We Must Not Give Ear To Talebearers, For They Feed The Fire Of Contention

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Where no wood is, there the fire goeth out: so where there is no talebearer, the strife ceaseth.
(Proverbs 26:20 KJV)

He that passeth by, and meddleth with strife belonging not to him, is like one that taketh a dog by the ears. As a mad man who casteth firebrands, arrows, and death, So is the man that deceiveth his neighbour, and saith, Am not I in sport? Where no wood is, there the fire goeth out: so where there is no talebearer, the strife ceaseth. As coals are to burning coals, and wood to fire; so is a contentious man to kindle strife. The words of a talebearer are as wounds, and they go down into the innermost parts of the belly. Burning lips and a wicked heart are like a potsherd covered with silver dross. He that hateth dissembleth with his lips, and layeth up deceit within him; When he speaketh fair, believe him not: for there are seven abominations in his heart. Whose hatred is covered by deceit, his wickedness shall be shewed before the whole congregation. Whoso diggeth a pit shall fall therein: and he that rolleth a stone, it will return upon him. A lying tongue hateth those that are afflicted by it; and a flattering mouth worketh ruin.
(Proverbs 26:17-28 KJV)

Here below follows Mathew Henry’s exposition of these verses, taken from e-Sword.

Proverbs 26:17

1. That which is here condemned is meddling with strife that belongs not to us. If we must not be hasty to strive in our own cause (Pro_25:8), much less in other people’s, especially theirs that we are no way related to or concerned in, but light on accidentally as we pass by. If we can be instrumental to make peace between those that are at variance we must do it, though we should thereby get the ill-will of both sides, at least while they are in their heat; but to make ourselves busy in other men’s matters, and parties in other men’s quarrels, is not only to court our own trouble, but to thrust ourselves into temptation. Who made me a judge? Let them end it, as they began it, between themselves. 2. We are cautioned against it because of the danger it exposes us to; it is like taking a snarling cur by the ears, that will snap at you and bite you; you had better have let him alone, for you cannot get clear of him when you would, and must thank yourselves if you come off with a wound and dishonour. He that has got a dog by the ears, if he lets him go he flies at him, if he keeps his hold, he has his hands full, and can do nothing else. Let every one with quietness work and mind his own business, and not with unquietness quarrel and meddle with other people’s business.

Proverbs 26:18-19

See here, 1. How mischievous those are that make no scruple of deceiving their neighbours; they are as madmen that cast firebrands, arrows, and death, so much hurt may they do by their deceits. They value themselves upon it as polite cunning men, but really they are as madmen. There is not a greater madness in the world than a wilful sin. It is not only the passionate furious man, but the malicious deceitful man, that is a madman; he does in effect cast fire-brands, arrows, and death; he does more mischief than he can imagine. Fraud and falsehood burn like fire-brands, kill, even at a distance, like arrows. 2. See how frivolous the excuse is which men commonly make for the mischief they do, that they did it in a jest; with this they think to turn it off when they are reproved for it, Am not I in sport? But it will prove dangerous playing with fire and jesting with edge-tools. Not that those are to be commended who are captious, and can take no jest (those that themselves are wise must suffer fools, 2Co_11:19, 2Co_11:20), but those are certainly to be condemned who are any way abusive to their neighbours, impose upon their credulity, cheat them in their bargains with them, tell lies to them or tell lies of them, give them ill language, or sully their reputation, and then think to excuse it by saying that they did but jest. Am not I in sport? He that sins in just must repent in earnest, or his sin will be his ruin. Truth is too valuable a thing to be sold for a jest, and so is the reputation of our neighbour. By lying and slandering in jest men learn themselves, and teach others, to lie and slander in earnest; and a false report, raised in mirth, may be spread in malice; besides, if a man may tell a lie to make himself merry, why not to make himself rich, and so truth quite perishes, and men teach their tongues to tell lies, Jer_9:5. If men would consider that a lie comes from the devil, and brings to hell-fire, surely that would spoil the sport of it; it is casting arrows and death to themselves.

