The Tongue Which Breaks Bones
January 30, 2000 / No. 2978
The Scripture before which we bow today is found in Proverbs 25:15. Here we read, “By long forbearing is a prince persuaded, and a soft tongue breaketh the bone.”
Our Lord Jesus Christ is speaking to us in that verse. He is speaking there of the power of a sanctified tongue, a tongue which is under the power of the Holy Spirit, a tongue which has become wise, of the power of such a tongue among the people of God for good.
The Lord is speaking there of two members of the human body: the tongue and the bone. He says that, in a certain sense, the tongue is stronger than the bone, for the tongue will break the bones.
The tongue is soft, one of the softest members of our bodies. It was created by God to be pliable and to bend so that we can speak. The bones are hard, the hardest part of our bodies. They do not bend but they break. The Bible mentions that especially our foreheads are hard. In the book of Ezekiel we read that God would make Ezekiel’s forehead an adamant harder than flint. Very often the reference in the Bible to a hard head or to a hard bone is a reference to the enraged temper, to the irritated and angry disposition of heart.
Apparently, the Lord speaks to us then of a paradox. He says that the softest part of the body is able to break the hardest part. But it is a very beautiful expression of the power of the words of a child of God when the child of God speaks in gentleness and patience, when the child of God speaks as in the presence of God. The power of those words to correct and to break the hardness and sinful anger which can so often overwhelm our hearts. Instead of our words adding to the flames, Christ says that a wise tongue, a tongue that comes from Him, is able to break the bones.
The Lord is speaking to us then of those words which we speak when we stand under the light of the Cross, conscious of our salvation in Jesus Christ and of our calling to glorify Him in the words that we speak. He is speaking especially of the words that we speak in response when we are in moments of great irritation and argument and hard attitudes are being formed around us. Words which are not sharp or upbraiding. Certainly the Lord is not referring to a “smooth” tongue. He is not referring to the earthly, carnal way of persuasion or manipulation. He is speaking of the words which we speak from the heart of gentleness, words which we speak as in the presence of God, words which are spoken in love for God and love for our neighbor, words which are spoken in His presence – these, says the Lord, are able to convict an embittered heart.
This is borne out from the first part of the verse. We read, “By long forbearing is a prince persuaded.” There we have the idea of a prince who has set his mind to do something. He occupies a position of authority. And as the power of the prince is in him, it is now combined with a headstrong determination to do something which is inadvisable and foolish. Perhaps he has been slighted. Perhaps his pride or dignity has been insulted, and he has set himself upon a certain course of action. But then a wise counselor arises who does not challenge the authority of the prince, who forbears and restrains his spirit, checks his own carnal impulses, but puts the case before the prince with meekness and wisdom. And the prince is persuaded to abandon his present state of mind.
What is Christ saying to us? He is saying this. The wisdom and gentleness of Christ is to be found in us when, in our words, we respond in wisdom in situations which are filled with irritation, anger, and embittered attitudes.
Still more. The Lord is saying to us that it is those words which are spoken in love for Him and for the neighbor, words which are spoken in courage, words which are spoken in wisdom and meekness, spoken as I said in the presence of God – these words are mighty instruments in God’s hands to soften and to break the hard attitudes which our hearts can so quickly fall into.
There is a very beautiful illustration of this in the life of David (I Sam. 25 – open your Bibles to that passage). David, as you know, was a God-fearing man. But he had fallen into a sin. In that chapter David was filled with an unholy anger and irritation, a vengeance which had swept over him and sealed his heart. The situation was this: While he fled from Saul, David’s men had protected and cared for and protected the shepherds of Nabal. Now David sends messengers to Nabal asking if Nabal will give him something, for he is in dire straits. But Nabal responds to these messengers roughly and says, “Who is David, that I should help him?” And David, in response to Nabal, is simply filled with anger and wrath. Nabal’s treatment of David was uncalled for. And now David’s blood was up. He is angry, he is filled with hatred. David, in his anger, lost the ability to look into his own heart. There was one thing on his mind when his messengers returned to him with Nabal’s words. He said, “Gird on every man his sword.” He was determined to punish Nabal and his household with death.
