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The Untamable Tongue a Lesson in Blessing and Cursing

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Tamara is a Bible student who loves mining the treasures in God's Word and sharing its teachings and applications with others.



I have to admit that my mouth and words have gotten me into more trouble than I care to confess, and it is a huge temptation not to expose my shortcomings and excuse myself from the equation in this lesson. But it certainly was the very experience I will describe in a bit that was fodder for this lesson.

My nature is not a quiet, unassuming one, and Jesus's words in Matthew 12:36 gives me great pause and tremble concerning this particular issue.

I say to you that for every idle (careless, unprofitable, barren) word men may speak, they will give account of it in the day of judgment

The latest lesson in this matter was played out in the field of modern technology and did not involve my actual mouth, but lead to a humbling lesson about words and provided for a great visual for this study. The foundation story in the next couple of paragraphs will launch into a much broader discussion of the accountability of words and how we use them. The power of words will also be discussed and will move beyond the scope of my experience.


Modern Technology . . . Blessing or Curse

I was most recently contacted via text message by a friend I have not heard from in over a year. My friend shared something in that message that I wanted clarity about. Rather than ask him myself, I instead sent a text to my daughter (or so I thought) asking her what she thought, considering that her occupation concerned the subject matter. The moment I hit the send button delivering the message that was, obviously, not written to him, I realized that it was being sent to my friend and not my daughter. He replied with an "I don't understand," at which point I had to explain what had just happened and, of course, apologize. He graciously informed me that he wished for that not to be shared and let me off the hook, but I did not feel off the hook in any way, shape, or form.

I wish I could say this was the first time this has happened, but there was another occasion in which I was visiting my granddaughter, who was born prematurely at the hospital. My son was a little on the cranky side, and I had the bright idea to send a text to his wife (or so I thought) asking her what he was so grumpy about. I realized that the text was sent to him and not his wife when I looked up to see him glaring at me after looking up from his phone. This unexpected text did not improve his disposition by any means.


Words Are Things

Corrective revelations and illustrations were pouring forth as I reflected on the panic I felt after hitting the send button when everything I should have done flashed before my eyes. I realized that I could not take it back. That's how words are, aren't they? Whether you speak them, send them in a text or email, They go out there, and you cannot take them back.

My word be that goes forth from My mouth;It shall not return to Me void,But it shall accomplish what I please.

— Isaiah 55:11

I realize that in the above verse, God is talking about what His Word will do, but could it be an underlying principle that words go out and accomplish things good or bad? The concept of "words" being things is confirmed in the Hebrew word for "word," which is "davar" and can be used interchangeably with the word "thing."

This concept is also evidenced in the creation account when we see Words from God's mouth bring forth substantial things.


It's Gossip

From a broader perspective, as it concerns gossip, Billy Graham writes the following in His "Day by Day" devotional titled "The Power of Words."

There is a story of a woman in England who came to her vicar with a troubled conscience. The vicar knew her to be a habitual gossip—she had maligned nearly everyone in the village. “How can I make amends?” she pleaded. The vicar said, “If you want to make peace with your conscience, take a bag of goose feathers and drop one on the porch of each one you have slandered.” When she had done so, she came back to the vicar and said, “Is that all?” “No,” said the wise old minister, “you must go now and gather up every feather and bring them all back to me.” After a long time the woman returned without a single feather. “The wind has blown them all away,” she said. “My good woman,” said the vicar, “so it is with gossip. Unkind words are easily dropped, but we can never take them back again.”

Although there was no malicious intent in my question to my daughter concerning my friend, it was unkind to share without his permission. Sending anything in any format should be scrutinized because even if we have justified the reasonableness of our intentions, it does not account for the disrespect and dishonor it may bring to the person who did not count on it being shared. Not to mention the fact that you cannot take it back.


Charles Spurgeon also writes so eloquently on this matter of sensitivity to those we love and care about in his devotional titled "Morning and Evening" in his morning entry for November 29

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"Thou shalt not go up and down as a talebearer among thy people . . . Thou shalt in any wise rebuke thy neighbour, and not suffer sin upon him.”

