A Difficult Thought

Proverbs 26:10

“The great God that formed all things both rewardeth the fool, and rewardeth transgressors.”
“Like an archer who wounds everyone is one who hires a passing fool or drunkard.” – ESV

This proverb is a challenging one because of how many different ways it could be translated. As a matter of fact, practically every scholarly commentary admits the Hebrew in this proverb is difficult to interpret. That is why I am going to quote several of them before I leave my final thought for you.

Spence-Jones (The Pulpit Commentary)

Few passages have given greater difficulty than this verse; almost every word has been differently explained. The Authorized Version is, The great God that formed all things both rewardeth the fool, and rewardeth transgressors; Revised Version, As an archer (Job 16:13) that woundeth all, so is he that hireth the fool and he that hireth them that pass by. At first sight one would hardly suppose that these could be versions of the same passage. [1]

Garrett (The New American Commentary)

The Hebrew of v. 10 is almost unintelligible and thus subject to numerous interpretations, all of which are hypothetical. As the NIV has it, the verse reaffirms that one should not commit important tasks to fools (as in v. 6). Notwithstanding all the difficulties of the text, that does seem to be the main point.[2]

Friedrich and Delitzsch (Commentary on the Old Testament)

All that we have hitherto read is surpassed in obscurity by this proverb, which is here connected because of the resemblance of ושכר to שכור. We translate it thus, vocalizing differently only one word:

            Much bringeth forth from itself all; But the reward and the hirer of the fool pass away.[3]

Matthew Henry

Matthew Henry

Our translation [KJV] gives this verse a different reading in the text and in the margin; and accordingly it expresses either, 1. The equity of a good God. The Master, or Lord (so Rab signifies), or, as we read it, The great God that formed all things at first, and still governs them in infinite wisdom, renders to every man according to his work. … Or, 2. The iniquity of a bad prince (so the margin reads it): A great man grieves all, and he hires the fool; he hires also the transgressors. When a wicked man gets power in his hand, by himself, and by the fools and knaves whom he employs under him, whom he hires and chooses to make use of, he grieves all who are under him and is vexatious to them. We should therefore pray for kings and all in authority, that, under them, our lives may be quiet and peaceable.[4]

Anthony Baker (Proverbial Thought)

So, here is what I think. Feel free to quote me 200 years from now.

A man is a fool when he employs a fool to complete a task. However, the biggest fool is one who thinks God, the Almighty Archer, will miss the target when He holds the wicked accountable.

We are always under His watchful eye, but the fool is never out of His “sights.”


[1] H. D. M. Spence-Jones, ed., Proverbs, The Pulpit Commentary (London; New York: Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1909), 500.

[2] Duane A. Garrett, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs, vol. 14, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1993), 213.

[3] Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsch, Commentary on the Old Testament, vol. 6 (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1996), 387.

[4] Matthew Henry, Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible: Complete and Unabridged in One Volume (Peabody: Hendrickson, 1994).


Drunk or Stupid?

Proverbs 26:9 

As a thorn goeth up into the hand of a drunkard, so is a parable in the mouths of fools.
A proverb in the mouth of a fool is like a thorny branch brandished by a drunk. (NLT)

It is interesting that Solomon compares drunkards brandishing strange weapons with fools attempting to speak parables of wisdom. The church I belong to has plenty of experience of drunks. In recent years several nearby commercial properties have been converted into pubs or nightclubs, and the area changes at night, particularly on Friday and Saturday. For the last ten years or so we have opened our church foyer from midnight every Saturday until 03:00 hours on Sunday to serve hot and cold (non-alcoholic) drinks to the clubbers and provide a place of safety where they can sit a while, sober up, wait for a taxi, find a listening ear, etc. This ministry is called Nightshift.

The listening ear bit can be painful at times, particularly when attempting to listen to the inebriated. We often get asked questions about God, the church, the Universe, and anything else someone who has had too much to drink decides that they want to discuss. Sometimes our guests try to impose their wisdom on us, the problem being that wisdom is usually absent in the early hours of Sunday morning when they have been drinking for several hours and Nightshift team members are stone cold sober.

Unfortunately a foolish person attempting to dispense words of wisdom sounds no better than a drunk stumbling over his words and drooling down his chin. There is a word of warning here for us all. We may never have experienced burbling like a drunk, but if we speak too soon, too quickly, or without thought, we run the risk of being no better than a drunk, and possibly worse. It wasn’t a proverb of Solomon, but the best advice I ever heard was “to put your brain in gear before putting your mouth into motion.”


Slings and Stones

Proverbs 26:8

“As he that bindeth a stone in a sling, so is he that giveth honour to a fool.”

