Pearls From Proverbs: The Talker That Tells Tales

By Irvin Himmel

A talebearer revealeth secrets: but he that is of a faithful spirit concealeth the matter (Prov. 11:13).

To “bear” something means to carry it or convey it. The ring bearer carries rings, usually on a small pillow, at a wedding. A standard bearer is one assigned to carry the banner or flag as might be done in a military parade. A pallbearer originally was one who carried the pall (a covering for a coffin) but is now one who helps to carry the coffin. An armorbearer (Judg. 9:54) is one who carries weapons or armor for a warrior.

The Bearer Who Beres All

A talebearer is an informer, a peddler of gossip, a tattler, a revealer of secrets, a newsmonger, one who hunts secrets, whether true or false, to broadcast, a slanderer. He is “the walking busybody, the trader in scandal” (A. Clarke).

“A talebearer revealeth secrets . . .” One who comes with tales about others probably will reveal our secrets and relate tales on us. It is unwise to confide in him. “Such a man is so eager to have something to talk about that he will reveal things that should be kept within his own knowledge” (E. M. Zerr). He may even tell things about himself that ought to be kept secret.

Ways of Talebearing

(1) Careless communication. Sometimes people get carried away in a lively conversation and say things without thinking. Perhaps the tongue is flapping faster than the thought processes are working. Words are allowed to slip which carry rumors and reports that could be damaging to someone’s reputation. The speaker did not enter the conversation to become a talebearer, but through carelessness he does in fact engage in passing along gossip. Reckless words can reveal secrets and do harm just as quickly as words deliberately chosen for that purpose.

(2) Sly insinuation. In a lot of cases, the talebearer drops subtle hints that naturally arouse curiosity. He makes allusions that stimulate questions. He whets the appetite of the hearer. For example, he may say, “It would not be in order for me to tell you all I know, but I can tell you this much.” The tale-bearer begins probing until the whole matter is out in the open.

(3) Confidential communication. The tale maybe carried by one who pleads that what he is about to relate must be kept in confidence. “This is strictly between you and me,” he insists. He breaks another’s confidence while urging someone not to follow his example! He may even punctuate the need for “keeping this under your hat” by speaking in the tone of a whisper. “You must not breathe a word to anyone about this,” he warns as he spills the whole story.

(4) Open blabbing. Then there is the talebearer who loudly announces everything, no matter how personal and confidential it may be. To give him information is like putting it on the six o’clock newscast. He acts as though it is his role to tell all he knows whether it needs to be told or not. He thrills in being the first to inform another of something, even if it is slanderous. He is addicted to telling whatever he has heard. And in many cases, this person pries into matters that are none of his business, spends a lot of time on the telephone (it’s his hotline!), and asks a lot of questions.

Whatever the talebearer’s technique, he is engaged in a rotten practice. The law of Moses said plainly, I ‘Thou shalt not go up and down as a talebearer among thy people. . . ” (Lev. 19:16). The New Testament warns against our being busybodies and whispers and backbiters (2 Cor. 12:20; 2 Thess. 3:11; Rom. 1:29,30).

Keeping Secrets

While the talebearer reveals secrets, “he that is of a faithful spirit concealeth the matter.” The individual who is of a “faithful spirit” is trustworthy. He respects the confidence that another has placed in him. He is “one who proves himself faithful and true” (F. Delitzsch). He has the capacity which seems all too rare – the ability to keep a secret!

All should cultivate and maintain a “faithful spirit.” “But a should be cautious,” as Ralph Wardlaw states in his Lectures on the Book ofProverbs. “It is very wrong, generally speaking, to come under an obligation to secrecy, without knowing what it is that is about to be imparted.” Wardlaw adds, “Hence one strong objection on the part of Christians to the system of Free-masonry, which withholds its secrets till those who seek initiation take solemn oath never to reveal them.” He further points out, “We may thus bring ourselves into a snare . . . for the secret may be something which ought not to be concealed. It may involve the interests of others; it may involve the cause of religion and the honour of God. Beware, then, of rashly receiving secrets.” This is good advice. Keeping personal matters secret is one thing; a blind pledge to secrecy is something else.

Guardian of Truth XXXI: 11, p. 331
June 4, 1987