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International Standard Bible Encyclopedia
( שפה , sāphāh , שׂפת , sepheth , "lip," "language," "speech," "talk" (also "rim," "border," "shore," "bank," etc.), שפם , sāphām , "(upper) lip," "moustache," "beard"; χεῖλος , cheı́los , "lip" (also once, "shore" in the quotation Hebrews 11:12 = Genesis 22:17 )): (1) Lips stand in oriental idiom for speech or language, like "mouth," "tongue"; therefore they stand in parallelism. "The lip of truth shall be established for ever; but a lying tongue is but for a moment" (Proverbs 12:19 ). "To shoot out the lip" (Psalm 22:7 ) means to make a mocking, contemptuous, scornful face. As the lips are the chief instrument of speech, we find numerous idiomatic phrases for "speaking," such as: "the utterance of the lips" (Numbers 30:6 , Numbers 30:8 ), "to proceed out of the lips" (Numbers 30:12 ), "to open the lips" (Job 32:20 ), "to go out of the lips" (Psalm 17:1 ). These expressions do not convey, as a rule, the idea that the utterance proceeds merely out of the lips, and that it lacks sincerity and the consent of the heart, but occasionally this is intended, e.g. "This people draw nigh unto me, and with their mouth and with their lips do honor me, but have removed their heart far from me" (Isaiah 29:13; compare Matthew 15:8 ). The "fruit of the lips" (Isaiah 57:19 = Hebrews 13:15 ) and "calves of the lips" (Hosea 14:2 the King James Version) designate the praise and thanksgiving due to God. "Fervent (the King James Version "burning") lips" ( Proverbs 26:23 ) are synonymous with eloquence. "To refrain the lips" (Psalm 40:9; Proverbs 10:19 ) means to keep silence, where the godless or unwise would wish to assert his rights.
Numerous other expressions need no further explanation, such as "perverse lips" (Proverbs 4:24 ), "uncircumcised lips" (Exodus 6:12 , Exodus 6:30 ), "feigned lips" (Psalm 17:1 ), "lying lips" (Psalm 31:18; Proverbs 10:18; Proverbs 12:22 ), "wicked (or false) lips" (Proverbs 17:4 ), "unclean lips" (Isaiah 6:5 ), "strange (the King James Version "stammering") lips" (Isaiah 28:11 ), "flattering lips" (Psalm 12:2 , Psalm 12:3; Proverbs 7:21 ), "righteous lips" (Proverbs 16:13 ).
(2) The Hebrew word sāphām is found only in the phrase "to cover the lip or lips," which is an expression of mourning, submission and shame. The Oriental covers his lips with his hand or a portion of his garment, when he has been sunk into deep grief and sorrow. He expresses, thereby, that he cannot open his mouth at the visitation of God. Differently, however, from common mourners, Ezekiel was forbidden of God "to cover his lips" ( Ezekiel 24:17; see also Ezekiel 24:22 ), i.e. to mourn in the usual way over Israel's downfall, as Israel had brought these judgments upon himself. The leper, victim of an incurable disease, walks about with rent clothes and hair disheveled, covering his lips, crying: "Unclean, unclean!" (Leviticus 13:45 ). The thought here is that even the breath of such a one may defile. The prophet calls upon all seers and diviners, to whom God has refused the knowledge of the future, to cover their lips in shame and confusion (Micah 3:7 ).
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Orr, James, M.A., D.D. General Editor. Entry for 'Lip'. International Standard Bible Encyclopedia. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/eng/isb/l/lip.html. 1915.