Songs of a Warrior Poet

Anthem of the Upright Heart

Psalm 64
To the leader. A Psalm of David.
Hear my voice, O God, in my complaint;
preserve my life from the dread enemy.
Hide me from the secret plots of the wicked,
from the scheming of evildoers,
who whet their tongues like swords,
who aim bitter words like arrows,
shooting from ambush at the blameless;
they shoot suddenly and without fear.
They hold fast to their evil purpose;
they talk of laying snares secretly, thinking,
“Who can see us?
Who can search out our crimes?
We have thought out a cunningly conceived plot.”
For the human heart and mind are deep.

But God will shoot His arrow at them;
they will be wounded suddenly.
Because of their tongue He will bring them to ruin;
all who see them will shake with horror.
Then everyone will fear;
they will tell what God has brought about,
and ponder what He has done.

Let the righteous rejoice in the Lord
and take refuge in Him.
Let all the upright in heart glory.

“The Human Heart and Mind are Deep”

David was never one to back away from a fight.

A man of enormous personal courage, David was always willing to face enemies head on. A band of warriors with a kindred spirit had joined their hearts to him. The scriptures call them “David’s mighty men,” and for good reason. Their exploits were astonishing. The chief of David’s officers, a man named Josheb-basshebeth, once “wielded his spear against eight hundred whom he killed at one time.” The second in command, Eleazar, was not to be outdone. He stood side by side with David against the Philistines even though the rest of the Israelite army withdrew. He “struck down the Philistines until his arm grew weary, though his hand clung to the sword. The Lord brought about a great victory that day.” Another of the mighty men, Benaiah, “went down and killed a lion in a pit on a day when snow had fallen.” When he met an Egyptian warrior in single combat, Benaiah snatched the spear from the Egyptian’s hand and killed him with it. Three of David’s mighty men once fought their way through enemy lines just to get David a drink from the well in his hometown of Bethlehem. No, David was not afraid to take to the field surrounded by friends like these.

There was an enemy, however, that David dreaded. To be sure, he faced their hostility with faith and courage, as had been his habit in threatening circumstances even from his youth. Still, this particular enemy was especially frustrating and exhausting to combat. In response, David poured out his agony to God in a “complaint” or “lament.” He pleaded with the Lord to preserve his life from this “dread enemy.” The identity of this foe? It wasn’t a Philistine giant. It wasn’t a band of assassins led by Saul. It wasn’t an army of Amorites or Syrians.

The enemy were slanderers. Their weapons were rumor, gossip, and defamation, their tactics the smear campaign.

What frustrated David so deeply about facing slanderers was doubtless how difficult it was to defend himself against their attacks. Against a Philistine army, David at least would have a helmet, a shield, and a weapon of his own. He liked his chances in a fair fight. After all, his head had received the anointing oil of God! But slanderers never fight fair. Then as now, the smear campaign relied on the “secret plots of the wicked” and the “scheming of evildoers.” This enemy refused to show its head. Instead, it lurked in darkened corners. It wrapped itself in a cloak of secrecy and hid itself in shadow.

Slanderers do not fight with bow or blade. They wound with words. As David put it, they “whet their tongues like swords and aim bitter words like arrows.” James calls the tongue “a restless evil, full of deadly poison” (James 3:8). And in the mouth of slanderers, this venomous evil becomes a lethal weapon. Slanderers hope to marginalize a human being by abusing the power of language. Their motive is bitterness. Their goal is to injure others’ reputations—and if possible to destroy their relationships, their freedom of action, and their peace of mind.

David described his battle with slanderers in vivid military metaphor: “Shooting from ambush at the blameless, they shoot suddenly and without fear.” Anyone who has been similarly attacked with malicious gossip and fabricated rumors can recognize the description immediately. Each phrase is packed with painful meaning.

Little wonder, then, that David found fighting this enemy so painful and fatiguing.

