“The words of the mouth are deep waters;
the fountain of wisdom is a gushing stream.”
~Proverbs 18:4 (NRSV).
Many scholars and casual readers have become confused about the meaning in the above proverb. Well, that’s okay, because the loose thematic threads that commenced in Proverbs 17 continue here. Perhaps we imagine Wisdom a river teeming with life; the words of the mouth merely a shimmer of the now-exposed heart underpinning.
There are perhaps three general themes that are teased out of these twenty-four verses:
Acts and Consequences of Foolishness
Like Groundhog Day (1993) there is more of the same so far as warnings against folly are concerned. Fools are not short an opinion on anything and everything (verse 2) and they can generally be unfriendly to the ends of irrational selfishness—even rejecting kind acts that would be self-serving (verse 1).
Speech is the deadliest giveaway as the fool opens their mouth to invite a prompt beating (verse 6) and their “lips” are a snare to their soul—meaning they’ll not be able to extract themselves from the consequences of their unguarded words (verse 7). Gossip is just part of the process for the demise of these (verse 8).
Folly joins with laziness in verse 9; it is actually a destructive force. What doesn’t build up inevitably destroys.
Strength, Power and Honour and Their Opposites
The Lord is the strong tower, and those rightfully in God know it and are made safe (verse 10). Somehow, however, many of the wealthy and rich put their faith in their own riches, thinking there’s eternal safety there (verse 11). How foolish.
“Before destruction one’s heart is haughty,
but humility goes before honor.”
~Proverbs 18:12 (NRSV).
We seem to know that after a fall it was pride that got us there. The same principle as that above (verse 11) holds. Faith (i.e. “strength”) was placed in our own devices and not Wisdom’s. It happens with remarkable consistency in life. When will we finally learn? That is Wisdom’s silent, though empathetically firm reply.
Verse 14 talks about mental and emotional health. Strength to sustain us during sickness—and most particularly these days, mental and emotional sickness—is of double value. Perhaps it’s the people who are at low emotional and spiritual strength that are most prone to depressive episodes and other such ills. It’s best to increase our stocks of these sorts of emotional and spiritual strengths when the times are good.
For added strength, assertiveness in judgment when there’s an argument can keep two warring parties safely away from each other (verse 18). We know that kin is a powerful ally (Proverbs 17:17); well, there’s a flipside to that coin! That transgressed sibling is not forgetting the issue lightly (verse 19). Conversely, favours exacted gain for us many a strong bond. This friend will endure loyally (verse 24).
Speaking and Listening Wisely
Listening skills we find are rarely executed but we’re warned of their deep-seated value. But it is not only a good communication ploy; it is to our “folly and shame” where we reply before listening (verse 13). This, again, is a warning that our warnings will one day run out and we’ll pay a big price for answering too swiftly. Indeed, we’ve all been there.
Verse 15 concurs. The person of discernment acquires knowledge carefully through listening more than they speak. Additionally, it is known that the giver of gifts is given to greatness via the salubriousness of their kindness (verse 16).
The wise are not so easily convinced that they gullibly believe the first account of everything; they reserve judgment until all the facts are known (verse 17).
Perhaps most resoundingly it appears that our words are behind the very acquisition of our food (verse 20-21). Taken further, we see that even down to our employment there is a background to our speech. Could it be a loose tongue is responsible for a limiting our chances at employment success and promotion?
© 2010 S. J. Wickham.