelech who was tending the tabernacle of the LORD.

David lied to Abimelech that he was on a mission on behalf of Saul, and because the king’s business required haste he did not bring any food or weapon with him. Ahimelech gave him the showbread in the tabernacle and the sword of Goliath.

But Doeg the Edomite happened to be there. David had an uncomfortable feeling about it, but did nothing.

Subsequently, it was told David that Doeg had reported about his meeting with Ahimelech to Saul and even lied that Ahimelech had inquired of the Lord for him (1 Sam 22:10).

Saul would summon Ahimelech and his entire household, and had them slaughtered by Doeg, and they would go down to the city of Nob and there he slew all the men, women and children, and even the animals.

By the providence of God, one of the sons of Ahimelech, Abiathar by name, escaped and brought the terrible news to David.

We are not sure if it was at this point when David wrote this psalm, or whether it was written earlier before he got news of the slaughter at Nob.

But in any case, while this psalm was occasioned by the destruction that spewed forth from the malicious tongue of Doeg, it is written under the inspiration of the Spirit of Christ. As such, it is a psalm that points us to the suffering of the LORD under the pall of many malicious wagging tongues—some ready to accuse, some spreading lies about Him, some mocking Him, some expressing hurtful opinions, etc.

We may entitle this psalm: “The Righteous One’s Hope in a sea of malicious tongues.” It reflects the anguish and hope in the heart of our Lord as He faced the slander and malice of those who clamoured for His death, which feelings found typical expression in David’s heart.

And so it is psalm that may be used by all righteous ones, believers united to Christ, who are suffering under similar circumstance.

I agree with Andrew Bonar that it was natural to place this psalm after Psalm 51. Indeed, I think it is so by divine appointment. The reason is that anyone who experiences the trauma that is described in Psalm 51 will probably also experience in the aftermath, the troubles described in Psalm 52. No doubt, even after David repented of his sin, a multitude of people would have clamoured for his blood. Many of these would act like Doeg.

So this Psalm is particularly fitting for the encouragement of anyone of us who may be in a situation where we have to face with malicious wagging tongues after a traumatic fall and deliverance by the LORD.

Let’s look at this psalm briefly. This psalm has 3 stanzas, according to the divisions created by the ‘selahs’ or pauses.

In the first stanza, verses 1-3, the malicious talker is condemned for his wickedness. In the second stanza, verses 4-5, the malicious talker is warned against judgement to come. And finally, David reflects on his exasperation in the hearing of the LORD and His church, verse 6 to the end.

1. The Condemnation

1 Why boastest thou thyself in mischief, O mighty man? the goodness of God endureth continually. 2 Thy tongue deviseth mischiefs; like a sharp razor, working deceitfully. 3 Thou lovest evil more than good; and lying rather than to speak righteousness. Selah.

Doeg was a mighty man in so far as the world was concerned. He was powerful and strong. He had access and influence to the king. He could be of great use in the kingdom of God if only he would humble himself to serve Him.

Instead, he lifted himself up and took pride in doing evil. In doing so he was directly opposed to the LORD whose goodness endures continually.

Everything that man does, he does in service of God, or in opposition against God. Doeg was an enemy of God.

He used his tongue to devise mischief, to cause trouble, to destroy and cut down. He had no qualms about speaking lies to accomplish his intentions, for he loved evil more than good. He cared not to speak righteously. He cared not about peace and edification.

I know, beloved brethren and children, that there are no Doegs in our midst. But I know also that as God’s children we will have to face with many Doegs.

Our Lord was faced with many. They slandered His name, spoke lies against Him, mocked Him, cast doubts about His character and clamoured for His blood. Shall we who are His disciples be spared from these same trials?

The Lord Himself says:

“If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you” (Jn 15:18).

So let us be prepared to face our Doegs. We cannot do anything to them except to commit them to the LORD.

They will speak against us at every opportunity they get their hands on. They will express their opinion in the grapevine of gossip, and if when we fall, our fall is known publicly, then they shall use their tongues in the papers, in the internet, in the chatrooms and forums. Like Doeg, they do not really care about the facts. They have no compassion. They want to make their opinions known. They want things to be done their way. They would clamour for our blood.

Let us not be surprised, or overtaken with grief and guilt when this happens. We must commit ourselves to the LORD. David acknowledged that he had contributed to the slaughter at Nob. It must have pricked his conscience, but he knew that he had no malice when he went to Ahimelech. The malice was in Doeg’s heart and tongue. He could therefore speak out against Doeg. And so too if we are not guilty as charged by our critics, we may indeed plead with the LORD against them.

But let anyone who perpetuates evil with his tongue take heed. God is not mocked. Listen therefore to the admonition or warning.