— Leviticus 19:16, 17

Tale-bearing emits a threefold poison; for it injures the teller, the hearer, and the person concerning whom the tale is told. Whether the report be true or false, we are by this precept of God’s Word forbidden to spread it. The reputations of the Lord’s people should be very precious in our sight, and we should count it shame to help the devil to dishonour the Church and the name of the Lord. Some tongues need a bridle rather than a spur. Many glory in pulling down their brethren, as if thereby they raised themselves. Noah’s wise sons cast a mantle over their father, and he who exposed him earned a fearful curse. We may ourselves one of these dark days need forbearance and silence from our brethren, let us render it cheerfully to those who require it now. Be this our family rule, and our personal bond—Speak evil of no man . . .

In light of this, I should have presented my question to my friend. That would have been the more trustworthy, respectful Godly way of handling that. Paul relays the best instructions and rule of thumb concerning this.

Let no corrupt (worthless, useless, unnecessary) word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers.

— Ephesians 4:29

Titus chapter 3:2 reiterates this theme, mentioned above by Spurgeon, in Paul's encouragement to Titus about teaching the followers to submit to rulers authorities and to keep their attention on doing good works.

. . . speak evil (less than, lightly in a dishonoring way) of no one, to be peaceable, gentle, showing all humility to all men.

The word evil in the above verse means speaking against in a way that might ruin a person's reputation in others' eyes. I take this also to mean that even if you're not against somebody, it isn't acceptable to share things that might make them feel dishonored in others' eyes.

For we ourselves were also once foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving various lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful and hating one another. But when the kindness and the love of God our Savior toward man appeared, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us.

— Titus 3:3


Blessing or Cursing? Which Is It?

James minces no words in his letter of exhortation. He is neither tender nor gentle in expressing the reality and gravity of this problem with the tongue. He firmly addresses the power of words along with the damages that they can bring.

Look also at ships: although they are so large and are driven by fierce winds, they are turned by a very small rudder wherever the pilot desires. Even so the tongue is a little member and boasts great things. See how great a forest a little fire kindles! And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity. The tongue is so set among our members that it defiles the whole body, and sets on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire by hell. For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and creature of the sea, is tamed and has been tamed by mankind. But no man can tame the tongue. It is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our God and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the similitude of God. Out of the same mouth proceed blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be so.

— James 3

"Curse" seems like a harsh word, and indeed it is. Is that what we do when we talk about others rather than to them, in any negative form or fashion, without their knowledge or permission? The Greek word for curse used in the above verse seems to indicate this very concept. The first part of this Greek word for "curse" "Katara" has a root "kata" and implies the bringing down of someone, a putting under, and ruling over. It also implies the invocation of doom. It sounds a bit witch crafty. Isn't that what talking about people really is? Gossip brings others down to exalt themselves.

"Ara," the second portion of this Greek word "katara" used in the above verse, according to James Strong, means curse and uses the word prayer in its definition. Is that what speaking negatively about others is? A negative prayer of sorts? Could everything we speak be a prayer to one side or the other?

For further explanation, let's look at its Hebrew word equivalent, "qalal," which means to lightly esteem someone and treat with no value by diminishing them in word or relation. Its pictograph is both revealing as well as convicting relative to this


Hebrew Word Pictograph for Curse

The first letter of "qalal" is a qoof and is sometimes imaged as the back of one's head facing away from the rising sun. The thought is that of someone setting off to live the life of a day and can indicate behind the back.



The second two letters are the same, and they are "lamed" and is a picture of a shepherd staff that carries the idea of authority and is interestingly the very first letter of the Hebrew word of tongue "lashon." Also, observe that when a letter is doubled in Hebrew, it speaks of something perpetual or in motion.


Combined Concept

If we combine the images into one concept, we can see that cursing is the tongues behind the back authorizing and setting into motion, evil against someone simply just trying to live their day or life just like ourselves. Paul exhorts concerning these things;

For I fear lest, when I come, I shall not find you such as I wish, and that I shall be found by you such as you do not wish; lest there be contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, backbitings, whisperings, conceits, tumults.

— II Corinthians 12:20

A good rule of thumb is if you wouldn't say it in their presence, don't say it at all.



