1 Like snow in summer or rain in harvest,
so honor is not fitting for a fool.
2 Like a sparrow in its flitting, like a swallow in its flying,
a curse that is causeless does not alight.
3 A whip for the horse, a bridle for the donkey,
and a rod for the back of fools.
4 Answer not a fool according to his folly,
lest you be like him yourself.
5 Answer a fool according to his folly,
lest he be wise in his own eyes.
6 Whoever sends a message by the hand of a fool
cuts off his own feet and drinks violence.
7 Like a lame man’s legs, which hang useless,
is a proverb in the mouth of fools.
8 Like one who binds the stone in the sling
is one who gives honor to a fool.
9 Like a thorn that goes up into the hand of a drunkard
is a proverb in the mouth of fools.
10 Like an archer who wounds everyone
is one who hires a passing fool or drunkard.
11 Like a dog that returns to his vomit
is a fool who repeats his folly.
12 Do you see a man who is wise in his own eyes?
There is more hope for a fool than for him.
13 The sluggard says, “There is a lion in the road!
There is a lion in the streets!”
14 As a door turns on its hinges,
so does a sluggard on his bed.
15 The sluggard buries his hand in the dish;
it wears him out to bring it back to his mouth.
16 The sluggard is wiser in his own eyes
than seven men who can answer sensibly.. – Proverbs 26:1-16 ESV
This collection of 28 verses contains a series of unflattering portraits of the fool that provide ample evidence that a fool should be avoided at all costs. Eleven times in the first 16 verses, the character of the fool is described through the use of a series of unlikely but very accurate comparisons.
This section of Proverbs has been called The Book of Fools because of its emphasis on this particular character trait. And it is interesting to note that this particular collection of proverbs was compiled by the sages who worked for King Hezekiah. He had commissioned these men to scour the royal archives to see if there might be any additional wise sayings that Solomon wrote or compiled. These admonitions or warnings concerning the fool were part of what they discovered.
It appears that they collated these various proverbs and organized them into a single unit for dramatic effect. And one of the primary main messages they seemed to be conveying was the folly of having a fool for a king. The opening line warns against elevating a fool to a place of honor.
Honor is no more associated with fools
than snow with summer or rain with harvest. – Proverbs 26:1 NLT
“Honor” in this passage probably means respect, external recognition of worth, accolades, advancement to high position, etc. All of these would be out of place with a fool; so the sage is warning against elevating or acclaiming those who are worthless. – NET Bible Study Notes
Verse eight goes on to provide an apt illustration that reveals just how silly it is to honor a fool.
Honoring a fool
is as foolish as tying a stone to a slingshot. – Proverbs 26:8 NLT
Such an act would be senseless and self-defeating. A sling with a stone tied to it would be rendered completely useless and of no value. And elevating a fool to a position of prominence or power would be equally ridiculous.
In the book of Proverbs, there are at least five different Hebrew words that are translated as “fool.” In this chapter, the word is kecîyl, which means “fool, stupid fellow, dullard, simpleton, arrogant one.”
Throughout Proverbs, this term is used to describe a particular brand of fool, an individual who has some strikingly dangerous qualities that should neither be ignored nor emulated.
• He rejects the discipline of parents or authorities
• They are determined to make the wrong choices
• He focuses on that which brings him immediate pleasure
• He does not have a mental deficiency but rejects the wisdom of God
• He glories in that of which he should be ashamed
• He is unreasonable
• His motives and methods are subtle
• He should be avoided at all costs
A fool is like an unbridled and untamed pack animal. He requires a heavy hand of discipline.
Guide a horse with a whip, a donkey with a bridle,
and a fool with a rod to his back! – Proverbs 26:3 NLT
And verse two suggests that a fool, like a stubborn beast, will be quick to declare his displeasure at such discipline by uttering baseless curses that bear no weight.
Like a fluttering sparrow or a darting swallow,
an undeserved curse will not land on its intended victim. – Proverbs 26:2 NLT
Words of anger and accusation will flow from the mouth of a fool who receives just punishment for his behavior. But those exclamations should be ignored and treated as what they are: The rantings of a fool.
