James Nisbet Commentary - Leviticus 19:16 - 19:16

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James Nisbet Commentary - Leviticus 19:16 - 19:16

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This Chapter Verse Commentaries:


‘Thou shalt not go up and down as a talebearer.’


I. Evil-speaking is a ready way of making ourselves agreeable to other people: ‘Scandal sweetens many a cup of tea.’ Also it is a sin indulged in by many otherwise excellent people, like the benevolent lady of whom Cowper wrote:—

Her superfluity the poor supplies,

But if she touch a character, it dies.

Yet tale-bearing was not the venial offence some were disposed to regard it. St. Paul included ‘whisperers’ in his catalogue of villains in the first chapter of the Epistle to the Romans; the Greek word for devil, diabolos, meant first ‘a slanderer.’

II. The evil results of tale-bearing.—‘It is like a pistol fired amongst the mountains. The sharp report is caught up by the rocks and caves, and comes back with a sound like thunder; so the evil word lightly spoken receives additions as it passes from mouth to mouth, and comes back as something gross and hideous. The whisper of evil is like the fox with a firebrand tied to its tail, which Samson sent among the corn of the Philistines; or like the freezing wind that seals up the sparkling water and the tender juices of the flowers.’

III. Three things must be learned if we would avoid falling into this sin.—(1) We must learn to talk. It is surprising how few can talk in an instructive and entertaining way without being uncharitable. It is better to talk about things than about persons; conversation about persons is almost certain sooner or later to take some uncharitable turn. (2) We must learn to be silent, a harder thing still. Socrates told the chatterbox who applied to him for lessons in rhetoric, that he must charge him double fees, because first he had to teach him to hold his tongue. How many meetings, how many conversations, would be the better if all learned the value of silence! (3) We must learn to reverence humanity. For every man Christ died, and every man is made in God’s image. If that were kept in view, charity would come upon our speech.


‘Each precept of this chapter has a homiletical value so clear that no amplification of the text itself is necessary. Holiness is made to consist, not merely in the avoiding of sin and in the fulfilment of certain prescribed duties, but in a general course of life prompted by genuine love. The wants of the poor are to be regarded, the weak and defenceless are to be respected, justice is to be unwarped by either personal sympathies or influence, tale-bearing avoided, all magical arts and efforts to attain forbidden knowledge are to be shunned, and, in a word, man is to conduct himself in all things as one who is in communion with God, and therefore seeks to have his will carried out in all the length and breadth of his own daily life.’