Proverbs 25:23

An Angry Countenance and a Backbiting Tongue

23 The north wind driveth away rain: so doth an angry countenance a backbiting tongue.

Consider the various translations for this verse:

1. The difference between “driveth away” and “brings forth”:
• The north wind driveth away rain: so doth an angry countenance a backbiting tongue. (KJV)
• The north wind brings forth rain, And a backbiting tongue an angry countenance. (NKJV)
• The north wind bringeth forth rain: So doth a backbiting tongue an angry countenance. (ASV)
• The north wind brings forth rain, and a backbiting tongue, angry looks. (ESV)
• Gossip brings anger just as surely as the north wind brings rain. (GNT)
• The north wind brings forth rain, and a gossiping tongue brings forth an angry look. (NET)
• As a north wind brings rain, so a sly tongue brings angry looks (NIV)
• The KJV stands alone on this translation. And it is not a textual issue. It is simply a difference of opinion concerning the translation of a Hebrew word. (Does it mean drives away or brings forth? They are opposites in meaning.)

2. Note also the difference between the backbiting tongue that brings forth the angry look vs. the angry look that brings forth the backbiting tongue:
• The north wind bringeth forth rain, and the angry countenance a backbiting tongue. (Darby)
» He differs with the KJV on “drives away” but sides with it on the angry countenance that precedes the backbiting tongue.
» Virtually all other translations have the angry look preceding the backbiting tongue.
• The north wind driveth away rain: so doth an angry countenance a backbiting tongue. (KJV)

This Proverb is subject to different interpretations.

23a The north wind driveth away rain:

1. Some of the proverbs are worded in an ambiguous way on purpose—to cause us to think.

2. However, in this proverb, most of the confusion is clearly attributed to the definition of the term “driveth away.”

3. The Hebrew term has MANY different meanings (just like many English words). That is the problem in this passage.

4. Consider some of the various definitions listed:

a. “To twist, whirl, dance, writhe, fear, tremble, travail, be in anguish, be pained. Bear, bring forth. To wait anxiously; to be brought forth; to be born; suffer torture (participle) to be distressed.

b. Other dictionaries have similar lists of meanings for the term.

5. The meaning that applies in Prov. 25:23 must fit the context.

a. In context, the subject of the verb is WIND.

b. Thus, the wind “whirls or twists.”

c. In some way, the wind twirls or moves the rain.

d. The question for the interpreter is, “in which direction” does the wind move the rain?
• Does the wind bring forth the rains or does it blow or whirl them away? (Both concepts can legitimately be taken from the list of various definitions.)
• The question, is, what did the author mean when he wrote it?
• Both views make sense and both views are legitimate interpretations.
• All hinges on the meaning of the Hebrew word translated “driveth away” in this context.

23b So doth an angry countenance a backbiting tongue.

6. In the second part of the proverb, there is no verb.

a. This is common in Proverbs.

b. Clearly, the verb that needs to be inserted is the SAME VERB as in the first part of the proverb.

c. In other words whatever the north wind does to the rain, an angry countenance does to a backbiting tongue.

7. I checked over a dozen translations on this passage and the KJV stands alone in translating the verb as “driveth away.”

a. ALL of the other translations (even the NKJV) translate the verb as either “brings forth” or “produces.”

b. This translation (by the way) says the opposite of drives away, so it really does affect the interpretation of the proverb.

c. One produces the rain (brings it on) and the other meaning is to drive it away (gets rid of it).

d. The question is, does the wind BRING the rain or does it get RID of the rain? (Wind CAN do either one.)

e. The difference between the two is NOT a textual issue.

f. It is simply related to the definition of this ancient Hebrew term that has several different meanings.