In fact, verse four warns against getting into a verbal sparring match with a fool.
Don’t answer the foolish arguments of fools,
or you will become as foolish as they are. – Proverbs 26:4 NLT
Yet the very next verse seems to contain contradictory counsel.
Be sure to answer the foolish arguments of fools,
or they will become wise in their own estimation. – Proverbs 26:5 NLT
But notice the difference. In verse four, the advice is warning against getting into a shouting match with a fool. It’s a dangerous thing to allow yourself to descend to the level of a fool, casting curses back and forth, and using foolish epitaphs in an attempt to score points in a senseless battle of dimwits.
Verse five suggests that fools must be answered with words of wisdom. They will prove defenseless against words of admonition that are based on logic and reason. And an unchallenged and uncorrected fool will only make the false assumption that he was right all along. His ego will become ever more inflated and his love affair with foolishness will remain unchecked.
These proverbs are remorseless in their assessment of the fool. They pull no punches and spare no amount of sarcasm and irony.
Trusting a fool to convey a message
is like cutting off one’s feet or drinking poison!
A proverb in the mouth of a fool
is as useless as a paralyzed leg. – Proverbs 26:6-7 NLT
Those are brutally harsh statements that leave little to the imagination. They certainly don’t portray foolishness as some kind of silly, childlike quality that is to be smiled at and taken lightly. Trusting a fool to convey an important message is compared to drinking poison or amputating your own foot. Those two shocking illustrations of self-harm are meant to get the reader’s attention. No one in their right mind would willingly drink poison or cut off a perfectly good limb. So, why would anyone risk a vital message by placing it in the hands of a person of questionable integrity?
In the mouth of a fool, even the helpful words of a wise saying become as useless as a paralyzed leg. They provide no one with any benefit, including the fool who speaks them. In fact, wise words in the mouth of a fool will only end up doing more harm than good.
A proverb in the mouth of a fool
is like a thorny branch brandished by a drunk. – Proverbs 26:9 NLT
And, according to Solomon, it would be foolish to hire a fool.
An employer who hires a fool or a bystander
is like an archer who shoots at random. – Proverbs 26:10 NLT
Such an act would be senseless and wasteful. You might as well throw your money into a pit or set it on fire. A fool makes a bad king and a lousy employee because they can’t be trusted. They won’t come through. Instead, they will display a habit of doing the same foolish things over and over again.
As a dog returns to its vomit,
so a fool repeats his foolishness. – Proverbs 26:11 NLT
Fools rarely change. The very things that made them “sick” in the first place will remain attractive, despite any pain or discomfort they might have caused. But to make matters worse, most fools fail to recognize their own foolishness. In fact, they are convinced of their own wisdom.
There is more hope for fools
than for people who think they are wise. – Proverbs 26:12 NLT
A fool who knows he’s a fool might respond to correction. But a fool who thinks he’s wise will constantly reject the counsel of others because he doesn’t think he needs it.
Lazy people consider themselves smarter
than seven wise counselors. – Proverbs 26:16 NLT
And to make matters worse, fools lack any kind of a work ethic. They’re inherently lazy. And they use their laziness as an excuse to avoid hard work.
The lazy person claims, “There’s a lion on the road!
Yes, I’m sure there’s a lion out there!” – Proverbs 26:13 NLT
They come up with clever-sounding excuses to maintain their sedentary lifestyle.
As a door swings back and forth on its hinges,
so the lazy person turns over in bed. – Proverbs 26:14 NLT
In a starkly satirical line, the fool is described as being so lazy that he can’t even muster up enough strength to feed himself.
Lazy people take food in their hand
but don’t even lift it to their mouth. – Proverbs 26:15 NLT
A lazy, unteachable fool is to be avoided at all costs. Don’t make him a king and don’t hire him as an employee. But even more importantly, don’t become a fool yourself.
English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.