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This blog site will feature essays, columns and musings that deal with the intersection of Christianity and journalism and the American Songbook.

Christian journalist: Fight the Man with your gentle language (Proverbs 25:15)

Proverbs 25:15, “With patience a ruler may be persuaded, and a soft tongue will break a bone. (ESV)

In this Proverb we see the apt or fit words interpreted to be a “soft” word. In the Hebrew the word is “rakh” which can also mean “tender” (Gen. 18:7) or “delicate.” In the Septuagint this Hebrew word is translated “malakos” from which we get our English word “mollify.” What we get is the teaching that softness can trump hardness in being effective. The softly dripping water will wear a hole in a rock. The Christian journalist must know when the “soft” approach will be the “persuasive” approach. The word “persuaded” here is from the Hebrew pata which means “to allure,” to “to entice.” The basic root of the word means “to be open, spacious or wide.” That is, a non-discriminating listener or reader will be too open or vulnerable to clever words. So this proverb teaches a darker truth that perhaps the unsuspecting leader may be open to control through well-crafted words. On the other hand, it could mean that a gentle Christian wordsmith might have more good influence over a leader than the bombastic writer. “break” is tisbor in the Hebrew and means “shatter into pieces.” The softest part of the body can shatter the hardest part of the body through patient, sensitive and tactful language (Prov. 15:1; Gal. 5:22-23).

Also taught here is perseverance; don’t give up on good, appropriate writing. Again we see Solomon exhorting the Christian writers to use language appropriate to the circumstances. One thinks immediately of a gentle speechwriter like Michael Gerson and his salutary influence with President George W. Bush.

God Himself shows the contrast of power and gentleness taught in this proverb with Elijah in 1 Kings 19:11-13: The Lord was not in the hard – the “wind,” the “earthquake,” or the “fire,” but in soft – the “low whisper.” With the result that the frightened Elijah was enticed out of the cave to faced Yahweh. The great prophet was drained of strength and the LORD approached him with tender integrity. As in this section of Proverbs (Chps. 10 – 31), the power of appropriate language and style is illustrated by God Himself.

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