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Taming the tongue

Mar 27, 2012

James 3:7-10 reads,

(7) For every species of beasts and birds, of reptiles and creatures of the sea, is tamed, and has been tamed by the human race. (8) But no one can tame the tongue; it is a restless evil and full of deadly poison. (9) With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in the likeness of God; (10) from the same mouth come both blessing and cursing. My brethren, these things ought not to be this way.

Truly, as Jesus also said, we are defiled by what comes out of our mouths, not what goes into them.

The Hebrew word lahab means a flame and also the point of a weapon (spear or sword).


This word is used in Job 41:21, "His breath kindles coals, and a flame goes forth from his mouth."

Another word for flame is lashon, which means a tongue. It can be applied to a tongue of fire as well.


The term lashon lahabah is used in Isaiah 5:24, which says, "Therefore, as a tongue of fire consumes stubble..."

We see from this that the Hebrew concept of the tongue, established in the language of Scripture, connects the tongue with a flame and also with the point of a spear. Thus, also, when John says in Rev. 1:16 that "out of His mouth came a sharp two-edged sword," he was referring to the tongue, or the Word of God.

We read the same in Hebrews 4:12, "For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword."

In fact, the first reference to this metaphor is found in Gen. 3:24, where the flaming sword (cherub) guarded the tree of life. In other words, the only way to attain access to the tree of life is through the Word of God. The "fiery law" of Deut. 33:2 prevents imperfect men from having access until the law is satisfied. That is why Jesus died on the cross--to satisfy the fiery demands of the law and thereby give us life.

The sword of our mouth may be used to bless or to curse, depending on the words that we speak and the spiritual force behind those words. Here again we see another Hebrew feature. The Hebrew word barak can be translated either to bless or to curse.


In Gen. 48:16, Jacob pronounces a blessing over Ephraim and Manasseh, saying, "the angel who has redeemed me from all evil, bless [barak] the lads." But in Job 2:9, Job's wife told him to "curse[barakGod and die."

It is strange that a word can have opposite meanings, but we see this even in the English language. For example, to cleave means either to divide or to unite.

It is helpful to know a little about the Hebrew language in order to understand the metaphors used by James--and also by John and Paul. James says that our tongue can be used either to bless or to curse. If we barak someone, are we blessing them or cursing them? It really depends upon our intent and the spiritual force behind our words.

James continues in verses 11 and 12,

(11) Does a fountain send out from the same opening both fresh and bitter water? (12) Can a fig tree, my brethren, produce olives, or a vine produce figs? Neither can salt water produce fresh.

Here again, James was referencing Jesus' teaching in Matt. 12:33-35,

(33) Either make the tree good, and its fruit good; or make the tree bad, and its fruit bad; for the tree is known by its fruit. (34) You brood of vipers, how can you, being evil, speak what is good? For the mouth speaks out of that which fills the heart. (35) The good man out of his good treasure brings forth what is good; and the evil man out of his evil treasure brings forth what is evil.

The heart is the source of our words. We may try to tame our tongues, but in the end, the mouth will manifest that which is in the heart, no matter how much we try to restrain it. The tongue cannot be fully tamed, James says. In the end, when under stress, the tongue will reveal the contents of our heart.

If the source of a fountain is bitter water, the fountain will only flow with bitter waters. Fig trees cannot produce olives. "The tree is known by its fruit" (Matt. 12:33). This is the spiritual force behind Jeremiah 24 as well, where the prophet speaks of two baskets of figs--each from a different fig tree. One basket contained very good figs, while the other contained very "evil" figs. God interpreted this to reveal two types of Judeans (Jews for short). Those who recognized their sin and submitted to divine judgment were the good figs. Those who refused to repent, submit, and take their punishment as from the hand of God were the evil figs.

The same was true in the first century, though this time God's agent of judgment was Rome, the fourth in the series of beast empires. These two types of Judeans existed side by side in Jesus' time as in the days of Jeremiah. The fig tree was the national symbol of Judah. When John the Baptist began his ministry (shortly before the start of Jesus' ministry), he said in Luke 3:8, 9,

(8) Therefore bring forth fruits in keeping with repentance, and do not begin to say to yourselves, "We have Abraham for our father," for I say to you that God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. (9) And also the axe is already laid at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.

Three years later, toward the end of Jesus' ministry, Luke continues the story in 13:6-9 in the form of Jesus' parable:

(6) . . . A certain man had a fig tree which had been planted in his vineyard; and he came looking for fruit on it, and did not find any. (7) And he said to the vineyard-keeper, "Behold,for three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree without finding any. Cut it down! Why does it even use up the ground?" (8) And he answered and said to him, "Let it alone, sir, for this year, too, until I dig around it and put in fertilizer; (9) and if it bears fruit next year, fine; but if not, cut it down."

Did the fig tree of Judah bring forth fruit? No. Jesus then cursed the fig tree (Matt. 21:19), saying, "No longer shall there ever be any fruit from you." In other words, Judah (i.e., Judaism or the Jews as a nation) would never bear the fruit that God required. As a nation, it will never repent--not then, and not now.

On the other hand, those Judeans who repented, submitted to Rome as good figs, and followed Jesus Christ, were the good figs. These good figs came from a different fig tree, whose root is Jesus Christ. As individuals, Judeans must change their citizenship from the evil fig tree to the good fig tree in order to find salvation and bring forth the fruits of the Kingdom.

It is strange, then, that some Christians today wish to convert to Judaism or to identify with the cursed fig tree. Do they really think that by engrafting themselves to the fig tree that was withered up from Jesus' curse, that they can somehow revive that dead tree and induce that tree to bring forth fruit? Can they reverse the curse?

I think not.

This is the final part of a series titled "The Tongue." To view all parts, click the link below.

The Tongue

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Category: Teachings
Blog Author: Dr. Stephen Jones