Another interesting Hebrew word pictograph that connects the concepts of cursing and prayer and is similar in pattern to "qalal" is the Hebrew word for prayer "palal." Recall that the Hebrew word for "curse", "qalal", was spelled "qoof", "lamed", "lamed". The Hebrew word for prayer, "palal", is spelled "pey", "lamed", "lamed". As you can see, they only differ in one letter. The "qoof" recall spoke of behind the back. The "pey" is a picture of a mouth that speaks of face to face. In fact, "pey" is the first letter of the Hebrew word for the face "panim." We can see by joining the concepts from a pictograph perspective palal has to do with the perpetual authority of the mouth that is forward-facing and forward promoting.

"Palal's" definition agrees with this picture. It is actually a legal term having to do with mediating and interceding on behalf of someone rather than against them and making a favorable judgment concerning them.

Even if we have some issues with someone negative in nature, our earlier verse in Leviticus tells us how to handle that.

Thou shalt in any wise rebuke thy neighbor

Leviticus 19:17

In other words, Go to your neighbor to sort it out, not every other person you know. We need to protect our relationships, not expose them.

Jesus reiterates this in His instructions to His disciples

if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone

— Matthew 18:15


To and Fro . . . It's About Territory

This Hebrew word for "curse," which is "qalal," in one of its forms, means to move to and fro. In connection with this, I was most recently watching a video from El Shaddai Ministries where a man named Ricco Cortez was talking about the phrase "to and fro" in the Bible and how, in the ancient mind, to walk to and fro throughout a territory was to survey it for potential possession. God told Abraham,

Arise, walk in the land through its length and its width (to and fro), for I give it to you.

— Genesis 13:17

This concept gives a particular incident in Job, during a conversation between God and Satan, a new meaning when God asks Satan where he is coming from.

So Satan answered the Lord and said, “From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking back and forth on it.

— Job 1:7

Why is Satan walking to and fro and going back and forth on the earth?

Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour

— I Peter 5:8

Satan is looking to seize any opportunity so that he can possess territory in our lives and others to destroy.

He who guards his mouth preserves his life, But he who opens wide his lips shall have destruction.

— Proverbs 13:3

While we wag our tongues "to and fro" with unhelpful and unuseful speech, we make fodder as well as an invitation to the evil that is traipsing to and fro looking to take advantage. Let's not give the enemy the weapons of our words and agreement to do it. Our prideful self-justified, unnecessary discussions and rants are what opens up that door of opportunity for the enemy to come in and possess territory in our minds and lives and to do his desired destruction.

“Let each one of you speak truth with his neighbor,” for we are members of one another.“Be angry, and do not sin”:do not let the sun go down on your wrath, nor give place to the devil.

— Ephesians 4:25-26


The above idea also gives new meaning to a portion of Scripture in II Chronicles 16:9

For the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to show Himself strong on behalf of those whose heart is loyal to Him.

— II Chronicles 16:9

God is looking to seize any opportunity we would give Him to possess territory in our lives. The key is loyalty to God and His ways of blessing and not cursing. Can we see why we ought not to curse or give an opportunity to the adversary? In terms of loyalty and speech, we must ask ourselves, "Whose side are you on"?

We might be tempted to think that it is ok to talk about someone as long as the person we are talking about doesn't know. Proverbs once again remind us that our words go out there and can at any time be exposed and picked up by a bird (symbol of spiritual being) to use against others and ourselves.

Do not curse the king, even in your thought;
Do not curse the rich, even in your bedroom;
For a bird of the air may carry your voice,
And a bird in flight may tell the matter

— Ecclesiastes 10:20

A useful acronym I have hanging on my fridge that I ought to have heeded before my blabbering breach and blunder is this:

  • Is it True?
  • Is it Helpful?
  • Is it Inspiring?
  • Is it Necessary?
  • Is it Kind?


I will conclude with the very best and most powerful use of our words and mouth, which will give God the ultimate ground and opportunity in our lives and others. This is exhibited in the Hebrew word Hallelujah.

The Hebrew word Hallelujah means praise consisting of "Yah" and its root "halal." Similar to qalal (curse) and palal (prayer). Hallelujah is a word that concerns the tongue and its everlasting potentials and authority, as expressed in its two ending letters of double "lameds." "Hey," the first letter of "halal" is a picture of a window symbolizing revelation. Conceptually speaking, we might conclude that halal is tongues expressing the revelation of God as the early apostles did

. . . we cannot help telling what we have seen and heard.

