The Fool and the Wise
Proverbs 17:12 issues this warning: "Let a man meet a bear robbed of her cubs, rather than a fool in his folly!" This being the case, we would do well to identify the fool and his characteristics.
A. The Naive Person
This is the simpleton, the least harmful of the three categories of the "foolish" person described in Proverbs. These are the "Charlie Brown's" of the world. They are marked by excessive credulity; they cannot foresee evil; they are incredibly undiscerning and, as a result, are quite irresponsible in their behavior (1:32; 14:15; 22:3; 27:12). Note that his naivete puts him at risk with the harlot (7:6ff.). But the good news is that the na?e person may well respond to reproof and rebuke and seek after wisdom (1:4; 19:25; 21:11).
B. The Foolish Person
Three Hebrew words are translated by the term "fool" in Proverbs and are basically synonymous. However, if a hierarchy is possible, the differences consist in the degree of their folly and sinfulness and their willingness or unwillingness to respond to reproof. The characteristics of the fool are as follows:
1. He hates knowledge and disdains wisdom (1:22; 15:14). He lacks the willingness to concentrate (17:24), and when he does decide to get wisdom, he thinks it can be bought like anything else (17:16).
2. He is prideful and arrogant (1:32; "complacency" = careless security resulting from a self-satisfied arrogance; 12:15; 14:16).
3. He repeats his folly, both because he likes it and because he never learns from his mistakes (26:11).
4. He abhors rebuke and reproof (17:10). The wise man "is ready to believe that he has erred and to learn from his mistakes by assimilating each rebuke of his teacher and making the necessary adjustments in his intellectual attitudes. He reacts sensitively to what he recognizes as a word of wisdom, and acknowledges the justice of the discipline to which he is made to submit. But the fool has no awareness of his need to learn; he is satisfied with his own wisdom and so is incapable of benefiting from instruction or submitting to an intellectual discipline. Whatever corporal punishment may be administered and however much physical pain he may suffer, the shell of his incorrigibility will remain intact and he will be inaccessible to education" (McKane, 504).
See also 27:22; 12:1.
5. He has consistently bad speech
a. it is slanderous (10:18)
b. it is folly (15:2)
c. it is quarrelsome (18:6; 20:3; conversation seems always to degenerate into an argument)
d. it is perverse, twisted, full of half-truths (19:1)
e. it is worthless (26:7,9)
f. it is unbalanced and extreme (29:9)
g. it leads to his ruin (10:14; 14:3; 18:7)
6. He despises his parents (15:20)
7. He has a desire for sin and mischief that can only be called "sporting" and "flippant" (10:23; 13:19; 14:9).
8. He has an uncontrollable temper (29:11)
9. He is thriftless (21:20; 11:29).
10. He is deceptive (14:8)
11. He provokes people (27:3)
12. He is impetuous (14:16).
There are serious consequences to his behavior:
1. He brings shame to himself (3:35.
2. He incurs physical punishment (19:29; 26:3)
3. He brings grief to his parents (17:21,25).
What should be our response to the fool?
1. We should not honor him (26:1,8).
2. We shouldn't waste words on him (23:9).
3. We should separate from him (14:7; 13:20).
4. We shouldn't employ him (26:6,10).
But there is still hope! See 1:22-23.
C. The Scoffer or Scorner
See 1:22. It is important to remember that this kind of person is not dumb. They are often quite intelligent. They don't lack mental ability, they simply misuse it. Indeed, they often use their IQ as an excuse not to consider the gospel. This person is the most reprehensible of the three. In addition to all the characteristics listed above, here are a few that are unique to the scoffer.
1. He is filled with pride (21:24).
2. He has a contentious spirit (22:10; 29:8).
3. He is resistant to reproof (13:1; 9:7-8; 15:12).
The consequences for him are:
1. He will be exposed to severe punishment (19:29).
2. He will reap what he sows (God will meet his scorn with scorn; 3:34).
He can, however, have one good effect - 19:25; 21:11.
D. The Wise Person
Three words or phrases are used to describe this individual: "wise," "the man of understanding," and "the prudent person". This individual is the opposite of the fool at every point.
1. He earnestly desires and seeks wisdom and knowledge (18:15). The reason for this is that he acknowledges he doesn't know everything. I.e., this person is humble. He/she listens to counsel and reproof, realizing the need for advice and help from others. This person doesn't deceive himself with arrogance or bristle at or withdraw from or become offended by reproof. When reproofed, this person seeks to learn from it (9:9; 10:8; 12:15; 13:1; 15:31).
2. He uses good speech. His words are instructive (15:7) and constructive (12:18). He not only knows what to say, he knows when and when not to say it (11:12).
3. He controls his temper (14:29; 17:27; 29:11).
4. He controls the temper of others (29:8). Scorners incite anger and strife in others; wise men calm it. The wise person is a peacemaker.
5. He is thrifty. He secures provision for his household (21:20).
6. He foresees evil and avoids it (14:16; 22:3).
7. He is not impetuous (13:16).
8. He is cautious (14:15-16).
There are also consequences to the wise person's behavior.
1. He increases in wisdom (9:9).
2. He increases in power (24:5; 21:22).
3. His words preserve his life (14:3).
4. He gains a good reputation (3:35).
5. He brings joy to his parents (10:1; 15:20).
Our response to the wise person is to seek out his/her companionship (13:20).