Wisdom Really Works

He who digs a pit will fall into it,
    and a serpent will bite him who breaks through a wall.
He who quarries stones is hurt by them,
    and he who splits logs is endangered by them.
10 If the iron is blunt, and one does not sharpen the edge,
    he must use more strength,
    but wisdom helps one to succeed.
11 If the serpent bites before it is charmed,
    there is no advantage to the charmer.

12 The words of a wise man’s mouth win him favor,
    but the lips of a fool consume him.
13 The beginning of the words of his mouth is foolishness,
    and the end of his talk is evil madness.
14 A fool multiplies words,
    though no man knows what is to be,
    and who can tell him what will be after him?
15 The toil of a fool wearies him,
    for he does not know the way to the city.

16 Woe to you, O land, when your king is a child,
    and your princes feast in the morning!
17 Happy are you, O land, when your king is the son of the nobility,
    and your princes feast at the proper time,
    for strength, and not for drunkenness!
18 Through sloth the roof sinks in,
    and through indolence the house leaks.
19 Bread is made for laughter,
    and wine gladdens life,
    and money answers everything.
20 Even in your thoughts, do not curse the king,
    nor in your bedroom curse the rich,
for a bird of the air will carry your voice,
    or some winged creature tell the matter. Ecclesiastes 10:8-20 ESV

Solomon continues his discussion about wisdom that he began in the opening verses of this chapter, but now, he does so in a more proverbial form. In verses 8-10, he outlines the positive influence of wisdom. It helps one to succeed. Yet, he also describes several scenarios where wisdom won’t necessarily prove to be an asset. It may help, but it cannot prevent the unforeseen or unexpected.

For instance, if someone is in the process of digging a pit, they face the very real risk of falling into the hole they have dug. Wisdom can cause a man to be cautious, but it can’t completely eliminate an accident from occurring.

When doing demolition work on an old wall, and removing the rocks or bricks by hand, there’s always the chance you might get bitten by a snake. Again, wisdom advises discernment and caution, but it can’t control the actions of a snake.

Working in a quarry can be a profitable and potentially harmful occupation. The very stones you seek to gather can end up crushing you. And while the wise will work carefully and cautiously, they may still find themselves in harm’s way, because they can’t control nature. The same thing could be true for someone who splits logs. It’s a potentially dangerous occupation that can end up harming even the wisest of men.

But Solomon’s point seems to be that if wisdom is not used in and applied to the everyday affairs of life, things could turn out even worse. Solomon gives the example of a log-splitter who attempts to do his job with an unsharpened ax. He will find himself expending more energy than necessary, creating undue exhaustion, and increasing the chances of harming himself. But wisdom, when applied properly to life, can help one succeed. It can also help protect against unnecessary risk. But it is not a cure-all or preventative for any and all dangers associated with everyday life lived under the sun.

The sad reality is that there are situations and scenarios in life that cannot be prevented by wisdom. A snake charmer who gets bitten by a snake before he has had the opportunity to train it is the victim of bad timing. His fate has little to do with his abilities as a snake charmer but speaks volumes about the risk associated with his profession. Snake bites are a common hazard for those who attempt to charm snakes. It comes with the territory.

While verses 8-11 deal with wisdom as it pertains to man’s occupation or work life, verses 12-15 take on the tongue, or how wisdom can influence our speech.

Wise words bring approval,
    but fools are destroyed by their own words. – Ecclesiastes 10:12 NLT

The words of a wise man can earn the favor of others. They positively impact his life because they leave a good impression on all those around him. But a foolish man tends to say things that do more harm than good. And he is the one who suffers the most because he speaks self-destructive words that elicit rejection and animosity from others. From the minute a thought comes into his head to the moment he expresses it, the fool’s fate is sealed.

Fools base their thoughts on foolish assumptions,
    so their conclusions will be wicked madness;
    they chatter on and on. – Ecclesiastes 10:13-14 NLT

Their speech is foolish because their thinking is foolish. And as Solomon wrote in one of his proverbs, the real issue is the heart.

Guard your heart above all else,
    for it determines the course of your life.

Avoid all perverse talk;
    stay away from corrupt speech. – Proverbs 4:23-24 NLT

And it was Jesus who said, “whatever is in your heart determines what you say” (Matthew 12:34 NLT). A foolish heart produces foolish words. It’s unavoidable and inevitable. And fools tend to speak of things they don’t know, droning on and on about matters beyond their level of comprehension or regarding the future, of which they have no knowledge.

