A recent event involving an untrue rumor reminded me how quickly gossip travels, and how nearly impossible it is to correct. Someone has aptly noted that spreading gossip is like throwing feathers into the wind. Once launched, there is no gathering them up again. No wonder God commanded Moses to tell the Israelites: “You shall not go up and down as a talebearer among your people” (Lev. 19:16). Yet how we sometimes love a juicy bit of gossip. Indeed, “the words of a whisperer are like dainty morsels” (Prov. 26:22).
When the subject of gossip arises, I always think of Gashmu, an obscure character in the Book of Nehemiah. The namesake of the book had returned from Persia to Israel to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem, where he met with fierce opposition from petty but jealous political neighbors. After several unsuccessful attempts to intimidate and to distract Nehemiah from his work, an enemy named Sanballat sent Nehemiah an open letter which said: “It is reported among the nations, and Gashmu says, that you and the Jews are planning to rebel” against the King of Persia (Neh. 6:5-6).
Scholars tell us that Gashmu was “Geshem the Arab” mentioned at the top of the same chapter (6:1). Likely he was a political appointee of the Persians in the area of Edom, southeast of Israel. But his name is still remembered, in Bible-reading circles, as that fellow who communicated false rumors. “Whatsoever things are true” should occupy our thoughts. God calls us to be busy bodies, not busybodies (2 Thes. 3:11-12). Unfortunately, after 2,500 years, “Gashmu” is still not dead. Sometimes he looks back from our own mirrors. Let us be sure that he does not.