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Wisdom is so vital to life. History is riddled with examples of people who have wasted their lives and lived foolishly. As I grow older, the more I realize the importance of wisdom and avoiding the way of folly. As I contemplated this, I remembered that the Bible has a lot to say about fools, so I thought it would be interesting to compile a sort of systematic theology of foolishness and see what the picture God’s Word paints of foolishness is and how we might avoid it.
Obviously, this will not be an exhaustive treatment, there’s so much that the Bible has to say on this topic and I could have kept going. But I’ve boiled it down to my top 10 Biblical marks of a fool.
1. A Fool Denies God in Faith or Life
The most important defining factor of a fool biblically is that he/she is ungodly. He does not believe in or submit to the Lord of glory, the Creator of this world and Governor of all reality, and as a result his whole life is set in rebellion against God’s order and wisdom. This is what makes him a fool.
It is important to note that when the Bible calls someone a fool, it is not just engaged in name-calling and ad hominem attacks. Rather, biblically speaking, the fool is someone who disregards God’s wisdom and ways to his own shame and demise. This is why Proverbs 1:7 says that,
“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.”
You can’t even begin to have true knowledge of the ultimate reality of the world without starting with a right fear of the God who created it. This does not mean that unbelievers cannot arrive at some true information – such as atheistic scientists who can rightly observe and describe natural phenomena. However, they can never come to true knowledge of the telos or the purpose behind creation. They get conclusions wrong – such as evolution – because they have the wrong starting point and erroneous presuppositions which affect how they interpret the raw data. A fool, biblically speaking, despises wisdom and instruction – true wisdom and instruction which comes from God. This is why Psalms 14 and 53 say that it is the fool who says in his heart, “there is no God.”
Only a fool would deny what all of creation around him is screaming at him – that there is a Creator and that we are accountable to him. This revelation in nature is undeniable and clear (Rom. 1:19-20), such as the irreducible complexity of organic life or the fine-tuning of the universe and physical constants, but rebellious sinners suppress this truth because of their unrighteousness and not wanting to be accountable to God. Their problem is not primarily an intellectual one but a moral one. Thus, they invent all sorts of ridiculous theories of something as massive as the universe springing up out of nothing, of consciousness, of ways to explain away the fine-tuning of the universe and its constants as a result of an astronomical cosmic lottery, and the irreducible complexity of the design of life all coming out of random chance and accident. These theories require far more faith (or rather foolishness) to believe. Thus, as Romans 1:22-23 says,
“Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.”
The unbelieving world, in claiming to be wise and so progressive, actually become fools because they exchange the incomparable glory of the God who is for the things He has created to reflect His glory. There is a downward spiral that happens in this rebellion. This moral rebellion eventually leads to spiritual corruption and intellectual folly. As God gives them over to their depravity, even their thinking becomes futile (Rom. 1:21), their evil passions and lusts overtake them and they can no longer distinguish good from evil nor discern the natural use and purpose they were created for leading to perversion (v. 24-27). As this perpetuates over time, the depravity and incoherence of their thinking becomes more and more apparent and vile. For all our modern secular culture’s claims to be “progressive” they are actually regressive, not even knowing what a man or woman is and giving approval to all sorts of perversion and those who practice unrighteousness (v.32).
The irony is that God’s ways seem like foolishness to those who hate Him and are caught up in the ways of this world.
Let no one deceive himself. If anyone among you thinks that he is wise in this age, let him become a fool that he may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is folly with God. For it is written, “He catches the wise in their craftiness,” (1 Cor. 3:18-19)
Because of the noetic effects of sin upon our mind and reasoning, the unbelieving world scoffs at God’s righteous commands and Word. They think it to be folly, not because it actually is but rather because their thinking has become futile. Sin corrupts us not only morally but also psychologically and intellectually. They see the way of salvation through the Cross as ridiculous, even though their own efforts at self-justification perpetually fall flat.