No one really knows what is going to happen;
    no one can predict the future. – Ecclesiastes 10:14 NLT

They speak because they can, not because they should. And Solomon reasons that it is silly to listen to the words of someone predicting the future who can’t even find his way into town. Their self-professed wisdom is of no practical value. It can’t even prevent them from getting lost. But the sad truth is that our world is filled with foolish individuals who constantly spout their opinions and spew their foolish rhetoric for all to hear. And far too often, the world listens. Social media has provided a platform for fools to spout their opinions on anything and everything. Rock stars and celebrities use their fame as justification for sharing their thoughts on virtually any and every topic under the sun. And the world gathers around them like they’re listening to the Oracle of Delphi. We treat them as if they’re sages or some kind of prescient diviners of all truth. But in reality, they are nothing more than fools, and fools have a bad habit of attracting more of their own kind. As the old saying goes: Birds of a feather flock together. And because that statement is true, you end up with the sad scene that Jesus once described as the blind leading the blind. And the end result of that little parade is never positive.

In verses 16-19, Solomon now turns his attention to wisdom as it relates to leadership. He starts out by describing a nation ruled by a child-king and a collection of princes who lack self-control.

What sorrow for the land ruled by a servant,
    the land whose leaders feast in the morning. – Ecclesiastes 10:16 NLT

In Proverbs 22:15, Solomon makes the observation: “A youngster’s heart is filled with foolishness.” Children make lousy leaders because they lack wisdom. And if you gather a group of children together, you multiply the foolishness exponentially. Young, inexperienced princes who love to feast in the morning will end up making bad decisions all day long.

Of course, Solomon may be speaking of a king who simply acts like a child. We all know what that looks like. In his letter to the church in Corinth, Paul made a personal statement regarding his attitude toward maturity and spiritual growth: “When I was a child, I spoke and thought and reasoned as a child. But when I grew up, I put away childish things” (1 Corinthians 13:11 NLT). Adults are to act like adults. But sadly, far too many grownups still behave like children, lacking self-control and exhibiting simplistic thinking that can destroy marriages, families, cities, and nations.

But when a leader approaches his responsibilities wisely and nobly, those under his leadership prosper. They find themselves joyful and at peace because they have someone leading them effectively and justly.

Happy is the land whose king is a noble leader
    and whose leaders feast at the proper time
    to gain strength for their work, not to get drunk. – Ecclesiastes 10:17 NLT

Leaders who feast in order to gain strength are dramatically different than those who feast to get drunk. Wise leaders understand the seriousness of their role and do everything with forethought and careful consideration as to how their actions will influence the well-being of those under their care. But young, foolish leaders end up making unwise decisions. In some cases, they put off making decisions at all, procrastinating, or simply postponing their responsibilities. And Solomon compares this kind of leadership to the slothful individual who puts off fixing his roof, only to watch it leak and eventually cave in on him.

You can put off your responsibilities, but not the consequences for doing so. Wisdom is what helps us make use of the gifts God has given to us. Bread is of great value and can produce much joy and laughter when used wisely. Wine is a wonderful gift from God and can make life more enjoyable but only when accompanied by wisdom. Money can be a powerful tool to solve all kinds of problems but it requires wisdom and discernment.

All of these gifts can be abused and misused. A fool can take what God has given and use it to self-destruct. He can over-indulge. He can drink to excess. And he can make money his god. And a fool, sitting in the privacy of his own home, may think it is safe for him to speak ill of the king, but what he doesn’t realize is that even words spoken in private have a way of going public. His foolish criticism of those in authority over him will eventually come back to haunt him.

