Proverbs 10:11

Proverbs 10:11 "The mouth of a righteous man is a well of life: but violence covereth the mouth of the wicked."
Proverbs 10:11 Christian Church Elma NY
This proverb possesses the picture of something that was far more valuable to Solomon’s generation than it is to our generation, especially for those who live near abundant supplies of fresh water.  Wells are still very important to people throughout the world but they are not appreciated in a broad sense today as they were in Solomon’s day.  Especially here in Western New York, we typically don’t view wells as a matter of life and death.  Some residences require wells and some of those wells can run dry but even in those inconvenient situations, a home owner in our part of the world knows that water can easily be secured elsewhere.  Most of us never give our water source a thought except for when the plumbing breaks or when the water bill is due.  We turn on any given spicket at any given point in any given place and simply expect it to produce clean water.  This was most definitely not the case for Solomon and his people.

In Biblical times and especially in Israel, a well was critical for survival.  People needed water to survive and the livestock responsible for feeding and clothing them needed water to survive.  People fought for wells as seen in both Abraham’s life as well as in Isaac’s life in the book of Genesis.  Because wells were so critical to society in Biblical times, they were well visited and often the setting for important Bible stories.  As already mentioned, Abraham (Genesis 21) and Isaac (Genesis 26) both faced adversity because of disputes over wells.  Consider these additional Bible stories:

  • God met with a distressed Hagar at a well. (Genesis 16)
  • God showed a weary Hagar a well in the wilderness for her son. (Genesis 21)
  • Abraham’s servant looked for a wife for Isaac at a well. (Genesis 24)
  • Jacob met his wife at a well. (Genesis 29)
  • Moses met his wife at a well. (Exodus 2)
  • The Israelites found relief in Elim where there were 12 wells of water. (Exodus 15)
  • Gideon reduced his military by a well before defeating the Midianites. (Judges 7)
  • Saul went to a large well to ask about David’s location. (1 Samuel 19)
  • David’s spies hid from Absalom in a well. (2 Samuel 17)
  • David’s mighty men retrieved water for him from a well-guarded well. (2 Samuel 23)
  • Jesus ministered to a woman at a well. (John 4)

Wells were a massive and critical component of the Jewish way of life.  To survive, you needed access to water and wells were crucial access points.  Because of their importance, wells had covers placed on top of them. This would protect them from contamination as well as from the hot sun.  Evidently, these covers could be very difficult to remove.  Genesis 29 describes a well whose “mouth” was covered with a “great stone.”  In the story, it clearly implies that women needed men to roll the stone off the mouth.
Understanding the role of a well in Solomon’s day helps us understand the meaning of this proverb.  We need the wisdom, counsel, insight and understanding that God has given to people.  Just as water at the bottom of a well is critical for survival, wisdom in the heart of a person is critical for our success.  Just as a person would need to bring that water out of the mouth of the well to benefit from it, we need to bring wisdom out of the mouth of a person to benefit from it.  Wisdom residing in someone’s heart does as much good for others as water at the bottom of a well.  If water never gets out of a well’s mouth, it sits useless at the bottom and the individuals at the well’s mouth suffer.  If wisdom never gets out of a person’s mouth, it sits useless at the bottom and the individuals at the person’s mouth suffer.  In order to benefit anyone, wisdom needs to come out of someone’s heart in the form of words.  

Herein lies the problem with VIOLENT words – they are likened unto a great stone COVERING over a well’s mouth.  Someone whose speech is violent, aggressive and contentious prohibits others from learning any wisdom they may have to offer.  Violent speech prevents wisdom from getting into the ears, minds and hearts of those who need it.  It is important to recognize that Solomon is not referring to violent hands or to violent deeds in this proverb – he is blaming violent language for capping the well of wisdom in our hearts.  This proverb is not referring to the violent acts of murder, rape, abuse and battery.  This proverb is referring only to violent words, which applies to a lot more of us than we’d like to admit.  Violence is not reserved for the criminal.  One doesn’t have to do violence to be violent.  Violence can merely be spoken.  

When we speak with violence, those violent words get the headlines.  When we speak violently, that aggressive language gets the attention.  Such was the case this summer with the new head coach for the Detroit Lions.  At his first news conference, he said, “So, this team is going to be built on - we’re going to kick you in the teeth. And when you punch us back, we’re going to smile at you. And when you knock us down, we’re going to get up. And on the way up, we’re going to bite a kneecap off. And we’re going to stand up and then it’s going to take two more shots to knock us down. And on the way up, we’re going to take your other kneecap. And we’re going to get up and then it’s going to take three shots to get us down. And when we do, we’re gonna take another hunk out of you. Before long, we’re going to be the last one standing.”  No one cares about what else he said before or after that.  No one talks about what he had to offer before or after that violent rant.  Violent words get our attention.  For that reason, violent words cover the well of wisdom you might have to offer.  Bible teachers whose speech is riddled with aggression and cruelty place a cover on the well of wisdom that God has given them.  I know Bible teachers who possess a tremendous amount of insight into Scripture but because they lack grace in their speech, they cover that insight to those who come to their well of wisdom.  I have witnessed politicians foolishly cap their political influence by speaking violently.  It’s astonishing because there is no evidence that these people are violent people – they have no criminal records nor does anyone accuse them of physical violence.  Yet, they speak boldly, coldly, rudely and aggressively about people and as a result, place a cover on their Biblical or political insight.
Because of the strong language used in this proverb, don’t excuse yourself from its instruction.  Christian housewives can be guilty of speaking violent words.  Sunday School teachers and deacons can be guilty of speaking violently.  Starting an argument and maintaining an argument can be violent.  Hands and feet don’t need to be involved for violence to be present.  Stirring contention by slander or gossip is violent in nature.  Hateful speech towards family, friend or foe for any reason is violent.  Nasty responses void of any grace can be very violent.  How we speak to each other and how we talk about others can easily put a cover over the well of wisdom in our hearts.  When we cover our mouths with violence, the people sitting at our feet desperate for wisdom are the ones that suffer. Many children especially don’t hear any wisdom from their parents because the violent speech they hear in the home gets all of the attention.

Col. 4:6 Let your speech be alway with grace, seasoned with salt, that ye may know how ye ought to answer every man.”





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