Imagine your church taking a vote on some important decision affecting the body. One guy doesn’t agree with the vote. This particular guy is angry about the vote. He talks to whoever will listen:
“You know, PastorQ is on his 2nd marriage. As a result of that fact, I am not sure he has the discernment to make a vote like this.” he tells one person.
“You know, I think his daughter is a drug user.” he tells another.
“I am pretty sure he smokes dope too.” he tells yet another.
“You know, I think I saw his car at the strip club last night.” he tells a couple more.
He visits his sister in another state and goes to church with her. The pastor there is a very charismatic and charming man with a good command of the language and of the text. His love for God and God’s word is contagious. The sermon is about fearing and being in awe of Adonai. His sermon revolves around a Psalm:
Psalm 34:11-14 (CJB) 11 Come, children, listen to me;
I will teach you the fear of Adonai.
12 Which of you takes pleasure in living?
Who wants a long life to see good things?
13 [If you do,] keep your tongue from evil
and your lips from deceiving talk;
14 turn from evil, and do good;
seek peace, go after it!
It is a convicting sermon and soon after hearing it, the man that had gossiped about PastorQ starts feeling remorse about what he has said. Is his tongue evil he wonders? He starts thinking, maybe I should make peace. He thinks about that the whole way home.
When he arrives home, he emails PastorQ and asks to see him. PastorQ responds immediately and they set up a time. He arrives in PasorQ’s office the next day and they start talking:
“PastorQ, I think I need to make peace with you over the vote.” he says timidly.
“I would like that!” PastorQ states as he looks the man squarely in the eyes.
“I have said some things behind your back – hurtful things.” the man blurts out.
“I know.” PastorQ replies. “You have been kinda tough on me, haven’t you?
“Is there anyway I can make it up to you? The man asks PastorQ sheepishly.
“Do you have a feather pillow at home? PastorQ asks.
“Well, yeah! I do! You want my pillow? The man asks dumfounded.
“Yeah, go get it!” PastorQ instructs. “I’ll wait until you do.”
The man hurries home confused but relieved that all he has to do is give PastorQ his feather pillow and everything will be cool between them. About 30 minutes later, he arrives at PastorQ’s office with the pillow.
“Here is the pillow that you asked for PastorQ! We cool now? The man asks excitedly.
“Not quite.” PastorQ responds. “You got a pocketknife?”
“You want my pillow and my pocketknife?” the man asks in total confusion.
“Not quite.” PastorQ responds. “I want you to go out the back door, just past my office door and cut the pillow open with your pocketknife and shake the feathers out.”
The man is dumfounded, but does as PastorQ asks. He comes back in after shaking all the feathers out. There was a pretty good wind and many of the feathers got on him as well. He stands there waiting for PastorQ to look up and acknowledge that he was back. After a few minutes, the man gets impatient, frustrated and is feeling a little silly with the feathers all over him.
“Okay, I did as you asked. I got the pillow, I cut it open, and I shook the feathers out. We cool now? the man asks obviously agitated.
“Almost. I have one last thing I would like you to do.”
“What is that?” the man asks with a groan.
“Gather up all the feathers you shook out and put them back in the pillowcase.”
“That is impossible!!!” the man fairly yells.
“It is just as impossible to fix a reputation that has been hurt by gossip” PastorQ responded as he looked in the man’s eyes and said, “If you ask me to, I will forgive you, but that won’t undue the damage your words have caused.”
You know, maybe one of the hardest things in the world to do is to not hurt someone with your speech.
I read the above story in a book a few years ago called Words that Hurt, Words that Heal: How to Choose Words Wisely and Well by Rabbi Joseph Telushkin that started with a story about a Rabbi that was the object of scorn and ridicule by an individual. I don’t remember the story exactly and I can’t find my copy (I think the wife absconded with it). I think I have relayed it to you well enough to make a point though. I also purposely put it in a Christian context so that the universality of the message can be seen and understood and would not be discarded before it was read.
Many times, people see Rabbi, or Jew, or Jewish and they dismiss it without investigation. I didn’t want you to do that because there is more to this story. More succinctly, there is more to the understanding of this story.
We are going to jump around a little bit because I want you to understand some things that you might not understand or might not be aware of. Most of us that are older, have learned this verse the following way:
Exodus 20:13 (KJV) 13 Thou shalt not kill.
However, that is not entirely accurate. If we go to the NIV, the NASB or even the CJB we get the following:
Exodus 20:13 (CJB) 13 ו 13 “Do not murder.
Exodus 20:13 (NIV) 13 “You shall not murder.
Exodus 20:13 (NASB) 13 “You shall not murder.
Even this is not entirely accurate. If we go to the Hebrew dictionary, we get the following:
2208 רָצַח(rāṣaḥ) <H7523> murder, slay, kill.
rāṣaḥ is a purely Hebrew term. It has no clear cognate in any of the contemporary tongues.