Wisdom really does work. When used appropriately, as God intended, it can have far-reaching benefits that bring added value to life. Wisdom is not a cure-all that guarantees a problem-free life. It is a God-given resource for making the most out of life – including the good and the bad. Wisdom provides discernment and self-discipline. It promotes diligence and discourages laziness. It produces a life of meaning and significance, marked by a reverence for God and a reliance upon His grace and goodness.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

 

A Leadership Void

15 Like a roaring lion or a charging bear
    is a wicked ruler over a poor people.
16 A ruler who lacks understanding is a cruel oppressor,
    but he who hates unjust gain will prolong his days.
17 If one is burdened with the blood of another,
    he will be a fugitive until death;
    let no one help him.
18 Whoever walks in integrity will be delivered,
    but he who is crooked in his ways will suddenly fall.
19 Whoever works his land will have plenty of bread,
    but he who follows worthless pursuits will have plenty of poverty.
20 A faithful man will abound with blessings,
    but whoever hastens to be rich will not go unpunished.
21 To show partiality is not good,
    but for a piece of bread a man will do wrong.
22 A stingy man hastens after wealth
    and does not know that poverty will come upon him.
23 Whoever rebukes a man will afterward find more favor
    than he who flatters with his tongue.
24 Whoever robs his father or his mother
    and says, “That is no transgression,”
    is a companion to a man who destroys.
25 A greedy man stirs up strife,
    but the one who trusts in the Lord will be enriched.
26 Whoever trusts in his own mind is a fool,
    but he who walks in wisdom will be delivered.
27 Whoever gives to the poor will not want,
    but he who hides his eyes will get many a curse.
28 When the wicked rise, people hide themselves,
    but when they perish, the righteous increase. 
– Proverbs 28:15-28 ESV

We have a leadership void. Don’t get me wrong; we have no shortage of leaders in this country. It’s just that we don’t have very many godly leaders. There are plenty of ambitious, intelligent, capable, and sometimes even moral men and women who hold positions of leadership in our nation, but most of them lack the wisdom that only God can provide.

The following verse above paints a pretty bleak picture for a nation that finds itself with a moral and spiritual leadership void.

When there is moral rot within a nation, its government topples easily.
    But wise and knowledgeable leaders bring stability. – Proverbs 28:2 NLT

The Message paraphrases verse two this way: “When the country is in chaos, everybody has a plan to fix it – But it takes a leader of real understanding to straighten things out.”

What an apt description of our own country at this stage of the game. We are in chaos, and everybody has a plan to fix it. We have an abundance of “princes” as the NIV describes them. These so-called leaders and a host of political pundits each offer up solutions to our nation’s myriad problems, but none of them really have a clue as to what should be done about the economy, terrorism, or any other issue facing us. They fail to realize that the root of all our problems is a spiritual one.

A wicked ruler is as dangerous to the poor
    as a roaring lion or an attacking bear.

A ruler with no understanding will oppress his people,
    but one who hates corruption will have a long life. – Proverbs 28:15-16 NLT

Because they lack the wisdom of God, these godless rulers have no way of understanding that the troubled economy is a symptom of a much more serious issue. Raising or lowering taxes is not going to fix what is broken. A larger or smaller government will not be the panacea for our problems. In the very next chapter, Solomon gives us the real solution.

When the godly are in authority, the people rejoice.
    But when the wicked are in power, they groan. – Proverbs 29:2 NLT

In other words, when godly men and women lead a nation according to godly principles and provide wisdom and insight directly from God Himself, the people find themselves living in peace and moral prosperity. Godly leaders make godly decisions. They are not selfish and self-centered. They are not greedy and out to benefit only themselves.

Greedy people try to get rich quick
    but don’t realize they’re headed for poverty. – Proverbs 28:22 NLT

Leaders who lack godly wisdom operate in a spiritual vacuum and are unable to see things from God’s perspective. They are motivated by pride and consumed with the need for recognition. But a godly leader views any power they possess as having been given to them by God, to whom they must report and by whom they will be held accountable.

The trustworthy person will get a rich reward,
    but a person who wants quick riches will get into trouble. – Proverbs 28:20 NLT

What we pass off as leadership today is a far cry from what God had in mind. All you have to do is look at Jesus to see what God views as godly leadership. Jesus came to earth to be the Messiah of Israel. He was to be their King and set up His kingdom on earth. And yet, Jesus claimed that He “came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28 ESV).

Jesus came to give His life away for the sake of others. He was concerned with and consumed by the will of His Father. He was obedient to God to the point of laying down His life. He knew that the world’s problems were spiritual in nature and the solution would have to be a spiritual one. Toppling the Roman government was not going to bring peace to the Jews. Only a Savior could heal them from what ailed them. They needed deliverance from sin, not relief from high taxes. They needed dependence on God, not independence from Rome.

