Questions from Bruce

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Bruce Meyer left the following comment:

Hi Jeremy (and others, is that right?). I was reading some parts of the Bible today that caught my eye, and I wondered what's going on here. Since you're the resident expert on All Things Commentaried, I thought I would run them by you.

Proverb 25:23 says, a backbiting tongue brings forth angry looks. My reaction is, ooh, I'm scared, not. What else is going on here? Maybe it's the Evil Eye, a virtually effective curse?

The other one is Revelation 3:18, Jesus says "I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire so that you may be rich..." OK, it's not literal. Assuming it's not trivial, perhaps Christ is urging the comfortably lukewarm to dig deeper, and get the real thing, not the minimally acceptable qualities that a baptized Christian needs to not get kicked out. But is there more here, do you think? Thanks.

I responded in the same comment thread, but I've moved my response now to this post.

If that traditional rendering of Prov 25:23 is correct, you have to keep in mind that it's a poetic expression of a deeper truth. What it's saying is that backbiting tongues make people angry just as easily as the north wind brings driving rains. It's generally bad to have people angry at you all the time.

A quick look at several translations reveals that some of them take this verse in a different direction. They take the north wind to be driving off the rain, and the angry look to be driving off the backbiting tongue. The KJV reads "The north wind driveth away rain: so doth an angry countenance a backbiting tongue." Part of the reason for this is that the north wind wasn't associated with rain, so it doesn't make sense to have the reader assume that it will surely lead to rain. It makes more sense if the reader would assume that the north wind would drive the rain away.

But Bruce Waltke renders it more literally in a way that I think makes better sense of it: "Like a north wind that brings forth rain, a sly tongue, a face struck by a curse." What we have here, according to Waltke, is not the north wind bringing forth rain being compared with some relation between the sly tongue and the face struck by a curse. What we have is three items in parallel. The sly tongue and the face struck by a curse are both like the north wind that brings forth rain, i.e. completely unexpected and hidden. If you slander someone in secret, severe damage will come when they least expect it. When words of curses are uttered against someone unexpectedly, their face demonstrates the hurt when they discover it. In this way both of the latter two items are like the icy rain that destroys crops without giving time for farmers to prepare.

In the Laodicean letter in Rev 3:14-22, there's some sense that Jesus is being ironic. In v.17, he says they thought they were rich and thus needed nothing, but in reality they were poor, blind, and naked. Compare Smyrna, which was materially poor but spiritually rich (Rev 2:9).

The refinement of gold also has a rich (no pun intended) history of use in scripture. It's often a sign of purification from sin, and it's sometimes used of the effects of persecution (Zech 13:9; I Peter 1:6-9). The latter is an important theme in Revelation, but the former fits nicely with the image of clean garments used in this very verse.

I hope that's enough further information to give some sense. Anyone with any further insight should feel free to share it.


Thanks for the work. You brought some good perspective on these usually overlooked (by me) passages.

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