One of the things I'm coming to understand in life is the very, very great power of words.
So many times people say things that they think exist more or less in a vacuum and don't mean anything. They believe in speaking their mind and letting the chips fall where they may. Some people are honestly shocked that anyone would be hurt by their words and others couldn't care less that they've spoken badly of someone. Because in the end, people don't believe their words have significance. They're spoken, they disappear, end of story. This is a trait of Mankind, of all humans.
Let me tell you: words mean something.
Our entire universe and everything in it came into being when God spoke words.
At the end of our lives, we are going to be called into account for every idle word we speak.
God planned for his people to be blessed simply by speaking his name, a word that translates essentially to "He that was and is and is to come."
Our Savior who came to restore us to what we were made to be is called "the Living Word".
By words countries rise and fall, relationships are built and broken, and the entire course of history can be changed. It's no mistake that when we make up fairy tales, it's common for there to be an element of the "magic word" that contains great power. Depending on the spirit in which a word is spoken, words DO have great power (though obviously not the kind portrayed when the fairy in Cinderella says nonsense words like "bibbity-bobbety-boo").
Ben and I have been taking an online class in reading Biblical Hebrew because Ben has been working through the Bible for several years making his own translations so he can better grasp what is actually said. When God broke our ability to communicate at the Tower of Babel, he did more than just confuse the languages: he seems to have made it so even if you learn the basic form of another language, you may never be able to accurately transfer concepts entirely from one language to another. At best, the results are often approximations of the original. The fact that we have a translated Bible at all is nothing short of a miracle, since the literal translation of the Bible is like a collection of gibberish in English. People who understood concepts in both languages had to piece together the meaning from the original ancient manuscripts and that was no small feat. God is God and he shines through regardless: but language is still a barrier. Words mean things and using the wrong word can change everything.
I'm going to take what seems like a slight tangent, but bear with me. I really want to write about speaking words and what it means to speak evil words, but I want to first address what Jesus called the Second Greatest Commandment, quoting from God's Ways (usually called the Mosaic Law): "You shall love your neighbor as yourself".
Setting aside whether or not someone believes God's Law is relevant for Christians today, we're often told that the only commands that count are the ones Jesus gave. You can't get much more direct than this one Jesus referenced.
Leviticus 19:9 - 18 (modified ESV - see paragraph below)
9“When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap your field right up to its edge, neither shall you gather the gleanings after your harvest. 10And you shall not strip your vineyard bare, neither shall you gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard. You shall leave them for the poor and for the sojourner: I am Yehovah your God.
11“You shall not steal; you shall not deal falsely; you shall not lie to one another. 12You shall not swear by my name falsely, and so profane the name of your God: I am Yehovah your God.
13“You shall not oppress your neighbor or rob him. The wages of a hired worker shall not remain with you all night until the morning. 14You shall not curse the deaf or put a stumbling block before the blind, but you shall fear your God:I am Yehovah your God.
15“You shall do no injustice in court. You shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great, but in righteousness shall you judge your neighbor. 16You shall not go around as a slanderer among your people, and you shall not stand up against the life of your neighbor: I am Yehovah your God.
17“You shall not hate your brother in your heart, but you shall reason frankly with your neighbor, lest you incur sin because of him. 18You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am Yehovah your God.
These verses are incredibly important. God signed this piece of his law dealing with the relationships between his people with his Name FIVE times. Our Bibles translate his personal name and title as "the LORD your God", but in Hebrew it's his actual name - a very powerful Name - and title. I've added that in here because it's so important. When God signs something with his name it's as if he is underlining, italicizing and saying "PAY ATTENTION! THIS IS IMPORTANT!" Jesus calls this one of only two nails on which the entire Law and the the words of the Prophets hang.
We often hear the phrase "You shall love your neighbor as yourself" and Jesus' accompanying explanation "don't do anything to your neighbor you wouldn't want done to you". We don't often hear some of the details God explained about what that looks like. Being scrupulously truthful and just to each other. Reasoning frankly with each other. Not dealing falsely. Jesus further explained part of this verse by saying, "If you have even called your brother a fool, it is as if you murdered him in God's eyes".