Now Nabal, the Bible tells us, was a fool. The Bible says so. He was a man who was evil in his doings. He was a man of Belial, says the Bible. And, the Bible says, a man could not speak with him – he was utterly unreasonable. David’s men had been a wall to Nabal’s shepherds. They had protected them and had not taken anything away from Nabal. Now when David hears that Nabal is shearing sheep nearby and he asks Nabal to consider some kindness to him, Nabal responds in folly and offends David.
But David’s response was blinding anger and murder. For, you see, in our flesh dwelleth every sin. Here’s David. He is under distress. Saul is seeking his life. He reasons that he has tried to keep his reins upon his men. They have not taken anything by force from anybody, although they might have. Now this Nabal responds to him with these wicked insinuations. And there is one thought in David’s mind – one thing holds with an iron grip: Nabal will die!
Does that sound familiar? David, at that point, does not commit himself to God. No, he is going to take matters into his own hands. He will show this Nabal a thing or two. Does that sound familiar? When our hearts are inflamed and seized by carnal anger and resentment and bitterness, that is a terribly wicked thing. And it is especially a wicked thing to try to sanctify it and to say, “Oh, I have a holy reason to be angry.” Nothing, then, will stop us. We are embittered. Parent, in front of your children the other day, as a husband and wife, you had a spat. The bottom of it was that you didn’t like what your spouse did. It wounded your pride. You were thinking, “That insensitive, that inconsiderate man doesn’t care about me!” That was pulsating through your mind. Then something came up. And right in front of those kids, you fought. You said, “That’s it! Gird on your sword.” And you got in your swings. Or perhaps it happened on the job. You have been telling your department and your fellow workers to be on the ball. There is something coming down that you saw. You saw red flags and you told them, “We have to be prepared for that.” You tried to help them out. And now they have turned on you in ingratitude. Or, perhaps it happened to you in the school or church relationship. You feel slighted. Something uncalled for has happened to you. And your sinful nature has locked hold on it and has set a course of sin before you. You see red in front of your eyes. You are filled with uncharitable judgments. You have resentment, you have fury. And suddenly, instead of your heart being soft to receive the Word of God and to know yourself as the chief sinner, that is gone. Your heart is as hard as a bone. And you seek revenge.
Now Christ is telling us that a soft tongue will break the bone.
God, in His mercy, is pleased to send to you and to me (hardhearted sinners) those who wisely reprove us lest we go on the way of our sinful destruction. God exercises His grace in the communion of saints. So the Scriptures tell us that we are to acquire more and more this soft tongue of which Christ speaks. Once again, not the tongue of a flatterer, but the tongue which is actually the instrument of His truth and peace.
Very often when an angry and embittered spirit confronts us we are tempted to do one of two things. We are tempted to get caught up in that spirit and to respond in kind, and to knock heads. Or, we are tempted to withdraw and back away. God’s Word says, No. Your calling is to be that wise reprover. Now that Word of God shows us how. It says to us, “A soft tongue will break the bones.” Let us go back to that example in the life of David in I Samuel 25.
Perhaps you will remember that Nabal had a wife, Abigail, who was very wise. Abigail is a beautiful illustration of the soft tongue that breaks the bones. Abigail heard of what her husband had done, of the affront that he has given to David. And she has heard that David is on his way to destroy Nabal’s house. The Spirit of the Lord being in her, she goes forth now to meet David. In Abigail we have a picture of that soft tongue which breaks the bone. We read of her in I Samuel 25, that she was a woman of good understanding and of a beautiful countenance. The Spirit of her Lord was in her. And she had the grace of living in the presence of her Lord.
Abigail possessed the Spirit of the Lord Jesus Christ. So she goes forth to talk to David. We do not have time to look at that passage in all of its beautiful detail. But let me point out a few things that happened there.
There is, first of all, this power of the soft tongue in Abigail revealed in her spirit, a spirit of humility. If you read that chapter, you will find that she does not approach before David with a brazen look, with eyes shooting out defiance, and her mouth saying, “Now look here, buster! Just who do you think you are, going up and down the country wiping out whole families just because you think you have been offended?” No. We read that she bowed herself to the ground. She humbled herself. All of her own importance and all of her own self she renounced. She humbled herself before God. She knew that she could do nothing and she acknowledged her dependence upon God. In fact, she even takes the fault upon herself. She does not look for the fault, first of all, in others. But she looks for faults in herself. Now, she does not excuse the folly of her husband. But she says this. She tells David that she should have kept her eye a little closer on Nabal for, as his wife, she knew what he was prone to do. No, she did not know that David had sent messengers for aid, but she did know what kind of a man Nabal was and she faults herself for not being careful enough to keep him out of trouble. Her spirit is not this: “Well, I have nothing to be blamed for!” No. She evaluates her own self and sees where she could have done better. Now that is the Spirit of Christ. That Spirit is, first of all, sensitive to search our own hearts as we go forth to reprove another and to show another the evil of their way. What a difference that makes. Abigail lived with a holy virtue. And that holy virtue was a profound humility which was always causing her, in ever circumstance, first to search her own soul and to bow her head to God.
