The book of Proverbs has much to say about ‘the fool’ and his ways. The title does not belong to those of limited intelligence, but rather to those who choose and cultivate folly. Kidner: ‘the book has in mind a man’s chosen outlook, rather than his mental equipment.’ The fool returns to his folly as a dog returns to his own vomit (Prov 26:11).
In Proverbs, both wisdom (Prov 9:1-6) and folly (Prov 9:13-18) are personified as women inviting the young and impressionable to her banquet. Each aspires to a position of high status and influence (‘the highest point of the city’, Prov 9:3, 14). Each employs alluring speech and entices with the offer of tasty food. But whereas Wisdom is honest and open in what she says (Prov 9:6), Folly is brash and uncaring (Prov 9:13). She offers her guests ‘stolen water and food eaten in secret” (Prov 9:17).’
‘Fools are angry, arrogant and self-centered. Their tempers are quick to flare up (Prov 14:17, 29; 29:11). They seem to enjoy quarrels and fights (Prov 20:3). They trust their own fund of knowledge and refuse to take advice from anyone else (Prov 12:15; 28:26). Fools are “wise in their own eyes” (Prov 26:5); they even reject the guidance of their parents as beneath them (Prov 15:5). Fools also find it impossible to control their emotions and their actions (Prov 12:23); they lack control in many areas of their lives, but especially in their ability to control their tongues (Prov 10:14; 17:28; 18:13).’ (DBI, art. ‘Folly’)
Fools are characterised by their arrogance, (Prov 14:16), complacency, (Prov 1:32), laziness, (Prov 24:30), improvidence (Prov 21:20), carelessness (Prov 26:10), unreliability (Prov 26:6), and impulsiveness, (Prov 17:12).
They bring shame and grief to their parents (Prov 15:20; 17:21, 25; 19:13), lack real influence in the community (Prov 24:7), and are held up to public shame (Prov 3:35)
Wiersbe: ‘ “The fear of the Lord is the beginning [controlling principle] of knowledge: but fools despise wisdom and instruction” (Prov 1:7)…A fool’s own father can’t instruct him (Prov. 15:5), and if you try to debate with him, it will only lead to trouble (Prov 29:9)…“Folly is a joy to him who is destitute of discernment” (Prov 15:21, NKJV; see Prov 1:22; Prov 12:15; Prov 18:2). Warn them about sin and they laugh at you (Prov 14:9). One reason fools don’t learn wisdom is because they can’t keep their eyes focused on what’s important. “A discerning man keeps wisdom in view, but a fool’s eyes wander to the ends of the earth” (Prov 17:24, NIV). Instead of dealing with reality, the fool lives in a faraway fantasy world…’
Much is said about Folly’s speech. She:
- betrays by what she says what is in her heart or mind, (Prov 18:7; Prov 10:20–21; 12:23; 15:7, 28; 16:23).
- both feeds on (Prov 15:14) and spouts folly (Prov 15:2).
- speaks too much, too soon and without listening (Prov 12:23; 18:13; 26:7).
