This familiar prophetic declaration (e.g., Isa. 1:20, MT) reflects the fact that the mouth is used figuratively to express various thoughts and activities. Following our examination of the face in chapter four, in this chapter we shall examine several different parts of the face that also occur in well-known figurative expressions. Thus we shall consider the mouth, lips, and tongue as well as activities that take place in relation to them such as speaking and tasting.
Each of these facial features is commonly employed in familiar figurative expressions. For example, many things are said to have a mouth such as a cave or a river where it empties into another body of water. When someone is discouraged, he may say that he is “down in the mouth.” If we say that something that someone has said is a “mouthful,” in any case that this person has pronounced a long word, or a series of words that are difficult to say, or perhaps that he has expressed a valid opinion or needful suggestion. A person who is a “loud mouth,” however is not appreciated for his loud irritating talk. He is liable to be viewed as “mouthy.” Someone who has “mouthed off” has spoken in a disrespectful manner.
The lip likewise appears in figures. It can describe the tip of a problem or an edge of an object. We commonly “smack our lips” to express satisfaction, particularly at the thought of some savory dish. If we “keep a stiff upper lip,” we display courage or steadfastness in the face of danger, pressure, or difficulty. A father who tells his child, “I don’t want ‘any of your lip,’” may be reminding him or her that he will stand for no disobedience or disrespect.
The tongue can describe a language or a distinctive shape, such as a narrow strip of land protruding into water. Shoes are said to have a tongue. The tongue also is used in various matters involving speech. If we “bite our tongue,” we refrain from speaking that which we would like to say. If we “hold our tongue,” we remain quiet, but if we “find our tongue,” we express our opinion. Something that is “on the tip of my tongue,” may indicate that I cannot quite recall that which I wish to say. A “tongue twister” is a phrase that is difficult to say. Someone who is said to speak “with a forked tongue” is understood to speak deceitfully. A person with a “glib tongue” talks in a smooth or flattering manner. If someone speaks that which is “on everyone’s tongue,” he or she may be expressing a prevailing opinion or simply gossiping. The mother who gives her child a severe scolding is said to give him or her a “tongue lashing.”
Relative to the mouth is the matter of taste. If someone has an appetite or desire for something, he or she is said to “have a taste” for it. Someone who has “good taste” has an appreciation for the lovelier or finer things of life, or acts in a decorous manner. The opposite is expressed as acting “in bad taste” or as being “tasteless.” The lady who is dressed “in good taste” does so in a stylish manner or modestly.
One can “have a taste” (or desire) for many things. What pleases a person is “to his taste.” A certain object, activity, or result may be so desirable or anticipated so strongly that the person “can just taste it.” “Just a taste,” however, indicates a small amount of something or a slight experience with something such as a job skill, activity, or condition such as freedom or danger. A person who has “tasted” freedom, however, has experienced it.
Even the teeth appear in contemporary idiomatic speech. Thus the teeth may betray a broad grin or “toothy smile.” A lady can be so beautifully attired that she is “dressed to the teeth.” Well-equipped military forces, which are fully prepared for combat, are “armed to the teeth.” If a speaker “casts something in another’s teeth,” he slanders or insults him, or possibly issues a public reproach. One can stand firm “in the teeth” of a storm, a difficulty, or prevailing opinion. If we are absorbed with a field of interest, we have found something we can “sink our teeth into.”
“My Mouth Is Filled With Your Praise” (Ps. 71:8, MT)
The image of the mouth can occur in a number of settings indicating an opening of some kind. Thus we read of the mouth of a well (Gen. 29:3) and the cave (Josh. 10:18, 27), the Jordan River where it enters the Dead Sea (Josh. 15:5), and the ground as it formed a grave for the sinning Korahites (Num. 16:30-32). Elsewhere the grave is called the pit (Ps. 30:1-3), in the wicked, whose “bones are scattered at the mouth of Sheol grave” (i.e., the place of the unbelieving dead; Ps. 141:5-7).114 Still other objects are said to have a mouth: a sword (Gen. 34:26, MT), a sack (Gen. 42:27; 43:12; 44:2, 8), a garment (Job 30:18, MT), and a lion’s den (Dan. 6:17, MT). Even difficult times or situations can be said to have a mouth. Elihu advises Job that “God is wooing you from the jaws (lit., mouth) of distress to a specious place free from restriction (Job 36:16).
“A wise person’s heart makes his speech wise” (lit., makes wise his mouth; Prov. 16:23)
By speaking of various kinds of mouths, the authors of the Scriptures describe the character of the individual involved. The mouth can bring forth empty (Job 35:16) or foolish talk (Prov. 15:2, 14). The author of Proverbs warns of the mouth of fools: “The mouth of a fool is his ruin and his lips are a snare for his life” (Prov. 18:7). Jesus observed that “the things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these things defile a person” (Mt. 15:18; cf. Mt. 12:34). Indeed mouths can be corrupt ( or perverse, Prov. 6:12, MT), hence can spew forth perversity (Prov. 4:24; 8:13, MT), lies (Ps. 144:8) or deceit (Zeph. 3:13), and evil (Prov. 15:28). Such mouths are not trustworthy (Ps. 5:6-9, MT). To be watched carefully are those whose “mouths speak with arrogance” (Ps. 17:10, MT; cf. Prov. 14:3, MT) or flattery (Prov. 26:28).
