Wisdom and folly
Proverbs 26 from the daily reading in the One Year Bible
26 Like snow in summer and like rain in harvest,
So honor is not fitting for a fool.
2 Like a sparrow in its flitting, like a swallow in its flying,
So a curse without cause does not alight.
3 A whip is for the horse, a bridle for the donkey,
And a rod for the back of fools.
4 Do not answer a fool according to his folly,
Or you will also be like him.
5 Answer a fool as his folly deserves,
That he not be wise in his own eyes.
6 He cuts off his own feet and drinks violence
Who sends a message by the hand of a fool.
7 Like the legs which are useless to the lame,
So is a proverb in the mouth of fools.
8 Like one who binds a stone in a sling,
So is he who gives honor to a fool.
9 Like a thorn which falls into the hand of a drunkard,
So is a proverb in the mouth of fools.
10 Like an archer who wounds everyone,
So is he who hires a fool or who hires those who pass by.
11 Like a dog that returns to its vomit
Is a fool who repeats his folly.
12 Do you see a man wise in his own eyes?
There is more hope for a fool than for him.
13 The sluggard says, “There is a lion in the road!
A lion is in the open square!”
14 As the door turns on its hinges,
So does the sluggard on his bed.
15 The sluggard buries his hand in the dish;
He is weary of bringing it to his mouth again.
16 The sluggard is wiser in his own eyes
Than seven men who can give a discreet answer.
17 Like one who takes a dog by the ears
Is he who passes by and meddles with strife not belonging to him.
18 Like a madman who throws
Firebrands, arrows and death,
19 So is the man who deceives his neighbor,
And says, “Was I not joking?”
20 For lack of wood the fire goes out,
And where there is no whisperer, contention quiets down.
21 Like charcoal to hot embers and wood to fire,
So is a contentious man to kindle strife.
22 The words of a whisperer are like dainty morsels,
And they go down into the innermost parts of the body.
Many people will scoff at and disregard much of what the Bible says. It is however quite difficult to argue against the simple wisdom of Proverbs. In verses 4 and 5 of Proverbs 26 it says: Do not answer a fool according to his folly, Or you will also be like him. Answer a fool as his folly deserves, That he not be wise in his own eyes. We would avoid a lot of contention and strife if we would learn to follow this advice. When you follow much of the debate on social media, it is centered around answering the folly of others. Rarely will anyone convince anyone of anything. Entering the debate often, as the writer of Proverbs says, simply makes us like them. To answer foolishness as it deserves is often best done in silence. When we answer a fools commentary, we give them recognition and power. In Ephesians 5:11-13 Paul says: Do not participate in the unfruitful deeds of darkness, but instead even expose them; for it is disgraceful even to speak of the things which are done by them in secret. But all things become visible when they are exposed by the light, for everything that becomes visible is light. Very often by continuing the debate we perpetuate the very foolish things which are being said. Another Proverb, 18:21 says: The tongue can bring death or life; those who love to talk will reap the consequences. Very often, by speaking, even negatively, about things we disagree with, we give them life. Instead we should speak positively, bringing life and light to the good things which we value.
Verses 11 and 12 say: Like a dog that returns to its vomit Is a fool who repeats his folly. Do you see a man wise in his own eyes? There is more hope for a fool than for him. As we go through this life and become older, it is good if we truly become wiser, but not wiser in our own eyes. A person who is truly wise remains teachable, willing to learn from others. There is a saying which says experience is the best teacher and surely there is some truth to the idea that we learn from both our successes and our mistakes. At least we should learn from our mistakes. The proverb makes a fairly uncomplimentary comparison of a person who continues to repeat the same mistake over and over. There is a wisdom which can be gained that is even greater than personal experience. It is the wisdom of learning from the experience of others. The Bible is filled with examples of success and failure. We are wise if we learn from the experiences and accounts of those who have gone before us. In the same way we can gain much wisdom from those around us, in our families, our neighborhoods, our workplaces and our churches, from those who have experienced many things. We can read a book to learn what one person has learned about something and it can be good for gaining wisdom. But if we will take the time to listen to the experiences of others, who have done many things, we stand to gain much wisdom. There is a lot of true wisdom which can be gained on a porch or at a kitchen table, over a cup of coffee or tea. We would benefit greatly if more people would turn off the news and listen more to the wisdom of the olds.
The text today ends saying: Like one who takes a dog by the ears Is he who passes by and meddles with strife not belonging to him. Like a madman who throws Firebrands, arrows and death, So is the man who deceives his neighbor, And says, “Was I not joking?” For lack of wood the fire goes out, And where there is no whisperer, contention quiets down. Like charcoal to hot embers and wood to fire, So is a contentious man to kindle strife. The words of a whisperer are like dainty morsels, And they go down into the innermost parts of the body. The first line and the last are related. Gossip is one of the easiest ways that we can meddle with strife that does not belong to us. We often try to wrap it in a more desirable package, like sharing a concern or even a prayer request for someone, but in the end very often our true motive is to share a dainty morsel about the trouble or strife someone else is going through. If we are really concerned for that person, we should share that concern with them. If we really think that person needs prayer, we should talk about their problem on our knees. The only meddling we should do in someone else’s strife should be intercession on their behalf. The proverb says: Like a madman who throws Firebrands, arrows and death, So is the man who deceives his neighbor, And says, “Was I not joking?” I’ve always tried to teach my children that we don’t joke about the things which are serious. We don’t use the same words in jest that we would use to attack. Again, life and death is in the power of the tongue. Whether it is said lightly or seriously a lie is a lie. If we continue to speak lies we become a liar, even if we meant it as a joke.
Finally the writer says: For lack of wood the fire goes out, And where there is no whisperer, contention quiets down. Like charcoal to hot embers and wood to fire, So is a contentious man to kindle strife. What is true in the positive is also true in the negative and vice versa. We should fuel the fire of what is good and what is right. Philippians 4:8 says: Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things. We should not even whisper about what is evil. Romans 12:18 says: If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. Hebrews 12:14 says: Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord. We should be at peace and not in contention with people. Our words and our lives should be focused on what is good, what is right, that which brings life, not that which brings strife.
Heavenly Father, Lord Jesus Christ; precious Holy Spirit thank You for Your word, the greatest treasure of wisdom known to man. Thank You for the cross which the world may view as foolishness, but to me is the greatest treasure of all. May my life and my words be a reflection and a vessel of Your wisdom and love. Amen.