3. Words as Identity
The Still Small Voice
In the 9th century BC, king Ahab was king over Israel, and he and his wife were known for the Baal worship. One of the big Biblical highlights of that time as a big showdown between Ahab and the prophet Elijah on top of Mt Carmal.
1 Kings 18:22: Then Elijah said to the people, "I, even I only, am left a prophet of Yahweh; but Baal's prophets are four hundred fifty men. 23. Let them therefore give us two bulls; and let them choose one bull for themselves, and cut it in pieces, and lay it on the wood, and put no fire under; and I will dress the other bull, and lay it on the wood, and put no fire under. 24. You call on the name of your god, and I will call on the name of Yahweh; and the God who answers by fire, let him be God." All the people answered, "It is well said." WEB
It was a huge and very visible challenge, and Yahweh, God of Israel, was the clear victor. It showed to Ahab the King that his Baal didn't have the power that the the true God of Israel had, as demonstrated through Elijah.
Against this context, the wife of Jezebel still continued to persecute him, leaving him despondent. When hiding in a cave, a message was given to him:
1 Kings 19:11: He said, Go forth, and stand on the mountain before Yahweh. Behold, Yahweh passed by, and a great and strong wind tore the mountains, and broke in pieces the rocks before Yahweh; but Yahweh was not in the wind: and after the wind an earthquake; but Yahweh was not in the earthquake: 12. and after the earthquake a fire; but Yahweh was not in the fire: and after the fire a still small voice. 13. It was so, when Elijah heard it, that he wrapped his face in his mantle, and went out, and stood in the entrance of the cave. Behold, there came a voice to him, and said, What are you doing here, Elijah? WEB
One of the messages here is just what it was that represented God. They were all his acts, but yet God was not in the grand and dramatic ones. Instead of being in the show of strength, God was in the voice. Indeed, that voice was just a gentle blowing, but yet it is what represented God.
Strength of Words
The strength of words is not an isolated theme in the Bible. The writer to the Hebrews, when talking about faith, talks about how the word stands behind the physical,
Hebrews 11:3: By faith we understand that the worlds were framed by the word of God, so that the things which are seen were not made of things which are visible. NKJV
So we know that the creation came about through the word of God, and so that everything we see was formed out as a result of something intangible. The word of God is not directly visible, but yet all visible things have a basis in it.
Similarly, Peter showed how both creation and destruction have been called by that word,
2 Peter 3:5: .. there were heavens from of old, and an earth formed out of water and amid water, by the word of God; 6. by which means the world that then was, being overflowed with water, perished. WEB
The concept of words is not restricted to the word of God. We as humans also have words, and we may expect that just as the word of God defines who God is, so our words define who we are. The Bible supports this notion, by emphasising how important the words are that we speak.
Jesus was very clear that the words that a person spoke were very important when speaking to the Pharisees.
Matthew 15:11: That which enters into the mouth doesn't defile the man; but that which proceeds out of the mouth, this defiles the man." WEB
The Pharisees had been trying to define who they were by the actions they did in following the law. However, the argument here is that their words were very important, because that was how they related to other people.
Similarly, James uses an analogy of a ship. A ship is something very large which is guided by something very small.
the tongue - rudder steeing the ship
James 3:4: Behold, the ships also, though they are so big and are driven by fierce winds, are yet guided by a very small rudder, wherever the pilot desires. 5. So the tongue is also a little member, and boasts great things. See how a small fire can spread to a large forest! WEB
It is even a more telling analogy now, where the commands that turn a ship are just electronic signals flowing in a wire. The same issue applies, in that what we say can have a profound effect on other people.
We also know that our spoken words, along with our actions, define who we are.
Proverbs 15:2: The tongue of the wise commends knowledge, But the mouth of fools gush out folly WEB
As this proverb bears out, we know who people are from the words they speak.