This foolish love of sin leads to pain and death,
For the fool speaks folly, and his heart is busy with iniquity, to practice ungodliness, to utter error concerning the Lord, to leave the craving of the hungry unsatisfied, and to deprive the thirsty of drink. (Isa. 32:6)
This describes so much of our secular culture today – speaking foolish things, busy with iniquity, practicing ungodliness, blaspheming the Lord, and depriving the helpless of what they need. Yet the one thing which could set them right, fools despise!
Fools mock at the guilt offering, but the upright enjoy acceptance. (Prov. 14:9)
The Cross is the ultimate guilt offering God has provided to deal with our sin, yet fools mock it. This is the depth of folly! Yet, lest we grow puffed up and proud, let us remember that none of us are excused from this. As Titus 3 says,
For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. (Titus 3:3)
It was not our own works but only the goodness and lovingkindness of God who had grace on us that saved us from the same fate and made us heirs of eternal life (Titus 3:4-7). Every one of us who are saved by faith in Christ must acknowledge that were it not for the grace of God, we would likewise be lost fools. So, don’t get me wrong. This is not an “I’m better than you” diatribe. I look back on much of my life before Christ grabbed a hold of me and facepalm at my own foolishness. So, were it not for the grace of God, so go I!
However, even for Christians, there is still the danger of acting like a fool even if we believe in God. James 2 says,
You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe – and shudder! Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless? (James 2:19-23)
There is a type of faith that is still foolish. It is the type of faith that is worth little more than the level of belief demons have. To simply acknowledge that God exists is not enough. Even demons have better “faith” than that because they also shudder. Yet there are some Christians so brazen as to not walk in the fear of the Lord – to not work out their faith through their lives. They sin in private without the fear of God in their hearts – this is foolishness as they have not even reached the beginning of knowledge. Their “faith” is apart from works – it is a dead faith because it is not lived out. They store up for themselves a lavish lifestyle of comfort and ease, yet give little or nothing to helping those around them. Their co-workers and colleagues just think they’re another nice guy who doesn’t bring their religion into things. Or worse yet, they don’t even know they are a Christian or that there is anything distinct that sets them apart. This person, the apostle James says, is a fool because faith apart from works is useless.
Are you a foolish Christian? One whose faith exists only between your ears and cannot be seen externalized in your life? Could someone spot you as a Christian by your life and lifestyle? If Christianity were criminalized, would there be enough evidence to easily convict you? Is there no doubt in the minds of the unbelievers in your life that you are a Christian or are you hiding your faith for the sake of not being offensive, or timid, or lazy? Then James calls you a “foolish person.”
In fact, Jesus has something to say about this type of person in Luke 12:
And he told them a parable, saying, “The land of a rich man produced plentifully, and he thought to himself, ‘What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?’ And he said, ‘I will do this: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’ But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ (Luke 12:16-20)
This man was a fool because he was so focused on building for himself an easy life, trusting in his own wealth and looking forward to luxurious living as the source of his ultimate satisfaction that he neglected preparing himself to give an account to God. He stored up treasures on earth that would perish with him. Indeed, what does it profit a man to gain the whole world but forfeit his own soul (Mark 8:36)? That is the definition of folly. Yet many self-professing Christians today live like this.
2. A Fool Cannot Control their Tongue
“A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion.” (Prov. 18:2)
A fool does not take time to actually understand a matter. Instead they are caught up in their own uninformed opinions, or perhaps led along by the latest trending outrage on mainstream media, mindlessly posting black squares on social media. Now, this is not to say that everyone who posted a black square back in 2020 is a fool. But, many people did so unthinkingly without researching what exactly they were supporting and what the organization BLM stood for. They acted hastily. Biblically, the fool does not actually care to understand the reality and nuances of a matter, but just wants to run their mouth.