As difficult as slander was for David, however, he had a distinct advantage over the child of God in the twenty-first century. He lived in a pre-technological age. Slander—like most communicable diseases—could only be transmitted by person-to-person contact. Simple geography slowed its spread. A hurtful rumor might percolate through a town or village, but it took a major effort to spread it beyond a small area. The invention of the printing press in the fifteenth century increased the spread of slander considerably. The development of newspapers in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries opened a new avenue for hateful attacks. And once the telegraph, telephone, and typewriter were invented in the nineteenth century, rumor was off to the races. Radio and television, products of the twentieth century, made it possible to spread deadly words at the speed of light—and these developments played major roles in instigating that century’s unthinkably cruel genocides.

It isn’t that technology is inherently evil. Technology is neutral. But evil people use technology for evil purposes. As David put it, “The human heart and mind are deep.” In Paul’s thundering indictment of the fallen human race, he wrote:

Since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind and to things that should not be done. They were filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, covetousness, malice. Full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, craftiness, they are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, rebellious towards parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. They know God’s decree, that those who practice such things deserve to die—yet they not only do them but even applaud others who practice them (Romans 1:28-32).

Did you catch that? Paul said that those who do not acknowledge God—who refuse to honor Him or give thanks to Him—become “inventors of evil.” That means that the human race is always looking for ways to exploit technological advancement to do evil more efficiently. And that includes using technology to carry out other wicked things on Paul’s list—malice, strife, deceit, gossip, slander, and ruthlessness.

Which brings us to the twenty-first century.

As computers began to proliferate in the 1960s, so did visions of linking them together in communication networks. Throughout the ‘70s and ‘80s, these “inter-networks”—shortened to “internet” in computer lingo—developed and grew. Mostly this internet linked government institutes and universities, so they could share information and collaborate on projects, but more and more people began using them for recreation and communication, and increasingly for darker purposes as well. By the late ‘80s, the first private “internet service providers” began to appear. Finally on April 30, 1995, the US National Science Foundation ended its sponsorship of a key component of the internet, and the remaining restrictions to commercial exploitation of the system were removed. The World Wide Web was born. And it truly has become “worldwide.” At the time of this writing, there are 1.1 billion people on the planet with regular internet access, not to mention millions more who access it through smart phones or at internet cafes. And it has expanded beyond the globe: in 2010 an astronaut at the International Space Station updated his Twitter account from low earth orbit.

The “inventors of evil” have not been idle all this time. The internet has revolutionized pornography, terrorism, fraud, and organized crime. It has also transformed slander. The English dictionary now must include new definitions of “troll” (a person who deliberately posts inflammatory remarks to disrupt an online discussion), “flaming” (hostile, emotional attacks between internet users), “cyber-bullying” (use of the internet for deliberate, repeated, hostile behavior against an individual, especially against a child), and “cyber-stalking” (use of the internet for harassment of an individual or group through threats, false accusations, monitoring, hacking, or gathering personal information). Because the internet is truly global in reach, even amateur slanderers can have a dramatic impact on a victim’s life. The internet has made the smear campaign accessible to nearly anyone with an attitude. Usually there is very limited legal recourse available for the injured party.

Perhaps the most damaging and frightening of these developments is the phenomenon of the “online mob.” One legal scholar notes that “social networking sites and blogs have increasingly become breeding grounds for anonymous online groups” that show mob-like dynamics:

These destructive groups target individuals with defamation, threats of violence, and technology-based attacks that silence victims and concomitantly destroy their privacy… Attackers manipulate search engines to reproduce their lies and threats for employers and clients to see, creating digital “scarlet letters” that ruin reputations. Today’s cyber-attack groups update a history of anonymous mobs coming together to victimize and subjugate vulnerable people.*

This scholar lists characteristics of mobs throughout history and then insightfully concludes:

