A Fool for a King

16 Why should a fool have money in his hand to buy wisdom
    when he has no sense?
17 A friend loves at all times,
    and a brother is born for adversity.
18 One who lacks sense gives a pledge
    and puts up security in the presence of his neighbor.
19 Whoever loves transgression loves strife;
    he who makes his door high seeks destruction.
20 A man of crooked heart does not discover good,
    and one with a dishonest tongue falls into calamity.
21 He who sires a fool gets himself sorrow,
    and the father of a fool has no joy.
22 A joyful heart is good medicine,
    but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.
23 The wicked accepts a bribe in secret
    to pervert the ways of justice.
24 The discerning sets his face toward wisdom,
    but the eyes of a fool are on the ends of the earth.
25 A foolish son is a grief to his father
    and bitterness to her who bore him.
26 To impose a fine on a righteous man is not good,
    nor to strike the noble for their uprightness.
27 Whoever restrains his words has knowledge,
    and he who has a cool spirit is a man of understanding.
28 Even a fool who keeps silent is considered wise;
    when he closes his lips, he is deemed intelligent. 
– Proverbs 17:16-28 ESV

It is virtually impossible to read the book of Proverbs and not think of Paul’s assessment of fallen humanity:

Claiming to be wise, they became fools… – Romans 1:22 ESV

The fool as described in Proverbs is not a moronic half-wit with a low IQ. They are a fully functioning and contributing member of society. They can hold high office, run a business, marry and raise a family, and even become highly successful and financially well off. Fools are ubiquitous but, oftentimes, virtually indistinguishable. They’re practically everywhere and their influence on society is unquestionable. That’s why Solomon spends so much time describing the nature of their true character. He wants his readers to understand that these people are a threat to the social fabric of Israel.

The nation of Israel had been established by God as a theocracy. According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, a theocracy is a “government of a state by immediate divine guidance or by officials who are regarded as divinely guided” (“Theocracy.” Merriam-Webster.com Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/theocracy. Accessed 21 Jun. 2022).

The word theocracy is formed from two Greek words, theos (Greek for “God”) and -cracy (“rule, strength or government”). God had set apart the nation of Israel as His chosen people and He was to have been their King. For generations, God had faithfully led them and cared for them. He had delivered them from their captivity in Egypt and established them as a nation in the land of Canaan. He had given them His law to guide and direct their lives and provided them with the sacrificial system and the tabernacle so that they might have atonement for their sins when they failed to live up to His holy standards. But the day came when they rejected His rule and reign over their lives, demanding to have a human king instead.

Then all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah and said to him, “Behold, you are old and your sons do not walk in your ways. Now appoint for us a king to judge us like all the nations.” But the thing displeased Samuel when they said, “Give us a king to judge us.” And Samuel prayed to the Lord. And the Lord said to Samuel, “Obey the voice of the people in all that they say to you, for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected me from being king over them.” – 1 Samuel 8:4-7 ESV

God gave them exactly what they had asked for – a king who would judge them like every other human king. He gave them King Saul, a man who would prove to be the epitome of a fool. He was good-looking, charismatic, a great warrior, and, seemingly, a natural-born leader.

There was a wealthy, influential man named Kish from the tribe of Benjamin. He was the son of Abiel, son of Zeror, son of Becorath, son of Aphiah, of the tribe of Benjamin. His son Saul was the most handsome man in Israel—head and shoulders taller than anyone else in the land. – 1 Samuel 9:1-2 NLT

While Saul’s reign began well, he proved to be a less-than-godly king. He was impulsive and impetuous, eventually disobeying the commands of God. And, for this reason, God chose to replace him with a young shepherd boy named David. Saul exhibited many of the characteristics of the fool as described in the book of Proverbs. He had been chosen by God to lead the people of Israel but he was to have done so as God’s authorized representative. His appointment as the king of Israel had been at God’s discretion and he was accountable for his actions. He had been given great authority and yet he abused that authority. Thinking himself to be wise, he became a fool.