Jesus did not come to tell people what they wanted to hear. He refused to tickle their ears with pleasant-sounding platitudes or comforting words designed to placate their guilt. No, as the apostle Paul makes clear, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners…” (1 Timothy 1:15 NLT). And as this Proverb so powerfully states:

In the end, people appreciate honest criticism
    far more than flattery. – Proverbs 28:23 NLT

Jesus was the ultimate example of a godly leader. After all, He was God in human flesh and as a man, He manifested all the wisdom of God perfectly and completely. Jesus lived to do the will of His Father.

“My nourishment comes from doing the will of God, who sent me, and from finishing his work.” – John 4:34 NLT

“For I have come down from heaven to do the will of God who sent me, not to do my own will. – John 6:38 NLT

Jesus was not a flatterer or glad-hander. He didn’t tell people what they wanted to hear but, instead, He boldly proclaimed the words of His Heavenly Father and demonstrated the attributes of a godly leader. And His example was emulated by men like the apostle Paul.

For we speak as messengers approved by God to be entrusted with the Good News. Our purpose is to please God, not people. He alone examines the motives of our hearts. Never once did we try to win you with flattery, as you well know. And God is our witness that we were not pretending to be your friends just to get your money! As for human praise, we have never sought it from you or anyone else. – 1 Thessalonians 2:4-6 NLT

Paul and his fellow apostles modeled their lives and ministries after Jesus. They fully understood the wisdom found in Proverbs 28:26.

Those who trust their own insight are foolish,
    but anyone who walks in wisdom is safe.

But we live in a day when everyone seems to be doing what is right in their own eyes. Our society is obsessed with the idea of individual autonomy and freedom from restraints of any kind. Everybody wants to be their own king ruling over their kingdom. And yet, when things don’t turn out quite the way we expect, we look to the government or a political leader to bring us relief and restoration. We naively expect a flawed and failed system to deliver us from our self-inflicted predicament.

Yet God has already provided a deliverer in the form of His very own Son. Godly leaders point a nation back to God. They don’t try to act as a substitute for Him. We find ourselves in trouble as a nation, not because of a bad economy, social inequities, or global warming, but because we have appointed leaders who have no respect for God. Without Him, they are helpless and hopeless to lead us because they lack the wisdom required for the job.

We need to pray that God will raise up men and women who know Him, love Him, and are willing to live for Him. But we also need to pray for a spiritual reawakening among the people of God who have become complacent and sometimes even contributors to the moral chaos facing our nation. We lack godly leaders because we have become a godless nation. But the wise see things from God’s perspective and always know there is hope.

When the wicked take charge, people go into hiding.
    When the wicked meet disaster, the godly flourish. – Proverbs 28:28 NLT

In the end, the godly win. The wicked may have their 15 minutes of fame, but the righteous will always come out on top. Those who walk the way of the wise will find that their path ultimately leads to joy, peace, comfort, and blessing.

trusting the Lord leads to prosperity. – Proverbs 28:25 NLT

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.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

The Taming of the Tongue

17 Whoever meddles in a quarrel not his own
    is like one who takes a passing dog by the ears.
18 Like a madman who throws firebrands, arrows, and death
19 is the man who deceives his neighbor
    and says, “I am only joking!”
20 For lack of wood the fire goes out,
    and where there is no whisperer, quarreling ceases.
21 As charcoal to hot embers and wood to fire,
    so is a quarrelsome man for kindling strife.
22 The words of a whisperer are like delicious morsels;
    they go down into the inner parts of the body.
23 Like the glaze covering an earthen vessel
    are fervent lips with an evil heart.
24 Whoever hates disguises himself with his lips
    and harbors deceit in his heart;
25 when he speaks graciously, believe him not,
    for there are seven abominations in his heart;
26 though his hatred be covered with deception,
    his wickedness will be exposed in the assembly.
27 Whoever digs a pit will fall into it,
    and a stone will come back on him who starts it rolling.
28 A lying tongue hates its victims,
    and a flattering mouth works ruin.
– Proverbs 26:17-28 ESV

When I think of the Proverbs I can’t help but think about the fool. This collection of wise sayings from the pen of Solomon contains a large number of references to the fool and foolish behavior. It also mentions other behavior closely associated with the fool, such as laziness, lying, dishonesty, unreliability, and an uncontrolled tongue. Some of the things Solomon has to say about fools seem humorous when you read them, but they are meant to be taken seriously. “Honoring a fool is as foolish as tying a stone to a slingshot” (Proverbs 26:8 NLT). The image this Proverb conjures up is meant to be ridiculous and ludicrous. Nobody in their right mind would do something as silly as tying a stone to a sling. It makes no sense. It would serve no purpose. It would be a waste of time. And that’s exactly Solomon’s point. Showering honor on a fool is useless and will produce no beneficial results. As The Message paraphrases this verse, honoring a fool would be “like setting a mud brick on a marble column.” Absolutely ridiculous.

