Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Proverbs 21:23: Our Words and the Image of God

Proverbs 21:23
Whoever keeps his mouth and his tongue
    keeps himself out of trouble.

Roland Murphy writes that about 20 percent of chapters 10-29 are focused on speech.  This points to the importance of speech.
[1]    Murphy also says, "Speech is perhaps the truest indication whether one is wise or foolish.  It betrays who one is."[2]  If we are going to pursue righteousness and love intensely, as our last two proverbs have advised, then our speech will indicate where we are in that quest.  A careful look at the words that come from our mouths will expose how we fall short of God's glory and righteousness (Romans 3:23). 

But the importance of speech also follows when consider our purpose.  We were created to image God.  We were made to reflect his glory.  In Christ we have been delivered from vain, self-serving stories that are deadly dull, and given the privilege of reflecting his character, and participating in the life and love of the triune God!  And who is this God?  He is the God who speaks!

Of course, for those who love their sin and are not pursuing the Lord, nor his righteousness and love, it is best to construct a god who never talks!  A God who talks is a God who threatens our control over our lives.  Thus, it is best to make a silent god, who doesn't talk to us, lest he reprove us of our sin or say something mean to hurt our feelings!  If that's the kind of silent god you want, then Proverbs is not for you, because in Proverbs our heavenly Father is constantly instructing, reproving and teaching us for our blessing.  There is pain as his teaching exposes, rebukes, and leads us to the sorrow of repentance, but there is also the joy of faith.

And, one blessing besides the high privilege of imitating the triune God and participating in his life, is what our proverb mentions in the second line.  The man who learns to keep his tongue, learning to speak to bring God glory and blessing to others, has this benefit: he "keeps himself out of trouble." 

I am not sure that this word
trouble in line two, quite captures the difficulty our words can make for us.  John Hartley gives us some examples of the use of this word translated as trouble from the Old Testament:

"It indicates intense inner turmoil (Psalm 25:17).  It describes the anguish of a people besieged by an enemy.  It is comparable to the pain of a woman bearing her first child (Jeremiah 4:31).  It refers to terror at the approach of a raping army (Jeremiah 6:24).  It defines the quality of time when Judah suffers her severest punishment for violating the covenant (Jeremiah 30:7; cf. Psalm 78:49).  The land of a people that reject the Lord's word is described as full of distress (our word
trouble), darkness, and the gloom of anguish (Isaiah 8:22; cf. 30:6)."[3]

After reading Hartley's words, how thankful we should be that Jesus Christ suffered the punishment for our unguarded speech!  He took the punishment we deserved for all of our untrue, unfair, unkind, unnecessary and unedifying words that do not glorify the Father.  And by his salvation he delivers us from our trouble and brings his light into our darkness.  Teach us, Father, to offer our bodies to you in view of your mercies, including our mouths and lips, for your service.  Amen.

[1] Murphy, Word Biblical Commentary, 258.
[2] Ibid., 259.
[3] John Hartley, Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, 779.

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