“The beginning of strife is like letting out water, so abandon the quarrel before it breaks out,” Proverbs 17:14.
“He who restrains his words has knowledge, and he who has a cool spirit is a man of understanding. Even a fool, when he keeps silent, is considered wise; when he closes his lips, he is considered prudent,” Proverbs 17:27 – 28.
Luther translated “like letting out water” with “one who tears away the dam from the waters.” The idea of “letting out” is to “let go free”. I think whenever there is disagreement that we must be aware of the turns that disagreement can take. We will have disagreements in this life, with those close to us and with those not so close; disagreements often should not be avoided because they can concern things that matter, they can concern telling the truth about what we think or feel in a close relationship, they may revolve around matters of eternal life and death; we are to speak the truth in love.
When disagreeing it is good to be aware of the potential force of the water constrained by the dam and what will happen if the dam is breached; water from a breached dam can carry all before it – and then what was the point of the quarrel other than the annihilation of a relationship or of ensuring that nothing fruitful will come from the issue around which the quarrel revolved? People who live by a river or a dam are aware of the damage water can do – when they see it rising the wise among them take precautions. We should learn to gage the waters of peace and anger in our souls and when we sense the waters of anger rising we should not build a wall of sand bags to protect us from its rising, but rather submit our hearts to the peace of Jesus Christ so that the waters of anger will dissipate at His command.
“He who restrains his words has knowledge…” I think there is a reciprocal relationship in this verse so that we could also write, “He who has knowledge restrains his words,” or “He who restrains his words will learn knowledge.” If we will just shut-up and listen and observe we will learn. Often when we do shut-up it is only to wait our turn to say what we’ve already decided to say or to do decide what we’ve already determined to decide – it is not to listen and observe and learn. Consequently we may miss what the other person is thinking and feeling, and why he is feeling and thinking that way; we may miss the other person’s perspective and the other person’s goals and the other person’s fears. We may also miss important information, and we may miss insights into how to improve the relationship or situation. We can learn a lot by listening and we can save ourselves heartache and embarrassment by listening, as well as learn to be a blessing to others. A person who listens and observes will be a lifelong learner.
“…he who has a cool spirit is a man of understanding.” In normal life fire melts ice, but in the life of the spirit and soul a person at peace, a person with a cool spirit, can be in the midst of a heated argument or problem, surrounded by those whose anger and souls are red hot, and yet remain cool and at peace as he abides in our Lord Jesus. Flames of anger may be engulfing everyone else, but the man or woman who lives in Jesus and who is learning the Way of Peace will maintain a cool spirit, in part because he or she understands what is happening and understands the danger of moving from cool to hot, and further understands the necessity of living life in and through the Prince of Peace.
When the fire cannot melt the ice the fire does not know what to think.