The Internet magnifies the dangerousness of group behavior in each of these respects. Web 2.0 platforms create a feeling of closeness among like-minded individuals. Online groups affirm each other’s negative views, which become more extreme and destructive. Individuals say and do things online they would never consider saying or doing offline because they feel anonymous, even if they write under their real names. Because group members often shroud themselves in pseudonyms, they have little fear that victims will retaliate against them or that they will suffer social stigma for their abusive conduct. Online groups also perceive their victims as “images” [rather than human beings] and thus feel free to do anything they want to them.**

Blood-bought believers are not immune from these attacks. They are, in fact, common targets. One popular bulletin board full of hateful “flames” and outrageous fabrications boasts over a quarter of a million posts attacking members of “Christian-based groups.” And the number of mercilessly slanderous assaults against professing Christians to be found on blogs, social networking pages, “tweets,” and hate websites is impossible to calculate.

We could go on, but you get the point. Disciples of Jesus Christ have never been popular in any age, nor do they expect to be. To use Paul’s phrase, the world has been crucified to them and they to the world. But in this new millennium, genuine Christians find themselves living in a “brave new world” of slander and hatred. It is now an inescapable part of existence. There is nothing any of us can do to prevent it from happening to us—unless we want to betray our allegiance to Jesus and conform ourselves to this world. May that never be! And once an attack begins, there is usually very little we can do to stop it or to protect ourselves from the harmful consequences.

But we are not without hope! We are never, never without hope. This is absolutely certain: If we approach any challenge from the right perspective, we will be able to say,

“Thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads in every place the fragrance that comes from knowing Him. For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing; to the one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life” (2 Corinthians 2:14).

Always and everywhere, we can triumphantly spread the fragrance of knowing Jesus! Some we meet will appreciate it; many won’t. But persecution, including slander, cannot stop us from playing our part in this glorious life, if we will only see the challenges with eyes of faith.

“A Disciple is Not Above the Teacher”

For starters, when you are slandered for Jesus’ sake—and if you truly belong to Him, it is a matter of “when” and not “if”—you are in some very good company.

We can begin with Jesus Himself. The gospels record over thirty different incidents when people slandered Jesus during three and a half years of His public life. And because the gospels are only selective accounts of His days, these episodes must represent only the tip of a very large iceberg.

The word on the street—carefully planted there by His enemies—was that despite Jesus’ delusions of grandeur, He was just a backwater hick, totally unqualified to be the Messiah or anything else of value. He was an overly ambitious man who dreamed of setting Himself up as a rival to the emperor. But Jesus was of dubious moral character, or so it was alleged. He had grown far too chummy with notorious sinners and far too careless in observing the Jewish laws and traditions. In fact, He was a sinner Himself, a glutton and a drunkard. It was true that Jesus had gained some popularity as a teacher, but He behaved rather unpredictably and often said laughably ridiculous things. He was quite probably out of His mind. Although He was famous as a miracle worker, He was powerless to help His friends or even Himself when it counted. Jesus was nothing but a deceiver and an imposter, even a criminal. Why, there was a strong possibility that He was actually a half-pagan Samaritan. For sure Jesus was a blasphemer—the experts all agreed on that. And His alleged supernatural powers were only evidence that He was demon-possessed.

The previous paragraph was painful even to write. But according to the gospels, all of those things were said about Jesus. And if you had lived during that time, and you were the type of person who entertained slander in the name of giving every point of view a fair hearing, then you almost certainly would have wound up distancing yourself from Jesus. Hanging out with Him wasn’t safe.

It was the charge that Jesus was demon-possessed—a rumor started by the Pharisees—that seemed to gain the most traction. If we dissect it, we can see why this was an especially effective slander. Jesus obviously had miraculous powers, including the ability to cast out demons. His signs and wonders left no room for doubt. The Pharisees found themselves backed into a corner. They couldn’t deny the miracles; that would have made the Pharisees seem foolish. But they also were quite unwilling to accept Jesus on His terms. The accusation of demon possession gave them a clever way out. In the same breath they could admit Jesus’ miracles and thoroughly discredit Him. They could use Jesus’ own deeds of power as evidence against Him. By pinning the “demon” label on Him, the Pharisees effectively dehumanized Jesus. It was a major advance towards their ultimate goal of liquidating Him. Of course the rumor wasn’t actually true, nor did it hold up to logical examination. But these Pharisees already knew what twentieth century dictators and twenty-first century bloggers would later rediscover: a lie repeated often enough will eventually be accepted unquestioningly as common knowledge.

