“A Time for Silence”
“SPEECH is silver, silence is golden.” So states an old proverb said to be of Oriental origin. According to Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, its Hebrew equivalent is: “If a word be worth one shekel, silence is worth two.” And wise King Solomon of ancient Israel wrote: “For everything its season, and for every activity under heaven its time . . . a time for silence and a time for speech.”—Eccl. 3:1, 7, The New English Bible.
When, though, is it appropriate to keep quiet rather than to speak? The words “silent” and “silence” appear over a hundred times in the pages of the Bible. The context in which these words are used reveals the propriety of remaining silent in at least three areas of life. Let us take a closer look at silence as a mark of respect, as evidence of discretion and discernment, and as an aid to meditation.
A Mark of Respect
Silence is a sign of respect or honor. The prophet Habakkuk said: “Jehovah is in his holy temple. Keep silence before him, all the earth!” (Hab. 2:20) True worshippers are to “wait, even silently, for the salvation of Jehovah.” (Lam. 3:26) The psalmist sang: “Keep silent before Jehovah and wait longingly for him. Do not show yourself heated up at anyone making his way successful.”—Ps. 37:7.
Can we praise Jehovah without using words? Well, are we not at times so awestruck when viewing the beauty of creation that we are rendered speechless? Is not thinking about such grandeur a way of praising the Creator in our heart? The psalmist David began one of his melodies, saying: “For you there is praise—silence—, O God, in Zion; and to you the vow will be paid.”—Ps. 65:1.
As Jehovah himself merits our respect, so do his utterances. For example, when God’s prophet Moses delivered his farewell address to the nation of Israel, he and the priests admonished all present, saying: “Keep silent . . . , and you must listen to the voice of Jehovah your God.” Attentive listening was required of even the Israelite children when the sons of Israel came together for the reading of God’s Law. “Congregate the people,” said Moses, “the men and the women and the little ones . . . in order that they may learn.”—Deut. 27:9, 10; 31:11, 12.
How appropriate that Jehovah’s modern-day worshippers respectfully listen to the instructions they receive at Christian gatherings, including large conventions! When vital Bible truths are being conveyed from the platform, would it not show disrespect for God’s Word and his organization if we unnecessarily conversed with one another? During the sessions, it is time to keep silent and listen.
Even in private one-on-one conversations, being a good listener is a mark of respect. For example, the patriarch Job said to his accusers: “Instruct me, and I, for my part, shall be silent.” Job was willing to listen silently when they spoke. And when it was his turn to speak, he requested: “Keep silent before me, that I myself may speak.”—Job 6:24; 13:13.
Evidence of Discretion and Discernment
The Bible states: “The one keeping his lips in check is acting discreetly.” “The man of broad discernment is one that keeps silent.” (Prov. 10:19; 11:12) Consider how beautifully Jesus manifested discretion and discernment by keeping silent. Upon discerning that speaking in the hostile environment generated by his enemies would serve no useful purpose, “Jesus kept silent.” (Matt. 26:63) Later, when on trial before Pilate, Jesus “made no answer.” He discreetly chose to let his public record speak for itself.—Matt. 27:11-14.
We too are wise to keep our lips in check, particularly when we are provoked. “He that is slow to anger is abundant in discernment,” says a proverb, “but one that is impatient is exalting foolishness.” (Prov. 14:29) A hasty oral response in a trying situation can result in rash speech that is later regretted. Under such circumstances, our words may appear foolish, and our peace of mind may suffer as a result.
It is the course of discretion to guard our lips when in the presence of wicked people. When confronted by ridiculers in our ministry, silence may well be the proper response. Moreover, would it not sometimes be wise to remain silent so as not to convey an impression of approval when our schoolmates or coworkers tell off-color jokes or use vulgar language? (Eph. 5:3) “I will set a muzzle as a guard to my own mouth,” wrote the psalmist, “as long as anyone wicked is in front of me.”—Ps. 39:1.
A person of “broad discernment” does not betray a confidence. (Prov. 11:12) A true Christian will not divulge confidential matters through unguarded speech. Christian elders must be particularly circumspect in this regard so as to retain the trust of members of the congregation.
Although silence carries no words, it can have a positive effect. Concerning one of his contemporaries, the 19th-century English writer Sydney Smith wrote: “He has occasional flashes of silence, that make his conversation perfectly delightful.” Indeed, everyday conversation between two friends should be two-way communication. A good conversationalist must be a good listener.
“In the abundance of words there does not fail to be transgression,” warned Solomon, “but the one keeping his lips in check is acting discreetly.” (Prov. 10:19) Hence, the fewer the words spoken, the less the chance of committing an indiscretion. In fact, “even anyone foolish, when keeping silent, will be regarded as wise; anyone closing up his own lips, as having understanding.” (Prov. 17:28) May we, then, prayerfully ask Jehovah to ‘set a watch over the door of our lips.’—Ps. 141:3.
An Aid to Meditation
Concerning the man who follows the way of righteousness, the Scriptures inform us that “in [God’s] law he reads in an undertone day and night.” (Ps. 1:2) The Amplified Bible reads: “On His law . . . he habitually meditates . . . by day and by night.” What circumstance best lends itself to such meditation?
Isaac, the son of the patriarch Abraham, “was out walking in order to meditate in the field at about the falling of evening.” (Gen. 24:63) He chose a quiet time and place for meditation. It was during the silence of the night watches that King David meditated. (Ps. 63:6) The perfect man Jesus made a determined effort to satisfy his need for solitude and meditation, away from the clamor of crowds, in the seclusion of mountains, deserts, and other lonely places.—Matt. 14:23; Luke 4:42; 5:16.
The restorative effects of silence cannot be denied. Silence can provide an environment for healthy self-examination—an essential prerequisite for self-improvement. Silence can promote peace of mind. Meditation during quiet periods can engender modesty and humility within us and can enhance our appreciation for the truly important things in life.
While silence can be a virtue, there is also “a time to speak.” (Eccl. 3:7) True worshippers today are busy preaching the good news of God’s Kingdom “in all the inhabited earth.” (Matt. 24:14) The resulting joyful noise is being heard with ever-increasing volume as their ranks grow. (Mic. 2:12) By all means, let us be among those who are zealously declaring the Kingdom good news and speaking about the wonderful works of God. As we share in this important activity, may our lifestyle also reflect an awareness that silence, at times, is golden.
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During our Christian meetings, we should listen and learn
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Silence may be the proper response to verbal abuse in our ministry
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Silence is conducive to meditation