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Lashon Hara: Understanding Evil Speech in Scriptures

Updated: 7 days ago




Lashon Hara, or "evil speech," refers to any form of communication that is harmful or damaging to someone, even if it is true. For instance, calling someone lazy because they do not work or maintain a tidy home, with the intent of insulting their character, constitutes lashon hara. Such statements, while possibly true, are damaging and fail to promote personal growth or uplift the spirit. Similarly, presenting a fellow congregant negatively to leadership due to a personal grievance, in an attempt to influence their perception, is also lashon hara. Whether or not we intend harm, our words can still be harmful, underscoring the need for vigilance in our speech. As it is written, "the power of death and life is found on the tongue."

“Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those loving it eat its fruit.” (Proverbs 18:21)

Controlling our tongues is one of the most challenging tasks we face. Often, we may say something hurtful before we even fully realize what we've uttered. This is why practicing temperance and compassion is essential.


Lashon Hara in the Scriptures


The term "lashon hara" does not appear in the scriptures and originates from Rabbinic Judaism. However, a close examination of the scriptures reveals that Yah condemns evil speech.

“You shall not spread a false report. Don’t join your hand with the wicked to be a malicious witness. “You shall not follow a crowd to do evil. You shall not testify in court to side with a multitude to pervert justice” (Exodus 23:1-2)

This form of lashon hara involves lying with malicious intent, aiming to bring punishment or harm to an innocent person. Falsely accusing someone of sinning falls into this category, which is known in English as slander.

“You shall not go around as a slanderer among your people. You shall not endanger the life of your neighbor. I am Yah.” (Leviticus 19:16)

The Hebrew word translated as "slanderer" is "rakiyl," which can also mean "tale bearer" or "informer." This term can encompass spreading true information that is not beneficial. For instance, it is appropriate to warn others about someone who is violent, as this is beneficial. However, spreading gossip about someone's weekend activities is not beneficial and falls under the category of harmful speech.

“With his mouth the godless man destroys his neighbor, but the righteous will be delivered through knowledge. When it goes well with the righteous, the city rejoices. When the wicked perish, there is shouting. By the blessing of the upright, the city is exalted, but it is overthrown by the mouth of the wicked. One who despises his neighbor is void of wisdom, but a man of understanding holds his peace. One who brings gossip betrays a confidence, but one who is of a trustworthy spirit is one who keeps a secret.” (Proverbs 11:9-13)
“He who goes about as a tale-bearer reveals secrets; therefore don’t keep company with him who opens wide his lips.” (Proverbs 20:19)

If the slanderer, tale-bearer, or gossiper is telling the truth about their neighbor, why is it considered wrong? It is because revealing these secrets harms their neighbor, leading to negative outcomes and sowing discord. Such actions are malicious, as referenced earlier in Leviticus 19:16 and in Ezekiel.

“You have despised that which is set-apart to Me, and you have profaned My Sabbaths. “Slanderous men have been in you to shed blood.” (Ezekiel 22:8-9)

Lashon Hara in Numbers 12


At the beginning of Numbers 12, we immediately see Aaron and Miriam committing lashon hara against their own brother.

“Miriam and Aaron spoke against Moses because of the Cushite woman whom he had married; for he had married a Cushite woman. They said, “Has Yah indeed spoken only with Moses? Hasn’t he spoken also with us?” And Yah heard it.” (Numbers 12:1-2)

The chapter goes on to detail how Yah punished Miriam with tzaraat (commonly mistranslated as leprosy). Notice that nothing Aaron or Miriam said was a lie, but their words carried the spirit of destruction.

  • Moses did marry a Cushite woman.

  • Yah declared Aaron a prophet in Exodus 7:1 and Miriam a prophetess in Exodus 15:20, so Yah had spoken to them.

However, their words implied that Moses was unfit to be the leader of Israel, echoing previous accusations by the Israelites who had even intended to murder him.

“All the congregation of the children of Israel traveled from the wilderness of Sin, starting according to Yah’s commandment, and encamped in Rephidim; but there was no water for the people to drink. Therefore the people quarreled with Moses, and said, “Give us water to drink.” Moses said to them, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test Yah?” The people were thirsty for water there; so the people murmured against Moses, and said, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt, to kill us, our children, and our livestock with thirst?” Moses cried to Yah, saying, “What shall I do with these people? They are almost ready to stone me.” (Exodus 17:1-4)
“All the congregation lifted up their voice, and cried; and the people wept that night. All the children of Israel murmured against Moses and against Aaron. The whole congregation said to them, “We wish that we had died in the land of Egypt, or that we had died in this wilderness! Why does Yah bring us to this land, to fall by the sword? Our wives and our little ones will be captured or killed! Wouldn’t it be better for us to return into Egypt?” They said to one another, “Let’s choose a leader, and let’s return into Egypt.” Then Moses and Aaron fell on their faces before all the assembly of the congregation of the children of Israel. Joshua the son of Nun and Caleb the son of Jephunneh, who were of those who spied out the land, tore their clothes. They spoke to all the congregation of the children of Israel, saying, “The land, which we passed through to spy it out, is an exceedingly good land. If Yah delights in us, then he will bring us into this land, and give it to us: a land which flows with milk and honey. Only don’t rebel against Yah, neither fear the people of the land; for they are bread for us. Their defense is removed from over them, and Yah is with us. Don’t fear them.” But all the congregation threatened to stone them with stones. Then Yah’s glory appeared in the Tent of Meeting to all the children of Israel.” (Numbers 14:1-10)

Lashon Hara in 1 Samuel


In 1 Samuel 22, David is on the run from Saul and seeks aid at the temple. While he and his men are there, they are spotted by Doeg, a herdsman, who later informs King Saul of what he saw.