Sling Shots

I used to own a pretty sweet sling shot. It had a handle shaped like a pistol grip, along with a metal brace that would go over my forearm. Attached to the forks was rubber tubing and a leather pouch. I could put a lead or steal ball in that sling shot and kill an elephant (at least in my imagination). However, the sling shot that I had as a child could not compare to the ones that were used during biblical times.

Home-made sling.

Home-made sling. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The one that David used against Goliath was a serious weapon which required considerable skill to use. Sure, my sling shot could kill small vermin and knock down targets at close range, but the type of slings Solomon was referring to could, and did, kill people. In Judges 20:16 we read how the Benjamites had 700 left-handed slingers who could aim at a hair and not miss. In 2 Kings 2:35 we read how that the Israelites used slings in warfare. As a matter of fact, lead shot used by the Greeks and Romans in warfare could have an effective range of over 200 yards.

Amazingly, even though the sling was in use over 3,000 years ago, it is still being used today as a weapon by survivalists and fighters alike.  It would seem that its simple construction, ease of use, low cost, unlimited availability of projectiles, and deadly potential could keep the sling in use forever. In the hands of a trained slinger, it is practically foolproof…unless you bind the stone.

Bound Stones

As good of a weapon that the sling shot is, it is worthless if the stone or shot never leaves the pouch. Sometimes a stone can fall out of the pouch by accident, but putting another one in only takes a second. But the idea of securing the stone to the sling so that it never leaves is like plugging the end of a rifle.

But this is what Solomon is trying to explain. Honor, prestige, wealth, giftedness, glory: all of these things are wonderful tools which can be used to great effect by the wise man. However, when in the possession of the fool, all of these things, especially honor, are worthless.

Implications

Solomon is speaking to the one who actually gives honor to a fool. The fool doesn’t posses honor on his own, but has it given to him. The warning in this verse is really aimed at the one who needs the stone thrown.

Some people will honor people who don’t deserve it with promotions and bonuses, thinking that those blessings will make the fool more of an asset. The problem is that the fool will not share in the honor given, nor will he use it appropriately. Therefore, instead of being useful, the fool has now become a liability, much like a soldier who refuses to fight.

Beware of political correctness. Beware of honoring for the sake of honoring. The one who truly makes honor worthless is the one who gives it to the fool in the first place.

 


Worthless Legs

Proverbs 26:7

“The legs of the lame are not equal: so is a parable in the mouth of fools.”

This verse and verse 9 are very similar; both talk about worthlessness of wisdom given to fools. In this verse we see a parable compared to a crippled person’s legs. In verse 9 we will see a parable compared to a thorn in a drunk’s hand.

Parable

Before we go any further, let’s make sure we understand what a parable is. One dictionary defines a parable as “an extended metaphor or simile which compares a religious truth with a common experience or circumstance in life.” [1] But if that was too confusing, a parable is “a simple story used to illustrate a moral or spiritual lesson.” [2]

Jesus was famous for using parables to illustrate certain truths to His disciples. For example, you may remember the parables of the mustard seed (Matt. 13:31), the seed and the sower (Mk. 4:3), and the ten talents (Matt. 25). Each one was used to illustrate a point in such a way that the hearer could relate truth to a common experience.

Legs of the Lame

The King James version describes the legs of the crippled person as “not equal.” At first glance it may seem like Solomon is talking about one leg that is shorter than another. However, That “not equal” is another way of saying limp, worthless, or shriveled.

Imagine legs that have no strength, unable to bear the weight of the owner. They are deformed, curled under, twisted, and completely useless. Taking into account the original meaning of the Hebrew term (see Strong’s H1802), they may do nothing more than hang like string.

Parable In the Mouth of a Fool

Now, take the image of crippled legs that you have in your head and imagine them being a parable. How good is a parable that is incapable of illustrating truth? How good is a story that bears no resemblance to common experience? A parable like that can’t even stand on it’s own two feet.

How worthless, then, is the advice of a fool? What good is his counsel? Why should we listen to him?

Keep that in mind the next time you are offered emotional, spiritual, relational, and marital advice from someone who doesn’t even believe there is a God.


[1] David H. Wallace, “Interpretation of Parables,” ed. Ralph G. Turnbull, Baker’s Dictionary of Practical Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1967), 107.

[2] Catherine Soanes and Angus Stevenson, Concise Oxford English Dictionary (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004).


A Fool’s Errand

Proverbs 26:6.

“He that sendeth a message by the hand of a fool cutteth off the feet, and drinketh damage.” (KJV).

Teaching about Fools:

For the past several days on Proverbial Thought, we have been reflecting on Solomon’s wisdom concerning fools:

Click on the links to review, or read them for the first time if you haven’t done so yet! Anyway, Solomon continues his teaching on fools here when he says: “Trusting a fool to convey a message is as foolish as cutting off one’s feet or drinking poison!” (NLT).

