The Traps of the Wicked

  • Nathan Schneider
Mouse trap
The wicked have laid a snare for me,
but I do not stray from your precepts.
—Psalm 119:110

It can be difficult sometimes to place yourself into the lives and the circumstances of the writers of Scripture. You read their words and try with your mind’s eye to imagine the scene. And even if the mental image is accurate to the historical setting and culture, it’s hard to see how that circumstance and that setting can translate easily into our personal lives. Such is the scene portrayed in the words of the Psalm 119 in the 110th verse, where the psalmist explains the source of the affliction he’s experiencing. He had already alluded to his troubles earlier throughout the psalm. In this prayer to God which exudes the psalmist’s love for and commitment to the Scripture, he speaks of desiring not to be put to shame (v. 6) and recognizes that even though “princes sit plotting against me” (v. 23), he has kept his way pure and thus pleads for relief from the scorn that is coming his way. In fact, it appears in the earliest parts of the psalm that it is his love for God’s law that has drawn the antagonism of his enemies. He describes himself in v. 19 as a sojourner on the earth, a citizen of a different place, who feels like he doesn’t belong because while he loves God’s Word, the world around him does not. That kind of dedication and loyalty to God and to the truth is sure to garner enemies, and the psalmist experienced that. His 176-verse psalm is a prayer extolling God’s Word, seeking God’s Word, and coming under the protection of God’s Word because of the troubles he is experiencing on account of God’s Word.

But in verse 110 we find that the psalmist is afflicted on account of wicked people who have laid a “snare” for him. This “snare” is a kind of bird trap which would spring up quickly and suddenly in order to capture its prey (cf. Amos 3:5). It’s not clear exactly what this “snare” is. I think we might be tempted to assume it involved some sort of trap intent to kill the psalmist, and while that might be easy enough to identify with in places that are seeing heavily-increasing violence like New York City, Chicago, or Los Angeles, it still doesn’t hit close to home in a place like Anchorage, AK.

But consider the psalmist’s response to this snare: “But I do not stray from your precepts.” That line right there seems to indicate that this snare is much broader than a plan to take the psalmist’s life. Actually, I think this snare was an attempt to get the psalmist to violate his commitment to God’s law. After all, the psalmist repeatedly emphasizes throughout the psalm his desire to live according to the law, to treasure it, to keep it hidden in his heart because he knows that that is the key to living a life of purity and integrity. He acknowledges his weakness, and pleads for God to protect him from wandering from the truth. These prayers and petitions are all within the context of a man who is under assault by wicked men who persecute him and taunt him for his spiritual life and his loyalty to God’s law. They lay a snare for him because they want him to fall. They trap him order to cause him to fail morally. The reality is that wicked men cannot stand the company or the audience of godly men because of the accountability it brings. They want their sin to be accepted and celebrated, and those who refuse to do so must be neutralized. What better way to neutralize a godly person than by setting them up to stumble morally.

The reality is that there is the potential for a “snare of the wicked” around every corner and behind every rock and tree. Like the psalmist, believers are sojourners on the earth, strangers and aliens, citizens to a kingdom that is not of this world. The world we live in is spiritually dangerous and under enemy control. The god of this world has his traps and schemes. He recruits the people of this world, who are under his spell and his dominion, to carry out his plots and to attack God’s agents. Like a minefield in a war-torn country, there’s no place where the believer can go and say, “I don’t need to be on spiritual guard here.” As the days continue, Scripture indicates that the times will continue to decline, and that “evil people and imposters will go on from bad to worse” (2 Tim. 3:13). The pressure is ramping up on believers. The culture of what was a society framed around biblical morally has shifted to such an extent that it is now openly hostile to that morality. And those who refuse to accept the new morality will face ever-increasing amounts of pressure. Snares are set and traps will be laid in order to entice the godly to defect morally, compromise theologically, or both. It is happening at an institutional level, and it is happening at an individual level.

How does the believer protect himself from the taunts and snares of the wicked who aim to take him down? Psalm 119 outlines it in 176 verses. If you haven’t read this psalm before, stop right now and read it. And do so understanding that you’re reading the words of a man who desires to live in purity and truth but who is under attack by others to get him to stray from the path and stray from the truth. Listen to his pleading, to his desperation to live uprightly. Hear how he goes back again and again to God’s Word as the only means of keeping his way pure. See how he treasures it and desires it more than anything else because he knows what the price is for not doing so. And pay attention as he confesses to God his own weakness and pleads for God to help him continue on and not wander off as he knows he’s liable to do without divine protection. I’ve heard numerous times people and church leaders who have mocked the idea of preaching being the central act of the church and that the church needs more community and relationship than monologues and teaching. I’ve heard charismatics who have mocked evangelicals for worshiping “the Father, the Son, and the holy Scripture.” But I tell you, when you read the words of Psalm 119, you can’t remain unconvinced that what is missing in the church today, individually and corporately, is a hunger and longing to know God’s Word. It has nothing to do with the Bible replacing God. It has everything to do with wanting to know God in the way he has revealed himself…through the written Word. The reality is that as the world grows increasingly dark, it will not be our good intentions that will keep us walking on the path of uprightness. It will not be our love for each other that will keep us from straying away and answering the siren calls of the culture around us. Rather, it will be the Word of God, which is a lamp to our feet and a light to our path (v. 105). It is the Word of God which we “do well to pay attention to as a lamp shining in a dark place” (2 Pet. 1:19). Even our love for each other, by which all men will know that we are Christ’s disciples (John 13:35) and by which we act as a light to the world (Matt. 5:14), cannot by itself sustain the onslaught of the enemy’s snares if it’s not guided by and instructed by divine truth. We cannot divorce love from truth and expect is to remain pure. Sin is too pervasive and the human heart to deceptively wicked to leave everything to good intentions. “Sanctify them by the truth; Your Word is truth” (John 17:17).

In the end, the greatest testimony we can write for ourselves is the one written by the psalmist about himself. Sojourners though we are on this earth, taunted by evil people and enticed to sin by the wicked, what better testimony can we offer to God and to the world than this: “The wicked have laid a snare for me, but I do not stray from your precepts.