We all know people who are what I like to call “linguistically loose” (ooh that’s a good one). You know the types; people who gossip incessantly (who cares what Jane wore to her mother’s friend’s sister’s cat’s funeral?), people that encourage you to confide in them then spill the beans (why is everyone asking me about something I only told Bill in accounting), or people who talk too much in general (please do not follow me into the bathroom to chat about…anything). These instances of linguistic fluidity can be exasperating but there is a type of talker that is even worse; the “maliciously linguistically loose” (say that 5x fast).
It’s rare (I think) but sometimes I may unintentionally say something that hurts someone (ever ask a woman if she was pregnant and she was not? Not me, I know better) or will have something said to me that was clearly not thought through (like when people tell me “you look so young” when it is obvious they mean “you are so short, I thought you were a child” but I digress). I find that it is easy to forgive and forget these instances because there was no ill-intent, however, those who are maliciously linguistically loose effectively use their tongues as metaphorical whips to assault someone’s psyche and spirit in an effort to diminish their happiness and self-esteem which is harder to recover from if you are on the receiving end.
Remember the biblical story of Joseph? Of he and his twelve brothers (of which he was the second youngest), Joseph was Jacob’s favorite son (partially because he was the 1st born of his favorite wife). The favoritism was obvious and Jacob did not even try to hide it. Naturally, the older brothers were furious and jealous that this seventeen year old brother from another mother was getting so much attention. Jacob foolishly added fuel to the fraternal fire by giving Joseph a beautiful ornate robe (aka a coat of many colors) you know, just because. Those of us familiar with the story know that Joseph became an upstanding, successful, God-fearing man (Genesis 37, 39-50) but I can only imagine that the seventeen year old Joseph was no saint. He probably wore that robe every day, strutted around (because he knew he was hot stuff), and gave every gesture an extra flourish so as to draw attention to his “fly” attire. His brothers were not having it; according to Genesis 37:4 “they hated him, and could not speak peaceably unto him”. Apparently, Joseph was oblivious to all of that and decided to tell them about his dreams which symbolized them bowing down to him. This only increased the hostility his brothers felt toward him.
At some point the older brothers left to feed their flock, leaving Joseph behind of course, and Jacob says, “Joe, your brothers have been gone for a while. I want you to do a little reconnaissance and report back to me, capisce.” and thus Joseph began his mission. The brothers were not where not where they said they would be but even further out (possibly to throw off Joseph the tattle-tale but probably to search for better feeding grounds). When they saw Joseph, the brothers conspired to kill him, such was their hate. Essentially they said “Here comes Joseph the dreamer, let’s kill ‘em, throw him into some pit and see what will come of his dreams then. We can tell dad a wild animal ate him”. Reuben, the oldest had a slight moment of clarity and said, ”uh yeah, killing him is a bit…anyway, no killing just throw him in the pit” so later he could go back and let Joseph out. The brothers probably rolled their eyes having figured out Reuben’s plan but when Joseph reached them, they stripped him of that infernal robe and threw him into an empty pit. While the brothers were pigging out (leaving Joseph’s stomach grumbling) they saw a caravan coming in the distance and another brother, Judah had a brilliant idea, “Hey, what good would it do to murder Joseph and have to cover it up? Let’s just sell him to these guys, I mean he is still our brother after all” (strange logic). Everyone agreed, so they sold Joseph for twenty pieces of silver and off he went to Egypt with the caravan.
Now, I do not know where Reuben went between the time Joseph was first sighted in the distance and the time he finally reached the brothers’ base (or why he entrusted Joseph’s safety to his murderous brothers) but when he got back, Joseph and the caravan were long gone. I imagine he took a look in the pit and did a double take. Frantically he approached his brothers,
“He’s gone; he’s not in the pit! What did you do!?
“Huh, who’s gone? Who’s not in the pit?”
“Don’t play with me you fools! Joseph’s gone! I can’t go back home without him, what am I going to do!? What are WE going to do?”
“Reuben chill out, we didn’t kill him, we sold him. We can do what we said before and tell dad he was eaten by a rabid camel or something.”
The brothers dipped Joseph’s robe in goat blood (probably roughed it up some too) and took it to Jacob saying, “Hey dad, we don’t want to jump to conclusions but we found this bloody robe, is this Joseph’s?” Jacob immediately identified Joseph’s robe and assumed the worst, that Joseph had been torn to pieces by some wild animal. Jacob mourned inconsolably. He would not accept any comforting from his family and declared that he would mourn until the day he died.
So Joseph was a little linguistically loose (and a little thick-headed if he could not feel the tension). He told his brother things that infuriated them, not because he wanted them to feel inferior but just because he wanted to share. On the other hand, Joseph’s brothers were maliciously linguistically loose; they did not have anything nice to say to Joseph. Surely they called him all kinds of names (much worse than “dreamer”) and of course they ostracized him from their group. The brothers did not just want to knock Joseph down a peg; they wanted to knock him down period. It is not farfetched to think that they wanted their father to suffer somewhat for his blatant favoritism too and they had to know how much pain and unhappiness it would cause him to lose Joseph. The Bible tells us in Psalm 52:2 “The tongue deviseth mischiefs; like a sharp razor, working deceitfully”. What Joseph’s brothers did was beyond simple mischief deceit; if only they could have heeded Proverbs 21:23 which tells us “Whoso keepeth his mouth and his tongue keepeth his soul from troubles”.
In light of digital media and the anonymity of the internet we are freer than ever to say what we want without consequence. I am way more conscious about what I say and even think than before (ever read some of the comments after those yahoo stories? It can get pretty awful) because I know I cannot unspeak what has been spoken or delete what has been typed (it is still out there somewhere). So, before I respond rudely or say something out of spite I will pray for self control and guidance; “Teach me, and I will hold my tongue: and cause me to understand wherein I have erred” Job 6:24.