“Apples of gold in engravings of silver: a word spoken in the right way. A ring of gold and an ornament of fine gold: a wise man giving a rebuke to a listening ear.” Proverbs 25:11-12
Do you recall hearing a word spoken in the right way?
Did you, perhaps young and idealistic, hear President Kennedy speak inspiring words of challenge in his inaugural address? For those who are older, do you remember President Roosevelt comforting a fearful nation with just a few well-spoken words that actually diminished the force of the fear itself? Or, did you hear President Reagan’s touching words of tribute and consolation after the terrible Space Shuttle Challenger disaster?
If you heard these words, you’ve experienced the richness of words spoken in the right way.
You may also be able to bring to mind a sense of the glory of words by remembering what was said in a marriage proposal, during moments of mourning, or at times of encouragement when down or in praise of a deed well done.
Even in the everyday, we can recall instances when a choice of words was so moving it actually changed the mind or turned the heart.
So, yes, a word spoken in the right way can be exceedingly valuable. But what’s the meaning of its comparison to apples of gold in engravings of silver?
Let’s consider eloquent responses from some of the great sages.
First, the comparison simply suggests something of real beauty. The setting of a golden apple against a background of silver is aesthetically pleasing. (Rashi)
The allusion indicates speech that is properly guarded, as golden apples are when encased within a silver sheath. (Ibn Ezra)
Just as the silver sheath allows the gold to shine forth, effective words express real meaning and help reveal true intent. (R’Hirsch)
Also, there’s the idea that the silver setting represents an introduction that compellingly attracts the interest of the listener/reader, and the golden apples are the wisdom of the message itself. (Alshich)
Thus, in verse 11, we learn a keen lesson. But, without verse 12, the more valuable teaching would be missed.
Let’s look at the metaphorical objects that are mentioned in verse 12. A golden ring and an ornament of fine gold would generally be more valued than golden apples engraved in silver because gold is more prized than silver. Thus, the words that are praised in the second verse are more valuable than those in the first.
Why might we treasure a rebuke from a wise person? While a rebuke might feel unpleasant for an instant, nothing compares in unhappiness to being off track and in the wrong. When we’re straying in unproductive and unworthy directions, there’s nothing better than for a loving and wise friend to speak words that steer us back to the right place.
As worthy as this wisdom is, it gets better. While the golden ring is likened to the rebuke, the ornament of fine gold is likened to the “listening ear.” A wise person’s words of rebuke are indeed valuable. But the two jewels together – a wise person’s rebuke and another person’s willingness to hear and heed it – are the most valuable of all.