This cruel, incessant hate-speech must have been painful to Jesus. He was, after all, “in every respect tested as we are, yet without sin.” And it played a major role in getting Him crucified. But do take note: however persistent it might have been and however unbearable it must have felt, in no way did slander prevent Jesus from accomplishing any of the Work that the Father had given Him to do. Despite the cruel suffering He endured, Jesus showed us the Father and purchased eternal salvation for us; He triumphed over the grave and humiliated the evil one, stripping him of his power; He secured a Kingdom that He could one day hand over to the Father; He ascended to the Father’s right hand and sat on the throne in Glory. There were many “loud cries and tears” along the way, but that is Victory!

Jesus assures us, His disciples, that we will emulate Him both in the slander we endure and the triumph that we experience despite it: “A disciple is not above the teacher, nor a slave above the master; it is enough for the disciple to be like the teacher, and the slave like the master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household! So have no fear of them” (Matthew 10:25-26).

We need to decide: do we want to be like Jesus? Is it enough for us? It is a package deal. We can journey as far as we are willing into His character and heart and consecration and life. We can follow the Pioneer and Perfecter of our faith, who has gone before us to blaze the trail and who will walk it with us now. But we can’t have Him without earning the world’s contempt. As they maligned Him, they will malign us. If they called Him Beelzebul—the lord of the flies—they will call us the same, or worse.

So it is that every faithful child of God endures slander. Every genuine church that follows Jesus wherever He goes will find itself standing in the line of fire. Near the end of his life, Paul went to Rome. The Jewish leaders there called the church of the first century a “sect” that “everywhere is spoken against” (Acts 28:22). We are inspired when we read that one local church’s faith became known everywhere as the message of Jesus rang out through their testimony (1 Thessalonians 1:8)—and well we should be. But we need to realize that just as reports of their faith spread, so did the slander against them. It is impossible to have one without the other.

In AD 64, for example, a fire broke out in Rome, which according to the historian Tacitus destroyed about a fourth of the city and damaged another half of it. No one knows how the blaze started, but some of the populace blamed the emperor, Nero. To shift the focus from himself, Nero claimed that Christians were arsonists.

As a consequence, to get rid of the report [that he himself started the fire], Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace…In accordance, an arrest was first made of all who pleaded guilty [under torture]; then, upon their information, an immense multitude was convicted, not as much of the crime of firing the city as of hatred against mankind. Mockery of every sort was added to their deaths. Covered with the skins of beasts, they were torn by dogs and perished, or were nailed to crosses, or were doomed to the flames and burnt, to serve as a nightly illumination, when daylight had expired.***

There is a nineteenth century English nursery rhyme claiming that “sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.” But anyone who thinks slander can’t hurt a person very deeply has never read their Tacitus!

Up until nearly the end of the second century, the church was faithful enough to her calling that she still fulfilled Jesus’ prophecy and endured widespread slander for His name’s sake. Christians were alleged to commit cannibalism and incest. They were supposedly atheists and therefore to blame for every natural disaster. Of course when believers spoke of eating Jesus’ flesh and drinking His blood, when they talked of marrying brothers or sisters, and when they admitted that they did not believe in the Roman “gods,” they meant something very different than these allegations. But that fact did not deter the slanderers. As Tertullian, a North African Christian writing around AD 200 put it,