Don’t Trust a Fool:

The Bible gives us this sage advice: Don’t trust a fool! I think it’s interesting that we have a figure of speech in the English language called a ‘fool’s errand.’ This simply means a fruitless undertaking, something that is completely absurd, useless or hopeless. In other words, to ask a fool to do something for you is, well, foolish. It’s a stupid as cutting off your own feet – you’re only hurting yourself. When the foolish person doesn’t do what you asked them to do, you will have to either waste time now having to find someone else to do it for you, or you may even end up having to do it yourself.

Trust a Wise or Faithful Person:

If it is foolish to trust a fool to do a job for you, then the flip-side is also true: You are smart if you choose someone who is wise, faithful or trustworthy to do something for you. Jesus Himself said, “Who is a faithful, sensible servant, to whom the master can give the responsibility of managing his household and feeding his family?” (Matthew 24:45, NLT).

Let us be Faithful:

Now some of you may never find yourself in a leadership position, having to hire or choose someone to get a job done. But as Christians, all of us are called to serve the Lord and serve His church. So let us be found faithful even with the smallest tasks the Lord asks of us, and He will reward us. If you have a job to do, do it heartily as unto the Lord, and do it with a spirit of excellence! As we do this, God will be glorified. Amen!


No More the Fool

Proverbs 26:5

Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own conceit.
Be sure to answer the foolish arguments of fools, or they will become wise in their own estimation. (NLT)

Back in 1978 when I was second mate on a 100,000 ton bulk carrier we had a first-trip engineering cadet who quickly gained the nickname ‘village idiot’. The problem was that while everyone on the ship recognized that this lad wasn’t blessed with significant brainpower, he thought he that was. The other problem is that idiots are not easily tolerated on ships.

To be fair, most first trippers begin their careers as idiots. I did. There is so much to learn. The key is being willing to learn. A superiority complex never goes down well on a ship, but a first trip cadet with a superiority complex is quite intolerable. Inevitably life becomes intolerable for the intolerable one as he or she is brought down to size. It would be foolish to allow a foolish seafarer to become wise in his own eyes, but also potentially dangerous given the working environment on board ship.

Solomon was spot on with his advice. It is important to let a fool know that he is a fool. Fail to do so and the fool will believe that he knows better than everyone else. Lack of experience combined with lack of wisdom might then have disastrous effects.

Challenging as it may seem this proverb speaks to everyone. It is important to know and understand our limitations and focus our energies on what we do best. This is particularly important in church where sometimes we place or find the wrong people in ministries where they simply do not belong. The out-of-tune choir member might make an excellent Sunday School teacher, but someone needs to identify this and gently guide the croaky crooner to the place where God can really use him. And that does call for wisdom.


Conversational Traps

Proverbs 26:4

“Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest thou also be like unto him.”

To some it seems like a contradiction in Scripture. Here Solomon is telling us to not answer a fool, but in the very next verse he seems to say the opposite. The Apostle Peter even tells us (1 Peter 3:15) to “be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you.” Why, then, should we “answer not?”

Flawed and Senseless

Have you ever tried debate a teenager (or self-assured college-age daughter)? Trying to convince them of truth is like a genuine exercise in futility. When they are convinced they know what is right, there is no arguing, even when they realize their argument is flawed.

Some people will argue over things that make no sense at all, thereby making it impossible to win, no matter what side one’s on. For example, there was lady who called into a radio talk show complaining about the placement of deer crossing signs (signs that warn motorists that deer cross in that area). Let me give you a paraphrased version of the conversation…

deer crossingLady:  I’ve been trying to talk to somebody about this, but no one listen to me.

Radio: Really? What is the problem?

Lady: Well, there have been a lot of people hitting deer on the highway, including me. I just feel they should move these signs to places where there are less cars and slower speeds…I mean, we shouldn’t encourage deer to cross the interstate…that’s too dangerous.

Radio: Are saying these signs are instructing the deer where to cross?

Lady: Yes, and all it would take is moving the crossings to a safer place, like a school zone, where people would have time to see the deer coming and not hit them.

The problem with answering  a fool is that, when we do, we give the fool credence. Answering a fool in his “folly” tends to legitimize the fool’s efforts and encourages him to continue.

“Like unto him”

As a blogger, I receive comments from people all over the world, and believe me, the world is full of fools. Fortunately, I have the option approve or deny the comments people leave. Some of those who visit my blogs challenge me with questions that are obviously meant to entrap, inflame, and waste time. Answering does nothing but frustrate me and make the fool look important, so now I avoid them.

Interestingly, a recent study has shown that “anger is the internet’s most powerful emotion.” Therefore, it is very likely that we will encounter angry, irate, and irrational rants in some future cyber-conversation. The true mark of wisdom is knowing when to avoid getting into the fray, and when to calmly answer (26:5).

Unfortunately, too many of us in this day and age are falling for the fool’s folly and becoming “like unto him.”  Beware of conversational traps.