The wise lay up knowledge, but the mouth of a fool brings ruin near. (Prov. 10:14)
This is one of the most obvious markers of a foolish person. They lack discernment yet think themselves clever. The Bible repeatedly describes the fool as one who has no control over their tongue and who speaks folly.
The tongue of the wise commends knowledge, but the mouths of fools pour out folly. (Prov. 15:2)
Do you see a man who is hasty in his words? There is more hope for a fool than for him. (Prov. 29:20)
Being hasty with our words is foolish. Fools are not quick to listen and slow to speak. Therefore, their tongue brings them and those around them to ruin.
The wise of heart will receive commandments, but a babbling fool will come to ruin. (Prov. 10:8)
The words of a wise man’s mouth win him favor, but the lips of a fool consume him. The beginning of the words of his mouth is foolishness, and the end of his talk is evil madness. A fool multiplies words, though no man knows what is to be, and who can tell him what will be after him? (Eccl. 10:12-14)
We’ve seen lots of examples of this over the past 2 years, even from many Christians and Evangelical leaders who bought everything uncritically that mainstream media and politicians sold them. Indeed,
A fool’s mouth is his ruin, and his lips are a snare to his soul. (Prov. 18:7)
The irony is that they view themselves as victims even when a fool’s careless words instigate strife. They have no self-control and are brazen to flap their mouths off. We see this happen often online on Facebook comment wars and Reddit debate threads that generate a whole lot of heat and little light. Neither party is truly seeking understanding. Instead, they’re just looking for a fight.
A fool’s lips walk into a fight, and his mouth invites a beating. (Prov. 18:6)
Now, this is not to say that there is no point in engaging in meaningful dialogue and even debate. In fact, I’ve had several of those interactions both in real life and online. However, one must be able to discern when it’s productive and when it’s just foolish squabbling. Some people are not looking for wisdom, they’re looking for a fight. And a wise person will not even entertain a fool because it is pointless.
If a wise man has an argument with a fool, the fool only rages and laughs, and there is no quiet. (Prov. 29:9)
And it is likely that a fool will just take your words and slander you with them. For the fool, Scripture says that he or she should simply shut up.
Even a fool who keeps silent is considered wise; when he closes his lips, he is deemed intelligent. (Prov. 17:28)
However, they are often too foolish to know this, and so they will continue to run their mouths or leave comments – not knowing when to call it quits. So, instead of getting entangled with foolish arguments, the wise person should continue to devote themselves to spreading true knowledge with those who will actually listen.
The lips of the wise spread knowledge; not so the hearts of fools. (Prov. 15:7)
What are your lips spreading? If you were to take an account of what you speak, what would it say about you? Remember that Jesus said that the mouth speaks out of the abundance of what is in the heart. So guard your heart, and be conscious of your words.
3. A fool is driven by their passions
“A fool gives full vent to his spirit, but a wise man quietly holds it back.” (Prov. 29:11)
To give full vent to one’s spirit is to be carried away by the heat of the moment. It is to lack restraint of one’s emotions and passions. Such a person has no self-mastery, they are instead mastered, or rather, enslaved to their passions and emotions. We’ve all known of such people – they are unstable, unpredictable, uncontrollable. They have a short fuse that’s easily set off. They’re the “bad gyals” who have a “don’t dare mess with me” attitude and are ready to bite your head off at the slightest challenge. It’s the guy who is enraged by someone daring to disagree with his position and feeling compelled to let the whole world know it.
Be not quick in your spirit to become angry, for anger lodges in the bosom of fools. (Eccl. 7:9)
The vexation of a fool is known at once, but the prudent ignores an insult. (Prov. 12:16)
It is an honor for a man to keep aloof from strife, but every fool will be quarreling. (Prov. 20:3)
It is the mark of maturity and prudence to overlook minor offenses. If people are simply trying to wind you up with words, then why give them the satisfaction? It is a mark of insecurity if you are compelled to defend yourself, even against ridiculous and baseless insults. However, this does not mean that you’re a punching bag. Simply that you have enough fortitude and confidence to let idle words slide off like water off a duck’s back. Such reserve is a mark of self-control.