Then she continued with words. If you read that chapter, you will see that she calls David to examine what he was doing in the light of God’s Word and not in the light of what had been done to him. So long as you and I look at what we are about to do in the light of what others have done to us, we feel totally justified. But Abigail’s words, which God used to break the hardness of David’s heart, called David to put aside Nabal, to put aside the actions that had been shown to him, to put aside the affront that had been shown to him, and to bring his present actions (what he intended to do) simply before the light of God’s Word. Could it stand before the light of God’s Word? She says to David, “Do not regard this Belial, even Nabal. Do not act in terms of what he deserves, seeing the Lord hath withholden thee from coming to shed blood. David, you are letting the actions of sin done against you justify yourself in doing and about to do what God plainly says you may not do. You may not shed blood to avenge yourself. Where, David, where does God say that ingratitude shown to you and slights done to you are punishable with death? Where does God say that?”
That is very important. Exactly what is the Word of God to us? Is the Word of God, “Do unto others as they have done to you”? No, that is the ethic of our fallen nature: treat others as they have treated you and pay them with interest. No, no! The Word of God is different. The Word of God from the Cross is: “Treat others as the Lord has dealt with you.” Our thoughts, our actions towards others are not to be determined by what they have done or said about us. But there are to be determined by what the Lord has done for us. And until that comes home with all of its force, we cannot see to walk the path of Christ.
Husbands, love your wives. Why? When they become the wife you think you need? No, for Christ’s sake. Because of what the Lord did for you. Wife, submit to your husband. Why? When he becomes the man you have dreamed of, then submit to him? No. For the Lord’s sake. Your actions, your thoughts, your words and deeds are not to be based upon what others do or are toward you, but on what the Lord has done and is toward you.
These were the words that Abigail brought. She brought to him more words, words that were wise, words that were fitted for the occasion. In all of the words she brought, she sought to bring David before the light of God’s Word. She sought to have David stand for a moment and consider what he was doing, to contemplate his actions in the light of the glory of salvation that God had bestowed upon him, and in light of the fact that David was God’s servant. God’s cause, God’s Son, God’s gospel was represented in David. And David’s actions are always going to be a reflection upon that. That is what she sought to bring to David.
Abigail possessed a soft tongue. Not a smooth, buttery tongue. Not simply female persuasiveness. She possessed a tongue able to make a man of God reflect on his ways, able to make a man of God search his heart before the living God. There are very few who possess such a tongue. Blessed are those who are confronted by such a tongue.
The result was that David turned away from doing what he thought to do to Nabal. David, we read, blesses Abigail for coming to him. A soft tongue, then, is able to break the bone.
But if this soft tongue is to break the bone, there must also be an open ear. God must work in us the gentleness and wisdom of Christ to listen to those who bring admonitions to us. God must open the ear, too. He must not only make the tongue soft, but He must make the ear open.
Do you possess a soft tongue? I do not need to ask if you and I have hard heads. We do. They are very hard. And it gets worse, it seems, as one grows older. But a soft tongue, that is of the Lord. It comes in the way of knowing and living in the knowledge of what His grace does for us. Do you possess a soft tongue? We have a sharp tongue. We have a quick tongue. We can have a rough tongue and we can have a dirty tongue. The world is filled with them. In the world there are tongues that cut, wag, and pollute every day. But a soft tongue? Speaking words which melt the heart? A tongue which possesses the power of Christ’s gentleness? Where do you find that? You find it only in conformity to Christ. That is the tongue which will break the bone. It is the tongue of the Master. It is the very word of the Lord. And it is when God gives us to speak the Word that He has spoken to us of His grace and power.
Do you hear Him speaking to you in all of His grace? Then speak what you hear. And let your tongue become, by His grace, an instrument to break the bone.