“The north wind driveth away rain: so doth an angry countenance a backbiting tongue.”
Which Is It?
This is one of those verses in the Bible that cause interpreters and writers of commentaries to scratch their heads. One puts it this way: “This little proverb is extraordinarily beset with problems.”* According to the scholars and biblical language experts, it is hard to determine what Solomon means, exactly.
You see, there are issues with the “north wind”: does the verb “driveth” really mean to “drive away” or to “bring?” The verb actually means to “bring forth, as with labor pains.” Either way makes the second part hard to interpret: does an angry look come because of a “backbiting tongue,” or does the indignant tongue make the “angry countenance” go away?
If the north wind drives a cold rain away, then the parallel is that an angry look should hush up a slandering tongue. However, if the north wind brings the rain, then a slandering, backbiting tongue causes angry looks. Which one is it?
One day, a long time ago, I tried to help someone. With a humble, servant-like attitude I bent over backwards to accommodate this individual, even though I knew it was going to be difficult for me. Then, that very evening, I was informed of slander being spread about me – stories that I had done the complete opposite and actually refused to help the person in need.
The word in this verse translated “angry” means “to foam at the mouth, speaking of a camel…”** Dear reader, I am not super spiritual – I am still human – so when I heard of what was being said of me, well…let’s just say I’m glad the walls of my house are made of brick. You could say I was foaming-at-the-mouth angry.
However you choose to interpret Proverbs 25:23, backbiting and slander can cause serious problems. Talking about people behind their backs simultaneously drives away showers of blessing and brings in cold rains of sorrow.
Watch your tongue and the weather will be fine.
“Keep your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking deceit. Turn away from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it.” – Psalms 34:13-14 ESV
*Duane A. Garrett, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs, vol. 14, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1993), 209.
**Wilhelm Gesenius and Samuel Prideaux Tregelles, Gesenius’ Hebrew and Chaldee Lexicon to the Old Testament Scriptures (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2003), 250.