I write this time about something I cannot but flinch at addressing. Something in which I cannot but feel more deeply than usual my own sense of serious inadequacy. It is the matter of the tongue, of our words, of what we say and don’t say, and how we say them. It may be that we all have a similar feeling of awkwardness about this matter, knowing our failings. But this doesn’t help me feel any better at all about this matter. The fact is, by our words we will be condemned and by our use of words we will be counted as righteous. The importance of our words cannot be overstressed. Judah were condemned “because their tongue and their words are against the Lord” (Is. 3:8). All their idolatry, perversion etc. was summarized in their words. Again and again, Isaiah and the prophets say that the reason for Israel’s condemnation was their words, even those they said under their breath- “your tongue hath muttered perverseness” (Is. 5:24). “Their princes shall fall by the sword for the rage of their tongue” (Hos. 7:16). “The inhabitants thereof have spoken lies, and their tongue is deceitful in their mouth. Therefore also will I make thee sick in smiting thee, in making thee desolate because of thy sins” (Mic. 6:12,13). Truly “death and life are in the power of the tongue: and they that love it shall eat the fruit thereof” (Prov. 18:21).
The Hebrew word usually translated “tongue” is also put by metonymy for the person- because a man’s words reflect who he really and essentially is. And this means we shouldn’t justify our bad speaking by feeling that underneath, we aren’t really like that. We can’t shout and scream hard words at our partner or children or brethren and think that really, we love them underneath. Let’s not think that the way words come out is something involuntary. Job and his friends (Job 4:2) all justified their inappropriate words by reasoning that a man just couldn’t but speak out what he felt given the situation. But they all learnt in the end how far better it would have been not to have spoken as they did. They laid their hands upon their mouths. Words can be controlled. We are culpable for them. Because a man’s words are counted as who he is:
“Surely the serpent will bite without enchantment; and a babbler [same word translated ‘tongue’] is no better” (Ecc. 10:11)
“Ye are taken up in the lips of talkers [s.w. tongue]” (Is. 59:3)
“Let not an evil speaker [s.w. tongue] be established” (Ps. 140:11)
“Ye are taken up in the lips of talkers [s.w. tongues]” (Ez. 36:3)