Proverbs 26:4-5

Answer not a fool according to his folly,

    lest you be like him yourself.

Answer a fool according to his folly,

    lest he be wise in his own eyes.

Proverbs 26:4-5

These two verses demonstrate the frustration and complication of dealing with a fool. They also demonstrate the range of meaning of words. Here, the pivotal word is “according to.” The first verse means don’t become like the fool by talking in his ways. This reminds me of the saying, “Don’t get into the mud to wrestle with a pig. First, you will just get muddy. Second, the pig will enjoy it.” Guard yourself so that you don’t become a fool in the process of dealing with a fool.

The second verse demonstrates the pastoral heart of the writer. Here, he means, “Deal with the fool’s ideas, so that he is not mistaken that his ideas are wise.” We should try to never leave a fool under the mistaken notion that their folly is wisdom. But, we must be careful in how we do this.

Word Picture: Stay in your lane!

“Whoever meddles in a quarrel not his own

    is like one who takes a passing dog by the ears.”

Proverbs 26:17 ESV

In today’s vernacular the writer is warning the reader to “Stay in your lane!” This proverb brings back memories from almost 50 years ago when I was in first grade. We were trying to play on the outdoor basketball court during recess when a German shepherd made his way into the middle of the area where we were playing. No matter how we tried to persuade the dog to move along, he wouldn’t. I didn’t take him by the ears, but I suspect the outcome was the same as if I had. Instead, I wrapped my arms around his midsection and attempted to lift him in order to carry him off the court. He turned his head back and bit me on the face. I still have the scar.

This proverb compares those who meddle in other people’s business to those who grab stray dogs by the ears. In other words, be careful! You could be scarred for a lifetime. Wise people recognize boundaries. Fools do not, and they can pay a severe price for not doing so.

Proverbs 26:7

“Like a lame man’s legs, which hang useless,

  is a proverb in the mouth of fools.”

Proverbs 26:7 ESV

This proverb resonates deeply with me due to a series of recent injuries, including a broken shoulder, 4 broken ribs, and a broken elbow … all on the same side. While my legs have not yet been rendered useless, in so many ways my right side seems useless. Because of the timing of my injury to my shoulder, then to my elbow, I do wonder how much function I will be able to recover. What has been my dominant side, the arm and hand that I once used to throw a baseball, stack boxes at UPS, to write, to hold and provide for my loved ones is now almost unusable. Something that has had so much potential and productivity, seemingly no longer does.

In a similar way, a proverb, a word of wisdom and instruction, appears to offer promise, but simply hangs limp, which is tragic. Perhaps the fool misspeaks the proverb, turning it from wisdom to folly. Perhaps the fool’s life betrays or undermines any wisdom offered in such a proverb. Perhaps the fool intentionally rewords the proverb to support his foolish life. Whatever the reason, here, we are warned that a proverb in the mouth of a fool hangs useless.

A good question to ask ourselves is, To whom do we turn for wisdom? Do we seek wisdom from the world or from God. There is a critical difference. Here’s how Paul makes this point: “For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Corinthians 1:18 ESV). Be careful from whom you seek wisdom.

Proverbs 26:3

“A whip for the horse, a bridle for the donkey,

  and a rod for the back of fools.”

Proverbs 26:3

The whip, the bridle, and the rod are three things used to control or guide something. I find it interesting that the fool is mentioned in the same illustration as two animals with no note of distinction.

This is particularly interesting to me because in Genesis much is made of the distinction between man and all other created beings. For example, “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them” (Gen 1:27). Man is made in the image of God.

I’m confident that God doesn’t look at fools as animals, but I wonder if in this verse he is suggesting that the fool behaves as an animal rather than living on the level of a human who has been made in God’s image.

Proverbs 26:12

Do you see a man who is wise in his own eyes?

    There is more hope for a fool than for him.

Proverbs 26:12 ESV

Self praise is so dangerous. This book of Proverbs is filled with warnings about the danger of being a fool. Yet here, it seems to say there is something worse than being a fool, and that something is being filled with appreciation of self.

Be careful. Be careful. Be careful. As Proverbs 27:2 (ESV) says, “Let another praise you, and not your own mouth; a stranger, and not your own lips.”

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