December 19, 2014

A Smart-Mouth or Smart Mouths

Smart-mouth (noun): An ability or tendency to make impertinent retorts; impudence.
Smart (adj.): Good at learning about things. Shows intelligence or good judgment.
Mouth (noun): The oral opening or cavity considered as the source of vocal utterance.
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The Proverbs in Proverbs, Chapter 10 has a multitude of statements about people’s mouths, talking or words. All of these point back to a heart and brain condition. The contrast between the righteous and wicked mouth is shown in these verses. They are called antithetical parallels.

Proverbs 10:6 ~Blessings are on the head of the righteous, but the mouth of the wicked conceals violence.

Proverbs 10:11 ~ The mouth of the righteous is a fountain of life, but the mouth of the wicked conceals violence.

Violence comes from a wicked mouth. In both verses 6 and 11 the righteous are associated with blessing and life, the wicked with violence that cuts life short. It is interesting to note that essentially the same verse is repeated 5 verses apart. In between we see two other verses about people that talk too much. It appears to bookend the wicked and their chattiness. It also appears to be a chiastic ("x" shape) for emphasis. There is a mirroring of not only text but harsh reality mindlessly jabbering people.

Proverbs 10:8 ~ The wise of heart will receive commandments, but a babbling fool will come to ruin.

Proverbs 10:10 ~ Whoever winks the eye causes trouble, and a babbling fool will come to ruin.

Regardless, the structure draws our attention to the importance of speech. There is life in proper speech. This is especially true when it comes to the word of the Bible and the Gospel itself. Verse 8 is the contrast between the “wise of heart” and the “babbling fool” or literally “fool’s lips” in Hebrew. There is the attitude of speaking and listening here. The wise remain silent and absorb a situation. They are clinical and exact in word use without an excess of wordage. A fool rambles on about nothing, but the wise heart listens and learns. A wise heart is open to being taught but a fool remains a fool because he refuses to listen to learn anything.

Proverbs 10:13 ~ On the lips of him who has understanding, wisdom is found, but a rod is for the back of him who lacks sense.

Proverbs 10:14 ~ The wise lay up knowledge, but the mouth of a fool brings ruin near.

Verses 13 and 14 tells us of people who benefit from wisdom and consequences for the idiotic chatterbox. A person of discernment has wisdom to give from a heart that has stored up knowledge. The person who’s lacking in heart has nothing to give but only receives punishment and ruin. Perhaps the contrast also means to show that the wise understand sound speech while fools only understand punishment which is often the end result of their own stubbornness and stupidity.

Proverbs 10:18 ~ The one who conceals hatred has lying lips, and whoever utters slander is a fool.

Proverbs 10:19 ~ When words are many, transgression is not lacking, but whoever restrains his lips is prudent.

Proverbs 10:20 ~ The tongue of the righteous is choice silver; the heart of the wicked is of little worth.

Proverbs 10:21 ~ The lips of the righteous feed many, but fools die for lack of sense.

Every verse from Proverbs 10:18 to 10:21 have to do with correct or righteous speaking. What do they tell us? Verse 18 says that the difference between hiding hatred and spreading it through slander is an issue of action, not intent. Both are forms of deceit that have the potential to be equally destructive. Concealed hatred is deadly but slander or murder of someone’s character…is still murder. The first scenario murders the one who contains the vitriol of hatred and the other assassinates the personality of a person through words.

Verse 19 warns against the dangers of slander from another angle. The second line literally reads, “The one who restrains lips” It appears connected with “lying lips” in verse 18. This points to a time when concealing or holding back speech can be a good thing. It is a comparison/contrast. Words are like sheep; the more there are, the better the chances that some will go rogue.

Verse 20 compares the wicked and the righteous mouth with a monetary value. Verse 21 speaks of feeding people with words.  It is an image of the person who can feed his family and his animals and this is placed in contrasted with the fool who cannot even feed himself. It is as if righteous speech gives a two-fold blessing. The same theme we see throughout the entire chapter 10 and all its mentions and contrast between the speech of the wise and the babbling of the foolish.

Finally at the end of chapter 10 we see verse 32.

Proverbs 10:32 ~ The lips of the righteous know what is acceptable, but the mouth of the wicked, what is perverse.

The word used for “acceptable” (raṣon) is typically used for favor, particularly the favor of God. Please note the contrast of favor and perversity— the latter on the nature of the speech, the former on the response it brings. This final verse puts profound stress on using words that bear fruit as opposed to words that bring destruction.

So what do all these verse really mean at their core? Well, for starters they tell us that talking and words are powerful things. Our words and mouth have the power of life and death. They can also be used to bring glory to God or shame. There are prices to pay for idle words…so a prudent man picks and chooses his words carefully. There are some pretty profound character mirrors in these verses too. The themes are laziness versus diligence, shame versus honor, poverty versus wealth, wise speech versus destructive speech and righteousness versus wickedness that underlie all the others.

These Proverbs scattered throughout the chapter show that the wise man knows how to use the gift of communication for the benefit of others, not just himself. In truth, wise speaking is accompanied with wise thinking. Wise thinking is accompanied with a wise heart. Wise thinking and wise heart lead to wise actions that benefit everyone.

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