Far different is the case of the righteous, for “the mouth of the righteous man utters wisdom, and his tongue speaks what is just” (Ps. 37:30). Their mouths are free of deceit (Isa. 53:9, MT; cf. 1 Pet. 2:22; Rev.14:5) and perversity (Prov. 10:31, MT). Rather, the righteous person fills his mouth (NET, lips) with God’s Word (Josh. 1:8, MT). Because of this, he is wise and his “heart makes wise his speech (lit., mouth”; Prov. 16:23). “The believer’s speech is characterized by his praise of God. Yahweh’s praise shall continually be in my mouth (Ps. 34:1; cf. 49:3; 51:15; 63:5; 71:15).”115 Therefore, his mouth becomes a veritable fountain of life (Prov. 10:11, MT). Indeed, the believer can truly say, “He placed in my mouth a new song, praise to our God” (Ps. 40:3, MT). Because believers have experienced the goodness of the Lord, they can say with the psalmist, “Our mouth is filled with laughter, and our tongue with a shout” (Ps. 126:2, MT; cf. Job 8:21). By way of contrast, in times of deliverance from trials or personal mistakes they do not open their mouths to claim the credit, for they know that God is “the one who accomplished the deed” (Ps. 39:9).
“I will be with your mouth” (Ex. 4:12)
The mouth can serve as a mighty weapon. “Those who are guilty attempt to pervert justice with their words, they condemn the innocent to death. Those who are innocent can defend and deliver themselves by speaking the truth ([Prov] 12:6; 18:7). Careful attention to one’s speech is therefore a matter of life and death; the fruits of the mouth are either beneficent or deadly.”116 Words from the mouth can serve as evidence (Deut. 19:15, MT; cf. Mt. 18:16) that can trap the one who spoke them (Prov. 6:2, MT).
The mouth can also reflect authority. Thus Pharaoh told Joseph, “You will oversee my household, and all my people will submit to your commands (lit., kiss [you] on your mouth; i.e., “be obedient to your mouth”—LXX). Only I, the king be greater than you” (Gen. 41:40).117 By Pharaoh’s command Joseph was given extensive authority not only to carry out his program for the food supplies of Egypt but also to be virtually second in command in the land of Egypt. The Bible reports that godly men of old served as God’s authoritative spokesmen through whose mouths came marvelous prophetic words. It was such prophets who spoke of Christ’s suffering (Acts 3:18; 4:25) and through him, as David’s heir, the deliverance of God’s people (Lk. 1:69-71) and the restoration of all things (Acts 3:21) in the end times.
“I will make war against those people with the sword of my mouth” (Rev. 2:16)
Direct conversation is said to be “mouth to mouth,” whether between human individuals (Jer. 32:4, MT; 34:3, MT) or between God and man (Num. 12:8, MT). An area could be so crowded that it was said to be filled “from end to end” (lit., from mouth to mouth; 2 Kings 10:21). Judah’s king Manasseh was so wicked that “he stained Jerusalem with their blood from end to end” (lit., from mouth to mouth; 2 Kings 21:16). To be told to be quiet, however, is “Put your hand over your mouth” (Judg. 18:19; cf. Job 21:5). Out of respect for Job, the chief townspeople at one time refrained from speaking and covered “their mouths with their hands” (Job 29:9). After his ordeal, a repentant Job said to the Lord, “I am completely unworthy—how could I reply to you? I put my hand over my mouth to silence myself. I have spoken once, but I cannot answer; twice, but I will say no more” (Job 40:4-5). In like manner the psalmist’s prays to the Lord that he might not speak that which is sinful or evil: “O LORD, place a guard on my mouth. Protect the opening of my lips” (Ps. 141:3).
Amazement is sometimes expressed as “laying hands on the mouth” or “shutting the mouth.” Thus Isaiah predicted that because they will misunderstand the extensive suffering and later exaltation of Messiah, they will be astonished and, “Because of him, kings will shut their mouths” (Isa. 52:15, MT). In a still future day when Christ returns in great power and glory, “ Nations will see this and be disappointed by all their strength, they will put their hands over their mouths” (Mic. 7:16). “The miraculous deeds will make such an impression, that the heathen nations who see them will stand ashamed, dumb and deaf with alarm and horror… . Laying the hand upon the mouth is a gesture expressive of reverential silence from astonishment and admiration.”118
“For The LORD Has Issued The Decree (lit., for a mouth, it has commanded)” (Isa. 34:16)119
God’s speeches to mankind are often recorded as being from “the mouth of the LORD” (e.g., Jer. 23:16, MT).120 The speeches of the prophets, the Lord’s servants, are likewise God’s words. For it is God who put the words in their mouths: “I place my words in your mouth, I cover with the palm of my hand” (Isa. 51:16). Indeed, many prophecies are cited as being God’s. For example, “The splendor of the LORD will be revealed, and all people will see it at the same time. For the LORD (lit., mouth of the LORD) has decreed it” (Isa. 40:5; cf. Isa. 58:14). Because of this, the prophet’s words were authoritative, for they were nothing short of God’s own words: “Turn to me so you can be delivered, all you who live in the earth’s remote regions! For I am God, and I have no peer. I solemnly make this oath—what I say is true and reliable (lit., a word goes out from my mouth [in truth] and will not return)” (Isa. 45:22-23). They were also effective: “I announced events beforehand, I issued the decrees (lit., my mouth announced them) and made the predictions; suddenly I acted and they came to pass” (Isa. 48:3).
