Tongues Are Sharp As Swords: Verbal Abuse in the Bible

My soul is in the midst of lions; I lie down amid fiery beasts— the children of man, whose teeth are spears and arrows, whose tongues are sharp swords.

Psalm 57:4 (ESV)

Tongues are sharp swords.

Those who suggest emotional or verbal abuse are not really abuse need to consider scripture and psychology. Giving the benefit of the doubt, maybe they just don’t know anyone who has clung onto a job under an authoritarian, mean boss or the wounds a woman has suffered from being beaten down by words, lied to, and demeaned for years upon years.

They think unless there are outward physical marks, it just isn’t abuse.

But the pain inflicted by people’s words are deep. They oppress not just by physical force but by the cutting and stabs of those words.

David suffered anquish from Saul’s abusive words. How Saul was seeking to isolate David. How he went into rages against him. Though there was physical violence as well (trying to kill David), Saul’s lying and hateful words were deeply hurtful as well.

And David acknowledges that in Psalm 57.

“Swords” cut to the core of the person. They are not made to take a mole off cleanly like a scalpel. They tear and rip the body apart. David’s inerrent terminology told us nearly 3000 years ago what psychologists have been saying only in the last century.

But there are actual physical wounds born from verbal abuse. With modern technology, we can take brain scans to map the damage done by verbal abuse.

Harvard scientists recently said, “Our findings raise the possibility that exposure to verbal aggression [abuse] may affect the development of certain vulnerable brain regions in susceptible individuals.” They found that repeated verbal abuse has “as great an effect as physical or nondomestic sexual mistreatment.”

The study concluded,

“Verbal aggression alone turns out to be a particularly strong risk factor for depression, anger-hostility, and dissociation disorders.”

The Harvard Gazette

As you read David’s Psalms that were penned during his conflict with the abuser Saul (King of Israel), you see these signs in his writing. Consider the following [italics are mine]:

Evening and morning and at noon
I utter my complaint and moan,
and he hears my voice.

Psalm 55:17 (ESV)

You have kept count of my tossings;
put my tears in your bottle.
Are they not in your book?

Psalm 56:8 (ESV)

And then David names it – verbal abuse:

O God, break the teeth in their mouths;
tear out the fangs of the young lions, O LORD!

Psalm 58:6 (ESV)

David, who would become king of Israel, knew emotional abuse. He certainly knew physical abuse as well. [And, he sexually abused Bathsheba.]

Those who question the validity of calling people, who constantly tear others apart with their words, “abusers,” have either failed to read God’s Word closely enough or have not experienced the debilitating effects of verbal abuse themselves.

Call it what it is…give the victim safety…and hold the abuser accountable.

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