05 March 2015

Proverbs on Speech

The book of Proverbs has much to say regarding speech.  Not only is that a mammoth understatement, it is also an incredibly loaded statement.  The book of Proverbs contains a total of 915 verses.  Categorized below are at least 150 different verses (some listed a number of times under various headings), and I am sure there are some that I have missed.  That means about 1 out of every 6 verses in the book of Proverbs has something to say about speaking. 
The overwhelming lesson I have taken from this study is that if God is so concerned with what comes out of my mouth, I would be well served to give more thought, more attention, and more study to what I say and how I say it.
Some are naturally quiet and reserved.  Others, because of their personality or their position or both, tend to do a lot of speaking.  I fall into the latter category.  It is very important that I pay careful attention and give diligent heed to what this book has to say.
Let’s start with some contrasts: the speech of the wise vs. the speech of the fool; the tongue of the strange woman vs. the tongue of the virtuous woman; the instruction of parents vs. the enticement of sinners. 
The Speech of Wisdom
Wisdom lifts up her voice in the public place.  She stands on the top of the highest places (9:3) and cries[1] out at the entryway of the city (8:1-3).  She makes known her words to the simple in the streets, in the chief place of concourse, and in the openings of the gates (1:20-23).  Her speech is characterized by righteousness (8:8), knowledge (15:7); instruction (1:3; 8:10); and sound counsel (1:5; 8:14).
The Speech of the Fool
The fool hides hatred by lying (10:18) and slanders his neighbor (10:18).  His mouth proclaims (12:23), pours out (15:2), and feeds on (15:14) foolishness.  His lips do not disperse knowledge (14:7; 15:7) but rather boasting (14:3), deceit (14:8), and perversity (19:1).  Unlike wisdom, he opens not his mouth in the gate (24:7), and his instruction is folly (16:22).  He utters all his mind (29:11) and enters into contention (18:6).  His mouth is his destruction, and his lips are the snare of his soul (18:7).
The Tongue of the Strange Woman
The mouth of strange women is a deep pit: he that is abhorred of the LORD shall fall therein (22:14).  Her snare is laced with flattery and fair speech (2:16; 6:24; 7:21).  She is loud (7:11), and yet her lips drop as an honeycomb, and her mouth is smoother than oil (5:3).  She entices the simple with her lies (9:16-17). 