So why does Solomon have it out for fools? Why does he have such strong words of warning against foolish people and foolish behavior? Because he understands the danger they pose to themselves and to society. In Solomon’s mind, fools are the epitome of the person who lives their life as if there is no God. David, Solomon’s father, had warned him early on in life, “Only fools say in their hearts, ‘There is no God.’ They are corrupt, and their actions are evil; not one of them does good” (Psalm 53:1 NLT). In the minds of David and Solomon, the fool was not some innocent, bumbling buffoon who just happened to be a few bricks short of a full load. No, fools were a danger to society because they failed to honor God with their lives. Fools were pariahs and a drain on society, because of their refusal to work and their tendency to excuse their laziness with lies. They didn’t carry their load and were not to be trusted or tolerated. In this section of chapter 26, the emphasis seems to be on their words, which were worthless because they refused to listen to the wisdom of God.

Fools are just as prevalent today as they were in Solomon’s day. But we have become so much more tolerant of them. We have fools in places of power and influence. We watch fools entertain us on TV and in the movies, then listen intently as they share their words of wisdom with us on everything from marriage to politics and religion. We idolize and envy them for their lifestyles of excess and hedonism. Our government is well-stocked with fools who use clever words and inspiring speeches to win over constituents and solidify their power base. Yet as Solomon warns:

Smooth words may hide a wicked heart,
    just as a pretty glaze covers a clay pot.

People may cover their hatred with pleasant words,
    but they’re deceiving you.
They pretend to be kind, but don’t believe them.
    Their hearts are full of many evils.Proverbs 26:23-25 NLT

And fools populate the body of Christ as well. Yes, you can be a believer in Jesus Christ and still live like a fool. A fool is simply someone who actively spurns the ways of God. He lives his life as if there is no God in spite of overwhelming evidence to the contrary. And the fool is one who hears God’s call but refuses to listen. The Christian fool is the man or woman who is spiritually lazy, avoiding the effort demanded to live according to God’s standards. They refuse to spend time in God’s Word, making up all kinds of excuses. They want the benefits of godliness without putting in any effort. They learn to cover what is really in their hearts with “smooth words.” They pretend to be something they’re not, and they are a danger to the body of Christ. Foolishness is the opposite of wisdom. It is the natural and unavoidable consequence of a life lived apart from the life-changing wisdom of God found in His Word. Avoid the fool at all costs. Avoid foolishness at all costs.

And do everything in your power and with the Holy Spirit’s help to avoid sounding like a fool. It’s amazing how much the Book of Proverbs has to say about the tongue, which is just another way of talking about what comes out of our mouths. From flattery to lying, gossip to arguing, and rumors to wise words, there are countless passages that warn us about watching what we say. But as challenging as it is to keep a close eye on our tongue and the words it produces, we must also be wary of the words others speak to us.

It is amazing just how susceptible we can be to the words of others. As human beings, we can be so desperate for praise that we become easy prey for those who have less-than-righteous objectives. We can easily be taken in by flattery and false praise, which can be a dangerous mistake to make.

Solomon warns us to look beyond the words themselves to the heart of the one speaking. Words can be used to hide true motives, disguise intent, and distract the hearer by telling them what they want to hear. Like colorful glaze used to cover a drab clay pot, smooth-sounding words may be just a cover up to dress up what’s really there.

These kinds of people know full well what they’re doing. They’re hiding what’s really in their hearts and attempting to make you think that all is well. This can happen between a husband and wife, a parent and child, two friends, or two fellow believers. The real danger is that because we can be so susceptible to smooth words, we end up soaking in what they’re saying like a dry sponge. We’re so desperate to hear words of praise and flattery that we fail to consider the source or think about the intent.