Thus God’s commands issue from his mouth (Ex. 17:1-2; Num. 3:16; 33:2; Josh. 19:50; 22:9—all MT) and are to be obeyed lest his judgment come (Isa. 1:19-20, MT). In such cases the mouth of the Lord can be said to be the vehicle of God’s judgment (Job 15:30). Such was the case for disobedient Israel and Judah (2 Kings 24:2-4, MT; cf. 2 Kings 17:7-20). Indeed, God himself pointed out to his people that because their love for him evaporated all too quickly, “Therefore, I will certainly cut you into pieces at the hands of the prophets; I will certainly kill you in fulfillment of my oracles (lit., the words of my mouth); of judgment; for my judgment will come forth like the light of the dawn” (Hos. 6:5). God’s word through his prophets predicts that his judgment will come through his servant the Messiah who will “strike the earth with the rod of his mouth and order the wicked to be executed (lit., and by the breath of his lips he will kill the wicked)” (Isa. 11:4). This servant of the Lord declares, “He made my mouth like a sharp sword” (Isa. 49:2). This One is none other than the Lord Jesus Christ who will overthrow the lawless one, the antichrist with “the breath of his mouth” (2 Thess. 2:8) and whom the apostle John sees coming on a white horse and “from of his mouth extends a sharp sword, so that with it he can strike the nations” (Rev. 19:15).
But God’s mouth is not always associated with his judgments. From his mouth men learn knowledge and wisdom for living, “For the LORD gives wisdom, and from his mouth comes knowledge and understanding” (Prov. 2:6). At times that wisdom comes in the form of wise sayings transferred from one generation to another. Thus the psalmist Asaph pleads with his hearers to hear his words: “I will sing a song that imparts wisdom (lit., I will open with a wise saying my mouth) I will make insightful observations about the past. What we have heard and learned—that which our ancestors have told us—we will not hide from their descendents. We will tell the next generation about the LORD’s praiseworthy acts, about his strength and the amazing things he has done” (Ps. 78:2-4). Matthew sees in these words an analogy to Jesus’ teaching and ministry (Mt. 13:35). Although his teachings might seem obtuse to the masses, “the hidden things, or parables, are the hidden treasure of the kingdom. One finds and gains the kingdom by understanding the parables; but to false disciples, who are ignorant their meaning stays hidden.”121 Yet it is through the mouth of the Lord that knowledge of God’s will (Lev. 24:12) and an understanding of the flow of history are perceived (Jer. 9:12-16, MT).
“ I Will Sing (lit., with my mouth I will make known) Continually About The LORD’s Faithful Deeds” (Ps. 89:1)
Because the words of the mouth of God are authoritative (Isa. 62:2, MT), they provide sustenance and true living (Deut. 8:3; Prov. 30:5-6; Mt. 4:4). Therefore, from the mouth of the wise believer will come learned words of wisdom (Ps. 49:3; Prov. 10:31, MT)—words that contain truth and righteousness (Prov. 8:7-8). The believer’s speech is to be filled not only with wisdom but faithful instruction (Prov. 31:26). Moreover, the believer knows that the words of God’s mouth are to be obeyed (Deut. 30:14-15), remembered (Ps. 105:4-5, MT), and treasured (Ps. 119:72, MT). In that regard Job declares, “I have not departed from the commands of his lips; I have treasured the words of his mouth more than my allotted portion” (Job 23:12). As a result the godly believer’s speech will gain for him good things rather than ruin (Prov. 13:2-3, MT).
Above all, the believer should spend time with God in prayer (Ps. 54:2, MT) and be ready to share God’s Word (Ex. 13:9; cf. 1 Pet. 3:15). By these he may prove to be a source of help to those who are perishing (Prov. 12:6, MT). The mouth of the believer should be ready to share the good news of salvation in Christ Jesus (Acts 15:7, Grk) in order that those who know him not may confess their sin and accept Christ as Savior and Lord. Thus Paul says, “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and has righteousness and with the mouth one confesses and thus has salvation” (Rom. 10:9-10). In every way, then, the faithful believer should always be ready to share and live out David’s prayer: “May my words (lit., words of my mouth) and my thoughts (lit., the thoughts of my heart) be acceptable in your sight, O LORD, my sheltering rock and my redeemer” (Ps. 19:14).
“O Lord, Open My Lips” (Ps. 51:15, MT)
The lip figures prominently in the Scriptures as the organ of speech (e.g., Num. 30:12, MT; Deut. 23:23, MT; Job 13:6; 32:20; 33:3). Many types of lips are mentioned in the Bible. There are lips of fools (Prov. 18:6) and of the wise (Prov. 15:7). The lips of the fool contain no knowledge (Prov. 14:7) but those of the wise preserve knowledge (Prov. 5:2).
The lips can be categorized as to whether they are used negatively or positively. To the former category belong lips that are evil (Prov. 17:4,MT), deceitful (Ps. 17:1, MT; Prov. 24:28,MT), lying (Pss. 31:18; 120:2; Prov. 12:22, MT; Isa. 59:3), poisonous (Ps. 140:3; Rom. 3:13), arrogant (Prov. 17:7,MT), and unclean (Isa. 6:5). Such lips can be filled with trouble (Ps. 140:9) and deceitful flattery (Ps. 12:2-3). Particularly to be avoided are those that are filled with evil fervency (Prov. 26:23) such as those of the adulterous (Prov. 5:3).
