Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Tongues of Silver


The tongue of the righteous is choice silver, but the heart of the wicked is of little value. Proverbs 10:20

Miners, speculators, investors and even brides have always prized gold and silver. These precious metals are rare, usable and maintain their value. They are also beautiful when refined and used in art and jewelry.

Gold and silver have been cherished since ancient times. Kings and queens used them to decorate thrones and crowns. In the early days of our country, people sold everything they owned to venture out west, risking their wealth and their health to find strands of gold and silver in the earth. Today, young men and women symbolize their love for each other shiny bands of gold and other jewelry made of silver. Gold and silver is valuable and precious.

Photo compliments of Karli Bonnie Photography

Drawing on the beauty, usefulness and value of these commodities, Proverbs compares them to something else of great value: wisdom. In Proverbs 2:4 says we should look for wisdom as a miner looks for silver and treasure. The English word "look" really doesn’t convey the idea of how intense this search for silver, treasure and wisdom is supposed to be. The idea is that something is missing and you seek in earnest for it, striving with emotional intensity (Bruce Waltke, The Book of Proverbs, NICOT, 1:222).

I remember my aunt losing the diamond out of her wedding ring. I was just a kid and was confused by the frantic search all the adults in the family were making looking for that little stone. I asked my mom, "What’s the big deal? It’s just a little rock, right?" Sure! I learned what intensity was that weekend! I have a friend who lost his wedding ring, and years later his wife is still angry at him for it. There is a lot of emotion tied in him those little emblems of gold, silver and precious stone. We feel deep loss if they go missing. That, the Sage says, is what we ought to feel in our search for wisdom. Earnestness. Intensity. Loss if we don’t find it.

With this discussion in mind, think of Proverbs 10:20 again: The tongue of the righteous is choice silver, but the heart of the wicked is of little value.

This verse appears in the midst of an extended discussion about wise and foolish tongues. Wise speech comes from the mouth of the righteous and is a fountain of life (10:11). While a fool is busy chattering away a wise man is busy storing up knowledge (10:14). The wise know how to hold their tongues, not speaking when it is inappropriate and not speaking to much (10:19). When the wise man does speak his words are worth listening to. The righteous speak words that are wise and fit the occasion (10:31,32), so their speech brings nourishment (10:21).

Foolish speech emanates from a heart that is not devoted to acquiring wisdom. The one who speaks foolishly stirs up hatred and violence against others and ultimately against himself (10:11) One way a foolish person stirs up hatred is in the lies he tells and the slander he spreads (10:18). The foolish mouth also stirs up anger because it simply talks too much and has no value or substance. Two times the Sage says "a chattering fool comes to ruin" (10:9,10). The fool speaks of things that are wicked and disgusting (10:31,32).

In the middle of this discussion is the comment about the tongue of the righteous being choice silver. The imagery of rarity, usefulness and value are applied to the speech of the righteous person. The speech of the wise is rare because there is not enough of it. It is useful because it encourages and transforms lives. It maintains its value because it imparts life. Such speech is choice silver, having been refined to produce purity. "The dross of evil intentions and effects" has been removed from the wise man's heart and thus his mouth (Waltke, 1:471), revealing one more important reason wise speech is so critically important. It honors God's social order by promoting wholesome life for individuals and the community.

The power of wholesome words to uphold God's order and impart life can be heard in the words of Jesus, "Neither do I condemn you, go now and leave your life of sin" (John 8:11). Taken to heart, those words could perform to heal the shame of this woman and restore refreshment to her life. May our words do the same.

Warren Baldwin