Our focus today is Pro_15:1 : “A soft answer turneth away wrath: but grievous words stir up anger.” First we must understand the two operative words.
Answerma‘aneh (H4617) appears only eight times but is derived from the root ‘ānāh (H6030), which appears about 320 times. We considered this root back on November 2, where we noted that it means “to answer or respond,” either verbally, as when Abraham answered God with words (Gen_18:27, first occurrence), or nonverbally, as when Israel proclaimed peace to a city to “make [the inhabitants] answer of peace,” in order to avoid a siege (Deu_20:10-12).
Soft is raḵ (H7390), which appears about fifteen times; on occasion it means “weak” (Gen_33:13; Deu_20:8; 2Sa_3:39), but it primarily means “gentle, soft, or tender.” When our pre-incarnate Lord visited Abraham, the latter ran into his herd and found a tender calf to prepare for a meal (Gen_18:7, first occurrence). The coming Messiah is called a tender twig of a cedar tree in Eze_17:22.
Turning now to our text, we should also briefly mention again the word wrath (chēmāh, September 9), which expresses the ideas of rage and heat. What, then, will turn away heat and anger in a conflict? An equally heated response certainly won’t do it. Neither will a harsh remark or “telling them off.” In either case, in fact, the rest of Pro_15:1 tells us what the result will be: “Grievous words stir up anger” (“grievous” is ‘eseḇ, H6089, “pain, hurt, toil”). Such responses will only make the situation worse.
Rather what Solomon counsels is the use of a soft answer, a calm response that consists of mild, gentle words that flow from a humble heart. Does this mean we never speak directly, or imply we should compromise truth? Certainly not. This is the very contrast Paul addresses in Eph_4:14-15; as serious as false teaching is, and must, therefore, be addressed, we still must “[speak] the truth in love.” While Paul wrote many strong, sometimes even scathing, rebukes to the believers in Corinth, for example, no one there could have accused him of being unkind or unloving.
So, as Gideon’s soft answer turned away the wrath of the Ephraimites (Jdg_8:1-3) and Abigail’s soft answer turned away David’s wrath (1Sa_25:21-33), let us offer the same when conflicts threaten.
Scriptures for Study: What else does Solomon counsel about the tongue in Pro_15:2-7?