In the latter category are lips that have been purified (Zeph. 3:9, MT), for they belong to the righteous, those who “know what is pleasing” (Prov. 10:32). Such lips are honest (Prov. 16:13) and truthful (Prov. 12:19). They are filled with graciousness (Ps. 45:2; Eccl. 10:12), great joy (Job 8:21; Ps. 71:23), and praise (Ps. 119:171) and glory to God (Ps. 63:3).
Since there are lips that can be described negatively and positively, it may be expected that the actions that are associated with them share the same qualities. And such indeed proves to be the case. One can sin (Prov. 12:13,MT) or not sin (Job 2:10) with the lips, tell lies (Isa. 59:3), and speak arrogantly (Ps. 13:4), rashly (Num. 30:7, MT; Ps. 106:33, MT), or corruptly (Prov. 4:24). Mocking behavior can be described as “separating with the lip” (Ps. 22:7, MT) and arrogant, sinful talk can be likened to swords, which come from the lips; “Look, they gush forth with their mouth, swords [are] in their lips” (Ps. 59:7, MT). A day will come, however, when the false religionists who seem to be wise will “cover their mouths” (lit., lips) because they receive “no divine oracles” (Mic. 3:7).
The lips can also be a positive influence (Song 4:11). By the proper use of the lips a person may find nourishment both for personal growth (Prov. 18:20) and the good of others (Prov. 10:21, MT). Because his lips are filled with wisdom (Prov. 10:13, MT) and knowledge (Prov. 20:15, MT), he can impart knowledge to others (Prov. 15:7), thus providing proper instruction (Prov. 16:23, MT). It is especially true that rulers should make wise and just decisions (Prov. 16:10, MT).
The lips should thus be those that have confessed sin and therefore found grace in God’s sight. Then a person can offer the fruit of his lips (Hos. 14:2), even praise to the Lord (Ps. 51:15, MT). Such a person will keep wickedness from his lips (Job 27:4) and experience the joys of success through answered prayer (Ps. 21:2, MT).
“He Will Strike The Earth With The Rod Of His Mouth” (Isa. 11:4)
In a few texts God is also said to have lips. Thus Zophar unfairly chides Job as follows: “But if only God would speak, if only he would open his lips against you, and reveal to you the secrets of wisdom--for true wisdom has two sides—so that you would know that God has forgiven some of your sins” (Job 11:5). Because God’s people were unresponsive to his revelation and unfaithful to his teaching, they were to suffer punishment at the hands of a foreign people. Thus Isaiah reports, “For with mocking lips and foreign tongues he [God] will speak to these people” (Isa. 28:11).
When next God appears to Israel, it will be to a repentant and redeemed people. At that time they will rejoice in his coming and the unbelieving nations of this world will be judged so severely that it will resemble a terrible storm:
Look, the name of the LORD comes from a distant place in raging anger (lit., his lips are full of anger) and awesome splendor. He speaks angrily and his word is like destructive fire (lit., his tongue is like consuming fire). His battle cry overwhelms like a flooding river (lit., his breath is like a flooding river) that reaches one’s neck. He shakes the nations in a sieve that isolates the chaff; he puts a bit into the mouth of the nations and leads them to destruction. You will sing as you do in the evening when you are celebrating a festival. You will be happy like one who plays a flute as he goes to the mountain of the LORD, to the Rock who shelters Israel (Isa. 30:27-29).
This will happen at the end of earth’s history when God’s servant, the Messiah, will come. As our opening scriptural quote declared, he will “strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and order (lit., with the breath of his lips, he will slay) the wicked to be executed” (Isa. 11:4).
“My Lips Will Shout For Joy!” (Ps. 71:23)
The thoughtful believer should not only follow the positive courses of wisdom and righteousness mentioned above, but will pray for God’s direction and enablement in his life: “O LORD, place a guard on my mouth! Protect the opening of my lips” (Ps. 141:3). That is because “all the lips in Scripture appear in the context of a righteous God who loves true words and hates false ones, and who evaluates what comes from the lips according to what is in the heart.”122 Believers should be wary of those who would lead them into wickedness (Prov. 5:3) and even be careful to choose wisely (lit., guard the doors of your mouth) the words they employ with those who seem to be close friends (Mic. 7:5).
All of this believers can do if they hold to the standards of God’s Word (Ps. 17:4, MT). Not only should they practice those standards but pass them on to others (Deut. 31:19). Like David of old, believers should find their full satisfaction in glorifying and serving the Lord: “Because experiencing your loyal love is better than life itself, my lips will praise you. … As if with choice meat you satisfy my soul. My mouth (lit. lips) joyfully praises you” (Ps. 63:3, 5). They should live consistent lives before God (Jer. 17:16-17) and like faithful shepherds, live so as to represent the Lord well, rejoicing in his goodness to us in Christ Jesus (Heb. 13:15).
“The Tongue Of The Wise Treats Knowledge Correctly” (Prov. 15:2)
Another prominent feature of the face found in the Bible is the tongue. The chief words for tongue in the Old and New Testaments occur well over one hundred times, often in a figurative sense. The tongue is at times employed in the sense of a language, whether human (e.g., Esth. 1:22, MT; Isa. 28:11; Acts 2:11 (Grk); 10:46; 1 Cor. 14:27; Rev. 10:11 [Grk]) or angelic (1 Cor 13:1). The tongue can also signify a small body of water projecting from a larger one, such as a bay (Josh. 15:2, 5, MT). Thus Isaiah prophesies, “The LORD will divide the gulf (lit., tongue) of the Egyptian Sea; He will wave his hand over the Euphrates River and send a strong wind, he will turn it into seven dried-up streams and enable them [the returning Israelites] to walk across in their sandals” (Isa. 11:15). As he had done in the past (Ex. 14:21-22), so once again in the future the Lord will dry up the waters before the returning exiles of Israel from the lands into which they had been scattered.