Foolishness is personified in Lady Folly of Proverbs,
The woman Folly is loud; she is seductive and knows nothing. She sits at the door of her house; she takes a seat on the highest places of the town, calling to those who pass by, who are going straight on their way, “Whoever is simple, let him turn in here!” And to him who lacks sense she says, “Stolen water is sweet, and bread eaten in secret is pleasant.” (Prov. 9:13-17)
Note that Lady Folly’s enticement is an appeal to follow one’s passions. And isn’t this the same siren song that our secular culture sings for us today? “Just follow your passions.” “Follow your heart.” “If it feels right, do it.” It tantalizes us with the forbidden and taboo. These are the mantras of so many “influencers” and “inspirational” and “motivational” social media posts. Yet this is the path to destruction. Your emotions aren’t meant to be followed, they’re meant to be led.
How about you? Are you led by your passions and emotions? Do your emotions often get the better of you? Are people always walking around on eggshells around you for fear of setting you off? Are people afraid to speak frankly with you because of your temper or how easily offended you are?
4. A Fool is Uncorrectable
I wasn’t sure if uncorrectable was a word, so I Googled it, not wanting to be uncorrectable myself! Don’t worry, it is a word apparently. Fools are uncorrectable.
Do you see a man who is wise in his own eyes? There is more hope for a fool than for him. (Prov. 26:12)
The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man listens to advice. (Prov. 12:15)
The root of this foolish trait is pride. The fool is too proud to admit that he is wrong or that he needs any advice. He knows it all. He’s got it all figured out. Never mind the plethora of examples of ruin and failed projects left in his wake. Never mind the fact that he’s not read a single book or looked at a counter argument to his position. This person is what we call “wrong and strong” in Trini.
He who is often reproved, yet stiffens his neck, will suddenly be broken beyond healing. (Prov. 29:1)
If you find that people are often trying to correct you, especially those who are older or more mature or more knowledgeable than you, then maybe you should stop and consider what they’re saying before you’re broken beyond healing. If multiple people with far more experience and expertise than you are challenging your view point, then it may be profitable to reassess your conclusions.
Whoever trusts in his own mind is a fool, but he who walks in wisdom will be delivered. (Prov. 28:26)
This is another trait we’ve seen on display en-masse these past 2 years with the COVID narrative falling apart more than leftist celebrities finding out that Elon Musk wants to charge $8 a month for Twitter is the unwillingness to humbly admit they might have been wrong to lock up grandma to die alone, double mask everyone, triple down on lockdowns and quadruple mandate boosters. Instead, they keep doubling down while asking for “amnesty” for their “oopsies”. The fool trusts their own mind and is uncorrectable.
Much of this starts in childhood, where the groundwork for our character is being built. This is why parental discipline is such a major theme in the book of Proverbs.
The rod and reproof give wisdom, but a child left to himself brings shame to his mother. (Prov. 29:15)
This is very different from our secular culture’s approach to education today which thinks that children have all that they need inside them, and they just need to search within themselves. The Bible’s view is very different. It says that folly is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of correction will drive it far from him. (Prov. 22:15) Parents who think it too harsh to discipline their children in their childhood will regret it in the future. Parents must discipline their children if they don’t want them to become fools in adulthood.
Discipline your son, and he will give you rest; he will give delight to your heart. (Prov. 29:17)
However, there is also responsibility on the part of the child to receive discipline and instruction.
A fool despises his father’s instruction, but whoever heeds reproof is prudent. (Prov. 15:5)
Ultimately though, the fool will not receive instruction or discipline, and it is often dangerous to try to correct them.
