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A Study of Psalm 141

Introduction

How many of us parents have warned our children not to touch the stove because it’s hot. And what usually happens? The children have to touch the stove anyway to find out for themselves, or at least get their hand close enough to feel the heat! Sometimes Christians are that way when it comes to temptation. Secker wrote, "To pray against temptations, and yet to rush into occasions, is to thrust your fingers into the fire, and then pray they might not be burnt."

David wrote this psalm as a guide when we are inclined to give in to temptation. He shows us how the godly person must be willing to act. We are all tempted from time to time. Let us learn from David’s instruction.

Verse 1

I call upon thee, O Lord; make haste to me! Give ear to my voice, when I call to thee!

When facing temptation, one of the keys to overcoming is to call on God. Notice how the psalmist calls for the Lord to make haste – to help him quickly. Whenever you are faced with doing something wrong, call out to God. He will quickly come to your side and give you strength to overcome. When we call out to God, he hears our voice and listens and acts on our behalf. If people would pray more instead of trying to fight temptation on their own, they would find a will power which is stronger than themselves.

Verse 2

Let my prayer be counted as incense before thee, and the lifting up of my hands as an evening sacrifice!

The priests would burn incense as part of their sacrificial ritual to God. Then they would burn the sacrifice and it was thought the smoke of the sacrifice would ascend to heaven. But the psalmist understands that God wants our desires, our heart, and our will. He asks that God count his prayer as the incense of the priests. And as he lifts his hands toward heaven, he asks that God consider this the same as the smoke from the evening sacrifice ascending to heaven. What a beautiful picture of a man who understood the importance and meaning of true sacrifice.

If we are to overcome temptation, we must be willing to sacrifice something. We need to let go of our desires, we need to be willing to forego our own pleasure, and we need to be willing to tell ourselves no. Many are not willing to make this sacrifice. In fact, we are a very self-indulgent society. It is not easy to deny ourselves anything. But David knew that instead of giving into wrong desires, he would make his sacrifice by raising his hands to God in prayer. Let us also be willing to sacrifice our own will in order to do God’s will.

Verse 3

Set a guard over my mouth, O Lord, keep watch over the door of my lips!

David understood that many of his problems came because he spoke without thinking. We are all guilty of saying things hastily and then later regretting our words. This is why David prays that God will set a guard over his mouth and keep watch over his lips. When my son was in the fourth grade, he was collecting butterflies to mount and use in a report in school. A friend who worked for the state Department of Agriculture gave him a butterfly net to run around and catch his victims. A butterfly would flit by and off he would be chasing after it until he snared it with the net. Many butterflies escaped his finest attempts. It seems that sometimes our words come flying out of our mouth like those butterflies – flitting here and there and escaping before we can catch them. We wish we had a heavenly butterfly net to catch those words and bring them back, but it’s too late, they have already escaped.

Much of yielding to temptation begins with our words. We voice a desire or a wrong attitude. We allow the thoughts to become words and then the words become actions. We need to guard our mouth and be careful what we speak. How much trouble could be avoided if we would learn not to respond with the first impulse in our mind! I have seen violence avoided and conflicts diffused by simple restraint. If we carefully choose what we say, we will find ourselves in less trouble. But all too often we simply blurt out what we’re thinking and then consider the consequences later. We need to learn to keep our mouth in check. As Jesus said in Matthew 12:34, "For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks." And this brings us to the next verse.

Verse 4

Incline not my heart to any evil, to busy myself with wicked deeds in company with men who work iniquity; and let me not eat of their dainties!

The psalmist understood that when he spoke evil, it was because he was thinking evil. So he prays that God will help him not to have evil in his heart. Bad thoughts may from time to time pop up in our mind, but we don’t need to dwell on them. As people have often said, you can’t help it if a bird lands on your head, but you sure can prevent it from building a nest in your hair! We need to keep our thoughts under control and not let them wander into forbidden avenues.

One way to avoid a desire to do wicked deeds is to do as the psalmist suggests and not be in company with those that find this appealing. It is not easy to sometimes separate ourselves from our friends or take a stand among our co-workers, but the fact is when we are surrounded by those who find pleasure it doing what’s wrong, it is difficult for us to not be tempted to do the same things. If we want to overcome temptation, then we have to stop having it for company.

McCaw remarks, "The psalmist’s strong aversion to the ways of wickedness does not give him immunity from similar speech and desire. He pleads for divine power to prevent any lapse from righteousness on his part through the enticements of evil."