- slanders others (Prov 10:18; 11:12; 20:19)
- is quarrelsome (Prov 20:3), quick to take offence (Prov 12:16), and verbally abusive (Prov 29:9)
- utters proverbs, but even these lack wisdom (Prov 26:7)
Wiersbe: ‘“The tongue of the wise uses knowledge rightly, but the mouth of fools pours forth foolishness” (Prov 15:2, NKJV; see Prov 13:16). The fool’s speech is proud and know-it-all (Prov 14:3), and fools have a tendency to speak before they know what they’re saying or what’s being discussed (Prov 18:13). “Do you see a man hasty in his words? There is more hope for a fool than for him” (Prov 29:20, NKJV). “The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but he who heeds counsel is wise” (Prov 12:15, NKJV). You can’t warn fools or tell them anything they need to know because they already know everything! Fools do a lot of talking, but they never accomplish what they’ve talked about. “The wise in heart will receive commandments: but a prating fool shall fall” (Prov 10:8; see v. 10)…
Lies and slander are what fools specialize in (Prov 10:18), and the wise person won’t stay around to listen (Prov 14:7–8). “The lips of the wise disperse knowledge, but the heart of the fool does not do so” (Prov 15:7, NKJV). “Excellent speech is not becoming to a fool” (Prov 17:7, NKJV)…’
Wiersbe: ‘“A fool’s wrath is known at once, but a prudent man covers shame” (Prov 12:16, NKJV). “He who is slow to wrath has great understanding, but he who is impulsive exalts folly” (Prov 14:29, NKJV). “Even a fool is counted wise when he holds his peace; when he shuts his lips, he is considered perceptive” (Prov 17:28, NKJV). “A fool vents all his feelings, but a wise man holds them back” (Prov 29:11, NKJV)…
Don’t incur the wrath of a fool unless you want to carry a terrible burden. “A stone is heavy, and the sand weighty, but a fool’s wrath is heavier than them both” (Prov 27:3). Once a fool is angry with you, he or she will carry on the war to the bitter end and do a great deal of damage. That’s why we must exercise discernment when we disagree with fools or try to counsel them. “Do not answer a fool according to his folly, or you will be like him yourself. Answer a fool according to his folly, or he will be wise in his own eyes” (Prov 26:4–5, NIV). Sometimes fools deserve only a deaf ear; other times they must be rebuked and their folly answered from the Word…
Proud and self-confident
Wiersbe: ‘ “He who trusts in his own heart is a fool, but whoever walks wisely will be delivered” (v28:26, NKJV). “Do you see a man wise in his own eyes? There is more hope for a fool than for him” (Prov 26:12)…Because of their proud self-confidence, fools like to meddle, especially when there’s something to argue about: “It is an honor for a man to cease from strife: but every fool will be meddling” (Prov. 20:3). Anybody can start a quarrel, but it takes a wise person to be able to stop one or, better yet, to avoid one (Prov 30:32–33). Fools think that fighting over minor disagreements will bring them honor, but it only makes them greater fools…’
Misuse of wealth
Wiersbe: ‘“In the house of the wise are stores of choice food and oil, but a foolish man devours all he has” (Prov 21:20, NIV)…“The crown of the wise is their riches, but the foolishness of fools is [yields] folly” (Prov. 14:24). The wise have something to leave to their children, but fools waste both their wealth and their opportunities to increase it. “Luxury is not fitting for a fool” (Prov 19:10).’
The specific outworkings of folly are due to its heart-orientation. Instead of fearing the Lord (Prov 1:7,29), it has succumbed to the godless knowledge of this world. It is self-reliant, rather than reliant on the Creator. See Prov 5:12; 12:23. To lack wisdom is, literally, to be deficient of heart (Prov 6:32; 7:7; 9:4, 16; 10:13, 21; 11:12; 12:11; 15:21; 17:18; 24:30). The fool is self-deluded, Prov 14:8.
Unrestrained, folly leads to disaster, Prov 1:32; 5:23; 8:36; 10:8, 10, 14, 21; 14:12; 15:10; 16:25; 19:3, 18; 23:13.
But with guidance and instruction, remedy is at hand (Prov 8:5; 10:13; 16:22; 19:29; 22:15).
There is a fundamental choice to be made (cf. Deut 30:15).
In the New Testament
Jesus distinguishes sharply between wise and foolish builders (Mt 7:26f). These are characterised by whether they hear and obey, or fail to hear and obey, the words of Jesus.
A similar distinction is made between those who are prepared, and those who are unprepared, for the coming of the messianic bridegroom, Mt 25:1-13.
Paul teaches that the cross itself is ‘foolishness’ to the perishing, but is the wisdom of God to those who are being saved (1 Cor 1:18-25).
DOP:WPW art. Folly’ (J. Davies)
Be Skillful, pp75ff (Warren Wiersbe)
Dictionary of Biblical Imagery, art. ‘Folly’
Where, in today’s world, may the foolish be found? In the home, at work, in school, colleges and universities, on the web, on the TV, radio and in film.