The tongue can also be likened to a bar of gold (Josh. 7:21, MT) or the shape of fire (Isa. 5:24, MT). Such occurred on the day of Pentecost when “what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on” those gathered together in one place in Jerusalem (Acts 2:3). The fire represented the divine presence (cf. Ex. 3:2-3; 13:21; 24:17; 40:38) and the tongue-like shapes, which separated and fell on those gathered, possibly spoke of the divine message expressed in the many languages of the people represented there. “Fire purifies by consuming the evil… . Here however it is rather the light of divine inspiration. For it appears in the form of tongues and its effect is speech.”123 Like the mouth and the lips, the tongue may be employed in a negative or positive way.
“Their tongues are like deadly arrows; they are always telling lies” (Jer. 9:8)
The tongue can be used for evil purposes (Ps. 34:13). Crafty tongues (Job 15:5, MT) speak for sinful reasons (Ps. 39:1) such as: lying (Ps. 109:2, MT; Prov. 6:17; 12:19, MT; 26:28; Isa. 59:3; Jer. 9:3) and deceit (Pss. 50:19; 52:2; 120:2-3; Mic. 6:12; Zeph. 3:13), perversion (Prov. 10:31, MT) and all sorts of mischief (Ps. 10:7, MT). The tongue can be employed in many unjust ways (Job 6:30, MT) such as slander (Ps. 15:3, MT; Prov. 25:23), and false accusation (Isa. 54:17, MT) or be used unethically such as in flattery (Ps. 5:9; Prov. 28:23) and insolence (Hos. 7:16). Poor behavior is especially prominent in the malicious and hateful gesture of sticking out the tongue (Isa. 57:4), as well as the beguiling speech of the adulterous (Prov. 6:24; cf. Prov. 2:16; 5:3).
A bad tongue can be described as a sharp sword (Ps. 64:3).124 The psalmist complains to the Lord, “I am surrounded by lions; I lie down among those who want to devour me—men whose teeth are spears and arrows, whose tongues are a sharp sword” (Ps. 57:4). The tongue can also serve as a “deadly arrow,” which “speaks with deceit” (Jer. 9:8) or as a stinging whip that brings a hostile accusation (Job 5:21, MT) or be likened to a venomous snake (Ps. 140:3). In all of the above the tongue serves as a source of wickedness (Isa. 59:3). In sum, it may be said, “The tongue is a small part of the body, yet it has great pretensions… . And the tongue is a fire! The tongue represents the world of wrong doing among the parts of our bodies… . But no human being can subdue the tongue; it is a restless evil, full of deadly poison” (Jas. 3:5-8).
“A tongue of healing is a tree of life” (Prov. 15:4, MT)
In stark contrast to its inappropriate or sinful uses the tongue can speak sweetly (Song 4:11). A righteous tongue can be as precious as choice silver (Prov. 10:20, MT). It can speak wisely (Prov. 15:2) and with justice (Ps. 37:30, MT). Though it may speak gently, it “can break a bone” (Prov. 25:15; cf. Prov. 15:1). A truly wise person has a tongue that brings healing (Prov. 12:18, MT), and is filled with godly wisdom and faithful instruction (Prov. 31:26). Because of the Lord’s goodness and faithfulness, the tongue can be happy and burst forth into joyful song (Ps. 126:2) founded on genuine hope (Acts 2:26).
Although God’s people will some day bask in the righteousness that God has provided (Isa. 45:23-25), unbelievers will know the agony of everlasting separation from God in a place where the tongue feels as though it is on fire (Lk. 16:24). How important it is, therefore, to know and confess now what every person will surely come to acknowledge; indeed “every tongue” shall “confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil. 2:11).
