Without wood, fire goes out; without a gossip, conflict dies down.Proverbs 26:20(HCSB)
Parables and proverbs are often illustrated stories that teach life-principles clearly and simply. They generally use everyday objects that have been familiar in every society, down through the ages. Houses and tents, sun and rain, animals and birds, parents and children, planting and harvesting, have all been used to teach important lessons on life and living.
Solomon used wood and fire to teach a necessary lesson on the inflammatory nature of gossip and talebearing, as opposed to the tranquillity and peace that accompanies the pure words of a righteous man. "For lack of wood the fire goes out," is his initial observation, which directs his reader towards some wholesome words, "and where there is no whisperer, contention quiets down."
Every generation since the creation is familiar with fire, and understands its benefits as well as its dangers. Solomon simply makes a statement with which everyone would agree - a fire needs fuel to keep it alight and if wood is withheld from the burning embers, then the heat it gives off will die down and the flame will go out!
Without any fuel source, there is no fire. No smoke is given off and no heat is produced. The author makes a direct link with a gossip, who can cause a lot of contention with their tittle-tattling. BUT, "without a gossip, conflict dies down." Just as fire can be used for good and for evil, so too the words that come out of the mouth. Spoken words can be wholesome and good, but words that fall from the lips of a gossip cause much damage and harm.
Different translations use different words to identify the 'tale-bearer' or 'gossip'. Some describe a person who causes contention among brothers as a 'whisperer' - who goes around murmuring, grumbling, and complaining. They are ones that go round sharing secrets that are no concern of theirs and spreading discontent. Other translations substitute the word 'gossip' or 'slanderer' which can suggest false accusations, idle talk, the spreading of malicious rumours, or the engaging in a smear campaign.
Although fire has many benefits and a wholesome tongue is like a tree of life... that same fire can cause havoc, distress, and devastation. In the same way the tale-bearer, the gossip, the slanderer, and the whisperer, can cause much mischief, but when there is no-one to spread gossip, conflict dies down.
There are many examples in the book of Proverbs that contrast the benefits of godly, gracious speech with the danger and destruction that wrong words can cause. In Chapter 16 we read, "A whisperer separates chief friends," while Chapter 22 teaches that contention must be eschewed. "Cast out the scorner, and contention shall go out. YES, strife and reproach shall cease." And in Chapter 15 we read, "A gentle answer turns away anger, but a harsh word stirs up wrath."
There are many such examples throughout God's Word that warn of careless and contentious words, while promoting healing and wholesome speech. James warns that "Out of the same mouth comes blessing and cursing," and scolds his readers by saying, "My brethren, these things ought not so to be."
How sad when a Christian life is marred by wrong speech, and a godly testimony is stained by gossip and talebearing, whispering or slander, grumbling or false accusations... all of which give rise to discord among brothers... contention, brawling, dissension, dispute, and argument.
May we take to heart the prayer of Solomon's father who cried out to the Lord, "May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to You, Oh Lord, my Rock, and my Redeemer."
Heavenly Father, thank You for the wisdom in the book of Proverbs. Help me to take to heart the devastation and destruction that can be caused by careless speech and foolish words. Keep me from participating in any form of talebearing or gossiping. Help me to take to heart this simple truth, that without wood, a fire will go out, and without a gossip, conflict will die down. Purify my heart and my speech I pray, and may the words of my mouth and the thoughts of my heart be acceptable to You. In Jesus' name, AMEN.