Jots & Tittles: A Closer Look at a Little Bit of Hebrew

The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell. James 3:6 NIV

Maybe you know the old, old saying: Sticks and stones may break my bones but words can never hurt me.

Well, it’s not right. (But you probably figured that out years ago!)

Yes, words can be very hurtful. In fact, we often recover from broken bones far faster than we recover from wounding words. And that’s true whether the words have been spoken by us or to us. 

Words are dangerous. James calls the tongue ‘a fire’ and a ‘world of evil’ that can set the whole course of a person’s life on fire! That’s almost unimaginable in scope. Think of an uncontrollable bushfire that just keeps on and keeps on and keeps on burning all the way through your life.

But words don’t have to be like that. It’s true they can be hurtful but they can also be healing. 

Perhaps that’s why the ancient Jewish people thought of a word (dabar) as being like a bee (deborah): it makes sweet honey (debash) but it also has a sting in its tail. The Hebrew word for thorn or for pestilence (deber) is the same as that for word (dabar). We spell it slightly differently in English to differentiate between them, but in Hebrew they are spelled the same way.

An old tradition for the first day of school was for a rabbi to put honey on a slate where the letters of the alphabet were written. The child would lick the honey off the slate as the names of the letters were repeated, learning the lesson that the Word of God was sweeter than honey.

‘How sweet Your words taste to me; they are sweeter than honey.’ Psalm 119:103 NLT

Just like the Word of God, keep your own words sweet, not stinging!

About the author

Anne Hamilton

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