The Words of a Talebearer
The words of a talebearer are as wounds, and they go down into the innermost parts of the belly.
1. Solomon has been speaking about a talebearer in this section.
a. Verse 20 speaks of how to put a fire out started by a talebearer: get rid of the talebearer and the strife ceases.
b. Verse 21 speaks of how to keep a fire started by a talebearer burning. (The words of a talebearer are like coals to burning embers or wood to a fire – they keep the fire burning.)
c. Verse 22 adds another dimension of meaning to tale bearing.
The Words of a Talebearer
1. The term “talebearer”
a. This is the same term used in verse 20.
b. Talebearer defined:
• Whisperer; expressing discontent in low tones; grumbler; complainer.
• Gossiper; slanderer; one who harms others by attacking them verbally falsely.
• It indicates a person who whispers things that will harm others, things that should be kept secret.
2. The term “words”
a. This term implies words, speech, and has a wide range of meanings associated with it.
b. It can refer to writings; manners; activities; a report; advice; business affairs.
c. With respect to a talebearer, the concept of words is most natural.
d. However, the term is broad enough to include other means by which a talebearer can inflict harm.
e. You can be talebearer without saying a word. You can write a letter and be a talebearer.
f. You can send an email and be a talebearer.
g. You can post a blog and be a talebearer—to an even wider audience.
h. You can put a post on Facebook and be a talebearer.
i. You can be a talebearer simply by repeating what someone else said and acting as an innocent third party. (That is pretty much the concept behind the English translation – talebearer – one who bears a tale to others.)
j. You don’t have to be the original source of the tale to be a talebearer. All you have to be is one of the little links that bears it along… carries it to along to others… who will carry it along to others.
3. Technology is great. We have many fabulous means of communication today that were not existent in Solomon’s day.
a. They can be used for good. (Arabic Bible Outreach Ministry uses the internet to reach Muslims for Christ; Salem Bible Church and many other church websites promote the gospel and sound doctrine beyond our region.)
b. But technology can also be used for evil. Using it as an electronic talebearer is evil.
c. And it is far worse than the old-fashioned methods in Solomon’s day.
d. Gossip has always spread relatively quickly.
e. But in Solomon’s day slander and gossip spread from one person to another. And it required willing links all along the way – the willing slanderer and the willing ear. If one party refused, the gossip chain was broken and discontinued until another link was found.
f. But today, gossip can be spread to thousands of people all at once—in a second’s time. And it does not always require willing links. Sometimes connections are made automatically.
g. The words of a talebearer are no different in NATURE today than they were in Solomon’s day.
h. But the means of communicating them are MUCH quicker and farther reaching; they can be spread around the world in a moment of time.
i. And there is another danger with electronic tale bearing that people in Solomon’s day didn’t have to worry about. In fact, people in your parents’ generation didn’t have to worry about.
j. In the olden days of tale bearing, there was an extra layer of prevention that doesn’t exist in today’s electronic tale bearing: face to face contact.
k. In Solomon’s day—and granddad’s day, to gossip, you had to look another person in the eye and repeat the gossip. It was done face to face.
l. That made it just a little more difficult to gossip. There was always the possibility of being called on the carpet for it.
m. But today, texts, emails, Facebook, etc. send out gossip and slander without having to look someone in the eye… and with no opportunity for a follow up question (what do you mean by that?).
n. Personal contact has been entirely removed. It can become cold and impersonal…
o. Instead of being whispered in an ear, they are broadcast worldwide on the web with the click of a button.
p. And very often, emails are sent out without as much forethought that goes into an old fashioned letter. People are not very careful about their wording in emails. That can be problematic too.
q. And once you click the button, it is irreversible.
r. And then there is the possibility of hitting “reply to all” by accident.
s. Yes, technology is great—but it comes with some real dangers.
t. Technology can greatly amplify the words of a talebearer.