The Tongue of the Virtuous Woman
Everything said above regarding the speech of wisdom is true of the virtuous woman, for Proverbs says she opens her mouth with wisdom (31:26).  On top of that, the book adds this beautiful phrase: in her tongue is the law of kindness
The Instruction of Parents
Proverbs makes mention of the instruction (1:8; 4:1; 13:1), the law (1:8; 4:2; 6:20), the teaching (4:4, 11; 31:1), and the commandments (2:1; 4:4; 6:20) of father and mother.  The parents plead with the son to attend to their words; to incline his ear to their sayings; to let them not depart from his eyes; to keep them in the midst of his heart (4:20-21; see also 7:1-5; 7:24; 23:26).  The end objective is for the son to be guided by the voice of his parents’ instruction, even when mother and father are no longer present: When thou goest, it shall lead thee; when thou sleepest, it shall keep thee; and when thou awakest, it shall talk with thee. For the commandment is a lamp; and the law is light; and reproofs of instruction are the way of life (6:22-23).
The Enticement of Sinners
This instruction is so important, for sinners will always be enticing us to join them (1:10).  For they sleep not, except they have done mischief; and their sleep is taken away, unless they cause some to fall (4:16).
The book of Proverbs speaks against numerous sins of the tongue: these include lying, deceit, false witness, talebearing, whispering, backbiting, flattery, and boasting.  It condemns that speech which is froward or perverse. 
Lying, Deceit, False Witness
The Lord hates a lying tongue (6:17), and so does a righteous man (13:5).  Lying lips (12:22) and the false witness that speaks the lies (6:19) are said to be an abomination unto God.  He calls the liar and the slanderer a fool (10:18).  The liar’s judgment is certain, for Proverbs says that a lying tongue is but for a moment (12:19).  Twice it states that a false witness shall not be unpunished, and he that speaketh lies shall perish (21:28) and not escape (19:5, 9).  According to Proverbs, the root of lying is hatred (10:18; 26:24, 26, 28).  Over and over the book warns us to recognize and avoid the false, deceitful witness and his lying, deceitful words (12:5; 12:17; 14:5; 14:8; 14:25; 25:18; 26:18-19; 30:8).  It also urges not to engage in the sinful practice (17:17; 20:17; 24:28).
Talebearing, Whispering, Backbiting
A prudent man conceals knowledge (12:23), but a talebearer reveals secrets (11:13; 20:19).  His words are as deep wounds (18:8; 26:22).  They kindle strife (26:20) and separate very friends (16:28; 17:9).  Proverbs instructs us not to accuse a servant to his master (30:10) but to debate our cause with our neighbor himself (25:9) and to use an angry countenance to drive away the backbiting tongue (25:23).
We have already seen that the strange woman is characterized by her flattery (6:24 et al).  Further, Proverbs states that because a flattering mouth works ruin (26:28), we must not meddle with him that flatters with his lips (20:19).
How prevalent is this sin that Proverbs condemns!  Most men do indeed proclaim their own goodness (20:6), but Proverbs would have us allow our praise to come from the lips of others (27:1-2).
Froward Mouth
It might help to think of froward as the opposite of toward (“to and fro”).  According to Noah Webster’s 1828 dictionary, the word means “perverse; that is, turning from, with aversion or reluctance; not willing to yield or comply with what is required; unyielding; ungovernable; refractory; disobedient; peevish.”  A naughty person and wicked man walks with a froward mouth (6:12).  The froward tongue shall be cut out (10:31).  Wisdom, knowledge, understanding, and discretion are given to deliver us from the man that speaks froward things (2:12).  So put away a froward mouth (4:24).
Perverse Lips
Perverse lips are also to be put away (4:24), for he that hath a perverse tongue falleth into mischief (17:20), and perverseness is said to be a breach in the spirit (15:4).  Better is the poor man that walketh in his integrity, than he that is perverse in his lips, and is a fool (19:1). 
In contrast to the above, Proverbs reveals those things that ought to characterize our speech: pleasantness (15:23; 16:24; 22:18); sweetness (16:21); softness (25:15); kindness (31:26); grace (22:11); and truth (12:17, 19, et al). 
The book of Proverbs places a high value on right words and also describes the destructive power of the tongue.
Value of Right Words
Consider the following statements: The mouth of a righteous man is a well of life (10:11).  The tongue of the just is as choice silver (10:20). The lips of the righteous feed many (10:21).  The tongue of the wise is health (12:18).  A wholesome tongue is a tree of life (15:4).  The wellspring of wisdom is a flowing brook (18:4).  There is gold, and multitude of rubies: but the lips of knowledge are a precious jewel (20:15).  A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in pictures of silver (25:11).  A man hath joy by the answer of his mouth: and a word spoken in due season, how good is it (15:23)!  By heeding the instruction of the book of Proverbs, we might learn to say the right thing, the right way, at the right time (cp. 15:23; 27:14), to the right result. 
Destructive Power of the Tongue
Truly, death and life are in the power of the tongue (18:21).  An hypocrite with his mouth can destroy his neighbor (11:9), for his words are like the piercings of a sword (12:18). 
One of the most interesting aspects of this study was the instruction Proverbs provides regarding how to give an answer.  That I might make thee know the certainty of the words of truth; that thou mightiest answer the words of truth to them that send unto thee (22:21).
1.     Study to answer (15:28).  Do not answer a matter before you hear it (18:13).
2.     Get your answer from the LORD (16:1).
3.     Answer softly (15:1) not roughly (18:23).
4.   Know when to answer nothing (26:4).  Know when to return a fool his folly (26:5). 
5.     Answer with a righteous life (27:11).
6.     Enjoy the good results (15:23; 24:26).
The book of Proverbs calls its reader back to two very important but almost-forgotten arts in the Christian life: that of counsel (both seeking it and giving it) and rebuke (both taking it and giving it out).
In general, the book of Proverbs is one big treasure trove of counsel (22:20).  The book reminds us of the great importance of proper counsel (11:14; 15:22; 20:18; 24:6) and urges us to seek it out (20:5), hear it (1:5; 12:15; 19:20), compare it to God’s word (1:5; 8:14; 19:21; 20:18; 21:30 cp. 12:5), and act accordingly.  Good counsel, properly given and received, sweetens friendship (27:9) and produces joy (12:20).
Reproof, Rebuke
Proverbs says more about rebuking than being rebuked (9:7-8; 19:25; 24:25; 25:12; 27:5-6).  It reminds us that a rebuke properly given risks offending the recipient for the sake of his betterment.  It is a selfless act, and thus not very popular.  Those on the receiving end of such a rebuke would be wise to pay careful attention (6:23; 9:8; 19:25).
Finally, the book of Proverbs mentions several things that should occupy my speech to a much greater degree: delivering souls (14:25; 24:11-12; 12:6); praying (15:8); confessing (28:13); singing and rejoicing (29:6); and speaking well of others (27:2; 31:28, 30).

[1] The simple cries for wisdom in 2:3-6.  Wisdom cries to the simple in 1:20-23; 8:1-3; 9:1-3.  Whatever our desire for wisdom, it cannot match God’s desire to give it to us.

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