Napoleon's defeat in Russia 200 years ago was attributed to the harsh Russian winter. One specific problem was that his horses were wearing summer horseshoes. When winter came, these horses died because they slipped on icy roads as they pulled the supply wagons. The failure of Napoleon’s supply chain reduced his 400,000-strong army to just 10,000. A small slip; a disastrous result!
James described how a slip of the tongue can do great damage. One wrong word can change the careers or destinies of people. So toxic is the tongue that James wrote, “No human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison” (James 3:8). The problem has increased in our modern world as a careless email or a posting on a social media site can cause great harm. It quickly goes viral and can’t always be retracted.
King David tied respect for the Lord with the way we use our words. He wrote, “I will teach you the fear of the Lord. . . . Keep your tongue from evil and your lips from telling lies” (Ps. 34:11, 13). He resolved, “I will watch my ways and keep my tongue from sin; I will put a muzzle on my mouth” (39:1). Lord, help us to do the same.
What do James 3:1–12 and Proverbs 18:1–8 teach you about a slip of the tongue?
Our words have the power to build up or tear down.
The introduction to Psalm 34 identifies David as the author and describes the circumstances surrounding its writing: “Of David. When he pretended to be insane before Abimelek . . . .” David had just narrowly escaped King Saul’s attempt to murder him, and he had fled to the only place he felt was out of Saul’s reach—the territory of the Philistines (1 Sam. 21:10-15). After he arrived in Gath, David’s life was again threatened. He only escaped King Achish (Abimelek or Abimelech was a general title for Philistine kings) by pretending to be insane. This is the context from which David begins Psalm 34: “I will extol the