The destructive power of words
“Those who live by their own rules, not God’s, can expect nothing but trouble, and the longer they live, the worse it gets.“ – Job 15:20 MSG
Over in Proverbs 15:4, we find the words of Solomon that seem to have been written with Eliphaz and his friends in mind. “Kind words heal and help; cutting words wound and maim” (The Message). In Psalm 140:3 he says, “They practice the sharp rhetoric of hate and hurt, speak venomous words that maim and kill” (The Message). As the dialogue continues between Job and his three “friends,” the rhetoric gets dialed up and the attacks on Job’s integrity get more intense. Eliphaz is now attacking Job with a vengeance. He seems frustrated at Job’s continued claims of innocence.
These guys are now on a mission to convince Job of his guilt and they will stop at nothing to accomplish their objective. Any concern they may have had for Job’s feelings are long gone. This has gotten personal. They know they are right and that Job is wrong. He just refuses to admit it. But they are not going to give up easily. They tell Job he is wicked, deceived, defiant, stubborn, and doomed if he doesn’t confess his guilt. They even go so far as to blame the destruction of Job’s children on his sinfulness. They attempt to soften it by using farming metaphors (shriveled weeds, a vine whose grapes are harvested before they are ripe, an olive tree that sheds its blossoms so the fruit cannot form, etc.), but the pain hurts just as bad. Now Job not only has to mourn the loss of all his children, he must listen to accusations that he is the one responsible for their deaths.
What can we learn from this? What lessons are there in this passage for us? The simple one seems to be the destructive power of our tongues. We can use them to encourage and heal or to discourage and do lasting harm. Sometimes we may not mean to hurt others with our words, but when we fail to think before we speak, we can end up doing lasting damage. Job’s friends could have used the advice of James: “My dear brothers and sisters, be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry” (James 1:19 NASB). They weren’t listening to Job and they didn’t seem to be interested in what God might have to say about the situation. They had already reached their conclusion. And when Job refused to agree with their assessment, they became angry. And their anger led to even harsher words for their suffering friend.
These exchanges between Job and his friends remind me of the remarkable power contained in my words. With them I can bring about blessing or cursing. I can use them to build up or tear down. I can speak words of kindness and compassion, or I can speak words of criticism and accusation. Job needed true friends who cared more for his heart than for their need to be right. He needed compassion, not correction. I am reminded of that famous passage from the pen of Solomon: “There’s an opportune time to do things, a right time for everything on the earth: A right time for birth and another for death, A right time to plant and another to reap, A right time to kill and another to heal, A right time to destroy and another to construct, A right time to cry and another to laugh, A right time to lament and another to cheer, A right time to make love and another to abstain, A right time to embrace and another to part, A right time to search and another to count your losses, A right time to hold on and another to let go, A right time to rip out and another to mend, A right time to shut up and another to speak up, A right time to love and another to hate, A right time to wage war and another to make peace” (Ecclesiastes 3:1-9 MSG). There’s a right time for everything. And the time was right for Job’s friends to shut up, listen up, and lift up. May I learn to know the difference.
Father, give me the wisdom to know when the timing is right. And then give me the discernment to know what to say so that may words will be uplifting and edifying to those You bring across my path. Amen.
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men