Some Fools in Proverbs

By Jason Jackson
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Have you ever been foolish? We all have. But are you a fool? Some people live in “folly.”

The book of Proverbs addresses the fool. It defines his character, his behavior, and his misery. But not all “fools” are alike.

For this reason, Proverbs uses different words to discuss different kinds of fools. Let us look at a few of them.

A Teachable Fool

There is the teachable fool. He is called “the simple one.” The Hebrew word, phethaim, comes from a term that means “to be open.” We consider “open-mindedness” to be admirable. But there is such a thing as being so open-minded that your brain could “fall out” — as Guy N. Woods used to say. Or as Shakespeare put it, we can be “lackbrain.”

We say that some are naive, gullible, or too trusting. This individual is untrained; he cannot discern what would cause him great harm. He “lacks sense” (Prov. 7:7, ESV). He is easily persuaded by a strong influence, or he is easily controlled by a domineering personality.

But “the simple” can be taught. If he will listen, he can be instructed in wisdom — skill for living. Accordingly, Solomon said that proverbs are designed “to give prudence to the simple” (Prov. 1:4).

A Hardened Fool

There is also the hardened fool. He is ewil and kesil — Hebrew terms for thick and stupid. He makes foolish decisions, but he is not young or naive. He is, rather, a hardened fool.

He “despises wisdom and instruction.” “They [fools] treat these virtues as worthless and contemptible” (Ross, 907). “Doing wrong is like a joke to a fool” (Prov. 10:23, ESV), and he is not going to be persuaded by reason or collective wisdom (cf. Prov. 26:16).

The hardened fool has developed his character by a series of foolish decisions — a life of folly. He will continue in foolishness, because changing would be too difficult.

He hates instruction, is quick to be angry and contentious, can be explosive, is the center of controversy, has loose lips, and associates with evil (cf. Prov. 1:22; 18:6; 19:1; 17:12; 20:3; 10:18; 13:19).

Unfortunately, one who chooses to be such a fool cannot have sense even beaten into him. “A rebuke goes deeper into a man of understanding than a hundred blows into a fool” (Prov. 17:10, ESV). “Crush a fool in mortar with a pestle [i.e., a club-shaped instrument for grinding] along with grain, yet his folly will not depart from him” (Prov. 27:22, ESV).

John Paterson summarizes this mentality: “Neither through the pores of their skin nor through the avenues of their hardened hearts could one drive in wisdom: they were mentally immune to instruction” (66).

As a related Hebrew term (nabal) illustrates, the fool is a wicked person. “The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God” (Ps. 14:1). “Insensibility to God, as well as moral insensibility, close the mind to reason” (Goldberg, 547)

We don’t want to be this kind of person, and we do not need wicked, fool-like companions (1 Cor. 15:33).

An Arrogant Fool

Then there is the arrogant fool. He is the letz — the scoffer. “‘Scoffer’ is the name of the arrogant, haughty man who acts with arrogant pride” (Prov. 21:24, ESV). Paterson describes these people: “They were past masters in the art of heckling and they rejoiced with malicious joy to disrupt a meeting” (Patterson, 67).

Solomon explained: “Scoffers set a city aflame but the wise turn away wrath” (Prov. 29:8, ESV). Solomon encouraged his reader to: “Drive out a scoffer, and strife will go out, and quarreling and abuse will cease” (Prov. 22:10, ESV).

The scoffer is not content with going his own way; he delights in the ruin of others.

Wisdom is living with spiritual perspective (Prov. 1:7). Fools disregard the word of God. There are many things in life over which we have no control. But we don’t have to be naive, thick, stupid, or wicked — living as if this world is all that matters.

We live with wisdom if we listen to God’s Word. Ask God for wisdom. He gives it abundantly to anyone who will listen and diligently pursue it (James 1:5).

Sources/Footnotes
  • Goldberg, Louis. “Nabal” Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament. Vol. 2.
  • Patterson, John. The Wisdom of Israel.
  • Ross, Allen P. “Proverbs.” Expositors’ Bible Commentary.