“He that answereth a matter before he heareth it, it is folly and shame unto him” (Proverbs 18:13).
We could restate this in just two words: SLOW DOWN! We always get in a hurry to talk, to answer, to proclaim our great knowledge and wisdom on the matter at hand.
Some of us were talking about interrupting yesterday after our church meeting. Very simply, this verse says we shouldn’t interrupt. We think that we know what is being said, and so we answer without hearing.
If we are more polite, we wait until the other person’s lips stop moving, but we didn’t really listen all the way, and we might well have missed the point. (It doesn’t matter, because I already know what he was saying, and what I should say in response, right? I’ll plan how to say it while he blathers on, and he’ll stop in a minute.) We’re answering before we’ve heard, even if we let the other person exhaust his breath first. That’s all that’s happening, a little bit of lung exercise. It’s not communication, because I’ve stopped listening. We may not be answering before the person finished speaking, but we certainly do answer before we heard.
Or maybe we’re better listeners than that, but we jump to conclusions, and respond based on those conclusions, without asking if we’ve understood properly. We KNOW why she did what she did, and we’re answering the “why” of it. (“I can do this all the time, because I know so much about everyone and their motivations. I’m really, really smart that way. Aren’t you? I don’t need to ask why someone did what they did, I can just answer it!”) We’re answering a matter before we’ve heard it, showing what fools we are. We think we’re so wise about people’s motivations, and we’re just wrong.
We don’t check to make sure we’ve got all the facts before we pronounce our great wisdom on a matter. It is folly and shame to us when we do.
We hear what someone has said, but don’t consider the possibility that they might not have communicated well, and that what they said might not be an accurate reflection of what they are really feeling and thinking. Instead of making sure we really understand, we respond, and sometimes in doing so we’ll make fools of ourselves.
Why must we be in such a hurry? Why must we shame ourselves, revealing our own folly?
The answer, of course, is pride. What I think is what is important. My words are what matters. It’s all about me.
When I find myself answering before I’ve heard, I know my pride has kicked in again. The preceding verse, perhaps not coincidentally, says, “Before destruction the heart of man is haughty.” When I let my mouth run too soon, it reminds me of my pride, and that I deserve destruction.
I thank the Lord for another verse I read in this chapter today, verse 10: “The name of the LORD is a strong tower: the righteous runneth into it, and is safe.” I can run to a merciful God, trusting in Him to forgive me of my pride and folly, trusting in Him to teach me to be humble, and be quiet. His name is a strong tower for me. The Proverbs teach us, over and over again, how much we need that refuge from our own sin.