William J. Stewart | Lessons from the Book of Proverbs
For a book focused on wisdom, the Proverbs looks at foolishness a lot. In fact, the word “fool” or some derivative of it appears over 80 times in the Proverbs.
Have you ever considered why he discusses foolishness so much? It is likely no more complex than this: to know a topic in detail, it can be helpful to look at it’s opposite. To gain a better understanding of wisdom, we will benefit by knowing about, but avoiding the way of the fool.
WHAT’S IT MEAN?
Solomon uses the word אויל to speak of the fool. Strong’s identifies the word as a silly or foolish man, but also states that it is from “an unused root (meaning to be perverse).” Unger’s Bible Dictionary assures us the fool is not lacking in mental capacity, but misuses his “smarts” to do evil rather than good, to do his own will rather than God’s.
A FOOL IGNORES INSTRUCTION
The first thing Solomon says about fools in the Proverbs is that they despise wisdom, instruction (1:7), and knowledge (1:22). Later (5:23; 10:21), he says that the fool’s aversion to wisdom will be the death of him. The fool arrogantly walks in his own way, believing it to be best, and not seeking the path of wisdom (12:15).
Consider a few more “fool proverbs” related to knowledge, instruction & wisdom:
The wise in heart will receive commands, but a prating fool will fall. (Proverbs 10:8)
Wise people store up knowledge, but the mouth of the foolish is near destruction. (Proverbs 10:14)
To do evil is like sport to a fool, but a man of understanding has wisdom. (Proverbs 10:23)
A prudent man conceals knowledge, but the heart of fools proclaims foolishness. (Proverbs 12:23)
Every prudent man acts with knowledge, but a fool lays open his folly. (Proverbs 13:16)
He who walks with wise men will be wise, but the companion of fools will be destroyed. (Proverbs 13:20)
Go from the presence of a foolish man, when you do not perceive in him the lips of knowledge. (Proverbs 14:7)
A wise man fears and departs from evil, but a fool rages and is self-confident. (Proverbs 14:16)
He who is slow to wrath has great understanding, but he who is impulsive exalts folly. (Proverbs 14:29)
Wisdom rests in the heart of him who has understanding, but what is in the heart of fools is made known. (Proverbs 14:33)
Folly is joy to him who is destitute of discernment, but a man of understanding walks uprightly. (Proverbs 15:21)
There are plenty more texts that speak of the fool’s relationship or lack thereof with wisdom, knowledge and understanding. I will leave it to the reader to pursue more.
Another trait of the fool is that he will exalt himself. Early in his writing, Solomon made this statement:
Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths. Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the LORD and depart from evil. (Proverbs 3:5-7)
The fool is the exact opposite. He will exalt his ways over God’s ways; he is wise in his own eyes; he does not have a fear of God. In Proverbs 12:15, we read:
The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but he who heeds counsel is wise. (Proverbs 12:15)
Consider a few more “fool proverbs” related to his arrogance:
A fool has no delight in understanding, but in expressing his own heart. (Proverbs 18:2)
The foolishness of a man twists his way, and his heart frets against the LORD. (Proverbs 19:3)
Do not speak in the hearing of a fool, for he will despise the wisdom of your words. (Proverbs 23:9)
Do not answer a fool according to his folly, lest you also be like him. Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in how own eyes. (Proverbs 26:4-5)
Do you see a man wise in his own eyes? There is more hope for a fool than for him. (Proverbs 26:12)
There are more texts about the fool and his claim to be wise, but these will suffice.
HE NEEDS TO CHANGE
You’ve heard sayings about a leopard changing his spots or a zebra changing his stripes? Neither are capable. The proverb writer indicates that it is near impossible for the fool to change his way. Though they might be disciplined, they will seldom learn from it (Proverbs 17:10). Listen to the extreme effort that yields no result:
Though you grind a fool in a mortar with a pestle along with crushed grain, yet his foolishness will not depart from him. (Proverbs 27:22)
Recall Peter speaking about a dog returning to it’s own vomit (2 Peter 2:22)? He was quoting from Proverbs 26:11, where Solomon likened this sickening action to a fool repeating his folly. It is hard to get a foolish man to depart from foolishness. In fact, in Proverbs 13:19, we’re told, “…it is an abomination to fools to depart from evil.”
And yet, the only way they can be saved is to turn from folly to the LORD. And so Solomon makes the appeal whoever will hear: “Forsake foolishness and live!” (Proverbs 9:6)
May we not walk in the way of fools, and if we have, let us turn from it so we might live before the LORD.