Question: "What does it mean that all men are liars (Psalm 116:11)?"
Answer: Psalm 116:10–11 says, “I believed, therefore have I spoken: I was greatly afflicted: I said in my haste, ‘All men are liars’” (KJV). The psalmist here is expressing the tumultuous emotions he experienced while undergoing great stress. He ends the psalm by rejoicing that God had never left him, even though it seemed everyone else had.
In Psalm 116, the writer remembers a horrible time in his life and how the Lord saved him from it. The clause all men are liars or everyone is a liar is the way he expresses the intense feelings he had in the heat of the moment. It was a time when “the cords of death entangled me, the anguish of the grave came over me; I was overcome by distress and sorrow” (verse 3). During that time, he felt forsaken. No one could be trusted; those who promised help proved to be unreliable and their words nothing but lies.
The feeling that had overcome the psalmist when he described all men as liars is identified as “alarm” (NIV), “anxiety” (NLT), and “confusion” (CEV). The KJV uses the word haste. The key is that, as the psalmist looked back on the situation, he saw that his words had been hasty and influenced by the anxiety and trepidation he felt. He had not been thinking straight when he said that everyone was a liar and all he had was the Lord. The statement was hyperbolic, declared by a panicked man when feeling overwhelmed.
The Psalms are filled with poetic language, strong emotions, and colorful descriptions penned by men who were expressing their feelings in various seasons of life. A common feeling during times of trouble is that we endure the trouble alone, and many psalms express that feeling (e.g., Psalm 38:11; 88:8, 18; 142:4). Many passages reflect the rawness of human emotion, which can skew our perspective (see Psalm 137:9). When we experience strong emotion, both good and bad, we often express it in ways that we would not do when feeling calm. The author of Psalm 116 recalls the time when he expressed his thought that all men are liars, but he later saw that he had spoken in haste—under duress, he had simply been “venting.”
Psalm 73 is another good example of this. The psalmist is wrestling with the apparent injustice of the prosperity of the wicked. He questions God’s wisdom in blessing evildoers and wonders if perhaps he has obeyed the Lord in vain. Then, in verse 15, he catches himself and says, “If I had spoken out like that, I would have betrayed your children.” He is recognizing that his emotions are not accurate, and they should not be given voice, even though they feel true in the moment.
Within God’s Word are the recorded realities of human passions and failures. The Bible is extremely honest about the shortcomings of even the great patriarchs of the faith. Even the most godly men and women have moments when anxiety mounts and they think or say something foolish. The fact of our weakness is amply demonstrated for us in God’s Word. The Psalms, especially, are energized by a spectrum of human emotions while they impart nuggets of truth and wisdom. All of it, including the psalmist’s rash statement that all men are liars, was placed there for our edification.
While it is true that lying is a part of our fallen human nature, all men are not liars. Many people are liars, and we may all lie in ways of which we are not fully aware, such as false representation, pretense, or silence. But in Psalm 116 the writer is referring to the lack of loyalty in people he had trusted. It felt to him as though no one could be counted on, so, in his “alarm,” he exaggerated the reality. We often do this. We use words like everything, no one, always, or never to make our point, even though those superlatives are not necessarily factual. For example, when we say, “Everything has gone wrong today,” or “No one cares that I’m sick,” we most likely exaggerate the truth. The statement that “all men are liars” in Psalm 116:11 follows that pattern.