This is part twenty six in my 31-day study through the book of Proverbs. The purpose of this study is to learn what God has to say in this book about wisdom and discernment. Yesterday I learned the value of being humble. It is far better to begin humble and be exalted than to begin proud and be brought to shame. I also saw that wisdom will teach moderation.
There is so much wisdom in today’s chapter that I hardly know where to begin! This is no doubt the funniest chapter in the whole Bible (which admittedly, does not contain a whole lot of humor) as it contains some striking statements about lazy and foolish men.
Verses 3 through 12 all speak about fools and the consequences their folly will bring to them. I found verses 4 and 5 particularly interesting for they seem to directly contradict each other. “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 his own eyes.” How is it that these two verses can both display wisdom even though they seem to express opposite viewpoints? I believe the answer lies in the fact that no proverb will apply to every situation in life. While proverbs are pearls of wisdom, they are not always absolute statements. So when examining proverbs we must be careful to apply them properly. In this case we see that while we need to avoid falling into the trap of becoming foolish by answering foolishly, and thus becoming like the fool, at the same time we sometimes have to expose the fool’s folly so he is seen for what he is.
The next 4 verses speak of the character of foolish men. “He who sends a message by the hand of a fool cuts off his own feet and drinks violence.” Foolish men are untrustworthy. To entrust an important task to a foolish man is not wise, for it will damage me in the end. I am begging for trouble if I do this. “Like the legs of the lame that hang limp is a proverb in the mouth of fools.” A foolish man simply cannot grasp wisdom. As the legs of a man who is lame hang limply, so a proverb is useless to a fool. He will not and cannot understand wisdom. “Like one who binds a stone in a sling is he who gives honor to a fool.” The absurd notion of tying a stone in a sling, rendering it completely useless, illustrates the folly of giving honor to a fool. It would be ridiculous for me to pay homage to a foolish person. Strangely, as soon as I read this verse I thought of Hollywood and the way celebrities love to laud each other. They love to display their own folly and celebrate the folly of others. “Like a thorn that goes into the hand of a drunkard is a proverb in the mouth of fools.” In this verse we see the illustration of a man who is so drunk that he does not even realize that he has pushed a thorn deep into his hand. Similarly, wisdom will have no effect on a man who is drunk with his folly. In early verses we have read that wisdom pierces a wise man to his soul, yet wisdom merits a foolish man nothing.
In verse 11 we read a passage that Peter later repeats in one of his epistles. “As a dog returns to his own vomit, so a fool repeats his folly.” These are such powerful (and disgusting) words! All of us sin, so all of us can think of times that we, like a dog returning to its vomit, have returned to our sin. Rather than learning from our past mistakes, we return to them time and again. And isn’t that just the cycle of sin…
The thirteenth to sixteenth verses speak of lazy men, repeating several proverbs that have appeared earlier. “As a door turns on its hinges, so does the lazy man on his bed.” As I read this verse I could picture an old, rusty hinge lazily turning back and forth, groaning in protest with each movement. That is exactly the picture the author wished to portray to describe lazy men. The next verse is similar. “The lazy man buries his hand in the bowl; It wearies him to bring it back to his mouth.” This proverb reminded me of the children’s movie Toy Story 2. In that story there is a fat, obnoxious villain who steals a valuable toy. In one scene he falls asleep on his couch while eating a bowl of cheezies (don’t you call them cheese doodles in the US of A?). His hand, covered in that vile orange cheese power rests in the bowl as he sleeps. So the lazy man may make the effort to put his hand to the bowl, but will be too lazy to bring it back to his mouth. His laziness is so complete that it will keep him from even taking care of his basic needs.
“The lazy man is wiser in his own eyes than seven men who can answer sensibly.” This verse shows the delusions of foolish men. They are so convinced of their wisdom that they will not heed the advice of any number of people who disagree with them. I do not think there is any particular significance in using the number seven in this instance, except to show a significant number. The point is this: folly breeds delusion.
I know a man who is delusional in his folly. He is so sure of his beliefs that he will fight and argue endlessly to defend them. He has an overwhelming self-confidence and at the same time displays a terrible lack of humility. Most rational people have long since stopped even trying to speak with him, for his folly has consumed him. It is a terrible testament to the power of foolishness.