8. I am inclined to stick with the KJV translation for the following reason.

a. It seems to fit better with the meaning of the second half of the proverb.

b. In other words, just as the north wind DRIVES AWAY rain so too an ANGRY COUNTENANCE can drive away a backbiting tongue.

c. For example, if someone is gossiping and backbiting, you can show your displeasure with the content of the conversation without saying a word – just a cold, angry stare will drive the message home to the backbiter and will often be enough to cause that person to STOP gossiping.

d. Every parent knows this. A child who is causing mischief can often be brought to repentance without a scolding or a spanking. Often an angry countenance from dad or mom says it all. Even little children can “read” their parent’s face and knows when to stop. The angry look tells the child that dad is dead serious.

e. Mark 3:5 – When the Pharisees used a man with a withered hand to accuse Jesus, the Lord Jesus “looked round about on them with anger.” Jesus used an angry countenance to demonstrate His displeasure with their hypocrisy.

9. Whatever meaning we attribute to the term in the first part of the proverb must also be inserted in the second part.

a. For example, if we say that the north wind PRODUCES (or brings forth) the rain, then we are forced to say that the angry countenance PRODUCES a backbiting tongue… which doesn’t make that much sense to me.
• The connection between an angry countenance and producing backbiting is not that apparent.
• Those who interpret the passage this way are forced to alter the meaning of “countenance.”
• They say that an angry SPIRIT produces a backbiting tongue.
• However, the definition of the term countenance is NOT ambiguous.
• It means “face” or facial expression.
• Also, in Palestine, the North wind does not normally bring rain. It would have been odd for Solomon to use the North wind as an illustration.
• Thus, I would reject the popular view in favor of the KJV translation.

b. On the other hand, the connection between an angry countenance (an outward expression of displeasure) and causing some to stop backbiting IS apparent and obvious.
• When you “give someone a dirty look” for behavior that you obviously do not approve, it DOES usually cause the backbiter to change the subject… or rethink their actions.
• The word translated “backbiting” means secret, sly, hidden, etc. It implies someone is saying something that they shouldn’t be saying and they are trying to hide it… like a gossiper or backbiter.
• If someone begins gossiping or verbally stabbing someone in the back in the midst of a conversation with you, often an angry look… a look of disapproval will cause the backbiter to change the subject.
• Parents know that; teachers know that; bosses know that.
• Why it is so commonly known and so commonly practiced that it is almost “proverbial”!

c. Application from this proverb could be applied more broadly.
• In general, we should FROWN upon bad behavior.
• It is perfectly appropriate for our face to send messages.
• Our facial expression can send a message of delight and approval OR it can send a message of anger and disapproval.
• This proverb challenges us to send the right message!
• Our facial expression can also send a message of disapproval when someone tells an off color joke… or uses foul language. Often just a look is enough to cause the person to stop.
• There may be times when it is inappropriate for us to verbally rebuke someone for their speech, but body language can send the same message, and sometimes even more effectively.
• Just a look can drive away foul jokes, foul language, backbiting, gossip, and who knows what else!
• When we countenance bad language or behavior approvingly by facial expressions, we give the person a green light to continue… and take the conversation even further.
• When we disapprove of ungodly language or behavior and it shows on our face (angry countenance), we give the person a red light… meaning that he should stop.
• People will often stop out of shame and cowardice… but they stop.
• Just one look can nip it at the bud and prevent a lot of damage.
• And the backbiter, who is thus scared or shamed away from his backbiting, will not soon bring up such a subject in the presence of the man with the angry countenance.

d. There is a time and place for everything—even angry looks.
• Some occasions call for love and understanding; some call for an angry look.
• There are times when a smile is called for; there are times when a frown is called for.
» As believers, we need to have TWO sides – the side that loves righteousness and the side that hates iniquity.
» It is a flaw to be a man that is always angry.
» It is equally a flaw to be always soft, and to smile on everything.
• And it can be a matter of compromise to smile when we should be frowning.
• We are to love righteousness and hate evil (Heb. 1:9) Therefore, we are to smile at righteousness and frown at evil.
• Reversing that is ungodly. To smile approvingly at a backbiter (or sinner of any stripe) is to be a passive partaker of his sin.
• On the other hand, when an angry countenance is directed to the backbiter, it is an expression of love, for love rejoices not in iniquity.