Silence is Golden

Silence. I’m not good at it. Family legend is that I didn’t begin speaking with single words, like most babies. I waited until I could put words together in sentences. They say that one day I just started talking, and I haven’t shut up since. It was one thing being called Little Miss Chatterbox in the second grade; as an adult, gaining control of my logorrhea has been a constant battle. I still remember the pep-talk I gave myself the day I reported aboard a Coast Guard Cutter as a new officer; I admonished myself to keep my mouth shut. I knew I couldn’t succeed if I acted like myself. Unfortunately, I’ve never been good at acting like anyone other than who I am.

Years later, with embarrassments and failures in my wake, I am still fighting the same battle I had in the second grade. Only God can count the number of hours I’ve spent wondering if this is the reason I am still single. I’ve highlighted every applicable verse in Proverbs and memorized James 3. By my desk is a note card with Psalm 141:3, “Set a guard, O LORD, over my mouth; keep watch over the door of my lips!” It is there to remind me to seek God’s help in this matter. This week, as I was considering what topic to teach a devotion on, a verse came to mind: “The LORD will fight for you, and you have only to be silent.” (Exodus 14:14) It occurred to me that I should look into the idea of being silent before God.

Be not rash with your mouth, nor let your heart be hasty to utter a word before God, for God is in heaven and you are on earth. Therefore let your words be few.

Ecclesiastes 5:2

I took a closer look at Exodus 14. In verse ten, the people of Israel realized that they were hemmed in between the Red Sea and the approaching Egyptian army. In fear, some of them cried out to the LORD, but others began grumbling against Moses: “Is it because there are no graves in Egypt that you have taken us away to die in the wilderness? What have you done to us in bringing us out of Egypt? Is not this what we said to you in Egypt: ‘Leave us alone that we may serve the Egyptians’? For it would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the wilderness.” (Exodus 14:11-12) I know that I have read Moses’ response several times before, but this week I realized that Moses was telling them to shut up.

And Moses said to the people, “Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the LORD, which he will work for you today. For the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall never see again. The LORD will fight for you, and you have only to be silent.”

Exodus 14:13-14

I had always thought that Moses was telling them that nothing was needed on their part except to watch God work His salvation. But now I see that Moses was stopping the people from inciting God’s anger. Their complaining may have been directed at Moses, but Moses had led the people at God’s direction. God Himself told Moses to place the people in that vulnerable tactical position, so that He might show His glory. In questioning Moses, the people were questioning the very goodness of God and His plan for them. Moses knew that if the people continued in their whining, they would stir up God’s wrath against them.

What can I learn from this? When my prayer becomes complaint, it would be better to hold my peace. It is one thing to pray for our circumstances to change, but when we gripe and grouse about them, aren’t we questioning God’s love, mercy and goodness toward His people? Just as He placed the Israelites in a bad position so that He could show His might and “get glory over Pharaoh and his host,” has He not placed us in our current position for a purpose and for His glory? When face-to-face with the Almighty, it is best to humbly and quietly accept His sovereignty. We should take the posture of Job, when he realized that he had erred in his speaking.

Then Job answered the LORD and said: “Behold I am of small account; what shall I answer you? I lay my hand on my mouth. I have spoken once, and I will not answer; twice, but I will proceed no further.”

Job 40:3-5

For fifteen years, I have prayed about my singleness and my desire for a husband. I am sure in that time I have uttered words of rebellion. Lately, I have been praying fervently for a situation affecting people I love. If I had my way, the difficulty would have been resolved weeks ago. But when I pray about it, I am trying to emulate Hezekiah. He received a letter from Sennacherib king of Assyria, which promised to destroy Jerusalem and warned Hezekiah not to trust the LORD to save him. This was his response: “Hezekiah went up to the house of the LORD and spread [the letter] before the LORD.” (2 Kings 19:14b) In my mind I can see Hezekiah laying out that letter before God as he prayed, and the image represents to me his handing the situation over to God. His subsequent prayer ascribed to God the power and glory due Him, never doubting that the LORD was able to save his people. I think of this, now, when I am praying. Our Lord Jesus said there was no need for many words when praying, “for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.” (Matthew 6:8) Therefore let [my] words be few.

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