Sunday, 31 August 2008 00:00

Pierces of Swords: Backbiting Speech

Proverbs 25:23 (ESV)

The north wind brings forth rain, and a backbiting tongue, angry looks.

This morning we come to a particular kind of speech that the Bible calls "backbiting" words. It falls in the category of a "pierce of a sword" (Proverbs 12:18) or "sword thrusts" caused by rash words. But the injury caused by this kind of speech is to the speaker, as we'll see.

  1. Backbiting is speaking in a concealed manner to ruin someone's good name.
    The Hebrew word "backbiting" in our text means to "hide" or "conceal." Thus, the "backbiting tongue" is a euphemism for "hidden words intended to harm someone."
    1. A reputation can be stolen openly.
      A robber can take something from you by an act of violence, out in the open. When one openly utters words against another that rob him of reputation, the speaker thinks very little of that person, and so dishonors or reviles him.
    2. A reputation can be stolen secretly.
      The act of taking another's reputation in secret is what the Bible calls backbiting. Backbiting reveals disrespect for the person who is being discussed in secret. Rather than revile him, so that he is injured directly, the speaker's words intend to rob another of his good name, in so far as by uttering such words secretly.
      1. The backbiter apparently intends and aims at being believed by others.
      2. The backbiter finds it necessary to rob another's reputation to be believed.
  2. Backbiting ultimately brings harm to the speaker, not the one with a good name.
    "The north wind drives away rain: so doth an angry countenance a backbiting tongue" (KJV). But the ESV says, "The north wind brings forth rain: and a backbiting tongue, angry looks." Which is it? I personally believe the King James Version is the best translation here. I arrived at this from my own experience and my study, "The north wind always brings the clearest skies" (The Holy Land: An Oxford Archeological Guide from Earliest Times, Jerome Murphy-O'Conner, p.246). The major point in both translations remains the same: Backbiting harms the speaker. For this reason, don't burden yourself with what others may say about in private. Simply focus on living your life consistent with the virtues of Christ and His Word.
  3. Backbiting is another indication that the heart is not connected with Christ.
    A person practices backbiting in his life usually for one of two separate reasons: (1). First, the backbiter lacks moral courage, or (2). What the backbiter says is a lie. "But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur..." (Revelation 21:8). Christ changes the hearts of His people.

(A Psalm of David) "Lord, who shall abide in Thy tabernacle? Who shall dwell in Thy holy hill? He that walketh uprightly, and worketh righteousness, and speaketh the truth in his heart. He that backbiteth not with his tongue, nor doeth evil to his nieghbour, nor taketh up a reproach against his neighbour" (Psalm 15:13 KJV). Paul used the Greek word, which means a defamer, and is translated backbitings: "For I fear that when I come, there will be among you) backbitings" (II Corinthians 12:20).

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