Today’s reading: Judges 10-12.
“Words are like eggs dropped from great heights; you can no more call them back than ignore the mess they leave when they fall.”
― Jodi Picoult, Salem Falls
No one in the Bible says more about the dangers of the tongue than James. For him it is “a restless evil, full of deadly poison.” He calls it a fire that cannot be tamed and that is able to corrupt the whole person. Proverbs says that the tongue holds the power of life and death. Today’s reading from Judges gives clear examples of the deadly power of words.
And Jephthah made a vow to the LORD: “If you give the Ammonites into my hands, whatever comes out of the door of my house to meet me when I return in triumph from the Ammonites will be the LORD’s, and I will sacrifice it as a burnt offering.” Then Jephthah went over to fight the Ammonites, and the LORD gave them into his hands. Judges 11:30-32
Jephthah was an outcast with a ragtag band of ne’er-do-wells who was called on to deliver Israel from its enemies. He accomplished this by the LORD’s help, but not before making a rash oath that ended up costing his daughter her life. I believe he was bargaining. “God, you do this for me and I’ll (fill in the blank).” We’ve all done it, but it’s a mistake. God says let your yes by yes and your no be no. Base your actions on God’s character and promises, not on any bargain you believe you can make with God. You have to wonder what Jephthah was thinking, though. The Bible says he only had one child. Did he believe the family pet was going to walk through the door on his return? Was he hoping it would be a stranger, or his wife? He had his mouth in gear but not his brain. His words were rash, poisonous, and deadly.
This wasn’t the only time he brought death with his loose tongue. After he wins the battle the Ephraimites come complaining that they were left out of the fight (and its spoils). If this sounds familiar, it’s because they made the same complaint to Gideon after his victory. On that occasion Gideon spoke wise words and calmed his brothers from Ephraim. Not Jephthah. He speaks the truth about what happened, but then throws fuel on the fire by saying “why have you come to fight me?” He backs up his angry words with angry action and leads his men to kill forty-two thousand Ephraimites.
James had it right when he described our words as a spark that can ignite a great flame:
- especially when delivered with strong emotion
- or when they directed to the hot-button topics that we know will anger or hurt the listener
- because our words cannot be taken back
- and their effects last long after we have forgotten what we said
Proverbs advises us to bridle our tongues and to limit what we say. Perhaps you’ve heard it said that God gave us two ears and one mouth so that we will listen twice as much as we speak. That’s good advice. Even better, think before you let go of those rash words that cannot be taken back.
“Thanks to words, we have been able to rise above the brutes; and thanks to words, we have often sunk to the level of the demons.” ― Aldous Huxley
Image by kalavinka on Flickr, CC by-nc-sa 2.0