“Whoever gives thought to the word will discover good, and blessed is he who trusts in the Lord. The wise of heart is called discerning, and sweetness of speech increases persuasiveness. Good sense is a fountain of life to him who has it, but the instruction of fools is folly. The heart of the wise makes his speech judicious and adds persuasiveness to his lips. Gracious words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the body.” (Proverbs 16:20-24)
Starting from the end of our passage, verse 24 contains a word picture of gracious words being sweet like honey for the soul, providing physical health. Other Scripture passages refer to God’s words as those which are sweet. “More to be desired are [the rules of the Lord] than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb.” (Psalm 19:10) “How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth!” (Psalm 119:103) Whether or not we like honey, we know it is exceedingly sweet. It is also acclaimed to have many healing properties. (See March 10 devotion.) This verse is the pinnacle of the writer’s admonitions about gracious words, deliberate thoughts, and biblical wisdom.
He starts out in verse 20 by stating a biblical maxim: whoever pays attention to his words, or God’s Word, will be blessed. From what I have read, the “word” can be taken either way—of ours or God’s. When we are wise, we pay attention to both, trusting in God as we study the Bible and as we speak with others. Furthermore, those who wisely fear God are given discernment and the ability to persuade others about the truths of Scripture when our speech is sweet to the hearer (like honey to the soul). So far, the writer has given us four characteristics or wisdom with their benefits in verses 20 and 21: (1) thinking before we talk will lead to what is good; (2) trusting in God as we do so will result in blessing; (3) the wise are given discernment (to know what is true); and (4) when we are wise our speed is sweet and persuasive.
In verses 22 and 23 we learn that the Spirit works in our hearts to produce a fountain of life. (See John 4:13-14.) As a result, God’s grace spills over into the lives of others with sensible speech. Persuasiveness is mentioned again, emphasizing the influence of wise words on others, leading them to examine their beliefs. Then we come to verse 24, an Old Testament that reminds me of Jesus’s sweet promise in Revelation: “They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any scorching heat. For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” (Revelation 7:16-17)
Until that time, let us strive to offer our gracious words to others, those like honey and living water.