Proverbs 26:1-11
When A Fool Has More Hope Than The Wise

Authored By Rev. Takao Kiyohiro, Tokyo, Japan

1. In today's passage of scripture are parables collected together that are related to "the fool." Sharp words on the truth about fools are repeatedly and mercilessly given. But, make no mistake because "the fool" that the text is talking about here is not some unlearned or ignorant person by any means. Neither does it mean some loser or some blooming blunderer. It doesn't meant that. "The fool" at issue here in the text refers to one of the fundamental ways of living that a person can choose.

2. Please recall from chapter nine what the scriptures have in it about "wisdom" and "folly." "Wisdom" and "Folly" were depicted as two women and they were both issuing invitations. Proverbs says "To fear the Lord is the beginning of wisdom," (9:10). In that case we might also say that "Not to fear the Lord is the beginning of folly." They are both calling out their invitations. A person can choose either one. A person can choose to fear the Lord and live based on the order that the Lord gave to the world and by following the Lord's will. In not fearing the Lord, a person can also choose to go against the order that the Lord gave to this world and to live going against the Lord's will. Going by what Proverbs is saying, a person is neither wise nor foolish from the start. By choosing to live as a fool a person becomes a fool. Therefore, the entire book of Proverbs speaks very harshly about this type of fool.

The Lot Worthy For The Fool

3. When we read today's passage of scripture, it speaks first from verses one to three upon the lot the fool deserves.

4. "The snow in summer, the rain of harvest time." Snow doesn't fall in the summer. If it did fall then it would be quite unnatural. It would be opposite to the order of the world that God created. Also, in Palestine rain does not fall in harvest season. If rain did fall, it would be unnatural. In a similar way then, when honor is given to a fool, it is to be unnatural. In the same way, the first proverb states that, "honor is not appropriate for a fool."

5. To say that something "inappropriate" is taking place is actually very aweful. The person living in Palestinian nature knew that quite well. When nature's harmony falls apart, it leads to crop failure and then to famine. Whenever the rain is supposed to fall but doesn't and whenever the rain isn't supposed to fall but it does, this brings on great damage. In the same way, when a fool obtains honor it will not lead to his or her own happiness, nor to those around him or her. It will bring on damage. "Inappropriate" means exactly that. Actually, because they can't treat the received honor right, the examples of people who have brought harm to themselves and to those around them are too numerous to list, a harm that is brought about by this unnaturalness.

6. So, what would be appropriate for a fool? In verse two it says, "The bird goes across, the swallow flies away." Any bird flies according to the natural order. When a bird flies, there is some kind of reason for it somewhere within the order of God's creation. This maxim puts a bird and a curse side by side. The curse also flies. When it does, it doesn't have a messed up way of flying. It flies in accordance with the Lord's order. There is a rhyme and a reason to it. "Curses without reasons never attack." If the curse has its reasons, it will fly. When a person goes against God's order [in this world] and dares to live as a fool, curses will visit hard upon him or her. The maxim in verse three that comes next shows this.

7. "A whip for the horse, a bit for the donkey." In order for animals to be controlled properly, whips and bits are used. By a similar means, a rod for beating is used for putting a fool under proper control. That's what "the rod on the back of a fool" means. As [the fool lives] without fearing God and in his rebellion against God, he must be putting out [some] sick thinking. The portion which the fool deserves by nature is not fame but the rod, which is what these first three proverbs say.

How Should One Relate To A Fool?

8. Next Proverbs tells us in an interesting way how we should relate to the fool. "Don't give a good answer to the ignorance of the fool, that way you don't become like him. Give a good answer to the ignorance of the fool. That way he doesn't get the idea that he is wise," (verses four and five).

9. "The ignorance" of which this text speaks does not mean that one doesn't know anything. It is not a deficiency in knowledge. It is the word with the meaning of "folly." In this set of proverbs, there is a recommendation on the one hand to "Don't give a good answer to the ignorance of the fool." But on the other hand, it makes the recommendation to "Give a good answer to his folly." These recommendations are both clearly contradictory to each other. What should we understand from these statements?

10. With them we should recall the manner in which Jesus gave his reply to [some] opponents [of his]. The Jews in opposition to Jesus had frequently fired away their tough questions at Jesus. When they did that, Jesus often did not directly answer their questions. He was actually practicing [the principle of] "Don't give a good answer to the ignorance of the fool."