Whoever corrects a scoffer gets himself abuse, and he who reproves a wicked man incurs injury. Do not reprove a scoffer, or he will hate you; reprove a wise man, and he will love you. (Prov. 9:7-8)
In fact, scripture tells us to leave a fool alone. It’s a waste of time to try to convince them otherwise and there’s a point at which you just have to let them be and stop throwing pearls to swine.
Leave the presence of a fool, for there you do not meet words of knowledge. The wisdom of the prudent is to discern his way, but the folly of fools is deceiving. (Prov. 14:7-8)
Do not speak in the hearing of a fool, for he will despise the good sense of your words. (Prov. 23:9)
We cannot change the fool’s heart. That’s the Lord’s work, and after it’s been clearly discerned that you’re dealing with a fool, we should leave it to the Lord. For those listening, the ultimate rebuke we need to be open to receive are the rebukes and instructions we get from God’s Word. So, search it out. Look for wisdom, instruction and rebuke from the Word and from people who will show you wisdom from the Word. Jesus himself said,
And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. (Matt. 7:26)
Let’s not build on sand. There’s a certain disgust about an uncorrectable person. They keep going back to the same vile sins and vices because they will not receive correction.
Like a dog that returns to his vomit is a fool who repeats his folly. (Prov. 26:11)
How do you receive correction and rebuke? Do you know? If not – is that because you’ve never received any? Have you considered why that is so? Is it because of neglect from those around you or because you are not correctable, so people don’t try? Do you invite it? Do you have faithful friends who are willing to wound you with loving rebuke?
5. A Fool is Ignorant and Lacking Sense
The simple believes everything, but the prudent gives thought to his steps. (Prov. 14:15)
There is wisdom to thinking critically and not being gullible. We cannot believe everything that is presented to us – especially in our secular age in which many things are founded on folly. Our culture is constantly bombarding us with folly – like there are more than 2 genders, or that men and women are interchangeable, or that pineapple doesn’t go on pizza, or that somehow obeying God’s command to multiply and fill the earth with more image bearers to take dominion and subdue the earth will end in destruction. Do we really think that God would command what would destroy the earth?
In everything the prudent acts with knowledge, but a fool flaunts his folly. (Prov. 13:16)
This is what it means to act with knowledge. We cannot believe everything at face value but should give thought to it and look at counter-arguments. It is folly to act on erroneous information thinking you’re doing something good. Yet this is what many extreme climate-activists are doing today. Just the other day, there were viral videos of anti-capitalist climate-activists gluing themselves to a museum and pouring soup on priceless paintings. I guess they didn’t realize that the glue, the soup, and even the phones they were using to record and post their nonsense all came from innovation in a capitalist system and are made out of natural resources. So, they flaunted their folly.
Even when the fool walks on the road, he lacks sense, and he says to everyone that he is a fool. (Eccl. 10:3)
There is another type of folly that the ignorant display. It is the type that we see on shows like Jackass and Instagram reels of people just looking for attention by doing stupid stuff.
Doing wrong is like a joke to a fool, but wisdom is pleasure to a man of understanding. (Prov. 10:23)
Folly is a joy to him who lacks sense, but a man of understanding walks straight ahead. (Prov. 15:21)
Yet for those who lack sense and scoff at God’s Word, even their pursuit of wisdom will be in vain.
A scoffer seeks wisdom in vain, but knowledge is easy for a man of understanding. (Prov. 14:6)
So, are you a critical thinker or do you believe what the TV and mainstream media present to you at face value? Are you open to considering counter-arguments and hearing out the best arguments from the other side? Or do you settle for battling straw men?
Scripture pleads with such people.
“How long, O simple ones, will you love being simple? How long will scoffers delight in their scoffing and fools hate knowledge? (Prov. 1:22)
6. A Fool is Unfocused and Without Purpose
Many people may commonly call this attribute laziness, because in many instances that is exactly what it boils down to.
