“The north wind brings forth rain, and a backbiting tongue, angry looks.”
Backbiting and gossip are destructive, and wise people refuse to participate. This verse compares gossip to the north wind that brings rain. When people feel the north wind and see the rain and stormy weather coming, they are not happy.
The phrase, “a backbiting tongue” comes from the Hebrew word seter which means a covering or a secret hiding place. This is how gossipers work. They hide their comments from the people they gossip about. They talk about people behind their back. They don’t talk to people; they talk about people. Gossipers don’t seek to help people, they desire to hurt or destroy people.
The suggestion in this proverb is that just like a cold north wind brought clouds and rain, so also an angry countenance can bring a stop to gossip and backbiting. The word here in the Hebrew is zaam, and it means to be indignant and enraged.
The root word literally means to “foam at the mouth,” so this is no quick glance. It is a look that says, “Please stop.” It is a direct confrontation of gossipers, and it expresses your refusal to participate in their gossip. It is giving them a displeased look and saying, “I’m not interested in your backbiting.”
Wise people are peacemakers, not gossipers. They desire grace and healing , and they do not try to gather a group against someone with whom they have a disagreement or gripe. Wise people deal with issues and disagreements face to face, not in secret.
When this wisdom is ignored, relationships are destroyed, friendships are ended, and even churches are split. Which is why whenever you experience gossip, you should answer with a respectful, but firm mindset that says, “Please do not gossip. It is hurtful. Gossip isn’t kind, and it isn’t helpful.”
The book of James gives a clear prohibition against gossip: “Do not speak evil against one another, brothers. The one who speaks against a brother or judges his brother, speaks evil against the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. There is only one lawgiver and judge, he who is able to save and to destroy. But who are you to judge your neighbor?” (James 4.11-12)
If you read James chapter 4, you will note the chapter begins by asking “what causes quarrels and fights among you?” and then answers the question by describing arrogance and self-centeredness as the source of quarreling. Apparently there was a problem of gossip and backbiting in the fellowship to whom James wrote. They had fallen into the destructive habit of verbally attacking each other, and James tells them to stop.
God’s word — including the OT Law — places an extremely high priority on interpersonal respect, trust, and love. We are called to talk to each other, not about each other. We are called to speak truth and hear truth. We are called to engage, not avoid.
Trust God and reject gossip.