Solomon makes it clear that he is talking about those who have wicked hearts that are filled with evil. He is warning us against people who have a reputation for hatred and wrongdoing. And yet, we can find ourselves actually buying into their lies because we find their deceptive words so appealing. We can be so desirous of kind words, that we will accept from even the most suspect source. But Solomon warns, “Don’t believe them!”

They’re lying. They don’t believe what they’re saying and you shouldn’t either. Consider the source. Think carefully about the heart of the one praising you. “A lying tongue hates its victims, and flattering words cause ruin” (Proverbs 26:28 NLT). Do not allow your need for praise to numb you to the truth.

In Greek mythology, the Sirens were portrayed as dangerous and devious creatures, who usually took the form of beautiful women in distress and lured nearby sailors with their enchanting music and voices. Casting caution to the wind and falling prey to the flattering cry of the Sirens, these seasoned sailors would steer their ships directly into the rocks along the coastline, resulting in their own deaths.

Remember, “They pretend to be kind, but don’t believe them. Their hearts are full of many evils” (Proverbs 26:25 NLT). The wisdom of God gives discernment. It opens our eyes to the truth. Without it, we will listen to the smooth words and be deceived by the glossy veneer. To our own detriment. Don’t listen to the Siren’s call.

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.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

Flee From Fools

1 Like snow in summer or rain in harvest,
    so honor is not fitting for a fool.
Like a sparrow in its flitting, like a swallow in its flying,
    a curse that is causeless does not alight.
A whip for the horse, a bridle for the donkey,
    and a rod for the back of fools.
Answer not a fool according to his folly,
    lest you be like him yourself.
Answer a fool according to his folly,
    lest he be wise in his own eyes.
Whoever sends a message by the hand of a fool
    cuts off his own feet and drinks violence.
Like a lame man’s legs, which hang useless,
    is a proverb in the mouth of fools.
Like one who binds the stone in the sling
    is one who gives honor to a fool.
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.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

Fatherly Advice

1 When you sit down to eat with a ruler,
    observe carefully what is before you,
and put a knife to your throat
    if you are given to appetite.
Do not desire his delicacies,
    for they are deceptive food.
Do not toil to acquire wealth;
    be discerning enough to desist.
When your eyes light on it, it is gone,
    for suddenly it sprouts wings,
    flying like an eagle toward heaven.
Do not eat the bread of a man who is stingy;
    do not desire his delicacies,
for he is like one who is inwardly calculating.
    “Eat and drink!” he says to you,
    but his heart is not with you.
You will vomit up the morsels that you have eaten,
    and waste your pleasant words.
Do not speak in the hearing of a fool,
    for he will despise the good sense of your words.
10 Do not move an ancient landmark
    or enter the fields of the fatherless,
11 for their Redeemer is strong;
    he will plead their cause against you.
12 Apply your heart to instruction
    and your ear to words of knowledge.
13 Do not withhold discipline from a child;
    if you strike him with a rod, he will not die.
14 If you strike him with the rod,
    you will save his soul from Sheol.
15 My son, if your heart is wise,
    my heart too will be glad.
16 My inmost being will exult
    when your lips speak what is right.
– Proverbs 23:1-16 ESV

Solomon’s collection of 36 wise sayings appears to have been intended primarily for the benefit of his sons. As the heirs of his vast estate and formidable fortune, these young men would enjoy great privilege and power, but Solomon knew that it would come with great responsibility. Their ability to manage their assets and their actions would require wisdom. So, Solomon compiled this list of three dozen simple, yet profoundly beneficial maxims that he had gathered from the world’s sages.

Solomon knew that his sons would be exposed to a culture where the allure of wealth, power, and influence would be constant. As sons of the king, they would be a part of high society, rubbing shoulders with some of the most powerful people in the land. But Solomon knew that hobnobbing with the privileged class came with certain risks, and he wanted his sons to be aware of them.

First of all, they would need to maintain an air of self-control and humility. Entry into the upper echelons of society can be a heady experience. The accouterments of privilege and rank can be tantalizing. The fine food and expensive delicacies that wealth makes possible can be highly enjoyable but they can also prove to be a dangerous trap. An overabundance of food can easily expose a propensity for overeating and a lack of self-control. That is why Solomon warns his sons:

While dining with a ruler,
    pay attention to what is put before you.
If you are a big eater,
    put a knife to your throat;
don’t desire all the delicacies,
    for he might be trying to trick you. Proverbs 23:1-3 NLT

Solomon understood that there is such a thing as too much of a good thing. Anything done to excess can be extremely dangerous. That is why self-restraint is so vital. An inability to control one’s physical appetites can lead to the sin of gluttony. And just a few verses later in this same Proverb, Solomon records yet another warning against excess.

