“And the Israelitish woman’s son blasphemed the name of the Lord, and cursed….”
Leviticus 24: 11
King James Version
“Choose Your Words Wisely”
“Words can destroy. What we call each other ultimately becomes what we think of each other, and it matters.”
Jeane J. Kirkpatrick
In my life, how have I chosen to use my speech?
“A word is dead when it is said, some say. I say it just begins to live that day.”
“Keep thy tongue from evil, and thy lips from speaking guile.”
Psalm 34: 13
King James Version
In the “era” when I was growing up, what came out of your mouth in the form of words wasn’t noted only by the adults in your life, it could be the cause of a great deal of trouble for you if what you said was inappropriate. Believe me, in my parents’ home, taking God’s name in vain was strictly forbidden as well as punished. But words that were crude, demeaning and foul were also off limits. In fact, growing up, my sister and I were never allowed to say “shut-up,” even to each other in jest. My parents considered behavior like this rude and they didn’t tolerate disrespectful behavior, to the point that if we slipped and said something we shouldn’t, we got our mouths washed out with soap – and I can report to you that on 2 or 3 occasions, I was subjected to the taste of Ivory soap in my mouth and it wasn’t pleasant.
I grew up thinking this was “meanness” on the part of my parents and then one day when I was in college at Arizona State University, a group of us were sitting in the hallway waiting for our experiments in the Organic Chemistry Lab to finish and a guy I thought was really cool came and sat down by me and asked me out and then he made this statement, “I’ve watched you in class, even when your experiments have blown up – and you never swear. I have to tell you, it’s so nice to finally meet a girl with a clean mouth.” What he didn’t know was that along the way some well-applied Ivory soap, by my mom, had done its job.
In out text today, we sadly find that untaught lessons can result in destructive words and actions. We are told in Leviticus 24: 11 that Shelomith’s son got in a fight with an Israelite man and in apparent anger he made the choice to blaspheme and curse the Lord. What is instructive to you and me is to understand the Hebrew translation of this passage found in Leviticus, and also the third commandment given by God in Exodus 20:7 where God admonishes us: “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain; for the Lord will not hold him (or her) guiltless that taketh His name in vain.”
If we go to the original Hebrew translation of the word “vain” we find repeatedly the words, “desolating” and “useless” are used. In everyday language, God tells us directly not to use His name in a valueless manner. When we choose to degrade the name of our Heavenly Father by using His high and holy name for our low and lewd earthly purposes, we are making our God insignificant in the eyes of those around us. God tells us, “Don’t demolish my value to others.” Now, let’s add to this the text in Leviticus 24: 11 where Shelomith’s son came into camp and blasphemed and cursed the Lord. In the Hebrew, the word blasphemed, as used in this specific text, means to “puncture with holes,” to “pierce and strike through,” to “violently libel and destroy.”
I’m going to tell you the picture I have in my mind. Have you ever taken a balloon and blown it up as big as possible and then tied off the end? After the balloon was fully inflated, did you ever take a sharp object and pop the balloon while you watched many little pieces of rubber fly off into the air?
This is exactly what Shelomith’s son did to God’s name. For 400 years, the children of Israel had been subjected to Pharaoh’s degradation of the name of God. He mocked and scoffed at the God of Israel. He laughed and taunted the God of Abraham. But in the midst of the Red Sea, as the waves rolled over the Egyptian army, Pharaoh got a firsthand taste of the God who is high and lifted-up.
However, Pharaoh wasn’t the only one who was given a new vision of the glory of the God of heaven and earth. God’s children, at Mount Sinai, were also invited into a relationship of respect and reverence with the only true God.
And then, this young man, Shelomith’s son, who obviously had not been instructed to have respect for the God of Israel, used his words as a sword and tried to “puncture” and “blow in pieces” and “destroy the value” of the name of God. Mother Teresa so perfectly gives a visual picture of how we can use words destructively when she said, “Violence of the tongue is very real – sharper than any knife.”
Choose your words wisely is not only good advice – it is the only advice that will save us from harming others and ourselves by the words we speak. As Toni Bambara so correctly expressed, “Words set things in motion. I’ve seen them doing it. Words set up atmospheres, electrical fields, charges.” May we never forget the power of choice we have with the words we choose to speak.
“Words and eggs must be handled with care. Once broken they are impossible things to repair.”
“Father, make me quick to listen, but slow to speak and slow to become angry.”
James 1: 19
Control my tongue,
Keep me from saying things which make trouble,
and from involving myself in arguments
which only make bad situations worse
and which get nowhere. Control my thoughts.
Shut the door of my mind
against all envious and jealous thoughts;
Shut it against all bitter and resentful thoughts;
shut it against all ugly and unclean thoughts
Help me to live today in purity, in humility and in love.
Through Jesus Christ my Lord. Amen. “
Dorothy Valcárcel, Author
When A Woman Meets Jesus