As I’m sure many people know, there are quite a number passages in Proverbs that are very, very familiar. This is one of those passages, both completely familiar and, interestingly, somewhat misunderstood. For instance, the idea of death, in this passage, need not be taken to refer to literal death on every occasion that it appears in life. There are a couple ways, in basic for to begin, that we can see it:
1. It can be seen to refer to metaphorical “death”. That is, it can refer to encouragement or discouragement and the like. The words of the mouth can speak that which gives life, or that which badly discourage and cause the falling away from any goal or the pursuit of useful purposes.
2. Second, it can be used to instruct and/or direct others to actions that either useful and beneficial; or it can direct them to activities and that are harmful and/or destructive.
3. In the life of one who has the power of a superior, as in the instance of King like Solomon, such useful or destructive activities can literally result in living or even dying as a result of that “speaking”.
The meaning of the word “death” underscores the truth of what we have said. It is used 160 times and is translated simply as either death or die 150 of those times (with 128 of those as “death”). Other uses or a little more use oriented. For instance it is given as “die” some 22 times, as “dead” 8 times. It is given as the adjective dead 8x and “deadly’ and “to slay” 1x each. Interesting forms of the word are rendered in a personified fashion as well; referring to the realm of the dead. As such it can refer to personal death, death by violence (at times as a penalty). It is also used to refer to the state of or the place of death.
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