Do not carouse with drunkards
    or feast with gluttons,
for they are on their way to poverty,
    and too much sleep clothes them in rags. – Proverbs 23:20-21 NLT

In his book of Ecclesiastes, Solomon recorded another dire warning against gluttony and the lack of self-control among those of privilege and power.

What sorrow for the land ruled by a servant,
    the land whose leaders feast in the morning.
Happy is the land whose king is a noble leader
    and whose leaders feast at the proper time
    to gain strength for their work, not to get drunk. – Ecclesiastes 10:16-17 NLT

An inordinate obsession with food and alcohol can be dangerous, but how much more so is the insatiable desire for wealth. Solomon knew that, for the well-to-do, enough was never enough. There would always be the temptation to acquire more. So, he warned his sons to moderate their appetite for accumulating ever-increasing wealth.

Don’t wear yourself out trying to get rich.
    Be wise enough to know when to quit.
In the blink of an eye wealth disappears,
    for it will sprout wings
    and fly away like an eagle. – Proverbs 23:4-5 NLT

And Solomon was well-acquainted with the problem of avarice. He even wrote about his own struggle with dissatisfaction and his constant attempt to increase his portfolio of material possessions.

I also tried to find meaning by building huge homes for myself and by planting beautiful vineyards. I made gardens and parks, filling them with all kinds of fruit trees. I built reservoirs to collect the water to irrigate my many flourishing groves. I bought slaves, both men and women, and others were born into my household. I also owned large herds and flocks, more than any of the kings who had lived in Jerusalem before me. I collected great sums of silver and gold, the treasure of many kings and provinces. I hired wonderful singers, both men and women, and had many beautiful concubines. I had everything a man could desire! – Ecclesiastes 2:4-8 NLT

And his assessment of his never-ending quest for more was far from optimistic.

Anything I wanted, I would take. I denied myself no pleasure. I even found great pleasure in hard work, a reward for all my labors. But as I looked at everything I had worked so hard to accomplish, it was all so meaningless—like chasing the wind. There was nothing really worthwhile anywhere. – Ecclesiastes 2:10-11 NLT

Chasing after wealth can be exhausting. It’s like running on a treadmill; no matter how hard or fast you run, you never really get anywhere. More wealth doesn’t bring increased happiness. Riches can never deliver satisfaction or contentment. And yet, Solomon understood the temptation to make much out of acquiring more – of just about anything. So, he warned his sons that the failure to control one’s desires for power, prominence, and pleasure could be a dangerous and deadly trap.

And, along with curbing their appetites, they were going to need to manage their relationships well. They would need to develop discernment and become adept at judging the character of others. The world is full of people who will feign politeness and hospitality but all the while their intentions will be less-than-sincere.

Don’t eat with people who are stingy;
    don’t desire their delicacies.
They are always thinking about how much it costs.
    “Eat and drink,” they say, but they don’t mean it.
You will throw up what little you’ve eaten,
    and your compliments will be wasted. – Proverbs 23:6-8 NLT

Solomon describes the highly unpleasant experience of dining with someone whose overtures of kindness are nothing more than poorly veiled hypocrisy. They put on an impressive display of hospitality but the whole while they are counting the cost to their bottom line. Their false show of hospitableness is nothing but a ruse and enough to make one sick. The whole affair will end up being a waste of time and energy.

Next, Solomon warns his sons against associating with fools. Not only should they avoid the company of fools, but they should also refrain from trying to correct their behavior.

Don’t waste your breath on fools,
    for they will despise the wisest advice. – Proverbs 23:9 NLT

In a sense, Solomon is saying, “Save your breath!” A fool has no desire to hear what you have to say and no intention of putting your advice into practice. So, don’t waste your time.

With the next wise saying, Solomon revisits a topic he has already covered: The illegal and unethical movement of property boundary markers.

Don’t cheat your neighbor by moving the ancient boundary markers;
    don’t take the land of defenseless orphans.
For their Redeemer is strong;
    he himself will bring their charges against you. – Proverbs 23:10-11 NLT

It is almost as if Solomon is giving his sons an example of someone who is acting like a fool. He is telling them, “Don’t be this guy.” He wants them to understand that there are certain laws that God has established that are not up for negotiation or debate. To act like a fool is to ignore the word of God and to behave as if His laws don’t apply to you. But Solomon warns that God will hold all men accountable for their actions.

