In verse three we exhort God to set a watch before our mouth. This reminds me of the first two chapters of the gospel of Luke where Luke tells the story of Zechariah and his barren wife. They were holy but had no children.
According to Luke's gospel, Zechariah was a priest. He was offering incense to God and suddenly the angel Gabriel appeared.
Gabriel told him, "Don't be afraid, Zechariah. Your prayer has been heard. Your wife will bear a son."
Now this is odd. Has Zechariah, even after all these years been praying for a son? That's some heavy-duty faith. It's one thing to pray for a son when your wife is young and barren. But now that Elizabeth is old she is even more incapable of having children. So has Zechariah been holding on unconsciously to the old hope for children? Has he not been conformed to the world yet? Or perhaps he hasn't been praying for children. Perhaps he has only been praying for a deliverer for Israel and the promised son is merely secondary to that prayer. Is it possible that if Zechariah had not been praying for Israel, he would not have had a son?
Zechariah's response to this news of a coming miracle is pretty much the same as the response of the early church when Peter was miraculously released. He didn't believe. Not believing in the miracle is human, of course. But Zechariah was a priest. He should have had more faith.
The English version of Zechariah's response to Gabriel sounds the same as Mary's response. "How can this be?" In the King James version there is no punctuation that hints that there is any difference in how Mary or Zechariah asked their questions. But, it's apparent that Gabriel treated their question differently. Gabriel saw faith in Mary's question but lack of it in Zechariah's.
Gabriel's response is to immediately remove Zechariah's ability to speak. In short, he put a bit in Zechariah's mouth and set a watch upon Zechariah's lips. James 1:26 and Psalm 32:9. As James said, the tongue is like a rudder which directs one's life as a rudder directs a ship. This is Gabriel taking away the rudder of Zechariah's life. The tongue is the rudder of our life and we can destroy even a God-given miracle by our negative words. Jesus told His believers that we will give an account of every idle word (Matthew 12:36) we speak. God has given us such wonderful promises to speak, wonderful words of life. So we have to commit to speaking properly. As Christians, we do not walk in the dark. We know how the world operates. We do not stumble in the dark as those who have no light. God has asked us to be mature and grown and to be adult about our use of our words. "Let the redeemed of the Lord say" -Psalm 107:2
The Lord had prepared a blessing for the world, yet even in such a great situation there was the possibility that Zechariah's faithless words would thwart the miracle. We Christians work in collaboration with God. God works with us, never without us. Speaking faithful words is important. The Bible says the people marveled that Zechariah delayed.
Of course he delayed. He was in a bad situation. The time came for him to come out to the people. But God had taken away his faithless voice. What will he say when he speaks to the people? God had not taken away his ability to write. Writing takes time. One can't just slip out everything when one writes.
There is another character in the Bible who was careful with her words - the Wise woman who went to Elijah because her son died. (2 Kings 4:1-38) After her son's death, she kept her mouth shut although everyone kept asking how she was. She didn't tell them. Even Jesus was careful about saying "Lazarus is dead."
Words spoken and words heard are very powerful. There is even an instance where Jesus healed the man outside of Bethsaida and told him not to go back inside the town? Why would Jesus do this? Because Jesus had complained about how faithless the folks in Bethsaida were. The newly-healed man would have lost his healing if he returned to a place of such unbelief.
There are many situations in the Bible where God shows the power of words. The angel of the Lord called Gideon, "Thou mighty man of God" even though Gideon was afraid. Jesus renamed Simon (whose name meant reed) "Peter" (which means a rock) because "Reed" is a pretty wimpy name. Peter himself repeats that "Death and Life are in the power of the tongue."
Yet, there are times when a harsh word might be good. As the Psalmist says in verse 5, "Let the righteous smite me; it shall be a kindness." This does not mean we should feel free to say cruel things to other people "for their own good." After all, Jesus has said, "Let those who are without sin cast the first stone." But it does mean that if a righteous person will develop a heart that is easily touched or enlightened, even by cruel mouthy people who talk too much.
1Lord, I cry unto thee: make haste unto me; give ear unto my voice, when I cry unto thee.
2Let my prayer be set forth before thee as incense; and the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice.
3Set a watch, O LORD, before my mouth; keep the door of my lips.
4Incline not my heart to any evil thing, to practice wicked works with men that work iniquity: and let me not eat of their dainties.
5Let the righteous smite me; it shall be a kindness: and let him reprove me; it shall be an excellent oil, which shall not break my head: for yet my prayer also shall be in their calamities.
6When their judges are overthrown in stony places, they shall hear my words; for they are sweet.
7Our bones are scattered at the grave's mouth, as when one cutteth and cleaveth wood upon the earth.
8But mine eyes are unto thee, O GOD the Lord: in thee is my trust; leave not my soul destitute.
9Keep me from the snares which they have laid for me, and the gins of the workers of iniquity.
10Let the wicked fall into their own nets, whilst that I withal escape.