Words mean something. They are powerful. We are not only to deal justly with each other in our actions, but in our words.
The word translated "slander" (pronounced phonetically raw-keel) in this verse is literally translated as "someone who travels bad news", or a scandal-monger. The root word is "merchant", which makes sense - merchants were the early news-bearers and an unreliable news-bearer could really do some serious damage to someone's name in a wide-spread fashion if they so chose. Sort of like Internet communication today. The Internet is where people today go for information and to buy things, just as people used to go to traveling merchants.
In Hebrew, to be a slanderer comes in three concepts: "lashon hara" (evil tongue), which means to use a previously unknown truth to damage someone; "rechilut" (gossip), which means to pass along falsehood to damage someone by inciting hatred or resentment; and "hotzaat shem ra" (spreading a bad name), which is the intentional destruction of someone's name to a wide audience using falsehood. We pretty much grasp these concepts in English by using the words gossip and slander, though I don't think those words are quite as strong to English speakers as the sort-of equivalents in Hebrew.
I wouldn't have ever considered myself as deliberately slandering anyone. But if you go by Jesus' explanation that calling my brother a fool is like murdering him, than even saying small hurtful things about people falls under the category of slander in this verse of Leviticus. It's one thing to report truthfully about something that is bad to protect innocent people from being hurt. It's quite another to wield truth maliciously in an attempt to hurt someone. God hates this. He hates even more when things are made up or when we pass along things we don't personally know to be true.
Let me say this again: God HATES this! He hates slander and untruthfulness and maliciousness and people deliberately attempting to bring down their neighbor's good name.
Proverbs 6:16 (modified ESV - re-entering God's name)
16There are six things that Yehovah hates,
seven that are an abomination to him:
17haughty eyes, a lying tongue,
and hands that shed innocent blood,
18a heart that devises wicked plans,
feet that make haste to run to evil,
19a false witness who breathes out lies,
and one who sows discord among brothers.
If I'm really interested in doing things God loves - acting as his child, not like a stranger who doesn't care what he thinks - this thought should get me out of my chair and make my hair stand on end. This means that even the things I think are just small little words, a failure to really be scrupulously truthful here, being unguarded or indiscreet about some information there...these things are painfully bad to God.
God is a God of love. He is Good. He is kind. And there are some things he really can't stand. He wants us to be careful with one another, to guard each others' names and hearts, to not wound and destroy each other. Slander can so easily come out of our mouths and off our fingers and those words have power. They have power and they do not disappear. They can be forgiven, but they have the power to destroy both the person being spoken about AND the speaker. Jesus said the one sin that can't be forgiven is blasphemy against the Holy Spirit, and it seems to me that blasphemy usually involves words at some point.
I remember attending a funeral for a close relative who had not been on the best of terms with his wife at the time he died suddenly. One of the saddest things I have ever experienced was the moment when his wife hugged me and said, "Be good to one another". I think she said it to everyone that day. Her great regret was realizing how many cutting words had been exchanged and how much she wanted to take hers back.
Be good to one another. Don't even speak what seems like a casually deprecating thing about someone. Those words mean things and God hears them. If there is a time to speak something unflattering, there better be a very good reason, those words better only be spoken to precisely the one who needs to hear them for the benefit of that person, and it should be done after great thought, with great regret, and with scrupulous care for the truth.
James 3:1-12 (ESV)
1Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. 2For we all stumble in many ways. And if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body. 3If we put bits into the mouths of horses so that they obey us, we guide their whole bodies as well. 4Look at the ships also: though they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. 5So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things.
How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! 6And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life,a and set on fire by hell.b 7For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind,8but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. 9With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. 10From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so. 11Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water? 12Can a fig tree, my brothers, bear olives, or a grapevine produce figs? Neither can a salt pond yield fresh water.
I think I'm going to go tell my wonderful husband I love him.
11/1/2014 04:49:37 am
Excellent. I needed to read this.
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Wife of Benjamin and mother to two wonderful little girls who are getting bigger every day. Enjoys writing down thoughts and discussions we are having within the family and sharing them with whoever is interested in reading.
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