Proverbs 26:18-19

See here, 1. How mischievous those are that make no scruple of deceiving their neighbours; they are as madmen that cast firebrands, arrows, and death, so much hurt may they do by their deceits. They value themselves upon it as polite cunning men, but really they are as madmen. There is not a greater madness in the world than a wilful sin. It is not only the passionate furious man, but the malicious deceitful man, that is a madman; he does in effect cast fire-brands, arrows, and death; he does more mischief than he can imagine. Fraud and falsehood burn like fire-brands, kill, even at a distance, like arrows. 2. See how frivolous the excuse is which men commonly make for the mischief they do, that they did it in a jest; with this they think to turn it off when they are reproved for it, Am not I in sport? But it will prove dangerous playing with fire and jesting with edge-tools. Not that those are to be commended who are captious, and can take no jest (those that themselves are wise must suffer fools, 2Co_11:19, 2Co_11:20), but those are certainly to be condemned who are any way abusive to their neighbours, impose upon their credulity, cheat them in their bargains with them, tell lies to them or tell lies of them, give them ill language, or sully their reputation, and then think to excuse it by saying that they did but jest. Am not I in sport? He that sins in just must repent in earnest, or his sin will be his ruin. Truth is too valuable a thing to be sold for a jest, and so is the reputation of our neighbour. By lying and slandering in jest men learn themselves, and teach others, to lie and slander in earnest; and a false report, raised in mirth, may be spread in malice; besides, if a man may tell a lie to make himself merry, why not to make himself rich, and so truth quite perishes, and men teach their tongues to tell lies, Jer_9:5. If men would consider that a lie comes from the devil, and brings to hell-fire, surely that would spoil the sport of it; it is casting arrows and death to themselves.

Proverbs 26:20-22

Contention is as a fire; it heats the spirit, burns up all that is good, and puts families and societies into a flame. Now here we are told how that fire is commonly kindled and kept burning, that we may avoid the occasions of strife and so prevent the mischievous consequences of it. If then we would keep the peace, 1. We must not give ear to talebearers, for they feed the fire of contention with fuel; nay, they spread it with combustible matter; the tales they carry are fireballs. Those who by insinuating base characters, revealing secrets, and misrepresenting words and actions, do what they can to make relations, friends, and neighbours, jealous one of another, to alienate them one from another, and sow discord among them, are to be banished out of families and all societies, and then strife will as surely cease as the fire will go out when it has no fuel; the contenders will better understand one another and come to a better temper; old stories will soon be forgotten when there are no new ones told to keep up the remembrance of them, and both sides will see how they have been imposed upon by a common enemy. Whisperers and backbiters are incendiaries not to be suffered. To illustrate this, he repeats (Pro_26:22) what he had said before (Pro_18:8), that the words of a tale-bearer are as wounds, deep and dangerous wounds, wounds in the vitals. They wound the reputation of him who is belied, and perhaps the wound proves incurable, and even the plaster of a recantation (which yet can seldom be obtained) may not prove wide enough for it. They wound the love and charity which he to whom they are spoken ought to have for his neighbour and give a fatal stab to friendship and Christian fellowship. We must therefore not only not be tale-bearers ourselves at any time, nor ever do any ill offices, but we should not give the least countenance to those that are. 2. We must not associate with peevish passionate people, that are exceptions, and apt to put the worst constructions upon everything, that pick quarrels upon the least occasion, and are quick, and high, and hot, in resenting affronts. These are contentious men, that kindle strife, Pro_26:21. The less we have to do with such the better, for it will be very difficult to avoid quarrelling with those that are quarrelsome.