The fool folds his hands and eats his own flesh. (Eccl. 4:5)
The fool does not want to work hard, and thus devours even his own body with his laziness. This is why the apostle Paul said that “If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat.” (2 Thess. 3:10) This is God’s design for the fool to reap what he sows. Yet in the modern West, our welfare states often perpetuate exactly this type of laziness through government handouts. Sinful people learn how to work the system and live off welfare without having to do any honest work and never feeling the burden of a grumbling stomach to motivate them to do so.
Now, this is not to say that we should not feed the hungry. It is simply to say that this is not the role that the government has been given by God in His Word. The ministry of compassion is given to the Church and Christians, and when the government does it instead, it becomes impersonal, coerced and ineffective at restoring people to wholeness – building greater dependency on the State. But when it is done by Christians and Churches, it can be personal, in the context of relationship and proper follow-up and council to get someone up on their own feet.
Back to our point, this type of person in Scripture is also known as the sluggard.
“The sluggard says, “There is a lion in the road! nThere is a lion in the streets!” nAs a door turns on its hinges, nso does a sluggard on his bed. nThe sluggard buries his hand in the dish; nit wears him out to bring it back to his mouth. nThe sluggard is wiser in his own eyes nthan seven men who can answer sensibly.”n(Proverbs 26:13-16)
This fool makes up ridiculous excuses as to why he can’t or won’t do things. He exaggerates the dangers, saying there is a lion, to make an excuse for his laziness. He likes his sleep and slumber, too lazy to even feed himself. Yet even with all of this, he somehow still thinks he knows better than everyone else! The end of this fool is ruin:
I passed by the field of a sluggard, nby the vineyard of a man lacking sense, nand behold, it was all overgrown with thorns; nthe ground was covered with nettles, nand its stone wall was broken down. nThen I saw and considered it; nI looked and received instruction. nA little sleep, a little slumber, na little folding of the hands to rest, nand poverty will come upon you like a robber, nand want like an armed man.n(Proverbs 24:30–34)
Because he will not apply himself to hard work, all his properties come to ruin and he ends up suffering lack. This is true not just in the material world, where a lack of a good work ethic will often lead to financial ruin. This is also true in the spiritual sense, where a lack of a good spiritually disciplined life will lead to ruin as well. Without desire to apply oneself to tend the garden of your heart, sin will overgrow it like weeds. Without a willingness to do the hard work of studying to show oneself an approved workman rightly handling God’s Word, the lack of a Biblical worldview will leave you open to ideological assault from all sides.
The discerning sets his face toward wisdom, but the eyes of a fool are on the ends of the earth. (Prov. 17:24)
This is so because of the lack of focus of the fool. He has no purpose in life. So, his eyes are everywhere except where it should be. Scrolling endlessly through mindless memes, binge-watching hours of Netflix series, wanderlusting over travel bloggers – indeed his eyes are on the ends of the earth instead of on getting wisdom because he has no interest in gaining it.
A wise man’s heart inclines him to the right, but a fool’s heart to the left. (Eccl. 10:2)
Jesus had a parable about such people:
“Then the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. For when the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them, but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. As the bridegroom was delayed, they all became drowsy and slept. … (Matt. 25:1-13)
What happens in the end is that the foolish virgins realize it’s too late to be scrambling to prepare their lamps. How many today will be caught unprepared like this?
Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. (Eph. 5:15-16)
Indeed we should all consider the times we live in and walk wisely. You walk differently when you know you’re on a battlefield as opposed to relaxing on your couch. We should pray with Moses,
“So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.” (Proverbs 90:12)
7. A Fool is Reckless and Self-Destructive
“Only fools rush in” is the popular catch-phrase. This much is true.
One who is wise is cautious and turns away from evil, but a fool is reckless and careless. (Prov. 14:16)
The fool is careless about his actions, particularly towards evil. He may play with fire, see how close he can get without getting burnt – thinking he’s tempting fate but really he’s testing the kindness of the Lord. This is often seen in those who ask the question “how far is too far?” when it comes to sexual boundaries. Their interest is not to turn away from evil. They are being reckless and careless.