“His Tongue Is Like A Consuming Fire” (Isa. 30:2, MT7)
It is the mouth and lips that are customarily used of God rather than the tongue.125 Nevertheless, as the above citation from Isaiah declares, the future judgment of the nations, however, is said to be accomplished by the awesome power of God and his fiery tongue: “Look, the Name of the LORD comes from a distant place in raging anger and awesome splendor. He speaks angrily (lit., his lips are full of anger) and his word (lit., tongue is like) is a destructive fire” (Isa. 30:27). The tongue here is used metaphorically, likening God’s coming in judgment to that of a terrible storm, which includes heavy wind, cloudbursts, hail, thunder and lightning. As for the imagery of the lips and tongue, J. Oswalt points out, “While it is undoubtedly true that the imagery of thunder and lightning plays a part here, it is also clear that the OT writers considered that the decree of the God who speaks was ultimately the power which held all things together and which could plunge all things into dissolution.”126
At this point we must pause and note that in several biblical passages the mouth, lips, and tongue are used interchangeably or in combination with one another to represent the character, attributes, or actions of the whole person. Thus the combination of tongue and mouth may be noted numerous times. Psalm 126:2 (MT) is typical: “Our mouth was filled with laughter, our tongue with a song of joy.” Likewise, the tongue and lips occur frequently in parallelism. For example, the psalmist prays, “May praise flow freely from my lips, for you teach me your statutes. May my tongue sing about your instructions, for all your commands are just” (Ps. 119:171-72).127 The occurrence of the mouth and lips together is also common enough, as we noted in Psalm 141:3: “O LORD place a guard on my mouth! Protect the opening of my lips.”128
All three organs of speech can be attested in combination together as well. Thus David in his great penitential psalm prays, “ Save me, from the guilt of murder, O God, the God who delivers me! Then my tongue will shout for joy because of your deliverance! O LORD, give me the words (lit., open my lips). Then my mouth will praise you” (Ps. 51:14-15). Here, based upon God’s gracious forgiveness of his past sins, David promises the Lord that he would testify of God’s righteousness. As C. B. Molle observes, the righteousness of God is not just “that tempered by grace and changed into mercy … or that bestowed upon the sinner by grace … but that attribute of God by virtue of which He gives everyone his dues.”129 A. R. Faussett adds, “The ground on which it is righteous that God should forgive the penitent is the atonement and righteousness of Christ, less clearly shadowed forth in the Old Testament but revealed fully in the New Testament.”130
David’s proclamation of God’s righteousness is a sincere one. He emphasizes his total dependence upon God. Although his tongue will sing of God’s righteousness, it is only because God has first opened his lips and enabled his mouth to declare God’s praise. “God acts graciously toward the penitent, and the penitent is enabled to respond.”131 The image of God-enabled praise is thus heightened by the three organs of speech: the loosened tongue, the opened lips, and the words of the mouth, the three together emphasizing that David personally will respond to God’s gracious dealing with him.
Therefore, it is certainly likely that the image of the tongue as well as the mouth and lips, can be felt in God’s communications to mankind in passages where God is portrayed as speaking. The Scriptures often affirm that the revelation contained in them comes ultimately from the Lord: “Thus says the LORD.” The Bible records that God , whether the Father, the Spirit, or the risen Christ often spoke to various ones; for example, to Abraham (Gen. 12:1; Lk. 1:55), to Moses (Ex. 6:2; 40:1), to Moses and Aaron (Ex. 6:13; Lev. 15:1), to Israel (Deut. 5:4, 22), to Joshua (Josh. 1:1), to Samuel (1 Sam. 3:17), to David (1 Kings 5:5) and his prophet Gad (1 Chr. 21:9), to Solomon (1 Kings 11:11), to Hezekiah (2 Chr. 32:24), to Ahaz (Isa. 7:10), and to God’s prophets (Isa. 8:5; Jer. 1:9, 11; Ezek. 3:4; Hos. 1:4; Am. 7:8; Jon. 4:4; Heb. 1:1). God also spoke to Simeon (Lk. 2:25-26), the Lord’s disciples (Mt. 17:5), Paul (Acts 9:4-6), Peter (Acts 10:19), and to the apostle John (Rev. 1:17-18). At times he spoke through angels (Dan. 9:21-22; Lk. 1:13, 28; Heb. 2:2)
Many sections of the Old Testament record God’s words through his prophets whom he called (Ezek. 2:1) and empowered (Jas. 5:10). Through them he spoke messages of coming judgment (Jer. 46-51), not only against the unbelieving nations (Ezek. 25:3) and cities (Nah. 1:1) but also against his own people Israel (Am. 3:1). He also sent messages of “encouragement and consolation (Isa. 7:7; 10:24; 28:16; 43:1; 44:2; 49:7; 66:12), of restoration and salvation (Isa. 49:8; Jer. 30:18; 31:23; Ezek. 36:33; 37:12, 21; 39:25).”132 Above all, when the Lord is said to be speaking, it is an authoritative message (1 Kings 17:2-4; Isa. 42:9). Such is often delivered with great power as at the creation (Gen. 1:3) but at other times in a gentle whisper (1 Kings 19:12).
It has been calculated that the formula “and God said” appears 3808 times in the Old Testament alone. Such repetition gives the readers of the Bible assurance that the Scriptures are indeed the words that God has revealed through chosen human authors. Whether by mouth, lips, or tongue, the Lord has spoken! And as Jesus affirmed, God’s Word provides a life changing opportunity (Jn. 6:63). Indeed “All Scripture is God breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16-17).
“My Tongue Will Also Tell About Your Justice” (Ps. 71:24)
Of all people, believers must be those who have learned to control their tongues (Jas. 1:26; 3:9-10). They are to be those who keep their tongues “from evil” and their “lips from uttering deceit” (1 Pet. 3:10). The person whose tongue is filled with God’s Word (2 Sam. 23:2) and lives in close communion with the Lord will know how to speak wisely (Prov. 16:1). The believer will realize that speaking “recklessly is like the thrusts of a sword, but the words (lit., tongue) of the wise bring(s) healing” (Prov. 12:18). The proper use of the tongue can provide a life-changing experience for those to whom its words are addressed (Prov. 15:4, MT) but a tongue that speaks empty words is devoid of genuine sincerity and love, and is of little value. Therefore, “Let us not love with word or with tongue but in deed and in truth” (1 Jn. 3:18).