Proverbs 26:23

This may be meant either, 1. Of a wicked heart showing itself in burning lips, furious, passionate, outrageous words, burning in malice, and persecuting those to whom, or of whom, they are spoken; ill words and ill-will agree as well together as a potsherd and the dross of silver, which, now that the pot is broken and the dross separated from the silver, are fit to be thrown together to the dunghill. 2. Or of a wicked heart disguising itself with burning lips, burning with the professions of love and friendship, and even persecuting a man with flatteries; this is like a potsherd covered with the scum or dross of silver, with which one that is weak may be imposed upon, as if it were of some value, but a wise man is soon aware of the cheat. This sense agrees with the following verses.

Proverbs 26:24-26

There is cause to complain, not only of the want of sincerity in men’s profession of friendship, and that they do not love so well as they pretend nor will serve their friends so much as they promise, but, which is much worse, of wicked designs in the profession of friendship, and the making of it subservient to the most malicious intentions. This is here spoken of as a common thing (Pro_26:24): He that hates his neighbour, and is contriving to do him a mischief, yet dissembles with his lips, professes to have a respect for him and to be ready to serve him, talks kindly with him, as Cain with Abel, asks, Art thou in health, my brother? as Joab to Amasa, that his malice may not be suspected and guarded against, and so he may have the fairer opportunity to execute the purposes of it, this man lays up deceit within him, that is, he keeps in his mind the mischief he intends to do his neighbour till he catches him at an advantage. This is malice which has no less of the subtlety than it has of the venom of the old serpent in it. Now, as to this matter, we are here cautioned, 1. Not to be so foolish as to suffer ourselves to be imposed upon by the pretensions of friendship. Remember to distrust when a man speaks fair; be not too forward to believe him unless you know him well, for it is possible there may be seven abominations in his heart, a great many projects of mischief against you, which he is labouring so industriously to conceal with his fair speech. Satan is an enemy that hates us, and yet in his temptations speaks fair, as he did to Eve, but it is madness to give credit to him, for there are seven abominations in his heart; seven other spirits does one unclean spirit bring more wicked than himself. 2. Not to be so wicked as to impose upon any with a profession of friendship; for, though the fraud may be carried on plausibly awhile, it will be brought to light, Pro_26:26. He whose hatred is covered by deceit will one time or other be discovered, and his wickedness shown, to his shame and confusion, before the whole congregation; and nothing will do more to make a man odious to all companies. Love (says one) is the best armour, but the worst cloak, and will serve dissemblers as the disguise which Ahab put on and perished in.

Proverbs 26:27

See here, 1. What pains men take to do mischief to others. As they put a force upon themselves by concealing their design with a profession of friendship, so they put themselves to a great deal of labour to bring it about; it is digging a pit, it is rolling a stone, hard work, and yet men will not stick at it to gratify their passion and revenge. 2. What preparation they hereby make of mischief to themselves. Their violent dealing will return upon their own heads; they shall themselves fall into the pit they digged, and the stone they rolled will return upon them, Psa_7:15, Psa_7:16; Psa_9:15, Psa_9:16. The righteous God will take the wise, not only in their own craftiness, but in their own cruelty. It is the plotter’s doom. Haman is hanged on a gallows of his own preparing.

- nec lex est justior ulla
Quam necis artifices arte perire sua -
Nor is there any law more just than that
the contrivers of destruction should perish
by their own arts.

Proverbs 26:28

There are two sorts of lies equally detestable: – 1. A slandering lie, which avowedly hates those it is spoken of: A lying tongue hates those that are afflicted by it; it afflicts them by calumnies and reproaches because it hates them, and can thus smite them secretly where they are without defence; and it hates them because it has afflicted them and made them its enemies. The mischief of this is open and obvious; it afflicts, it hates, and owns it, and every body sees it. 2. A flattering lie, which secretly works the ruin of those it is spoken to. In the former the mischief is plain, and men guard against it as well as they can, but in this it is little suspected, and men betray themselves by being credulous of their own praises and the compliments that are passed upon them. A wise man therefore will be more afraid of a flatterer that kisses and kills than of a slanderer that proclaims war.

Amen !! 

Blessed art thou, O LORD: teach me thy statutes.
(Psalms 119:12 KJV)

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