Today's proverb has a picture to paint for us about being a person who speaks truth and what is right, or a person who is deceitful and untrustworthy in what they say. The picture that is painted for us is framed by the Hebrew word used for "speaking" that is mentioned first in this verse. The word used here is the Hebrew word "puah" which means to breathe. It refers to how we breathe out. This is a word used in a poetic way in the Old Testament. In the Song of Solomon it speaks of the day breathing. This refers to how the shadows of morning flee at the appearance of the sun. Here in Proverbs 12:17 it refers to the way that we speak - but not just in a specific situation. It refers to our lifestyle - or - what kind of things come out of our mouths in every situation in life. Of course what we see in the rest of the proverb is that we either speak truth or deceit.
There are those who speak truth and what is right. "Truth" is the word "emunah" which refers to something true and faithful. The primary thing being communicated with this word is faithfulness. Through the rest of the Bible the word speaks of character - God's in Deuteronomy 32:4, Psalm 33:4, 100:5, and 119:90 - and that of people in 2 Chronicles 19:9, Proverbs 12:22, and 28:20. When someone is speaking truth - they are being faithful in what they say. The whole proverb says that they are speaking faithfully - and what they speak is finally defined as "what is right." What does all this mean in the end? The faithful man or woman declares what is right. The word for right is "tsedeq" which is the word that speaks of righteousness - or right by God's standard. It is an ethical word that referred to God's justice and righteousness as represented by the Law of Moses - and by the reaffirmation of God's Word by the prophets. Here, though, is how this works out for you and me in the 21st century.
Situational ethics unfortunately rules the day in our world. Everything is negotiable. There is no absolute truth - except what you yourself are comfortable in holding - and even that only applies to yourself (except when you are uncomfortable with your own standards - and then you can change those too). What is left is a society founded upon shifting sands. But as the people of God - the people saved by His grace - we will stand out like brightly painted, fully lit up sore thumbs! We are those who regardless of public opinion - hold faithfully to God's Word as our source of truth and what is right. We not only believe this in our thinking - we also faithfully speak it out of our mouths. In the midst of a world where the winds of change and compromise drive the public conscience wherever they blow - we are a biblical breath of fresh air when we speak. To some we will be a breath of death - but to those who are being saved - it will be a breath of life to life.
At this point I am going to say some things that will most likely offend people - yet they need to be said. Too often a statement is made like the one above - and yet people will interpret it according to their "situational ethic" mindset. Thus what is right once again is mired in personal opinion. A faithful truth-teller will speak up when it comes to biblical ethics and righteousness. That means that they will speak up about biblical sexuality. Biblical sexuality is abstinence before heterosexual marriage - followed by faithfulness to one spouse in that heterosexual marriage until death parts them. Thus a faithful truth-teller will oppose heterosexual immorality and homosexuality, as well as their off-shoots living together outside of marriage and homosexual marriage. A faithful truth-teller will state that abortion is wrong - in all cases. A faithful truth-teller will openly stand for racial harmony - and will view racism as evil and sinful. A faithful truth-teller will state that we are to oppose greed and selfishness by giving to the poor - but will also say that providing for able bodied people who can work is wrong. Everywhere God's Word makes an statement of ethical morals - the faithful truth-teller will stand - and will speak it. And . . . just in case a person decides to speak the truth - but not speak it in love - the faithful truth-teller will remind them that the spirit in which you say something (i.e. not like a jerk - and with grace and mercy - yet saying what is true even if the truth itself is offensive) is as important as the truth itself.
There is a second kind of wind that blows from the words that people speak. It is the false witness who speaks deceit. The false witness is the one who speaks lies and vanity. The word is used of those who were false witnesses in a trial - who lied on the stand. It refers to a person who says vain things and lives their life in vain. There is little or no other purpose to their existance than to live for themselves and love themselves. Their deciet is an intentional misleading of others by either distorting or withholding the truth from them. Their deceit is evidenced by the fact that there IS absolute truth - but they will not state it or hold to it. As offensive as some will take this - the false witness is the one who does not speak according to the ethical and moral standards held by God's Law and the entirety of Scripture. There IS a right and wrong! God gives it to us by His divine authority - and has revealed it to us in the Scriptures. Not holding to this - or trying to twist it in any way - is being a false witness.
When it comes to your words - what kind of breath flows from you throughout your day? Are you one who breathes forth deceit. Please understand that in our culture this person is the norm. They breathe forth the lies of our immoral and biblically unethical society. We hear them every day on the news - in our entertainment - everywhere. You and I are to be a breath of fresh air. They may not see it as fresh because they have been breathing in the sulfuric lies of the pit for a lifetime. But to speak lovingly and biblically is to speak fresh, life-giving air to those all around you. Speak the truth. Speak faithfully. Speak life-giving, fresh air to all with whom you come into contact! Be a faithful truth-teller!