Fools also get caught up in other people’s business and conflicts.
“Whoever meddles in a quarrel not his own is like one who takes a passing dog by the ears.” (Proverbs 26:17)
The fool is up-to-date on the latest gossip and Twitter controversy about conflicts between people they may not even know. As we say in Trinidad, they’re always “mining other people’s business” and digging for bachannal. A fool jumps into a quarrel they have no part in nor know the full details of and as a result may end up getting bit. This is the result of their recklessness to their own destruction. His folly consumes anything of worth in his life.
Precious treasure and oil are in a wise man’s dwelling, but a foolish man devours it. (Prov. 21:20)
However, these traits are not just for men. Women can be foolish too! The Proverbs are an equal-opportunity offender dealing humble pie.
The wisest of women builds her house, but folly with her own hands tears it down. (Prov. 14:1)
A foolish woman will tear down her own household through her folly. Character assassinating her husband through disrespectful quips, moving her children further away with guilt trips, her loud, boisterous attitude channels the feminist spirit to unleash ire against any who would dare suggest she is anything besides an Instagram perfect specimen of femininity.
8. A Fool is a Shame to Parents
A foolish son is ruin to his father, and a wife’s quarreling is a continual dripping of rain. (Prov. 19:13)
Speaking of foolish women, Proverbs has a lot to say about the boisterous and nagging wife. It’s significant that this topic comes up several times and in such stark terms. Proverbs says that it’s better to go live on the corner of your rooftop or in a desert than to live with her (Prov. 21:9 & 19). A foolish wife is one who brings rottenness to her husbands bones (Prov. 12:4). But that’s a topic for another episode perhaps. For our topic here, a foolish child brings ruin to his father – as he is a reflection of his father.
He who sires a fool gets himself sorrow, and the father of a fool has no joy. (Prov. 17:21)
It is not just the father who is afflicted with a foolish child.
A wise son makes a glad father, but a foolish man despises his mother. (Prov. 15:20)
The proverbs of Solomon. A wise son makes a glad father, but a foolish son is a sorrow to his mother. (Prov. 10:1)
A foolish son is a grief to his father and bitterness to her who bore him. (Prov. 17:25)
Fools bring shame to their parents because ultimately they don’t obey the fifth commandment to honour their father and mother (Ex. 20:12). The apostle Paul makes the point that this is the first commandment with a promise – that it will go well with you and you may live long in the land. Many foolish children reap the consequences of not honouring their parents. Notice also that this command has no exception clauses. It does not say, “honour your parents if they are perfect or if they are Christians, etc”. It is just a straightforward command which we are to obey that comes with a definite promise from God.
We should take that to heart and consider – how are you honouring your parents now?
9. You can’t deal with a fool
Because of their stubbornness and willful ignorance, it tends to be a waste of time and cortisol stress hormones to try to deal with a true fool. In fact, Proverbs says that you’d have more luck dealing with an angry mother Grizzly than with a fool.
Let a man meet a she-bear robbed of her cubs rather than a fool in his folly. (Prov. 17:12)
So, what are we to do with fools who prove themselves to be genuine fools – not just someone who makes a foolish choice here and there? Proverbs is pretty clear.
Leave the presence of a fool, for there you do not meet words of knowledge. (Prov. 14:7)
Whoever walks with the wise becomes wise, but the companion of fools will suffer harm. (Prov. 13:20)
Now, this is not to say that you immediately cut off people who make a silly decision, or believe something in error. The fool in Proverbs is someone who has made a lifestyle of these character traits – it defines them. They are not foolish simply because of lack of knowledge. They are willfully ignorant because of their pride. At some point, once it has been established that this is the type of person you’re dealing with, Proverbs says to leave them alone.
