A Soft Tongue
“By long forbearing is a prince persuaded,
and a soft tongue breaketh the bone.”
1. This simple but profound proverb makes but one main point.
2. Solomon made one observation from the physical realm and applied it to human relationships.
3. While the proverb speaks of dealing with a prince, the principle applies far beyond the royal court.
4. This principle is valuable in many real life situations in lives of us commoners too!
The Illustration: A soft tongue breaketh the bone…
1. The illustration is that of a soft tongue putting pressure on a bone.
a. Solomon pictures a man eating meat or poultry.
b. There is a bone in his mouth, and the man applies pressure from his tongue against the bone.
c. At first nothing happens.
d. But as that pressure patiently continues, eventually, the bone breaks.
e. He didn’t have to use a sharp instrument or even his strong, hard, sharp teeth.
f. A soft tongue, with enough constant, gentle pressure is able to break something as strong as a bone.
2. The tongue is a soft tissue.
a. One might assume that because the tongue is soft and delicate it is therefore powerless and ineffective.
b. The tongue is not hard like a hammer.
c. The tongue is not sharp like a knife.
d. One would think that it could never break a bone, but it can.
e. It doesn’t have the capacity to give one strong forceful blow like a karate chop to break a bone.
f. It doesn’t have any sawing action like a serrated knife to cut a bone in half.
g. It doesn’t have the crushing force of a hammer to smash a bone.
h. The tongue may be a soft tissue, but it has a very strong muscle.
i. The strength of the tongue lies in its ability to apply constant, unrelenting, but gentle pressure.
j. The gentle pressure of a tongue, over time (if it is patient) can bring about the same result: the breaking of a bone.
k. It can be just as effective as a harsher approach—like a saw, a knife, or a hammer.
3. There is more than one way to skin a cat; there is also more than one way to break a bone.
a. Some approaches are quick and easy, but abrasive.
b. The soft tongue approach takes more time, but it is gentle.
4. The illustration Solomon used is doubly clever.
a. The illustration speaks of the tongue physically breaking a bone.
b. It demonstrates the power of the actual tongue itself and the pressure it can apply to objects in the mouth.
c. But Solomon is really getting at the use of the tongue in speech and communication.
d. The proverb is designed to demonstrate the power of soft and gentle words as opposed to harsh and abrasive words.
The Application: By long forbearing is a prince persuaded
1. Solomon applies this principle to dealing with royalty, namely, a prince.
2. “A prince is persuaded”
a. Persuade: To be open; to entice; convince; persuade; allure.
b. In Solomon’s analogy, the persuading of the prince is likened to the breaking of the bone.
c. Trying to persuade a prince is difficult, like breaking a bone. Bones don’t snap easily. Neither is a prince persuaded easily.
d. The goal is to break the stubborn will of the prince. Princes can be stubborn and strong minded.
3. “By long forbearing”
a. Strong’s Concordance defines long as self-restraint or patience.
b. Strong’s defines forbearing as breath; nose; nostrils; anger.
c. The expression (long forbearing) is a graphic picture-word.
d. The same expression is used in Prov. 16:32 which is translated “slow to anger.”
e. Being “long in forbearing” and “slow to anger” are really two sides of the same coin.
4. A quick outburst of anger is NOT the way to deal with a stubborn prince.
a. That would be like using a hammer or a saw to break the bone.
b. Dealing with some folks (especially those in positions above us) can be difficult and frustrating at times.
c. You may FEEL like using the hammer approach but this proverb teaches that it may not be the most effective way to deal with the problem.
d. Sudden outbursts of anger, or harsh and abrasive words may be the quickest way to make your point known, but it is not necessarily the most effective way of dealing with the issue.
e. In fact, in dealing with royalty it could mean “off with your head!”
5. Solomon suggests another method: soft, gentle persuasion and long forbearance.
a. Soft, gentle persuasion:
• The constant pressure of a soft tongue against a hard bone can break the bone.
• So too, soft, gentle words can be effective in breaking the stubborn will of a prince and convincing him of your argument.
• Prov. 15:1 – “A soft answer turneth away wrath: but grievous words stir up anger.”
• This method works outside the royal courtyard too!
• It can work in the home with your spouse or with the kids; in the office with your boss or co workers; it works in almost any interpersonal relationship.
• And it can work in the political arena too. Solomon is speaking about how to persuade a “prince.”
1. Political change is better achieved by a slow, determined, gentle, process.
2. It is time consuming but far better than the “bull in the china closet” approach.
3. This was in fact the method of Martin Luther King. He broke the bone and persuaded the prince (and the country) without guns and suicide bombers. His was a slow, gentle manner by means of powerful, persuasive, and effective words.
b. Long forbearance:
• For words to be effective, they must be spoken in “due season,” at the appropriate time.
• That may require patience and forbearance.
• Waiting for the right time to bring up an issue is essential.
• Learning to wait for emotions to settle down; waiting for the right environment; the right set of circumstances to bring it up is an art in itself.
• The goal here is to be effective, not necessarily fast.
• If the goal is to break the bone or persuade the prince (or anyone else), and if the matter is important, then it should be worth waiting for the proper time.
• A hammer is much faster, but it would crush and pulverize a bone.
• If the goal is to simply snap the bone (break the will of the person and not crush the spirit), then it is better to wait for the right time… and use the gentle approach.
c. Example: God spoke to Elijah at just the right time, and in just the right way. Elijah heard the mighty wind, then a great fire, and earthquake, but the Lord was not in any of them. Then he heard the still, small voice.
d. This proverb teaches us (contrary to our way of thinking) that gentleness is not weakness. It is strength. It is the fruit and the power of the Holy Spirit.
6. Of course, we should keep in mind that this is a proverb. It is a truth crystallized. It is a generalization that was never intended to cover every possible situation.
a. Soft, gentile persuasion is not always effective. Some people are hardened in their ways and no amount of persuasion will convince them.
b. And then there are situations with serious time constraints. You may not have time for “long forbearance” and may have to use harsher methods.
c. But generally, soft, gentle persuasion is much more powerful and effective than we might think.
d. In most situations, the gentle and patient approach is the best.
e. We have an American proverb that is similar: “You can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar” or “A spoonful of honey will catch more flies than a gallon of vinegar.” It is attributed to Ben Franklin.