Thursday, November 13, 2014

Hebrew Words for Gossip: "Lashon Seter"

We are working towards a biblical definition of gossip, starting with a tour of the Old Testament and the Hebrew words most often translated "gossip." First was rakil, the spy. Second was nirgan, the grumbling whisperer.

A Tongue of Secrecy

Lashon Seter. Modern paraphrases use the English word “gossip” in a few places where neither rakil nor nirgan is present. Proverbs 25:23 says, “As a north wind brings rain, so a sly tongue brings angry looks.” The NLT glosses, “As surely as a wind from the north brings rain, so a gossiping tongue causes anger!” The Message offers, “A north wind brings stormy weather, / and a gossipy tongue stormy looks.”30 The Hebrew phrase is: lashon seter. Lashon means “tongue.”31 Seter means “covering, hiding-place, secrecy.”32 Put together, they refer to “a tongue of secrecy.” The offending speech is hidden, sly, furtive, stealthy.

Waltke suggests that the rest of the proverb emphasizes this secretive, and therefore unexpected, aspect. He argues that, in Israel, the north wind generally did not bring rain. “The point of comparison is precisely that rain from a north wind is hidden and so unexpected. Hidden slander, like rain from a north wind, brings unexpected damage.”33 Further, Waltke says, “Secret speech by nature is malevolent; were it otherwise, why hide it? The damaging effects of the secret speech/curse, which is written all over the face of the victim, assumes that its unsuspecting target suddenly ‘gets wind’ of its circulation.”34

Rid the Kingdom of The Sly Tongues

The phrase lashon seter appears also in Psalm 101 where David vows to exclude unrighteous people from his household, city, and kingdom. He says, “Men of perverse heart shall be far from me; I will have nothing to do with evil. Whoever slanders his neighbor in secret,35 him will I put to silence; whoever has haughty eyes and a proud heart, him will I not endure” (Ps 101:4-5).

King David’s plan is to rid his administration of malicious gossipers. Charles Spurgeon writes, “He had known so bitterly the miseries caused by slanderers that he intended to deal severely with such vipers when he came into power, not to revenge his own ills, but to prevent others from suffering as he had done.”36

The word lashon is used as a verb again in Proverbs 30:10 but without the slyness of seter, “Do not slander [lashon] a servant to his master, or he will curse you, and you will pay for it.” It is not clear if this is gossip in the clandestine sense, but it does demonstrate again the power of the tongue and its evil effects. Malicious speech upsets the order of things and has inevitable injurious consequences.


30 Eugene H. Peterson, The Message: New Testament With Psalms and Proverbs (Colorado Springs: Navpress, 1995), 923.

31 BDB 546.

32 BDB 712.

33 Bruce K. Waltke, The Book of Proverbs: Chapters 15-31, NICOT (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2005), 333.

34 Ibid.

35 Lashon is used here as a verb, more literally, “he that secretly tongues his neighbor.”

36 Charles H. Spurgeon, The Treasury of David: An Expository and Devotional Commentary on the Psalms (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1978), 5:406.

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