2. The Admonition

4 Thou lovest all devouring words, O thou deceitful tongue.  5 God shall likewise destroy thee for ever, he shall take thee away, and pluck thee out of [thy] dwelling place, and root thee out of the land of the living. Selah. 

The deceitful tongue loves to devour or to destroy. Words can hurt and words can tear down. So the tongue can effect terrible things like in the case of Doeg’s.

As James puts it:

“… the tongue is a little member, and boasteth great things. Behold, how great a matter a little fire kindleth!” (Jas 3:5). 

Doeg told a half truth about David’s visit to Ahimelech. It resulted in the slaughter of the city of Nob.

So too we must be mindful of how easily our tongues can cause great pain and sorrows. We must be very reluctant to express negative opinions and opinions about things and decisions for which we do not have the full picture of.

Think about how much talk there has been on the internet about the escape of the terrorist Mas Selamat. How many have clamoured for the resignation of certain government officers. How many have offered their opinions as if their opinion is what really matters.

And not only Mas Selamat, but other cases. Many tongues are wagging. Many tongues want to be heard. Many suppose that they are wiser and more righteous than the government and police and judges. 

We must take care not to fall into that sin of the tongue by which we tear down rather than build up. We must especially be careful lest by our tongue we touch an apple of God’s eye, and condemn whom God has justified.

For when that happens, God will vindicate and condemn.

5 God shall likewise destroy thee forever, he shall take thee away, and pluck thee out of thy dwelling place, and root thee out of the land of the living.

If a tongue destroys a child of God, God will destroy the tongue forever. “The tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity… and it is set on fire of hell” says James (Jas 3:6).

God’s children can take comfort that God Himself will vindicate them and take action against those who by their tongue seek to destroy His children.

Those who use their tongues against God’s children, especially when they know them to be believers, should take heed and know that He who would require us to account for every idle word will not leave words of destruction unpunished.

He will punish in the day of judgement. He may even punish in this life. He will punish so that the righteous might see and fear. This is part of the reflection of David on this matter.

3. The Reflection

6 The righteous also shall see, and fear, and shall laugh at him: 7 Lo, this is the man that made not God his strength; but trusted in the abundance of his riches, and strengthened himself in his wickedness.

He who speaks proudly against God’s children without,—as it were,—giving face to the God they serve, can expect a very severe public judgement against them.

They may laugh at the righteous in this life. They may mock at them for trusting in the LORD. They may boast of what they can do without the LORD. But the last laugh will be reserved for God’s children.

They will face everlasting destruction. In contrast, God’s children will enjoy the blessings of the LORD in this life and in the life to come:

8 But I am like a green olive tree in the house of God: I trust in the mercy of God for ever and ever.

Who is this ‘I’ who is like a green olive tree. This ‘I’ could refer to David, or it could refer to Israel or the church. But, is it not the case that Christ alone can most fittingly appropriate these words?

He is, indeed, like a green olive tree in the house of God. He is perfectly righteous and perfectly fruitful. It is in union with Him that the church is known as the olive tree in Romans 11. The visible church has many branches that decay or are fruitless and need to be trimmed. But Christ is forever a green olive tree and so are the elect united to Him in the church invisible.

Our Lord was slandered and mocked. But He does not allow the pain and sorrow to hinder Him from God’s work. Indeed, He recognises that all things, including painful ones, come from the hand of the Lord. And thus He concludes:

9 I will praise thee for ever, because thou hast done it: and I will wait on thy name; for it is good before thy saints.

This statement seems so out of place. In the context of this psalm, David had just experienced the wickedness of Doeg. Likewise, the Lord had to endure the malicious wagging tongues of the unbelieving Jews that eventually led Him to the Cross. Yet, this psalm concludes with a word of praise for what the LORD has done and a statement of trust in Him.

How could this be possible, except through a firm recognition of God’s sovereign and goodness in everything?

So it is for us, beloved brethren and children. We may lament about the actions of others that bring pain and sorrow to us. We may take comfort in God’s Word that He will vindicate. We may sing words of imprecations and warning which our Lord has provided for us. 

But ultimately, we must not allow anger and discontentment to eat into us. We must still turn our eyes to the LORD and see that the LORD is good and that He brought all the pains and sorrows we have experienced to pass for our good. And so we must trust Him still.


Have you been hurt by the tongues of man, beloved brethren? Do not allow yourself to become despondent or to take revenge. Leave the matter to the LORD, trusting that He will see to your vindication and your good.

Go to the Lord Jesus for comfort. Sing the words He provided you. He will sing with you. He is your compassionate high priest. He was tempted at all points like as you are yet without sin. He understands and He cares. He went through a more terrible time under malicious wagging tongues than you can ever imagine. Amen.

—JJ Lim