Sticks and Stones (and a Soft Word!) May Break My Bones

28 Aug 2010 013Last week I talked about not talking. 🙂 When someone else is angry with you, meekness helps you either to be silent, or if you must answer, to say it softly.

When someone speaks angrily at you, pause to think of a proper answer that you can say gently. Proverbs 15:1 “A soft answer turneth away wrath.” A soft answer is water to a fire, instead of pouring on oil.

Here’s another childhood proverb: “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” It seems that hard words can’t break bones, but soft words do (without harming). Proverbs 25:15 says that a soft tongue “breaks the bone.”

God Himself is taking account of every word we speak and how we say it. He recorded in 2 Samuel 19:43 that the “words of the men of Judah were fiercer than the words of the men of Israel.” I challenge you in every contest of words to win this contest: make your words less fierce than the other side. Even if you must be in an argument or answer an argument, remember to answer softly.

Now let me share an amazing case study that Matthew Henry found in the book of Judges in the stories of Gideon and Jephtha (again, I am constantly awed at the ability of the Puritans to cross-reference; their Scripture knowledge was exemplary!) to illustrate the good and bad consequences of a soft or angry answer, respectively.

Both judges led Israel in a war against their enemies, won, and then were unfairly quarrelled with by the tribe of Ephraim. The Ephraimites were angry that they hadn’t been called to help in the battle. Gideon answered them softly, by “magnifying their achievements and lessening his own, speaking honorably of them, and meanly of himself,” he asked them, “What have I done now in comparison of you?” He went on to say that even the gleaning of the Ephraimites’ grapes was better than the wine made by his tribe.

The effect was wonderful–the Ephraimites went away pacified, civil war was prevented, and Gideon was not thought ill of. Actually, Proverbs 16:32 shows that he who “hath rule over his own spirit, is better than the mighty.” So Gideon actually should have more honor from that victory over his spirit than from his victory over the huge army of Midian.

But Jephtha, who seems to have a more hasty personality (though he is listed among the heroes of faith in Hebrews 11), when the Ephraimites are likewise offended after being left out of Jephtha’s great victory and pick a fight with him, “upbraids them with their cowardice, boasts of his own courage, and challenges them to make good their cause.” (Judges 12:2-3) They rejoin with an insult on Jephtha’s hometown, “Ye Gileadites are fugitives.” Y’all are sissies, is another way to put it–and them’s fightin’ words. Sure enough after several blows later and the death of 42,000 Ephraimites, the anger was mitigated. “All which [of those deaths] had been happily prevented if Jephtha had had but half as much meekness in his heart as he had reason on his side.” Wow!

Here are several more biblical examples of how to answer softly and so win over those who are angry with us:

  • “Though who is so hard to be won as a brother offended,” Jacob made peace with Esau by meekness and humility.
  • The angels, who, even when needing to rebuke, dared not to make a “railing accusation” or to use “reviling language,” even to the Devil himself! Instead they gave the matter to God, “The Lord rebuke thee.” Jude 9
  • God Himself, though He could use His great power to convince us, gives us soft answers. With both Cain and Jonah, God asks a question: “Why art thou wroth….If thou doest well, shalt not thou be accepted?” (Genesis 4:6-7) Or, “Doest thou well to be angry?” (Jonah 4:4, 9)
  • This is shown in the parable of the prodigal son when the father goes to his elder son, who was so angry that he wouldn’t join them. Instead of saying, “Let the brat stay out then!” he comes out himself, and instead of ordering him to do what he wants, reasons gently with him: “Son, thou art ever with me.” (Luke 15:28, 31)

Most importantly, be quick to admit your faults. If you have erred in even the slightest way, even if it’s not quite to the degree that the other person is accusing you of, answer in a humble, submissive, repentant way.

We must be ready to acknowledge our error, and not stand in it, or insist upon our own vindication, but rather aggravate than excuse it, rather condemn than justify ourselves. It will be a good evidence of our repentance toward God to humble ourselves to our brethren whom we have offended, as it will be also a good evidence of our being forgiven of God if we be ready to forgive those that have offended us: and such yielding pacifies great offences. Meekness teaches us, as often as we trespass against our brother, to turn again and say, “I repent” (Luke 17:4).


This is my attempt to rephrase Matthew Henry’s book The Quest for Meekness and Quietness of Spirit.

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About Amy

I'm Amy, a missionary wife and homeschooling mother of five children, blogging about our lives and perspectives on culture in South Africa.
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2 Responses to Sticks and Stones (and a Soft Word!) May Break My Bones

  1. What great words that speak to my heart. Several times I attempted to pull away from your post and move on but God was telling me to read on to the last. Conviction of my sin is sometimes hard to swallow. I am grateful for a God who convicts but does not condemn, gently leading me to a place of repentance.

  2. Pingback: Don’t Get No Respect ‘Round Here! | Ita Vita

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