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Proverbs 18:20-21

Context

18:20 From the fruit of a person’s mouth 1  his stomach is satisfied, 2 

with the product of his lips is he satisfied.

18:21 Death and life are in the power 3  of the tongue, 4 

and those who love its use 5  will eat its fruit.

1 sn Two images are used in this proverb: the fruit of the mouth and the harvest of the lips. They are synonymous; the first is applied to the orchard and the second to the field. The “mouth” and the “lips” are metonymies of cause, and so both lines are speaking about speech that is productive.

2 tn Heb “his midst.” This is rendered “his stomach” because of the use of שָׂבַע (sava’, “to be satisfied; to be sated; to be filled”), which is usually used with food (cf. KJV, ASV “belly”).

sn Productive speech is not just satisfying – it meets the basic needs of life. There is a practical return for beneficial words.

3 tn Heb “in the hand of.”

4 sn What people say can lead to life or death. The Midrash on Psalms shows one way the tongue [what is said] can cause death: “The evil tongue slays three, the slanderer, the slandered, and the listener” (Midrash Tehillim 52:2). See J. G. Williams, “The Power of Form: A Study of Biblical Proverbs,” Semeia 17 (1980): 35-38.

5 tn The referent of “it” must be the tongue, i.e., what the tongue says (= “its use”). So those who enjoy talking, indulging in it, must “eat” its fruit, whether good or bad. The expression “eating the fruit” is an implied comparison; it means accept the consequences of loving to talk (cf. TEV).



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