I'm a husband to Abby and daddy to our son Luke, and I've served on the staff of Grace Church for the past few years. I enjoy working on artistic and creative projects, and I'm a student (literally) of how we communicate truth to the world around us. I also obsesses over very small details; in fact, this biography was revised several times.
Proverbs 26:18-19 Like a madman who throws firebrands, arrows, and death, Is the man who deceives his neighbor, And says, I was only joking!
Many of us enjoy joking with those we know and love; it's part of how we relate and communicate our affection. At times, though, careless humor can become a weapon that does serious damage to those around us.
"Firebrands, arrows, and death." Upon reading those words, my mind immediately recalls dramatic scenes of combat portrayed by Hollywood in films like Gladiator or Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. The archers in these stories fling their devastating weapons through the air and bring their enemies to ruin. The book of Proverbs, however, places the deadly image of the archer in a more unexpected context: our daily relationships.
Many in America grew up with the maxim, "Words will never hurt me," but the wisdom of Scripture paints a very different picture. The person who carelessly deceives those around him, even in a misguided attempt at humor, has the effect of a madman launching arrows into a crowd and setting buildings on fire. What are these weapons, and what is their effect?
The firebrand is, simply, a piece of burning wood. In a peaceful environment, a firebrand might warm the hearth of a home or cook a delicious meal. Thrown during combat, however, it can potentially set fire to everything around it: people, homes, forests, even entire cities.
Like the firebrand, practical jokes or well-timed verbal jabs might bring mutual laughter and smiles to a dull moment with friends. Unfortunately, deceptive jokes also carry the same danger: we can inadvertently harm our friends and family, and the emotional firestorm has the potential to spread uncontrollably if others become involved.
Most of us are familiar with the arrow, of course. It's a shaft, tipped with a point, and launched from a bow. It has one purpose: to pierce destructively. It is designed in such a way that the natural defenses of the body, such as skin or quick reflexes, offer no protection at all. Soldiers fighting against archers need to cover their bodies with armor and take shelter behind their shields; an unprepared target is defenseless.
In our relationships, we might also armor ourselves for confrontation in certain situations. Meetings, debates, or unfamiliar people may cause us to preemptively defend ourselves against attack. When we are with people that we trust, however, we often let down our guard and relax. That's why deceptive jokes against a neighbor can be so damaging — when you let your words and actions fly like an arrow toward your neighbor, they'll probably land on a defenseless target.
Most importantly, it seems that "I was only joking," isn't a valid excuse when things don't turn out like we expect. Proverbs reveals that others can experience legitimate hurt when we strike them with careless humor. If we've wounded our neighbor, we need to recognize he might need care and significant time to recover — and he deserves a legitimate apology. According to the next few verses in Proverbs 26, fighting about it only adds fuel to the fire.
Questions for Reflection
- What kind of wounds have I received from the ill-timed or deceptive pranks of others?
- Is there anyone I've wounded, even though I was only joking?
- What elements of a relationship are more valuable than humor?