Thursday, November 20, 2014

Evil Reports

Our series towards a biblical definition of gossip continues through the phenomenon in the Old Testament we call "gossip" even when a technical term is not used. Today's post is about the second of four important and related concepts, along with exposition of key texts.

Not Just What You Say But How You Present It

Bad Reports. A Hebrew term seldom translated “gossip” in English versions42 but clearly related is dibbah.This word can mean “whispering, defamation, evil report.”43 It sometimes refers to a true report of some evil action, but can also refer to “a report slanted to damage the victim.”44 Dibbah is what Joseph brought to Jacob about his brothers in Genesis 37:2. It is likely that his ten brothers were doing wrong, so Joseph may not have been lying, but he was at least being an annoying tattletale.45 Dibbah is also what ten of the Israelite survey team brought back after spying out the land of Canaan (Num 13:32, 14:36-37). Clearly what they said was wrong–not that the facts about the land and its inhabitants were inaccurate, but their assessment of what God could and would do was evil. Gossip is not just what you say but how you present it.

A Hiss in the Middle

Dibbah appears in Proverbs 10:18, “He who conceals hatred has lying lips, and whoever spreads slander [dibbah] is a fool.” Waltke explains, “The enjambment of v.18 combines the liar . . . with the slanderer as the compound subject with one predicate. The construction leaves no doubt that hatred inspires slander informed by innuendoes, half-truths, and facts distorted and exaggerated beyond recognition (cf. 6:17, 19). In other words, this fool spreads slander, concealing his hatred with lying lips.”46 Interestingly, Waltke draws attention (by quoting Ted Hildebrandt) to the preponderance of sibilants in this verse (six times) so that its message is amplified by a long hissing sound as it is read.47 Sharing an injurious report with others is foolish. The very next verse suggests one antidote to gossip–keeping your mouth shut. “When words are many, sin is not absent, but he who holds his tongue is wise” (Prov 10:19).

Dibbah is used again in Psalm 31, “For I hear the slander of many; there is terror on every side; they conspire against me and plot to take my life” (Ps 31:13, v.14 in Hebrew). David is under attack, and this time it includes evil reports which have reached his ears. They might be just malicious rumors, but they are terrifying to the king.


[42] The one exception is Ezekiel 36:3 in the ESV. “Therefore prophesy, and say, Thus says the Lord God: Precisely because they made you desolate and crushed you from all sides, so that you became the possession of the rest of the nations, and you became the talk and evil gossip of the people . . . the nations that are all around you shall themselves suffer reproach” (Ezek 36:3,7). Israel may have deserved this evil report, but the nations gloried in it, and for that they will be repaid.

[43] BDB 179.

[44] Bruce K. Waltke, The Book of Proverbs: Chapters 1-15, NICOT (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2004), 470.

[45] Tattling is, therefore, a form of gossip. It is gossiping to someone in authority instead of to someone uninvolved. The action of tattling is wrong because the motive is. Ambiguity of discerning motives can then make it difficult for authority figures, including parents, to diagnose tattling as sin. But most loving parents can tell anyway because they know their children well. For more on dibbah in Genesis 37:2, see Bruce K. Waltke and Cathi J. Fredricks, Genesis: A Commentary (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2001), 499; Victor Hamilton, The Book of Genesis: Chapters 18-50, NICOT (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1995), 406; Gordon J. Wenham, Genesis 16-50, WBC 2 (Waco: Word Books, 1994), 350.

[46] Bruce K. Waltke, The Book of Proverbs: Chapters 1-15, NICOT (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2004), 469.

[47] Ibid.

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