Why is it foolish to speak hastily?

Proverbs warns us against being hasty with our words.

Prov. 29:20 Do you see a man who is hasty in his words?
There is more hope for a fool than for him.

What is wrong with speaking hastily? Genesis contains a story that illustrates what it means to be hasty with our words and why it can potentially be a very bad thing. The story concerns Jacob’s response to Laban’s allegation that Jacob had Laban’s gods. For context, let’s start at Genesis 29.

Notice that Jacob loved Rachel.

Gen. 29:16 Now Laban had two daughters; the name of the older was Leah, and the name of the younger was Rachel.

Gen. 29:17 And Leah’s eyes were weak, but Rachel was beautiful of form and face.

Gen. 29:18 Now Jacob loved Rachel, so he said, “I will serve you seven years for your younger daughter Rachel.”

Gen. 29:19 Laban said, “It is better that I give her to you than to give her to another man; stay with me.”

Gen. 29:20 So Jacob served seven years for Rachel and they seemed to him but a few days because of his love for her.

Laban tricked Jacob into marrying both Leah and Rachel, but Jacob really only loved Rachel.

Gen. 29:30 So Jacob went in to Rachel also, and indeed he loved Rachel more than Leah, and he served with Laban for another seven years.

Gen. 29:31 ¶ Now the LORD saw that Leah was unloved, and He opened her womb, but Rachel was barren.

13 years after marrying Leah and Rachel and fathering 11 sons, Jacob decided to return to the land of his birth. Notice what Rachel did before they left.

Gen. 31:17 ¶ Then Jacob arose and put his children and his wives upon camels;

Gen. 31:18 and he drove away all his livestock and all his property which he had gathered, his acquired livestock which he had gathered in Paddan-aram, to go to the land of Canaan to his father Isaac.

Gen. 31:19 When Laban had gone to shear his flock, then Rachel stole the household idols that were her father’s.

After Jacob left, Laban pursued Jacob and demanded the return of his gods.

Gen. 31:20 And Jacob deceived Laban the Aramean by not telling him that he was fleeing.

Gen. 31:21 So he fled with all that he had; and he arose and crossed the Euphrates River, and set his face toward the hill country of Gilead.

Gen. 31:22 ¶ When it was told Laban on the third day that Jacob had fled,

Gen. 31:23 then he took his kinsmen with him and pursued him a distance of seven days’ journey, and he overtook him in the hill country of Gilead.

Gen. 31:24 God came to Laban the Aramean in a dream of the night and said to him, “Be careful that you do not speak to Jacob either good or bad.”

Gen. 31:25 ¶ Laban caught up with Jacob. Now Jacob had pitched his tent in the hill country, and Laban with his kinsmen camped in the hill country of Gilead.

Gen. 31:26 Then Laban said to Jacob, “What have you done by deceiving me and carrying away my daughters like captives of the sword?

Gen. 31:27 “Why did you flee secretly and deceive me, and did not tell me so that I might have sent you away with joy and with songs, with timbrel and with lyre;

Gen. 31:28 and did not allow me to kiss my sons and my daughters? Now you have done foolishly.

Gen. 31:29 “It is in my power to do you harm, but the God of your father spoke to me last night, saying, ‘Be careful not to speak either good or bad to Jacob.’

Gen. 31:30 “Now you have indeed gone away because you longed greatly for your father’s house; but why did you steal my gods?”

Now notice the hasty words that Jacob uttered and why he uttered them.

Gen. 31:31 Then Jacob replied to Laban, “Because I was afraid, for I thought that you would take your daughters from me by force.

Gen. 31:32 “The one with whom you find your gods shall not live; in the presence of our kinsmen point out what is yours among my belongings and take it for yourself.” For Jacob did not know that Rachel had stolen them.

Jacob did not know that Rachel had taken the gods, so he thought he was safe in promising the death of anyone who had the gods; however, Jacob was unknowingly risking the life of his favorite wife.

Gen. 31:33 ¶ So Laban went into Jacob’s tent and into Leah’s tent and into the tent of the two maids, but he did not find them. Then he went out of Leah’s tent and entered Rachel’s tent.

Gen. 31:34 Now Rachel had taken the household idols and put them in the camel’s saddle, and she sat on them. And Laban felt through all the tent but did not find them.

Gen. 31:35 She said to her father, “Let not my lord be angry that I cannot rise before you, for the manner of women is upon me.” So he searched but did not find the household idols.

Gen. 31:36 ¶ Then Jacob became angry and contended with Laban; and Jacob said to Laban, “What is my transgression? What is my sin that you have hotly pursued me?

Gen. 31:37 “Though you have felt through all my goods, what have you found of all your household goods? Set it here before my kinsmen and your kinsmen, that they may decide between us two.

Laban was right to demand the return of his gods, because Rachel had them, but fortunately for Jacob and Rachel, Laban did not find them due to some more trickery on the part of Rachel. Jacob was foolish in his response because he really had no way of knowing for sure that none of his wives or children had the gods. Jacob was hasty with his words and said something that could have been very costly, but in this instance he got away with it.

The lesson for us is to be careful in what we say, and specifically to think before we speak. We need to be careful that we don’t make confident assertions regarding things we really don’t know for sure, and we need to be careful that we don’t take unwise risks with our promises. Let me close by repeating the verse from Proberbs.

Prov. 29:20 Do you see a man who is hasty in his words?
There is more hope for a fool than for him.


Further Reading

Should we read ancient Bible stories?


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“Scripture quotations taken from the NASB.”