“Don’t answer the foolish arguments of fools, or you will become as foolish as they are. Be sure to answer the foolish arguments of fools, or they will become wise in their own estimation.” – Proverbs 26:4-5 NLT
It’s hard to read these two verses and not be a bit confused by them. They appear to be in direct contradiction of one another. Which is it? Don’t answer the foolish arguments of a fool, or be sure to answer the foolish arguments of a fool? First of all, we need to establish just what kind of fool these verses are talking about. Because, in the Book of Proverbs there are five different types of fools described, not just one. There are five Hebrew words used when speaking about fools and this one is the word kecîyl – which refers to a fool, stupid fellow, dullard, simpleton, or arrogant one. The best way to describe him is that he is a sensual fool. This is the individual who rejects the discipline of his parents or any and all authorities in his life. He is determined to make the wrong choices, regardless of any counsel provided. He tends to focus on that which brings him immediate pleasure, never planning for or thinking about the future. It isn’t that he has a mental deficiency, but he simply chooses to reject the wisdom of God, and glories in that of which he should be ashamed. This kind of fool is unreasonable and unteachable. His motives and methods are subtle and he should be avoided.
The reason it is important for us to know what kind of fool this Proverb is talking about is that we tend to lump all the verses about fools together. And when we do that, it can become very confusing. These verses are not talking about a simple fool (pethîy). The Hebrew word used for the simple fool describes a child who lacks discernment, has no ability to recognize cause-and-effect, is immature, gullible and intensely curious. This kind of fool is to be corrected, disciplined, and counseled. But the fool described in these verses is one that has become stubborn and set in his ways. The issue addressed in these verses is not whether you can or should answer a fool. This kind of fool will likely remain a fool regardless of whether you answer him or not. It is really about the common sense you need in determining how to answer a sensual fool. If you answer him in the hopes to convincing him he is wrong, you will only become embroiled in an argument that leaves you looking as foolish as he is. But if you answer him with the intent of exposing his foolishness, pride, and arrogance, you can walk away knowing that you have done all you can do. It is not your job to change him. You will never argue this kind of fool into seeing reason. These verses are warning us to go into the situation with our eyes wide open, knowing just what kind of fool we are dealing with. One of the big takeaways has to do with our intent. Arguing with a sensual fool is a waste of our time. Exposing a sensual fool is sometimes all you can do, in the hopes that it will help them see their own pride and foolishness. But someone who has reached this stage of foolishness will most likely remain just as they are. Their problem is not a lack of knowledge or cloudy thinking. It is pride, arrogance, and a lack of wisdom. Their hearts are not in love with God. And until that changes, no amount of discussion will change their situation.
Father, there are so many sensual fools in the world. And I have found myself falling into that category at times over the years. Give me the wisdom to know how to answer this kind of fool. Help me recognize them for what they are and realize that only You can change them. I have an obligation to expose their foolishness and pride, but I have to understand that I will never argue them out of their foolishness. Only you can change their hearts. Amen.
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men