Why is rumor a curse? Because she is so swift? Because she is an informer? Or because she is generally a liar?...However widely rumor has been put about, with whatever assurance it has been contrived, it must necessarily have originated at some moment with a single person who started it. After that it creeps through ramifications of tongues and ears; and something wrong in the little seed, whence it sprang, so obscures all else in the rumor, that no one reflects whether the first mouth sowed the lie, as often happens, from an envious nature, from wanton suspicion, or from that mere pleasure in lying which with some people is no new thing but inborn in them…Rumor alone all this long time is the authority for the crimes of the Christians. Rumor is the informer you bring forward against us. Yet what she once launched and in this interval has hardened into general belief, to this hour she has not been able to prove.****

In every age, every true disciple of Jesus and every genuine church has been the subject of hateful, hurtful rumors. We could multiply examples drawn from every historical era up to the present day, but those will suffice. The point is that Jesus is always true to His word. He told us that if the Teacher was slandered, the disciples would be, too. History has proved Him right.

That realization is one key to overcoming slander in our own lives. Attacks from this “dread enemy” will always be painful. But we must not think that something strange has happened. There is no need to second guess ourselves and assume that we must be doing something wrong. There is no reason to be embarrassed or afraid. We are only emulating our Teacher. We must not withdraw into hurt or bitterness. And we must never be shamed into silence. Never.

In fact, slander is our cue to proclaim the Truth with even greater boldness!

“Proclaim It From the Housetops!”

When Jesus prophesied that we would be maligned just as He was, in the same breath He exhorted us not to be afraid. Instead, we are to respond to slander with great boldness and faith:
For nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known. What I say to you in the dark, tell in the light; and what you hear whispered, proclaim from the housetops. Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear Him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground unperceived by your Father. And even the hairs of your head are all counted. So do not be afraid; you are of more value than many sparrows (Matthew 10:26-31).

We will have the right perspective on slander if we keep the right perspective of God.

Persecution is aimed at the outer person. It can destroy the body, but it can only grieve the soul. There has never been a persecution so fierce that it could destroy the inner person. Slanderers are only human, after all. But God! From His throne of power, with His mighty outstretched Arm, God is able to execute divine judgment, cosmic in its scope and eternal in its power. Body, soul, and spirit are completely at His mercy. If you want to fear someone, fear God!

But this awe-inspiring Divinity is also a loving Father. He places enormous value on you, His child. He is also completely aware of every detail of your life—the hairs of your head are all counted. He is powerful enough to intervene in our lives and overrule the scheming of mere mortals. In our knowledge of our Abba, we can live peaceful, dignified lives, even during the storms of slander and persecution.

Because of God we dare to be bold. As Jesus’ disciples, we have been privileged to hear the intimate counsels of the Father’s heart. Jesus exhorts us, then, to be aggressive and unflinching in our testimony. When people speak lies about us, we are to respond by proclaiming the Truth about Him. We are to be determined and unapologetic about it. Instead of shrinking back when we are slandered, we are to press forward. In broad daylight, we are to declare the Truth of God from our very housetops.

We can fight back against slander—not by defending ourselves, but by defending the Gospel. When someone tells a lie against us, we can tell ten truths about Jesus. When one person tells another something vile or base about us, we can tell “thirty, sixty, or a hundred” people something noble and pure about our Master. When someone whispers about us behind our backs, we can proclaim God’s Truth right out in front of everyone. When someone falsely accuses us of evil, by the Holy Spirit’s power we can truthfully convict the world of sin, righteousness, and judgment. When someone pollutes the world with the word of satan, we can cleanse men’s hearts with the Word of God.

Jesus calls us out of our pain and discouragement and invites us to His own perspective of courage and faith. After enduring lies and mockery and abuse, Jesus made the good confession before Pilate. He calls us to make the same confession when we are maligned and slandered. Our persistent testimony of life-giving Truth will make Father smile. It will also make satan wish that he had kept his filthy mouth shut. For a sword is a weapon of attack, and the sword of the Spirit is the Word of God.