— Acts 4:20 (Amplified)

Just as with prayer and cursing, this Word for praise, "halal," is also a legal term that has to do with judging. Jesus, our most exceptional example, shows us how this works in terms of offense.

. . . when He was reviled, did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but committed Himself to Him who judges righteously.

— I Peter 2:23

He shows us the only judgment we are to make is in discerning God as faithful, righteous, and dependable.

The Lord is righteous in all His ways, Gracious in all His works.

— Psalm 145:17

Praising God puts all things into perspective and gives God the legal authority to judge rightly on behalf of us and others. He then becomes the focus of our speech, attitudes, and actions towards others as it should be.

. . . out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.

— Luke 6:45

May our hearts be filled abundantly with the goodness of the Lord and His love and encouragement to others. As it concerns others in our judgments and opinions, may we

. . . whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things.

— Philippians 4:8

I conclude with a useful and necessary scriptural prayer.

Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
Be acceptable in Your sight,
O Lord, my strength and my Redeemer.

— Psalm 19:14

© 2015 Tamarajo


Tamarajo (author) on November 23, 2018:

Hi Jack,

Agreed that this is a daily battle. I most often learn the lesson when I get to hear the behind the scenes conversations about myself. I can only sigh in understanding that we all struggle with this.

I also agree that the even greater disappointment is when we understand that we have discounted His name in someone else's eyes and ears.

I very much appreciate your additional insights and visit.

God bless!

Jack Jenn from Living in hope on planet earth. on November 21, 2018:

Hi Tamarajo,

I particularly liked your comment, "A good rule of thumb is if you wouldn't say it in their presence don't say it at all."

Something we should all try to live by.

Guilty on all counts Tamarajo, that's what I've been in the past yet sometimes I forget the lesson - the tongue is indeed a viper.

We are all guilty of our own disposition, what affects me may not affect you and vice-versa but we are all living our lives before others and sometimes we are unaware who is observing us and if we claim to be living for Jesus, then it should show and the wrong choice of words can sometimes be destructive to ourselves in another's mind.

I am trying to live by a similar adage - put your mind into gear before you open your mouth. Sometimes I succeed - sometimes I fail, I just hope I can be found doing the things He asks of me when He returns.



Tamarajo (author) on January 15, 2015:

allpurposeguru, this certainly was an "ouch" revelation for me as well and the Hebrew pictograph really is simply on target in showing us what speaking really does and can do for negative or positive. So many times I find myself justifying what I say and why I say it. But the word pictures leave me without excuse. Tongues behind the back are tongues behind the back no matter how I slice and dice it to fit my personal conversations or how well intentioned i might think myself to be.

I'm saving this one too as I am pretty sure I will need to hear it again. I appreciate your visit and comment. God bless!

Tamarajo (author) on January 15, 2015:

Blossom, Yes unruly the tongue certainly is and part of a daily battle to choose wisely our speech and motive for it. What a great God we serve and worthy of our obedience in this respect.

I appreciate your stopping by and commenting. God bless!

David Guion from North Carolina on January 15, 2015:

As one who too often says and writes inappropriate words, I approached this hub with some trepidation. I expected the conviction it brought. I did not expect such a vivid lesson in Hebrew word painting. I'll have to save this one somehow so I can easily come back to it. TYVM.

Bronwen Scott-Branagan from Victoria, Australia on January 14, 2015:

The tongue is truly the most unruly member of our body! St. Paul wrote about this and I often think of it, but it doesn't seem to prevent me from opening my mouth and putting my foot in it. An interesting hub.

Tamarajo (author) on January 12, 2015:

Yes convicting it is. Praise God for His discipline or where would we be? I am certainly grateful for His loving correction however unpleasant it is. Like you I sincerely want to honor Him by honoring and respecting people. Pleasing Him as you say is becoming increasingly important. He is so worthy and so wants all the opportunities we will give Him to exhibit His glory and goodness to us.

Thank for reading and affirmation of message. God bless!

Lori Colbo from United States on January 12, 2015:

This is so convicting. Most of us are guilty but that is no excuse. It is a lesson I am learning as well and it isn't pleasant. However, pleasing God by honoring people honors him as well. Knowing we have pleased the Lord is a blessing beyond measure. And certainly it makes our relationships more honorable. Nice work.

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