Summary: The tongue has power for much good and for much evil, as these proverbs explain.
From now through summer we will explore the wisdom of the proverbs as found in chapters 15 and 16. You may wonder why I have chosen chapters 15 and 16 to preach. There is a profound reason. They are the middle two chapters! I intentionally chose a “non-method” so that I may approach these proverbs with as much anticipation as you, not knowing what they will teach me. We are going to take them as they were originally recorded and let them set the agenda for what topics we will consider.
A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.
Two manners of speaking are contrasted. Gentle speaking is contrasted with harsh speaking. The gentle word possesses positive power to defuse anger; the harsh word possesses negative power to stir up anger where there was none.
Note first of all the power of the tongue. It can be a powerful agent for peace or for trouble. And note in this instance where the power lies: it is not in what the tongue says, but in how it speaks. Does that sound familiar? Paul expressed the same principal in Colossians 4:6: Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone. Knowing how to speak will lead one to saying the right things at the right time. This is an extremely important principle the proverb is presenting. It does matter how we speak to others. It does matter that we take into account how the manner in which we speak will affect the person we are speaking to. It is not enough to know what to say; we must know how to say it. Indeed, we cannot know what to say if we do not know how to say it.
If only Solomon’s own son, Rehoboam, had listened to this counsel. Solomon, for all his wisdom, had his own faults and one of them was pushing his own people hard to create his personal wealth and luxury. After his death and his son takes over, the people see their opportunity to lighten the hardship Solomon had placed on them. They go to Rehoboam and say, “Our father put a heavy yoke on us, but now lighten the harsh labor and the heavy yoke he put on us, and we will serve you.” Rehoboam’s response exactly fulfills this proverb. He checks first with his father’s counselors who advise him to give a favorable answer. He then checks with counselors his own age who advise him to give this response: “My father made your yoke heavy; I will make it even heavier. My father scourged you with whips; I will scourge you with scorpions.” Instead of turning away anger and winning the loyalty of his people, he stirred up their wrath which led to rebellion. All he had to do was give a soft answer. Why didn’t he? The reason is obvious – pride. Nobody is going to tell him the king what to do! Nobody is going to accuse him of being weak and giving in to demands.
If Rehoboam had listened to his father’s counselors, he would have continued to have the people’s service. He could have acknowledged that there was some justification to the people’s concerns; he could have asked for their leaders to meet with him and worked out some form of compromise; they then would have respected him for listening to them and gladly continued to serve.