Whoever sends a message by the hand of a fooln cuts off his own feet and drinks violence.nLike a lame man’s legs, which hang useless,n is a proverb in the mouth of fools.nLike one who binds the stone in the slingn is one who gives honor to a fool.nLike a thorn that goes up into the hand of a drunkardn is a proverb in the mouth of fools.nLike an archer who wounds everyonen is one who hires a passing fool or drunkard.n(Prov. 26:6-10)
Talk about no chill, right? If Proverbs had a Twitter account, #savage would be trending… and Elon would be charging it $8/month.
But what about a persistent fool? What about if you try to leave him but he pursues quarreling and trying to make his nonsense known? Well, Proverbs has wisdom for this too.
Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest you be like him yourself. nAnswer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own eyes. (Prov. 26:4-5)
Well, which is it? Do I answer the fool or not? On the surface this can seem like a contradiction, however, it is not. Firstly, we’re not to answer a fool “according to his folly” – meaning, don’t take on his presuppositions or worldview. As the old saying goes, don’t argue about nonsense with an idiot because he’ll drag you to his level and then beat you with experience. That’s how you end up being like him yourself. Secondly, we’re instead to answer the fool according to his folly in the sense of taking on his position for argument’s sake in order to show its inconsistency. In logic this is called a reductio ad absurdum which is Latin for “reduction to absurdity”. Because of his faulty worldview and presuppositions, you can hypothetically take his position and show how if its taken to its logical endpoint, it ends in absurdity. According to the verse, this is so that the fool would not think himself wise, but I think this is also for the benefit of those looking on. There have been times where I may decide to respond to a public display of foolishness on one of my posts in order to illustrate this. The goal is not just to shame the fool (although Proverbs does say that a fool is deserving of shame – unlike our modern culture that thinks all shame is bad, Biblically, there is a right place for shame. We should feel shame for what God calls shameful things), but also to instruct others.
But is there any hope for a fool in debate or conversation? Proverbs would seem to not put much faith in that…
A whip for the horse, a bridle for the donkey, and a rod for the back of fools. (Prov. 26:3)
On the lips of him who has understanding, wisdom is found, but a rod is for the back of him who lacks sense. (Prov. 10:13)
The fool invites a beating with his folly already, but Proverbs also says that perhaps this is exactly what he needs to literally knock some sense into him. Now, understand the language properly though. This is not an incitement to violence by the Bible. The “rod” is an instrument of physical discipline, not a weapon of violence. As has been covered earlier, because many fools were withheld discipline as children, they still require it as adults. But even this may not rescue him.
Crush a fool in a mortar with a pestle along with crushed grain, yet his folly will not depart from him. (Prov. 27:22)
10. A Fool’s End
It’s at this point that I’d insert Mr. T saying “I pity the fool.” But I think I’ll let Scripture have the last word on fools here.
The wise will inherit honor, but fools get disgrace. (Prov. 3:35)
Sometimes in our fallen world, it doesn’t seem like this happens consistently though. We so many foolish people apparently being honoured in our world. Attention-craving celebrities, corrupt politicians, people in our own circles who lack Biblical wisdom yet seem to have the world’s approval and success. The author of Ecclesiastes also recognized this.
For as the crackling of thorns under a pot, so is the laughter of the fools; this also is vanity. (Eccl. 7:6)
Yet the call for us is to wisdom. The Lord will deal with fools in His good time and His good ways. Of that we can be sure. God is not mocked. But His Word beckons us to wisdom. At the beginning of Proverbs, Lady Wisdom cries out,
“How long, O simple ones, will you love your simple ways?nHow long will scoffers delight in their scornnand fools hate knowledge? If you had repented at my rebuke,nthen surely I would have poured out my spirit on you;nI would have made my words known to you.” (Prov. 1:22-23)
Let’s not ignore her call, for folly leads to destruction.
For the waywardness of the simple will slay them,nand the complacency of fools will destroy them.nBut whoever listens to me will dwell in safety,nsecure from the fear of evil.” (Prov. 1:32-33)