If, then, we have “tasted” that the Lord is good (Ps. 34:8) and know that his authoritative and effective Word (Isa. 55:11) is “sweeter in my mouth than honey” (Ps. 119:103), we can be sure that we can find spiritual nourishment and direction for life in it (1 Pet. 2:1-3). Further, because we know that Jesus Christ has tasted death for everyone (Heb. 2:9) and that having believed on him we shall never taste death (Jn. 8:51), our lives need not be tasteless (Mt. 5:13). Because we know that “every tongue will give praise to God” (Rom. 14:11) and everyone will stand before God’s judgment seat, we should be concerned to carry the Gospel message to all so that they may confess their sins and receive Christ as Savior (cf. Rom. 10:9-11). Because of who God is and all that he has done, our tongues should be filled with praise to God for his righteousness (Ps. 35:28, MT; 51:14) and with songs of joy (Ps. 126:2, MT). Perhaps we may even be among those who use their tongues to join in that grand heavenly chorus, “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he will reign for ever and ever” (Rev. 11:15).
“He Will Yet Fill Your Mouth With Laughter” (Job 8:21)
Bildad’s aphoristic observation to Job is a reminder that mouth, tongue, and lips are often used interchangeably or in combination with one another. For he goes on to say, “And your lips with gladness.” Let us examine further what we have learned concerning the mouth, lips, and tongue. In connection with the scriptural teaching concerning God, we noted that God’s “mouth” appeared prominently in connection with his divine revelation, whether in his own speeches or those of his prophets. From his “life mouth” come words of advice for wise living, including his revealed standards for a godly life. We also noticed that whether by “mouth,” “lip,” or “tongue,” God is seen to pronounce judgment against sin and rebellion. This is felt especially in the pronouncements of God’s judgment that will culminate earth’s history. In connection with the events that accompany that judgment we read of his awesome power and just dealing with mankind. We also saw the interchangeable use of mouth, lips, and tongue in connection with God’s speaking. In all such cases the word of the Lord is authoritative. The cumulative effect of these contexts is to demonstrate that the Holy Bible is the inspired revelation of God. Therefore, its teachings are to be accepted and followed. In passages where God’s “mouth” is featured the believer understands that God’s words are to be obeyed and his standards reflected in his daily living before God.
Whether in man’s initial confession of sin and turning to Christ or in his communion with God, man’s mouth is to be used in such a way as to be pleasing in God’s sight. We recall also that all three of these facial features are associated with speaking. Words of truth, righteousness, and spiritual wisdom should especially come from the believer’s mouth. Likewise, the believer’s lips should be filled with praise and glorification of the Lord, and his tongue should serve positive purposes. The believer must learn to control his tongue, keeping it from evil speech. Rather, his tongue should be exercised with matters such as confession of sin and praise to the Lord. The word of God and the Gospel message should also find their place on the believer’s tongue. Like David of old, his tongue should sing of God’s saving work and with open lips his mouth should declare God’s praise (Ps. 51:14-15, cf. MT).
As believers who live out our lives faithfully before the Lord, may we keep our tongues from evil and our lips from deceit (1 Pet. 3:10). For God knows our innermost motives and thoughts (Prov. 16:1-3) and is aware of what a person says and intends to communicate, even as the psalmists declares, “You know when I sit down and when I get up; even from far away you understand my motives. … Certainly my tongue does not frame a word without you, O LORD, being thoroughly aware of it” (Ps. 139:2, 4). May we, therefore, speak always with the realization that whatever we say, we speak in the presence of God (2 Cor. 2:17). As an interesting aside, it may be recalled that in instructing drama players how to speak and act properly before the king, (Hamlet, 3:2:1) tells them, “Speak the speech, I pray you, trippingly on the tongue.” Thus they were instructed to speak easily yet humbly in the king’s presence. Believers are reminded that, in a far greater way, we speak and conduct our lives before the King of kings. May our speech therefore always be with grace (Col. 4:6), accompanied by words that are beyond reproach (Tit. 2:8). Let us always say that which is true (Eph. 4:25) and in harmony with sound doctrine (Tit. 2:1)—and always in love (Eph. 4:15). As we gather together from time to time in Christian fellowship may we be careful to follow Paul’s admonition to speak “to one another in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, singing and making music in your hearts to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for each other in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Eph. 5:19; cf. Col. 3:16-17).
Indeed, believers can and should sing praises to the Lord (Ps. 92:1) for all his wonderful acts (1 Chr. 16:9; Pss. 92:4; 138:1). For by his great might and strength (Pss. 21:13; 81:1) he has given his people victory over their enemies (Ex. 15:1, 21; Ps. 20:5). Therefore, his name is to be exalted, honored, and praised (Pss 61:8; 68:4) because he has vindicated and redeemed his own (2 Sam. 22:50; cf. Rom. 15:9).
Accordingly, all believers everywhere can sing a new song (Pss. 33:3; 96:1; 98:1; 149:1; Isa. 42:10).133 They can rejoice with thanksgiving (Pss. 28:7; 30:12) and sing joyfully (Pss. 71:23; 132:9), whether in the assembly (Pss. 22:22; 100:2; 107:22) or individually (Ps. 63:5). They can tell of his love in the morning (Ps. 59:16). Throughout the day they may sing of his goodness (Pss. 13:6; 135:3), faithfulness (Ps. 89:1), and saving righteousness (Pss. 7:17; 51:14). Even at night God’s great salvation will often be remembered (Ps. 149:5; cf. Ps. 63:7). Believers are to sing praises from their whole soul (1 Cor. 14:15). Not only for that God has done but for who he is, believers should go on singing the Lord’s praises and remain ever close to him (Ps. 63:5-8). May the psalmist’s heartfelt declaration be ours:
I will sing to the LORD as long as I live;
I will sing praise to my God as long as I exist (Ps. 104:33).
