Songs to a Heavy Heart
As he that taketh away a garment in cold weather,
and as vinegar upon nitre,
so is he that singeth songs to an heavy heart.
1. Verse 20 is a double simile in which Solomon describes singing songs to a heavy heart.
2. The real point of the proverb is to warn us against being insensitive to the feelings of others.
A. Taking Away a Garment in Cold Weather
1. Everybody can relate to this illustration whether you live in Jerusalem or Fairbanks… Florida or New Hampshire.
a. Cold weather is a relative term, and everyone has been cold to one degree or another.
b. The threshold might be different in various regions, but everyone has been cold… and nobody likes it.
c. Even those who like cold weather like it because they bundle up for it and wear garments that shield them from the elements.
d. But take away those garments, and anyone would be uncomfortable.
2. The point of this simile has to do with the EFFECTS of taking away the garment in cold weather.
a. If you were sitting outside on a frigid winter day, and you were shaking to the bones, and someone offered you a warm coat, you would be most grateful.
b. But if instead, they took away your thin coat and caused you to be even colder, you would be incensed… furious… irate.
c. The point is that it’s already cold out. Taking away the coat only makes a bad situation worse.
3. Consider the person who took away the garment:
a. We would have to call them cruel, malicious, hurtful.
b. They obviously could have cared less about the person whose coat they took away.
c. It is beyond inconsiderate. They would be considered totally insensitive and unfeeling.
d. Anyone reading about what they did would be aghast at their lack of compassion.
B. Vinegar Upon Nitre
1. This is the second simile used. At first glance it seems to be totally unrelated to the first, but actually it is not unrelated.
2. Nitre is some sort of soda or carbonate of soda.
a. Some sources suggest that it may have been a potassium or sodium soda. Sometimes it was made from ashes.
b. It may have been a strong mineral alkali used in scrubbing and cleansing.
c. Jer. 2:22 – “For though thou wash thee with nitre, and take thee much soap, yet thine iniquity is marked before me, saith the Lord GOD.”
d. Such carbonates were used as a detergent agent for washing, as well as embalming and also for ceramics. It adds an element of abrasiveness.
3. Vinegar upon nitre.
a. This speaks of a strong chemical reaction that occurs when these two elements are put together.
b. What kid hasn’t mixed vinegar and baking soda together!
c. Separate, they just sit there quietly in their containers.
d. But mixing the two causes a strong reaction… bubbles and gas. It is almost like a minor explosion.
e. That is the point of this illustration: Certain things apart are fine; but mixing them together creates a problem… a negative reaction… even an explosive reaction.
One Application: So Is He That Singeth Songs to a Heavy Heart
1. Here Solomon is speaking about a person with a heavy heart.
a. His heart is burdened, although we are not told what kind of burden. Whatever it was, it was obviously a very heavy burden.
b. This proverb is generic enough to cover any burden that anyone might have on their heart.
c. People have burdens on their hearts for all kinds of reasons:
• Unsaved loved ones…
• Marital problems…
• Wayward children…
• Bad news from the doctor…
• Financial woes… loss of a job…
• Interpersonal relationship problems…
• Going through a messy divorce…
• Going through chemo therapy…
• Grieving the loss of a loved one…
• Discouragement, depression, sadness, etc.
• Burdens come in all sizes and shapes.
2. Some well meaning people might assume that the best way to minister to someone who is sad is to try to cheer them up and make them happy.
a. One attempt at that is mentioned in the proverb: singing a happy song to the person with a burdened heart.
b. Someone else might try to cheer them up inviting them to an amusement park… or invite them to a party.
c. For others, they might try to make light of the situation, even joking about it—hoping to cause the burdened one to see his problem as “no big deal.”
d. In some situations, that might be helpful. It might offer just enough distraction from his troubles to be encouraging.
e. But that is not always the case. This proverb speaks about the fact that there are a large number of cases wherein that would NOT be helpful.
f. In fact, it could actually be very harmful. It is like taking away a person’s winter coat in a blizzard. It makes a bad situation worse.
g. It could cause a minor melt down or an explosion, like vinegar on nitre.
3. In many situations, a person who is sad, or discouraged, or cast down is not emotionally prepared or ready to hear someone start singing an upbeat chorus of “Happy Days Are Here Again!”
a. To the sad person, happy songs intended to encourage may do just the opposite. He may not be in the mood for that approach.
b. Instead of encouraging him, it may actually stir up his sadness by accentuating to him that happy days are NOT here for him.
c. It may just be another sad reminder of how far he is from enjoying life and how far into the miry clay his heart has sunk.
d. Ps. 137:1-4 – The Babylonians told the Jews to sing some Jewish songs… but the captives were not ready for that.
• They were still grieving the loss of their country.
• They could not get themselves to sing patriotic songs and songs of their faith in a strange land for foreigners.
• This was the height of insensitivity on the part of the Babylonians.
• The Jews were still grieving their great loss. That would take time to heal.
4. Very often singing a happy song or telling light hearted jokes are not the best way to encouraged one who is severely discouraged or grieved. Consider the case of Job:
a. If anyone had a burdened heart it was Job.
b. In one hour’s time he lost his children, his flocks, his herds, his property, and his health.
c. He sat in the dust grieving and sorrowing. This was perfectly normal and natural.
d. Job 2:11-13 – He was approached by three friends.
• Upon arrival at the spot where Job was, they lifted up their voices and wept.
• They tore their garments as an expression of sharing his grief.
• They sat there with him silently for seven days for they SAW that his grief was great.
• Note that they were sensitive to his feelings. They could see his grief… and they respected that grief.
• Thus, they sat silently with him for one full week.
• That was probably the best thing they could have done for Job—to simply respect his grief.
• They waited a week to allow time for his hurt to begin to heal before they ever said a word.
• Sometimes something simple like a handshake, a hug, a look, or a word of empathy can mean a lot.
• Initially, these men were great comforters. It wasn’t until they opened their big mouths that their comfort became harmful.
5. The main thrust of this proverb is that we should be sensitive to the feelings and emotional state of others.
a. Respect their grief.
b. Give them time to heal inwardly. Don’t try to force it by singing a cheerful song when they are not emotionally ready for that.
c. Prov. 15:23 – “A word spoken in due season, how good is it!” Knowing when to speak is as important as knowing what to say.
d. Ecc. 3:4 – “A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance.”
• We should have enough wisdom to know the difference between a time to weep and a time to laugh and be jolly.
• Unfortunately, not every believer has that wisdom.
• Without wisdom, our words can fall upon a grieving person like vinegar upon soda…
e. Ecc. 3:7b – There is a time to keep silence, and a time to speak.
• There is a time and place for everything.
• But when those things occur “at the wrong time and out of place”, it can be hurtful and harmful.
f. Rom. 12:15 – Here we are told exactly what to do with those who are weeping and mourning. We are to weep with those who weep—not sing happy songs!
g. Prov. 10:11 – With prayer, wisdom, discernment, and good timing, our words can be like well of life. Even words spoken with good intentions but lacking wisdom, can be irritating… and can cause a bad reaction… like acid on soda.