The Untamed Tongue

 

In the book of Job, there’s a sub-current theme that has largely gone unnoticed but deserves a closer look.  This theme is developed around the use of words and speech throughout the book, so much so that 22.5% of the Hebrew found in the book is related to key terms for speech.  For comparison, the book of Isaiah uses these same key terms 22.7% of the time, while Deuteronomy and Proverbs are 34.2% and 8.7% respectively. (see Barrick, William, “Messianic Implications in Elihu’s ‘Mediator Speech'”)

While the principal speakers of the book of Job – Bildad, Elihu, Eliphaz, Job, the Narrator, Zophar, and the Almighty God – all use or make reference to words or speeches, by far and away the majority is by Job himself (Note that Satan, Job’s servants, and Job’s wife do not make use of these words).  This should be unsurprising for at least the basic reason that Job is the central figure and does the majority of the speaking, however, the larger meaning likely has more to do with the overall interpretation and understanding of the book as a whole, namely that even righteous Job cannot tame the tongue.

While we are told early on in the book that Job was “blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil”, it is by his own admission that his tongue has tripped him up with respect to speaking about his affliction, its divine purpose and meaning, and more importantly, questioning the very character of God, Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know.” Job 42:3  

In chapter 4, during the speech of Eliphaz, he reminds Job that in the past, his “words have upheld him who was stumbling” yet as the affliction wears on and indwelling sin continues to be stirred up, Job’s words are unable to be restrained. This affliction, brought about by the hand of God, served to stir up settled sin in the heart of Job, out of which the overflow spilled to his words.

In the Book of James, which some have argued (rightly) is a New Testament commentary on the Book of Job, the Apostle draws the readers attention to the dangers of the untamed tongue, first by way of introduction in chapter 1 and then by way of exposition of this intro in chapter 3. It’s certainly within the realm of possibility that James has Job in mind when he mentions this section, particularly as he describes mankind’s ability to tame all sorts of creatures, but not the tongue, For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind,but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.” James 3:7-8  This should especially call to mind the references to the creation of beasts and birds, reptiles and sea creatures, that Yahweh uses in His response to Job in chapters 38-41.

Commenting on this verse in James, Puritan Thomas Manton writes, 

The tongue is barely subdued for any good use.  And in this life God does not give absolute grace to avoid every idle word.  This refutes the idea of the power of free will alone; we cannot tame one part of the body.  Consider the offenses of the tongue and you will see that you must walk humbly with God. (CCC on James, pg. 195)

With Job, we are given evidence and insight into the life of a truly righteous man who reveals that in the midst affliction, even he is unable to tame the unruly tongue that speaks out of the abundance of the heart (Luke 6:45).  Job fell victim to the trappings of the “last word” in an argument and looseness of his words toward Almighty God.  If Job fails in with regard to the untamable tongue, what hope is there for us?

Turning again to Manton we get sound counsel in this regard,

Though we have lost our power, God must not lose his right.  Weakness does not exempt us from duty; we must bridle the tongue, though we cannot do this ourselves.

Even if we cannot bridle it, God can.  The horse does not tame himself, nor the camel himself; man tames the beast, and God tames man.

He then offers two methods for the duty of taming the tongue

  1. Come before God humbly; bewail the depravity of your nature,  manifested in this uncontrolled part of the body.

  2. Come earnestly.

Finally, we may gain superior wisdom from the pen of the divinely inspired Apostle James who writes that we should, “be quick to hear and slow to speak.”  James 1:19

The example of Job and the exhortation from James stand as stark witnesses that the tongue is an untamable viper.  Nevertheless, let us labor in this duty; let us mourn when we fail; let us extend grace to those whose tongues speak with liberality; and let us follow the example of our Lord, “When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly.” 1 Peter 2:23

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