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How is one who sings songs to a heavy heart like vinegar on soda (Proverbs 25:20)?

like vinegar on soda

If you’ve ever cooked or cleaned with vinegar and baking soda, then you probably have some insight into the meaning of Proverbs 25:20: “Whoever sings songs to a heavy heart is like one who takes off a garment on a cold day, and like vinegar on soda” (ESV).

This proverb imparts wisdom regarding the need to be sensitive to the moods and feelings of others. One who merrily sings songs to a heavy-hearted person acts unwisely and incongruously with the situation at hand. Rather than lift his spirits, we are more likely to anger or injure the person with our inappropriate cheerfulness in the face of his sorrow.

In Proverbs 25:20, the word translated “soda” (nether in Hebrew) refers to a cleansing agent, like carbonate of soda or baking soda. The Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Old Testament) uses the term helkos in Greek, meaning “wound.” The New International Version follows this rendition, reading, “Like vinegar poured on a wound, is one who sings songs to a heavy heart.”

Either way, the meaning of the proverb is conveyed. In the Greek sense, singing lighthearted songs to someone whose heart is broken is like pouring vinegar on a wound—it is a painfully cruel act. In the example of vinegar on soda, we have a similar outcome. An explosive, fizzing agitation occurs when vinegar first comes in contact with baking soda. Very quickly, the two elements neutralize and destroy one another. The image is one of insensitivity, counter-productivity, and harm.

A wise and loving friend with genuine compassion will understand the need to “rejoice with those who rejoice” and “mourn with those who mourn” (Romans 12:15; see also Job 30:25). Tenderheartedness is a sign of true Christian character (Ephesians 4:32; Colossians 3:12; 1 Peter 3:8). The apostle Paul astutely taught that, in the body of Christ, “If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it” (1 Corinthians 12:26). The writer of Hebrews urges us to “remember those in prison, as if you were there yourself. Remember also those being mistreated, as if you felt their pain in your own bodies” (Hebrews 13:3, NLT).

Maintaining a positive, cheerful outlook is a good thing and sometimes can have an encouraging effect on those who are discouraged. But we must combine our optimism with empathy and understanding. When someone is down and depressed, burdened with a heavy heart, it would be thoughtless and unkind for us to disregard the depth of that person’s anguish and merely whistle a happy tune to him or her. Proverbs 25:20 likens such an approach to taking someone’s coat on a winter day, leaving them shivering and unprotected in the cold. Like vinegar poured on soda, this could elicit an explosive reaction. It certainly won’t help and is more likely to make matters worse by angering or wounding the one you had hoped to comfort.

Singing a song to a heavy heart is like pouring vinegar on soda because it is an act devoid of compassion and feeling. Believers are to cry with those who are sorrowful and laugh with those who are rejoicing. When Jesus suffered agony in the Garden of Gethsemane, He wanted His closest followers to be with Him, to watch and pray (Matthew 26:37–38). God calls us to show mercy just as He does when we comfort others: “God is our merciful Father and the source of all comfort. He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us” (2 Corinthians 1:3–4, NLT). A sensitive believer understands how to come alongside the hurting as a tender and compassionate agent of healing.

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How is one who sings songs to a heavy heart like vinegar on soda (Proverbs 25:20)?
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This page last updated: October 5, 2022