When God gives us wisdom, it is amazing to see how often it involves our mouths and the words we speak. Here we learn that fools talk too much, but the wise and prudent person restrains the number of his words.
When we speak many words – transgression is unavoidable. What an astounding statement to make. The more we speak, the less likely we are to measure and weigh our words enough to make sure that we do not sin against a person – and more importantly God Himself. Later in the book of James we hear the admonition, “Let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry.” (James 1:19) Moses would affirm this as it was his words spoken in anger that kept him from entering the promised land. Measured and weighed words are wise words. The more of them we speak – the more likely our sin nature will be expressed in them. Thus the greater volume of words – the more likely there will be ones spoken that are sinful.
The word “transgression” is an interesting word to use in this proverb. Transgression is the Hebrew word “pasha” which means a rebellion or revolt – a breaking with authority. The idea is that of breaking with God and His perfect and absolute truth and wisdom. Instead we speak and within those words we depart from what He says. In a verse that promises us prosperity, God says to Joshua to not let God’s Word depart from his mouth. This is true when speaking with men and with God.
In a wonderful reminder of being careful what we speak before God, Solomon says this in the book of Ecclesiastes.
Guard your steps as you go to the house of God and draw near to listen rather than to offer the sacrifice of fools; for they do not know they are doing evil. Do not be hasty in word or impulsive in thought to bring up a matter in the presence of God. For God is in heaven and you are on the earth; therefore let your words be few. For the dream comes through much effort and the voice of a fool through many words.
Ecclesiastes 5:1-7 (NASB)
We are warned here as well as in Proverbs 10 that many words – even in the presence of God – are not wise. Our first impulse in God’s presence should be to listen rather than to speak or, as Solomon puts it, “offer the sacrifice of fools.” This is not saying that we should not pour out our hearts before God – for we are enjoined to do that in the Scriptures. The wise man though, measures his words before speaking them.
The last part of our Proverb for today says that he who holds his tongue is wise. I cannot count the times that I myself have thought that if I had only chosen to say nothing my situation would be much better. That sentiment has been echoed to me by countless others who have paid a high price realizing that once words are spoken they cannot be taken back. We can ask for forgiveness for careless words – but the sting of their hurt cannot be altered. If the pain of foolish words is not enough of a warning to us to avoid them, we should then remember the words of our Lord Himself on this matter. Jesus said this about careless words,
"But I tell you that every careless word that people speak, they shall give an accounting for it in the day of judgment. For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned." Matthew 12:36-37 (NASB)
We will give an account for the words we speak. That should remind us to speak fewer of them unless necessary. As a godly man once told me, “It is better to be quiet and have everyone wonder if you are wise or not, than to open your mouth and remove all doubt that you are not."