11. For example, what immediately comes to mind is the following question that the Pharisees and the Herodian Jews came and gave to Jesus as they tried to trap him in his reasoning, "By the way, is it lawful or not lawful to pay tax to the emperor? Ought we pay tax, or must one not pay tax?," (Mark 12:14). Then the Lord told them, "Bring me and show me a denarius coin," and when they brought it, he asked them a question straight back. "Whose image and inscription is this?" They answered, "It is the emperor's." Whereupon, Jesus said, "Give back to the emperor what is the emperor's and to God what is God's," (Mark 12:17).

12. That's how [Jesus] did not give a direct answer to their folly as he dealt with the folly of these Jews unfearing of God but trying to ensnare some other person with a question related to the law of God. [He did] just as it said, "Don't give a good answer to the ignorance of the fool, that way you don't become like him." But, we can also say from another perspective that Jesus did give a good and most fitting response to their folly. - Because through his answer their folly was exposed. The people who questioned Jesus all went back home ashamed. The Lord gave an answer just as the scripture said to, "Give a good answer to the ignorance of the fool. That way he doesn't get the idea that he is wise."

The Switcheroo

13. The harsh string of proverbs against the fool continues some more.

14. "He who sends something by trusting it to a fool will cut his legs and gulp down iniquity," (verse six). The reason we send someone out is to do our foot work for us. But, sending a fool out, the proverb says, is far from taking the place of our feet but is like getting our feet cut off instead. It says not only do things not get done right, but they will incur damages. I would say that "gulping down iniquity" has the same meaning as that.

15. "A maxim in the mouth of a fool is [like] the weak feet of one who can't walk," (verse seven). "A maxim in the mouth of a fool is a thorn stuck in a drunken hand," (verse nine). Verse nine in the New Reformed Version of the Bible goes as follows: "Proverbs in the mouth of a fool is like a thorn needle that flings up into a drunkard's hand." As far as the translation, this one seems to be in general. When a fool glibly takes a proverb to his or her mouth, it is not only useless (verse seven), but it is dangerous and annoying (verse nine). (It might be like when a sacrilegious person glibly quotes words from the Bible.)

16. "Giving honor to 'a fool' is like tying a rock to the sling," (verse eight); "The hiring of a fool, the hiring of a passerby is like an archer not paying any attention at all but shooting," (verse ten). In the second half of verse eight, a literal translation of it is "to tie a rock to a rock throwing string." That's a sling, a thing for throwing rocks. If you tie a rock to it, it won't fly. That would be foolish. Likewise, assigning honor to a fool would be a foolish thing to do. In the same sense, to hire a fool is something said to be foolish. It is like hiring some stranger off the street and it is compared to an archer shooting out without even paying attention to what he is doing.

17. "Just as a dog returns to what he has spewed up, the fool repeats his own folly," (verse eleven). This proverb is also quoted in the New Testament, (Second Peter 2:22). Its meaning is obvious and needs no special explanation.

18. So, we see how a strong word continues to be given against the fool, but in verse twelve a surprising switcheroo takes place. "Have you seen a person who has gotten the idea he is wise? The fool has more hope than he does," (verse twelve). So far to this point "the fool" has repeatedly been the problem, but what kind of person is worse than all to deal with? - It's somebody who "has gotten the idea that he is wise." It says that the fool, compared to a person like that, has more hope. It looks to me like verse twelve is the main idea in this set of proverbs. You might say that what has been written so far has been preparation leading up to this verse of verse twelve.

19. While reading this sermon to this point, I wonder what everyone has been thinking? When we read this passage of scripture, what kinds of things have been going on? Without realizing it, we have been thinking of "the fool" as something for other people to be concerned with and may have even had somebody else's face come to mind specifically. It might be the home of somebody who always uses irreverent and disrespectful terms towards God. It might be a close friend who comes to mind; or it might be some acquaintance who has no fear of God, doesn't see evil as evil, but repeatedly and calmly does immoral things. While we think like this, we ourselves put ourselves into the position of the wise without even realizing it. However, the Bible says, "The fool has more hope" than we do when we are like that.

20. We recall the words Jesus spoke to the Pharisees, "while you insist that you 'can see' now, you have sin," (John 9:41, Japanese Bible Society Version).

Home | Translations | Both J-E | Chapel | Email