Does anyone care these days whether she or he is pleasing to God? Maybe only a few give some thought to that, but David, the song-writer, did. Psalm 141 is one of his prayers, and today verse four is the request that intrigues me.
Really the entire psalm is a request for help in two specific areas, and these areas pop up again and again throughout the psalms. David needed help because he had weaknesses and evil tendencies within himself. And David needed help because there were people around him who would lead him astray.
So, we come to Psalm 141:4:
“Do not let my heart incline to any evil,
to busy myself with wicked deeds
in company with men who work iniquity,
and let me not eat of their delicacies” (English Standard Version)!
This verse is best represented in four lines, because it is poetry. And in the Hebrew it has precisely three accents in each line. Sometimes there is one accent per word, and sometimes two or three words may be grouped together to receive one accent, but each line has three.
The verse is striking in its progressive thought, but it is also revealing of the human heart. We need to take a close look at some of the words.
The heart is the real you, your control center. David is saying he needs help with his core being; without that help he just might incline or “stretch out” his heart to evil, reach out for it. Some translations have “any evil thing,” because “evil” is an adjective modifying a word that can be rendered “word, matter, thing,” etc. It really has a wide range, so that “any evil” is certainly a legitimate translation--it could refer to words, but it can be more general, too.
He begins with the orientation of his heart and then moves on to action. It is one thing to think about an evil matter and another to act upon it, but the thought comes first. So the second line focuses on doing deeds of wickedness. These deeds are actively evil. They are opposed to the will of God and likely injurious to others as well.
To this point we have just been viewing David himself, but then he introduces another dimension, the social dimension. I’ve heard it said that misery loves company, and apparently so does wickedness. After all, if you can engage iniquity (which deserves punishment) with others, it may not be so bad. You can temporarily excuse yourself as being no worse than the other fellow. And maybe you can enjoy the punishment together!
The men working iniquity do so characteristically; we know that because the word “work” is a participle. That’s just the way they live. They don’t care about pleasing God; in fact, they may be obdurately opposed to Him.
Then the fourth and last clause almost seems like an add-on. But it makes a point. There’s a temptation to be liked by others and to be in the company of people who are liked. You might want to eat the delicacies they have acquired because of their tainted income or simply because of their temporal wealth. Who wouldn’t? But it would very likely serve as a trap to draw you into the previously mentioned iniquities. Best not to take the chance. It is actually easy sometimes to avoid temptation--just avoid that table. (Most likely his concern here is not calories!)
I heard a preacher say once regarding a certain biblical statement that two-thirds of preaching should be negative. Well, this verse seems to agree with that sentiment. David didn’t have a positive view of himself nor of others. And he thought it so problematic that he needed to ask God for help.
David was already a believer in the Lord, and yet he recognized his need for help in living a life pleasing to God. You may not be in the position spiritually that he was, but you can come to that place by putting your trust in Jesus Christ. In any case, if you have a concern something like David’s, the Lord will help you with that, if you are willing.
Arlie Rauch has retired from 41 years as a pastor, is the author of “Mercy for Me,” and can be reached at email@example.com