Have you ever met a fool? Is there anybody you know who might think you’re one? When I think of a fool I tend to picture someone like Jerry Lewis in his role as the Nutty Professor. He’s a well-meaning individual who just can’t seem to do anything right. He’s clumsy, naïve, embarrassing to be around and painful to watch. He bungles his way through life leaving a path of destruction in his wake. There’s a long list of others you could include in this category, such as Moe, Larry and Curly; Laurel and Hardy; Jim Carey’s Ace Ventura, Pet Detective; or either one of the two lead characters in the movie, “Dumb and Dumber.” Each of these guys just seems to attract trouble like a magnet attracts iron filings. They’re victims of their own stupidity. Yet their antics are laughable; as characters, they’re loveable; and most of us believe any risk of following their example is highly avoidable. Unlike these guys, we are anything but fools.
But what does the Bible have to say about the topic? How would it describe a fool? The reality is, the Word of God has a lot to say about fools, especially in the book of Proverbs. Solomon, the king of Israel, and the wisest man who ever lived, dedicates a great deal of editorial space to the subject of fools and foolish behavior. All throughout the book he juxtaposes wise living with foolish living. He encourages his son to pursue one like hidden treasure and avoid the other like the plague. But the kind of fool Solomon is talking about isn’t some innocent, happy-go-lucky buffoon who blunders his way through life, painfully unaware of his own shortcomings. No, Solomon had someone a little more serious and sinister in mind. In fact, he uses five different words to describe five different kinds of fools – each just as dangerous as the others.
A Quest For Wisdom
The Book of Proverbs is part of what is called the Wisdom Literature in the Scriptures. It was written by Solomon, who the Bible describes as having “very great wisdom and understanding, and knowledge as vast as the sands of the seashore. In fact, his wisdom exceeded that of all the wise men of the East and the wise men of Egypt. He was wiser than anyone else … His fame spread throughout all the surrounding nations. He composed some 3,000 proverbs and wrote 1,005 songs. He could speak with authority about all kinds of plants, from the great cedar of Lebanon to the tiny hyssop that grows from cracks in a wall. He could also speak about animals, birds, small creatures, and fish. And kings from every nation sent their ambassadors to listen to the wisdom of Solomon” (1 Kings 4:29-34 NLT). This guy was sharp, and his wisdom wasn’t natural, but was given to him by God. So it stands to reason that we might want to listen to what Solomon had to say. His words aren’t just wise, they’re divinely inspired and essential for living life on God’s terms, not our own.
A Word To the Would-Be Wise
Solomon makes it clear right up front why he’s putting all these pithy sayings in writing. “Their purpose is to teach people wisdom and discipline, to help them understand the insights of the wise. Their purpose is to teach people to live disciplined and successful lives, to help them do what is right, just, and fair. These proverbs will give insight to the simple, knowledge and discernment to the young” (Proverbs 1:2-4 NLT). Disciplined and successful lives. Isn’t that what every person on this planet wants? Then why do so few end up with that as their experience? For Solomon, it was a matter of keeping God as the focus of your life. His father, David, had taught him, “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God’”(Psalm 14:1 NIV). In other words, a fool lives his life as if God isn’t there or just doesn’t care. He doesn’t exist, so there are no consequences for my sin. My actions, good or bad, won’t produce any reaction from God. But David knew that a fool wasn’t just an avowed atheist. He understood that even God-followers could live as practical atheists, refusing to include God as a part of their lives, living according to their own rules, their own standards, and arrogantly fulfilling their own selfish desires. Over and over again in the book of Proverbs, Solomon warns his own son to avoid the life of the fool. He paints a vivid and compelling portrait of what this person looks like. It is an ancient mug-shot of a morally, ethically, and spiritually bankrupt individual who has chosen to leave God out. And Solomon knew that foolishness was an inherited trait, ingrained in us at birth. “A youngster’s heart is filled with foolishness, but physical discipline will drive it far away” (Proverbs 22:15 NLT). The Message paraphrase of this verse is 21st-Century relevant: “Young people are prone to foolishness and fads; the cures comes through tough-minded discipline.”
But not all of us grow out of our foolish inclinations. There are more than a handful of us in our forties, fifties and sixties who are still prone to foolishness and fads. We still lack wisdom. Our lives are too often characterized by simplicity, silliness, sensuality, stubbornness, and scorn. These are the five descriptions used throughout the Proverbs for the fool. They are actually five different words that illustrate five different types of fools. The simple fool is vulnerable, lacking in discernment, and holds an over-simplified view of life. He fails to see the cause-and-effect nature of his actions. The silly fool is the individual who is quick to let his mouth engage before his brain does. He is quick-tempered tends to hate correction, tending to see his way as the right way. The sensual fool is that individual who seems determined to make wrong choices. He rejects the wisdom of God and prefers the wisdom of this world. His focus is on immediate pleasure or gratification. He lives by the philosophy, “If it feels good, do it.” He is controlled by his senses and refuses to deny himself what he wants. This kind of fool can make a dangerous companion. The scornful fool is very vocal and demonstrative with his feelings. He is the eye-roller, chose facial expressions communicate his disdain and contempt for God, His Word and all other sources of authority in his life. He not only rejects God’s truth, but eagerly embraces that which is opposed to God. He refuses to listen to correction and it usually requires punishment to get his attention. The stubborn fool is the most dangerous of all. The Hebrew word actually means “stupid” or “wicked.” This individual totally rejects God and His ways. He is self-confident and close-minded, acting as his own god, refusing to acknowledge his need for or submission to God. He loves to drag others along and can be highly persuasive.
Fear, Faith and the Fool
Solomon reminds us all that the “fear of the Lord is the foundation of true knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline” (Proverbs 1:7 NLT). A fool has no fear of God. Why? Because he lives his life despising God’s wisdom and rejecting His discipline. His refusal to listen to God will have no long-term implications on his life. But Solomon knows better. He understands that God’s wisdom is the key to life and happiness, success and contentment. He warns all who will listen.
5 Trust in the Lord with all your heart;
do not depend on your own understanding.
6 Seek his will in all you do,
and he will show you which path to take.
7 Don’t be impressed with your own wisdom.
Instead, fear the Lord and turn away from evil.
8 Then you will have healing for your body
and strength for your bones. – Proverbs 3:5-8 NLT
Trust God, not yourself. Place your faith in Him, instead of this world. Seek to do His will, not your own. Don’t take your own advice. Follow His instead. Fear the Lord and find health, hope and healing.
Why not consider pouring over the wisdom of Solomon provided to him by God Himself. You’ll find the the Book of Proverbs to be rich in spiritual insights that have practical implications for everyday life. It will challenge you, convict you, encourage you, and change you. You will not only grow in wisdom and understanding, you’ll develop and healthy fear or and faith in God.