Everyday Expressions from the Bible
"A Little Bird Told Me"
#3 in the series by Timothy Cross
Those of us who have worked in offices that employ a number of people are aware that the working environment can sometimes resemble an unpleasant goldfish bowl. It is perhaps inevitable that friction will occur when people from different backgrounds work in close proximity.
One of the perils of an office is ‘office gossip.’ We hear rumours – often salacious rumours – about our colleagues that should really be kept secret. When we ask the rumour spreader ‘How did you find that out about X?’ the reply can sometimes be ‘A little bird told me.’ The person relating the gossip does not wish to disclose their source. The gossip, however, spreads and a person’s character is darkened.
The expression ‘a little bird told me’ originates from Ecclesiastes 10:20, where we read the admonition: ‘Do not curse the king, even in your thought; do not curse the rich, even in your bedroom; for a bird of the air may carry your voice, and a bird in flight may tell the matter.’
The admonition here is telling us: ‘Control your tongue.’ ‘Be careful how you speak. Be especially careful about how you speak about other people.’
‘Little birds’ of course chirp, but cannot articulate our language. The principle behind the expression is the warning that if we say something about someone, there is always the possibility that what we have said may get back to the person concerned, causing us embarrassment and stirring up trouble. When we speak about someone to someone else, we might be overheard. The person to whom we speak may betray our confidence. The person to whom we speak may lack discretion. We should thus only say something about a person who is absent if we had the courage to say the same thing to their face if they were present.
The Shorter Catechism states ‘The Scriptures principally teach what man is to believe concerning God and what duty God requires of man’, that is, the Bible is concerned with what we are to believe to be saved, and how we are to behave once saved. Christian behaviour permeates every facet of our lives and character – even the thoughts we think when lying in bed. A major facet of our character is our speech – how we employ our tongues. God expects Christians to employ their tongues in a Christian way, using it to extol Him and edify others, rather than blaspheme Him and cause misery to others.
Christians therefore should never be ‘a little bird’ – that is, they should never gossip about others. Gossip has marred many a happy Christian fellowship. It is also unfitting for a Christian to give ammunition to the ‘little birds’ around us who would be keen to take up what we say about someone and use it against them.
The Bible has much to say about the human tongue – that small member which has a capacity for good or destruction out of all proportion to its size. Read and weigh carefully the following Scriptures:-
- ‘In the multitude of words sin is not lacking, but he who restrains his lips is wise’ (Proverbs 10:19).
- ‘A talebearer reveals secrets, but he who is of a faithful spirit conceals a matter’ (Proverbs 11:13).
- ‘He who guards his mouth preserves his life, but he who opens wide his lips shall have destruction’ (Proverbs 13:3).
- ‘Death and life are in the power of the tongue . . .’(Proverbs 18:21).
- If anyone among you thinks he is religious, and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this one’s religion is useless’ (James 1:26).
We are all sensitive to a greater or lesser degree. None of us would like to think that we are being talked about in a derogatory manner when we are not present. It is incumbent on Christians therefore not to be party to such a practice, as our Saviour exhorts us: ‘And just as you want men to do to you, you also do to them likewise’ (Luke 6:31).
‘A little bird told me. . . ’ -- Private words can easily become public words -- ‘for a bird of the air may carry your voice, and a bird in flight may tell the matter’ (Ecclesiastes 10:20). The expression is a reminder to guard our tongue and not to feed the birds! We do not want to eat our words. It has been well said:-
A careless word – may kindle strife
A cruel word – may wreck a life
A bitter word – may hate instill
A brutal word – may smite and kill
A gracious word – may smooth the way
A joyous word – may light the day
A timely word – may lessen stress
A loving word – may heal and bless