The root occurs thirty-eight times in the OT, with fourteen occurrences in Numbers 35. The initial use of the root appears in the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:13). In that important text it appears in the simple Qal stem with the negative adverb, “You shall not murder,” being a more precise reading than the too-general KJV “thou shalt not kill.” Much has been made of the fact that the root rāṣaḥ appears in the Mosaic legislation, as though this term bore a special connotation of premeditation, as though the Decalogue only proscribed premeditated crime. This is not the case. The many occurrences in Numbers 35 deal with the organization of the six cities of refuge to which manslayers who killed a person accidentally could flee. Numbers 35:11 makes completely clear that the refuge was for those guilty of unpremeditated, accidental killings. This makes clear that rāṣaḥ applies equally to both cases of premeditated murder and killings as a result of any other circumstances, what English Common Law has called, “man slaughter.” The root also describes killing for revenge (Numbers 35:27, 30) and assassination (2 Kings 6:32). It appears in a few poetic contexts, as an “A” word in a peculiar parallel construction (Job 24:14); as an “A” word parallel to a general term for immorality, zimmâ (Hosea 6:9); as a “B” word parallel to another synonym “to kill,” “to slay” (Psalm 94:6). In only one case in the whole OT is the root used of the killing of man by an animal (Proverbs 22:13). But even in that context it is the enormity and horror of the deed which is primary. In all other cases of the use of rāṣaḥ, it is man’s crime against man and God’s censure of it which is uppermost.
R. Laird Harris, Gleason L. Archer, Bruce K. Waltke, ed., “2208: רָצַח,” in Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, (Chicago: Moody Press, 1980), WORDsearch CROSS e-book, Under: “2208: â€×¨Ö¸×¦Ö·×—â€Ž”.
Okay, you may think I am splitting hairs here with murder versus manslayer. The question that may not be apparent is in whether murder results in death or not.
This is where it gets interesting. Christianity has Jewish roots. In Judaism, there is a thing known as Lashon hara’. It means evil tongue or as David Stern more precisely puts it, “tongue of the evil.” We saw it earlier in the Psalm:
Psalm 34:13 (CJB) 13 [If you do,] keep your lashon(tongue) from ra’ (evil)
and your lips from deceiving talk;
4098. לָשׁוֹןlāshôn 7737. רַעraʿ
tongue, language bad, evil
The tongue is called a sword – a sword that stabs, and wounds, and pierces.
Proverbs 12:18 (CJB) 18 Idle talk can pierce like a sword, but the tongue of the wise can heal.
Psalm 64:3 (CJB) 3 They sharpen their tongues like a sword; they aim their arrows, poisoned words,
It is interesting to note that in the Talmud (Erchin, fol. 15, col. 2.), Rabbi Yochanan (John) states (and I’ll paraphrase):
The tongue is so dangerous that God surrounded it with two walls – one of flesh and one of bone (Lips and Teeth)
In the book of Ya’akov (James) 3rd chapter, we learn about the tongue and how powerful it is for such a small thing. I encourage you to read the whole chapter. It is small but VERY important! In it, the tongue is compared to:
- a bit in a horse’s mouth
- a rudder of a ship
It is untameable, unstable and death-dealing.
If you consider carefully the command from God that you should not murder or be a manslayer, how can you not also consider the allusion to a tongue being like a death-dealing, piercing, stabbing sword?
Make no mistake, you can murder someone without killing them physically – you can murder them with your words!
I sooooo understand Ya’akov’s (James’s) warnings in chapter 3. I also sooooo DON’T understand how to stop it either as I am guilty of it often. I try to be aware and I fail miserably at times. Part of the reason is because even truth can be Lashon hara’. Living our life for God takes practice just like sports and cooking. You can’t just read the manuals, you got to put it into practice. If my Christian walk was the game of golf, I think sometimes I wouldn’t be able to break 100.
Recently, I was reading something on the internet that looked very familiar. It bothered me because I knew someone else had written something like it in a book I read. After looking through a few books, I found the book I remembered reading. I realized that it was word for word in the book and word for word on the web page. Neither author cited the other. In the spirit of Matthew 18, I sent a separate email to each of the authors asking if it was not just a simple oversight and hopefully not plagiarism. I was worried that it was and praying that it wasn’t because one of the men was someone I had studied under. I talked to the other author in email – a wonderful man that it ended up had permission from the other and had forgot to cite the other as the author.
In doing all of this, I forwarded the email I sent to them to the Rabbi that is the site administrator of the branch of the school in my city where I attend classes. Here is part of what he wrote back that caught me off guard:
Thirdly, and I do not say this unkindly (your issue and concerns aside, yet to be determined), but I would think that integrity would have not had you pass this on to me (lashon hora) until for whatever reason it is an issue that involves me.
I just stared at it dumfounded. I thought it did concern him. I wrote him back the following fully convinced I was NOT guilty of Lashon hara’:
There was no intent in my passing it on to you to disparage, do harm or do evil to either of them. It was not meant as gossip either. As it could have possibly affected the school in a negative way if it wasn’t an oversight . . . – I passed it on to you for insight – I knew there would be correction. I have come to expect that correction from you. You have shown me, and on more than one occasion, that regardless of how I handle something, there is always a different and/or better way to handle it.
Then he hit me with an explanation that caused me to repent immediately! He was right . . . again!:
Passing on anything concerning others apart from themselves is L.H. in Judaism. . .
Intention is not the issue. Words spoken create realities. Not rebuking just encouraging.
Consider that thoughts are planted in my mind unnecessarily.
That last line really hit me. I had done him harm unnecessarily. The words jumped off the page! It reminded me of another saying in the Talmud:
The third tongue (i.e., slander) hurts three parties:
- the slanderer himself
- the receiver of the slander
- and the person slandered
I had made the Rabbi receiver of something, whether with good intentions or not, that I couldn’t take back – I had ripped open the pillow and spread feathers into the wind.
As Christians, we can learn a lot from the Jewish roots of our Christian faith. We should not be afraid to embrace the root of our faith that we were grafted into as wild olive branches.