Characteristics of a Fool – Prov 26:1-12

Sometimes we learn more from bad examples than good examples. Bad examples can show us what not to do and can expose similar mistakes in our own lives. Proverbs often talks about the fool. Below are some of the characteristics of fools. Knowing these things help us to know what behaviour in our own lives is foolish, so that we can change with God’s help and live the wise life.

1. A fool should not be honoured (v.1)As snow in summer, and as rain in harvest, So honour is not seemly for a fool.

No benefit will come from honouring a fool. It is ‘unseemly’ (not pleasant or delightful). It will probably come back to hurt you, like a binding a stone in a sling (v.8). A person who does not show wisdom in small areas should be not exalted to positions of honour and authority ( Prov 19:10). Their foolishness will just be revealed and cause harm to others.

2. A fool only learns the hard way (v.3). A whip for the horse, a bridle for the ass, And a rod for the fool’s back.”  

Just as a horse and a donkey respond to pain not reason, so a fool only changes through painful mistakes not through listening and learning.

  • Proverbs 10:13 — “In the lips of him that hath understanding wisdom is found: But a rod is for the back of him that is void of understanding.”  
  • Proverbs 14:3 — “In the mouth of the foolish is a rod of pride: But the lips of the wise shall preserve them.” 
  • Proverbs 19:29 — “Judgments are prepared for scorners, And stripes for the back of fools.

3. A fool should be answered wisely (v.4-5). Answer not a fool according to his folly, Lest thou also be like unto him. Answer a fool according to his folly, Lest he be wise in his own conceit.

These verses seem to contradict one another, but idea seems to be that we should not get draw down to the fool’s level (v.4), but we should seek to expose the fool’s error (v.5). So, without become a fool yourself, we should seek to answer a fool so he sees the foolishness of his pride.

4. A fool should not be relied upon (v.6).He that sendeth a message by the hand of a fool Cutteth off the feet, and drinketh damage.

Those who rely on fools are like those who expect a messenger with no feet to deliver or a message. They are deliberately causing themselves damage.

5. A fool is not helped by wisdom (v.7). The legs of the lame are not equal: So is a parable in the mouth of fools.”  

He is given a parable and may be able to repeat it, but, like a man with lame legs, the parable does not help him or steady him. It is there but does not good. Prover 26:9 says, “As a thorn goeth up into the hand of a drunkard, So is a parable in the mouth of fools.”  This seems to teach that either the fool is not affected by the parable or the fool uses the parable in a way that actually damages others (like a drunk waving a thorny branch around).

6. A fool will be repaid by God (v.10).The great God that formed all things Both rewardeth the fool, and rewardeth transgressors.

The ‘reward’ here is repayment or wages for service. The ‘paycheck’ the fool gets is punishment from the hand of God who formed all things.

7. A fool keeps making the same mistakes (v.11). As a dog returneth to his vomit, So a fool returneth to his folly.”  

Though folly is something to be rejected and despised (like vomit), the fool keeps coming back to it over and over again. 2 Peter 2:20-22 uses this parable to describe those fools who hear the wonderful gospel message of the Lord Jesus Christ but then return back to the pollutions of this world.

8. A fool is not as bad off as the proud (v.12). Seest thou a man wise in his own conceit? There is more hope of a fool than of him.”  

As bad off as a fool is, he is not in so serious a condition as the man who is unaware of his foolishness. He is wise in his own estimation (‘conceits’). This leads into a section about the sluggard (v.13-16), who has more reasons/excuses than seven men (v.16). Proverbs 29:20 says something similar, “Seest thou a man that is hasty in his words? There is more hope of a fool than of him.

How are you being foolish? The only way to really live the wise life is to come to know Jesus Christ in whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge (Col 2:3). Without His transforming grace and power, we will never be able to live the wise life. If He has saved us and given us His Holy Spirit, then we should live out who we are in Christ (1 Cor 1:30).

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