Are as Wounds…
1. The words of a talebearer are as “laham” (Hebrew word translated wounds).
a. Regardless of how those words were communicated, Solomon states that they are like laham.
a. The KJV and Young’s Translation stand alone in translating this word as “wounds.”
b. It is not a textual issue. The Hebrew word is not disputed; but the meaning of the word is.
c. Virtually every Hebrew dictionary consulted defined the term “laham” as: something gulped; swallowed greedily; a dainty morsel eaten; tidbit of food that is easy to consume.
d. Obviously, these definitions will completely change the meaning of the proverb.
e. Hence, it is probably not possible to be dogmatic.
f. Both translations make perfect sense.
3. Laham as a “wound”
a. Then Solomon is saying that gossip and talebearing HURTS.
b. It is a deep hurt that goes into the very gut of a person and does not heal very quickly or easily.
c. This truth is certainly repeated often in the scriptures. Words are referred to as swords that pierce and wound.
d. Prov. 12:18 – “There is that speaketh like the piercings of a sword…”
e. Psalm 52:2 – “Thy tongue deviseth mischiefs; like a sharp razor, working deceitfully.”
f. Unfortunately, we have all been hurt by the words of others… sometimes deeply—like a sword in the innermost part of the belly.
g. And also—we have probably all hurt others with our thoughtless and caustic words… deeply!
4. Laham as a “dainty morsel”
a. This also makes perfect sense in the proverb.
b. If the term is translated this way, the whole meaning of the proverb is changed.
c. This would mean that Solomon is saying that the words of a talebearer are like dainty morsels to the hearer.
d. In other words, just like people love to gulp down delicious foods, so too people love to gulp down gossip and slander.
e. People are more than eager to listen to slander.
5. Consider the various translations of this proverb:
a. Young’s: The words of a talebearer are as self-inflicted wounds, and they have gone down to the inner parts of the heart.
b. This follows the KJV. All others consulted do not.
c. NASB: The words of a talebearer are as dainty morsels and they go down into the innermost parts of the body.
d. Darby: The words of a talebearer are as dainty morsels, and they go down into the innermost parts of the belly.
e. ESV: The words of a whisperer are like delicious morsels; they go down into the inner parts of the body.
f. NET: The words of a gossip are like delicious morsels; they go down into a person’s innermost being.
g. Holman Bible: A gossip’s words are like choice food that goes down to one’s innermost being.
h. Virtually all Bible dictionaries consulted translated the term as “something gulped down”; dainty morsels; only one gave the definition of a “wound.”
6. Translating the Hebrew word (laham) as “dainty morsels” implies that people LOVE gossip. This is also certainly true.
a. People love to hear gossip. They eat it up like candy. It is a delicacy that everyone loves.
b. And people are eager to gobble it up too.
c. That seems to be the sense of the proverb when the term is translated “a dainty morsel.”
d. Gossip is appealing. We say, “We just heard a juicy story”—as if it were something juicy and delicious like a juicy steak to sink your teeth into.
e. Like delicious, mouthwatering food, it’s hard to say no to gossip.
f. Dainty morsels are gobbled up and go down into the innermost part of the belly to be digested.
g. So too, gossip is gobbled up… swallowed… and meditated upon.
7. Think of this meaning in light of today’s new ways to gossip electronically.
a. People love to gossip, but may be reluctant to do so eyeball to eyeball. The face to face personal contact involved prevented some folks from gossiping for fear of being caught.
b. But various electronic means, especially social networking sites, offer an easy way to gulp down gossip without eye to eye contact… in a third party sort of way… like you were eavesdropping and never had to worry about being discovered!
c. You can engage in gulping down gossip all day long in the privacy of your own home without any chance of being seen—that is except being seen by the eyes of the Lord.
d. Prov. 15:3 – “The eyes of the LORD are in every place, beholding the evil and the good.”
8. The Bible is sufficient for dealing with this new version of an old problem. God’s word is all we need for life and godliness.
9. Prov. 11:13 – “A talebearer revealeth secrets: but he that is of a faithful spirit concealeth the matter.”