Above all, may we be quick to share the word of God with courage (Phil. 1:14), ever ready to “give an answer to anyone who asks about the hope you possess. But do this with gentleness and respect” (1 Pet. 3:15). May we always be ready in bold witness for the Lord to spread the good news of salvation in Jesus Christ (Eph. 6:19). As we consider the various aspects and features of the face, let us follow the psalmist’s admonition:
Give thanks to the LORD! Call on his name!
Make known his accomplishments among the nations!
Sing to him! Make music to him!
Tell about all his miraculous deeds!
Boast about his holy name!
Let the hearts of those who seek the LORD rejoice!
Seek the LORD and the strength he gives!
Seek his presence (lit., face) continually! (Ps. 105:1-4).
As we sing the following familiar words to the hymn penned so long ago by Frances Havergal, may we do so from the heart: “Lord, speak to me, that I may speak in living echoes of Thy tone; As Thou hast sought, so let me seek Thy erring children lost and lone.”134
114 For Sheol as the grave as well as the abode of the unrighteous dead, see Alexander Heidel, The Gilgamesh Epic and Old Testament Parallels (Chicago: University Press, 1963), 171-91.
115 John A. Thompson and Elmer A. Martens, “Peh,” in New International Dictionary of Old Testament Theology & Exegesis , ed. Willem A. VanGemeren; vol. 3,.(Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1997), 583.
116 F. Garcia-López, “Peh,” in Theological Dictionary of the Old Testament, eds., G. Johannes Botterweck, Helmer Ringgren and Heinz-Josef Fabry , vol. 11 (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2001), 501.
117 The Egyptian term would be h£ry-tp n t` r d£r.f, “chief over the entire land.”
118 C. F. Keil, “The Twelve Minor Prophets,” in Biblical Commentary on The Old Testament, vol.1 (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1954, 513-14.
119 See further the NET text note.
120 The people of the ancient Near East commonly conceived of the gods in very human terms including having a mouth. In ancient Egypt the priests performed a daily ritual called the opening of the mouth ceremony by which the god was enabled (magically, spiritually) to partake of the food offerings set before him. See George Posener, A Dictionary of Egyptian Civilization (London: Methuen, 1962), 196; S. Sauneron, The Priests of Ancient Egypt (New York: Grove Press, 1960), 78-90. In ancient Mesopotamia the god Illil could be invoked to open his mouth and bring judgment to an offending party. See G. R. Driver and John C. Miles, The Babylonian Laws, vol. 1 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1960), 100, 101. In ancient Ugarit the death god Mot is said to have a mouth as well as lips, tongue and jaws. See James B. Pritchard, , Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament, 3d ed. (Princeton: University Press, 1969), 138.
121 Robert H. Gundry, Matthew (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1982), 270.
122 Leland Ryken, James C. Wilhoit, and Tremper Longman, III, eds., “Lips,” in Dictionary of Biblical Imagery (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 1998), 515.
123 Richard B. Rackham, The Acts of the Apostles, 14th ed. (London: Methuen & Co., 1951), 19.
124 It is of interest to note that the tongue and sword occur together in the well-known Hadad Inscription. There the assumed author, one Panamuwa, the king of Ya`udi boasts: “I cut off war and slander (lit., sword and tongue) from the house of my father.” See K. Lawson Younger, Jr., ed., “The Hadad Inscription,” in The Context of Scripture, vol.3 (Leiden: Brill, 2002), 156. For the full text of the inscription and the commentary, see H. Donner and W. Röllig, Kanaanäsche und Aramäische Inschriften vol .1 (Wiesbaden: Otto Harrassowitz, 1966), 309-11; see also vol. 2, 214-23.
125 In the Egyptian Memphite Theology the god Ptah£ was considered the head of the Ennead (or nine gods) and was considered to be the tongue of the other eight gods. “It is Ptah, the very great, who has given [life] to all the gods and their kas through this heart and through this tongue.” See Miriam Lichtheim, Ancient Egyptian Literature, vol. 3 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1980), 54.
126 Johm N. Oswalt, The Book of Isaiah Chapters 1-39 (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1986), 566.
127 See further, Mitchell Dahood, “ Ugaritic-Hebrew Parallel Pairs,” in Ras Shamra Parallels, ed. Loren R. Fisher, vol.1 (Rome: Pontificium Institutum Biblicum, 1972), 368.
128 Note also the wise counsel in this Akkadian admonition: “Let your mouth be controlled and your speech guarded; Therein is a man’s wealth—let your lips be very precious.” See Walter G. Lambert, Babylonian Wisdom Literature (Oxford: Clarendon, 1960), 101.
129 C. B. Molle, “The Psalms,” in Lange’s Commentary on the Holy Scriptures, vol. 5 (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, reprint edition, 1971), 327.
130 A. R. Faussett, Job-Isaiah in A Commentary Critical Experimental and Practical on the Old and New Testaments, vol. 3 (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, reprint edition, 1948), 214.
131 Michael E. Travers, Encountering God in the Psalms (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 2003), 201.
132 Jerome A. Lund, “`mr” in New International Dictionary of Old Testament Theology & Exegesis, ed., Willem A. VanGemeren, vol. 1 (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1997), 445.
133 For the force of the “new song,” see Richard D. Patterson, “Singing the New Song: An Examination of Psalms 33, 96, 98, and 149,” Bibliotheca Sacra 164 (2007): 416-34.
134 Frances R. Havergal, “Lord, Speak to Me, That I May Speak.”