Verses 5-6

Let a good man strike or rebuke me in kindness, but let the oil of the wicked never anoint my head; for my prayer is continually against their wicked deeds.

When they are given over to those who shall condemn them, then they shall learn that the word of the Lord is true.

Another way to avoid temptation is to listen to the warning of others. There will be times when we are blinded to certain situations. Warnings from Christian friends should be listened to. As MacDonald comments, "The suggestions, criticisms, and rebukes of godly friends are welcomed by sensible people. We often cannot see faults in ourselves as clearly as we can see them in others."

I think it is important for us to be willing to listen objectively to what others have to say. We usually think we know best how to live our life, but if we have been experiencing trouble and confusion because of wrong decisions on our part, maybe it’s time to listen to someone who has our best interests at heart. Sometimes we are too stubborn for our own good!

Verses 7-8

As a rock which one cleaves and shatters on the land, so shall their bones be strewn at the mouth of Sheol.

But my eyes are toward thee, O Lord God; in thee I seek refuge; leave me not defenseless!

David has seen the results of those who have given into temptation. He realizes that in order to not suffer the same fate, he must keep his eyes toward God. An idea from a previous generation has become popular once again as people are purchasing items with the slogan WWJD – What Would Jesus Do? In whatever situation we find ourselves, if we would ask what would Jesus do, we would find ourselves making better life decisions. David understood that he had to keep his focus on God. When he was faced with temptation, he wrote, in God I seek refuge. God was the one who would be there for him and help him to overcome the temptation.

Our sixth president John Quincy Adams wrote, "Every temptation is an opportunity of our getting nearer to God." So when you are facing temptation, use it as an opportunity to get closer to God and allow him to help you.

Verse 9

Keep me from the trap which they have laid for me, and from the snares of evildoers!

If we want to overcome temptation, we have to stay away from the traps and snares of temptation. A recovering alcoholic doesn’t spend time in bars confident that he will have enough self-control to not drink. If he were to do that, he would soon succumb to the old desires and temptations. But often we place ourselves in positions that might lead to wrongdoing. We need to be careful to avoid the traps that Satan has laid for us and the snares of evildoers. If we want to be successful in overcoming temptation, let us be willing to recognize those places that beckon to our weaknesses and to avoid them. And let us escape far from them. Years ago one of my pastors told us, "Remember, when you flee temptation, be sure you don’t leave a forwarding address."

It is not easy for us to be honest with ourselves, but we all have weaknesses. The sooner we are willing to identify them, the sooner we will understand what situations we need to avoid in order to avoid temptation. David knew that it was God who would help him and keep him from the traps and snares of temptation. The Believer’s Bible Commentary points out, "His expectation is solely from the Lord, and his hope for refuge and defense is in God alone."

Verse 10

Let the wicked together fall into their own nets, while I escape.

If you want to overcome temptation, you must be willing to not cave in to peer pressure. There were three teenage girls sitting together one Sunday. In the middle of the service, suddenly two of them got up at what seemed an inappropriate time to leave. But the third girl stayed. I noticed the expression on the third girl’s face both when they left and when they returned. It was one of disapproval. Frankly, I didn’t quite know what to make of it all, until later I heard that the two girls were seen smoking behind the church. I’m sure there was pressure on the third girl to join her friends, but to her credit she did not yield to the peer pressure.

It is not easy to take a stand when others around you are doing something wrong, but David understood that others were falling into their own nets. He did not want to be part of that. So even though everyone around him might be doing wrong, he would not enter into their misdeeds. Instead he would escape the snare of the consequences of their behavior.

Let us also be willing to escape the pressure from others to join them in doing what’s wrong. Let us be willing to take a stand for what’s right. We will find that God will be there with us to strengthen and help us during all those times of temptation.

Footnotes:

This study on Psalm 141 1999 by David Humpal. All rights reserved.

All scriptures unless otherwise noted are from the Revised Standard Version 1971, A. J. Holman Company

Secker: The Complete Speaker’s Sourcebook pg. 260 1996, Zondervan Publishing House

Matthew 12:34 from the New King James Version 1984, Thomas Nelson Publishers

McCaw: The New Bible Commentary pg. 509, 1954 edition, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company

MacDonald: Believer’s Bible Commentary, Old Testament volume, pg. 773 1990, Thomas Nelson Publishers

Adams: quoted in The Complete Speaker’s Sourcebook pg. 260 1996, Zondervan Publishing House

Believer’s Bible Commentary, Old Testament volume, pg. 774 1990, Thomas Nelson Publishers

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