And Samuel said to Saul, “You have done foolishly. You have not kept the command of the Lord your God, with which he commanded you. For then the Lord would have established your kingdom over Israel forever. But now your kingdom shall not continue. The Lord has sought out a man after his own heart, and the Lord has commanded him to be prince over his people, because you have not kept what the Lord commanded you.” – 1 Samuel 13:13-14 ESV

Saul devolved into a foolish, petty sovereign whose actions became increasingly evil and out of step with the will of God. In a real sense, the God-appointed king of Israel became godless. He had power, authority, and access to God through the prophet Samuel, but Saul became increasingly distant and dangerously independent. He made impulsive and unwise decisions. He operated autonomously and used his God-ordained power as a means of solidifying his reign rather than caring for the people of Israel.

Saul provides a real-life example of the fool. He had been given everything but he ended up with nothing. This young man, who had come from a well-to-do family, had been chosen to lead the nation of Israel, answering directly to God Himself. But his great wealth couldn’t buy him the one thing he really needed: Wisdom.

Why should a fool have money in his hand to buy wisdom
    when he has no sense? – Proverbs 17:16 ESV

Saul had power but lacked wisdom. He wasn’t stupid, but he had no godly discernment. Saul became wise in his own mind, refusing to accept the input and even the discipline of the prophet of God. In time, Saul became unteachable and retractable, living increasingly more according to his own will rather than that of God.

Whoever loves transgression loves strife;
    he who makes his door high seeks destruction. – Proverbs 17:19 ESV

His obsession with power and authority became a stumbling block, causing him to sin against God. And he began to believe that his position as king would protect him from harm. The high walls of his palace and the power he wielded were all the security he needed – or so he thought.

A man of crooked heart does not discover good,
    and one with a dishonest tongue falls into calamity. – Proverbs 17:20 ESV

Saul would discover the truth of this proverb. The eventual outcome of his life was far from good. His propensity for lies and deception would catch up with him. And Saul’s father, Kish, would learn the truth behind the proverb:

He who sires a fool gets himself sorrow,
    and the father of a fool has no joy. – Proverbs 17:21 ESV

Saul’s life would not end well. His foolishness would eventually catch up to him and he would die an ignominious death.

The battle pressed hard against Saul, and the archers found him, and he was badly wounded by the archers. Then Saul said to his armor-bearer, “Draw your sword, and thrust me through with it, lest these uncircumcised come and thrust me through, and mistreat me.” But his armor-bearer would not, for he feared greatly. Therefore Saul took his own sword and fell upon it. And when his armor-bearer saw that Saul was dead, he also fell upon his sword and died with him. Thus Saul died, and his three sons, and his armor-bearer, and all his men, on the same day together. – 1 Samuel 31:3-6 ESV

Saul had failed to heed the truth of the proverb: “The discerning sets his face toward wisdom, but the eyes of a fool are on the ends of the earth” (Proverbs 17:24 ESV). He had taken his eye off the prize of wisdom and had ended up seeking fame, fortune, power, and prominence instead. Somewhere along the way he had stopped fearing God and had lost his grip on wisdom. So, in time, Solomon became the foolish son who brought “grief to his father and bitterness to her who bore him” (Proverbs 17:25 ESV).

The God-appointed king of Israel became a fool, all because he lost his reverence for God. This good-looking and gifted young man squandered his opportunity to lead the people of Israel. He became wise in his own eyes and attempted to rule God’s people on his own terms. And the older he got, the more foolish he became, proving the veracity of the proverb: “Even a fool who keeps silent is considered wise; when he closes his lips, he is deemed intelligent” (Proverbs 17:28 ESV).

Saul lived the life of the fool and died a fool’s death. And his foolish choices had long-lasting ramifications. Sadly, his legacy of folly and pride did not die with him.

And when the men of Israel who were on the other side of the valley and those beyond the Jordan saw that the men of Israel had fled and that Saul and his sons were dead, they abandoned their cities and fled. And the Philistines came and lived in them. – 1 Samuel 31:7 ESV

The folly of fools has a shelf-life. It lives long after they’re gone. And Solomon was living proof that the infectious nature of folly can be passed down from generation to generation. And the only antidote is the fear of the Lord.

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