“Because of Their Tongue He Will Bring Them to Ruin”

Responding to slander in a godly way, then, is so very dependent on us keeping our perspective despite the chaos. We must look at the hateful words and vile rumors aimed at us as part of our identification with Jesus. We must also see these attacks, no matter how painful they feel and how far-reaching their effects on our lives, as opportunities to press forward boldly in proclaiming the truth of the gospel.

David provides us with an additional perspective to cling to. The slanderers he wrote about in Psalm 64 were arrogant in their self-confidence, but they were doomed. They reveled in their “carefully conceived plot.” They boasted that they had covered their tracks and feared no retribution. But like all persecutors, the slanderers made a fatal mistake: they forgot God.

And God hates slander.

God’s word is crystal clear on the subject: “You shall not go around as a slanderer among your people, and you shall not profit by the blood of your neighbor: I am the Lord” (Leviticus 19:16). God’s opinion is the only one that counts, and He says that “lying lips conceal hatred, and whoever utters slander is a fool” (Proverbs 10:18). It is impossible for an unrepentant slanderer to have a relationship with Him. The only ones who can “abide in His tent” or “dwell on His holy hill” are those “who walk blamelessly, and do what is right, and speak the truth from their heart; who do not slander with their tongue, and do no evil to their friends, nor take up a reproach against their neighbors” (Psalm 15:1-3).

Jesus upheld the same standard: “For out of the heart come evil intentions, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person” (Matthew 15:19-20). That is why in the early church, “revilers” were numbered with “fornicators, idolaters, adulterers, male prostitutes, sodomites, thieves, the greedy, drunkards, and robbers” (1 Corinthians 6:9-10). Slanderers were excluded from all fellowship with the church. In fact, Christians were not to associate with them or even eat with them (1 Corinthians 5:11).

David knew God. He understood God’s hatred of slander, so he saw the proud boasting of the revilers attacking him as merely a prelude to their demise. He predicted: “God will shoot His arrow at them; they will be wounded suddenly. Because of their tongue He will bring them to ruin; all who see them will shake with horror.” No temporary “success” in the slanderer’s smear campaign could convince David that God would overlook their crimes. They would reap God’s judgment. And when innocent passers-by witnessed the smoking ruins of their lives, God Himself would be feared and respected: “Then everyone will fear; they will tell what God has brought about, and ponder what He has done.”

“Let the Righteous Rejoice in the LORD”

It was no shallow sentimentality, then, that led David to conclude his psalm, “Let the righteous rejoice in the Lord and take refuge in Him. Let all the upright in heart glory.” If we regard slander for the sake of Jesus as a bond that links our hearts to His; if we respond to it by throwing ourselves with joyful abandon into the proclamation of Truth; and if we wait expectantly for God to render His righteous judgment on our behalf…we will come to the same conclusion!

We have no desire to trivialize the pain caused by slander, and we realize from personal experience that it may be quite costly for you to bear. But we also affirm to you that Jesus is Alive. In the midst of a firestorm of hatred and malice, He is still near to you. As Paul said, the Word is in your mouth and in your heart: “If you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.” This passage was gloriously true about your salvation from sin. But it is just as true about your deliverance from fear, discouragement, and pain. Believe that the same God who raised Jesus from the grave is unwilling to see your life buried by slander, and that He can give life to your spirit in the midst of the trial. Confess boldly with your lips the Lordship of Jesus, no matter what hatred and lies are being reported about you. You will find deliverance.

Where are the slanderers who attacked David? Where are the Pharisees who defamed Jesus? Where are Nero and the other rulers who maligned the early Christians? Where are all those who lied about reformers and prophets throughout the ages? They are all on the ash heap of history now. But the Truths of the King and the Kingdom are growing brighter as the Day approaches.

So in your pain, consider Jesus. Then rejoice. Take refuge. Glory.


* Citron, Danielle K. 2009. “Cyber Civil Rights.” Boston University Law Review 69:61-125
** Ibid.
*** Tacitus, Annals XV,44.
**** Tertullian. Apology. VII, 8-13. With an English Translation by T. R. Glover. 1931. New York: Putnam

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