“Saul said to his servants who stood around him, “Hear now, you Benjamites! Will the son of Jesse give everyone of you fields and vineyards? Will he make you all captains of thousands and captains of hundreds? Is that why all of you have conspired against me, and there is no one who discloses to me when my son makes a treaty with the son of Jesse, and there is none of you who is sorry for me, or discloses to me that my son has stirred up my servant against me, to lie in wait, as it is today?” Then Doeg the Edomite, who stood by the servants of Saul, answered and said, “I saw the son of Jesse coming to Nob, to Ahimelech the son of Ahitub. He inquired of Yah for him, gave him food, and gave him the sword of Goliath the Philistine.” (1 Samuel 22:7-10)

Everything Doeg reported to Saul was true; however, his report was malicious and led to the deaths of Ahimelech and his family.

“The king said to Doeg, “Turn and attack the priests!” Doeg the Edomite turned, and he attacked the priests, and he killed on that day eighty-five people who wore a linen ephod. He struck Nob, the city of the priests, with the edge of the sword—both men and women, children and nursing babies, and cattle, donkeys, and sheep, with the edge of the sword. One of the sons of Ahimelech the son of Ahitub, named Abiathar, escaped and fled after David.” (1 Samuel 22:18-20)

We later find confirmation in the Psalms that Doeg’s report was sinful and an example of lashon hara.

For the Chief Musician. A contemplation by David, when Doeg the Edomite came and told Saul, “David has come to Ahimelech’s house.”“Why do you boast of mischief, mighty man? El’s loving kindness endures continually. Your tongue plots destruction, like a sharp razor, working deceitfully. You love evil more than good,lying rather than speaking the truth. Selah. You love all devouring words, you deceitful tongue. Elohim will likewise destroy you forever. He will take you up, and pluck you out of your tent, and root you out of the land of the living.”  (Psalms 52:1-5)

"David observes that Doeg's report to Saul contained treacherous and betraying words, yet Doeg spoke the truth. The Hebrew word translated as 'deceitful' can imply treachery, and 'lying' can mean betrayal. Substituting these words clarifies David's point: while Doeg's words were truthful, their intent was evil, constituting sin.


Apostolic Writings on Lashon Hara


One of the primary principles of lashon hara is that speech causing strife among Israelites is prohibited. Similarly, Paul issues a stern warning against those who sow discord within the assembly, urging followers of the Messiah to distance themselves from such individuals.

“If anyone teaches a different doctrine and doesn’t consent to sound words, the words of our Master Yeshua the Messiah, and to the doctrine which is according to reverence, he is conceited, knowing nothing, but obsessed with arguments, disputes, and word battles, from which come envy, strife, insulting, evil suspicions, constant friction of people of corrupt minds and destitute of the truth, who suppose that reverence is a means of gain. Withdraw yourself from such.” (1 Timothy 6:3-5)

In a similar manner, we are informed that those who practice lashon hara will not enter the Kingdom of Elohim, as they use their words to stir up trouble, fracture the assembly, and elevate themselves above others.

“Now the deeds of the flesh are obvious, which are: adultery, sexual immorality, uncleanness, lustfulness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, strife, jealousies, outbursts of anger, rivalries, divisions, heresies, envy, murders, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these; of which I forewarn you, even as I also forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit God’s Kingdom.” (Galatians 5:19-20)

Messiah on Lashon Hara

Another principle of lashon hara is the prohibition of revealing another’s sin. The exception to this rule is that one must first confront the person privately about their sin. If they refuse to repent (teshuva), only then may the matter be brought publicly. This concept is also taught by our Master.

“If your brother sins against you, go, show him his fault between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained back your brother. But if he doesn’t listen, take one or two more with you, that at the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the assembly. If he refuses to hear the assembly also, let him be to you as a Gentile or a tax collector.” (Matthew 18:15-17)

Conclusion: Building Up with Words of Grace


Our words should be used to build each other up, not tear each other apart. If firm words are necessary to correct a fellow member of the Body of Messiah, they should be spoken with utmost care, ensuring they contribute to the edification of their spiritual growth rather than its destruction.

“Let no corrupt speech proceed out of your mouth, but only what is good for building others up as the need may be, that it may give grace to those who hear. Don’t grieve the Set-apart Spirit of Elohim, in whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, outcry, and slander be put away from you, with all malice. And be kind to one another, tender hearted, forgiving each other, just as Elohim also in Messiah forgave you.” (Ephesians 4:29-32)
And the tongue is a fire. The world of iniquity among our members is the tongue, which defiles the whole body, and sets on fire the course of nature, and is set on fire by Gehinnom. For every kind of animal, bird, creeping thing, and sea creature is tamed, and has been tamed by mankind; but nobody can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Elohim and Father, and with it we curse men who are made in the likeness of Elohim. Out of the same mouth comes blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so.” (James 3:6-10)

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