Solomon doesn’t want his sons to be fools, gluttons, greedy, or ungodly. That’s why he pleads with them to listen to the words of wisdom he is sharing. He wants them to take these truths to heart and apply them to their lives.

Commit yourself to instruction;
    listen carefully to words of knowledge. – Proverbs 23:12 NLT

They were to never stop learning and growing. And they were to take what they had learned from their father and pass it on to their own children. But knowledge alone would not be enough. There would come a time for discipline because children can be stubborn and disobedient.

Don’t fail to discipline your children.
    The rod of punishment won’t kill them.
Physical discipline
    may well save them from death. – Proverbs 23:13-14 NLT

And, as Solomon stated in Proverbs 3, the model for this kind of loving instruction comes from God the Father.

My child, don’t reject the Lord’s discipline,
    and don’t be upset when he corrects you.
For the Lord corrects those he loves,
    just as a father corrects a child in whom he delights. – Proverbs 3:11-12 NLT

And as a loving father, Solomon conveyed his desire that his sons would continue to grow in wisdom and integrity.

My child, if your heart is wise,
    my own heart will rejoice!
Everything in me will celebrate
    when you speak what is right. – Proverbs 23:15-16 NLT

He longed for each of them to become godly men whose lives displayed wisdom and discernment. His great wealth and power were nothing when compared with the hope of seeing his sons exhibit a love for and obedience to God. His greatest desire was that his sons would choose the right path – the one that leads to joy, fulfillment, and purpose.

Choose a good reputation over great riches;
    being held in high esteem is better than silver or gold. – Proverbs 22:1 NLT

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.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

The X-Ray Vision of God

1 The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord;
    he turns it wherever he will.
Every way of a man is right in his own eyes,
    but the Lord weighs the heart.
To do righteousness and justice
    is more acceptable to the Lord than sacrifice.
Haughty eyes and a proud heart,
    the lamp of the wicked, are sin.
The plans of the diligent lead surely to abundance,
    but everyone who is hasty comes only to poverty.
The getting of treasures by a lying tongue
    is a fleeting vapor and a snare of death.
The violence of the wicked will sweep them away,
    because they refuse to do what is just.
The way of the guilty is crooked,
    but the conduct of the pure is upright.
It is better to live in a corner of the housetop
    than in a house shared with a quarrelsome wife.
10 The soul of the wicked desires evil;
    his neighbor finds no mercy in his eyes.
11 When a scoffer is punished, the simple becomes wise;
    when a wise man is instructed, he gains knowledge.
12 The Righteous One observes the house of the wicked;
    he throws the wicked down to ruin.
13 Whoever closes his ear to the cry of the poor
    will himself call out and not be answered.
14 A gift in secret averts anger,
    and a concealed bribe, strong wrath.
15 When justice is done, it is a joy to the righteous
    but terror to evildoers.
– Proverbs 21:1-15 ESV

As human beings, we can be the masters of deceit and deception. Over time we can learn the art of spin, controlling what others think about us and manipulating how they perceive us. In fact, how we’re perceived by others can become the most important thing about us. Our external persona becomes our pseudo-personality. Perception becomes reality. After a while, we can even begin to believe our own PR. We can convince ourselves that the facade we’ve erected is real, not imaginary – that the aura we give off is authentic, not self-manufactured and fake.

But while we may fool others and even ourselves with our Academy-Award-winning ways, God remains unconvinced and unimpressed. He looks right past our plastic facade and sees into the very recesses of our souls. He examines our hearts.

Every way of a man is right in his own eyes,
    but the Lord weighs the heart. – Proverbs 21:2 ESV

The Hebrew word that is translated as “weighs” is actually a term for measuring, as in a balance scale. God places our hearts on one side of the scale and measures its real worth based on something of equal weight or worth. He doesn’t take into account any of the excess exterior trappings we’ve spent so much time creating and cultivating. He goes right to the heart of the matter – literally. God takes a look at the condition of our hearts and determines who we really are. If we allow Him. And sadly, we quickly discover that, rather than being the measure of all things, we are being measured by a holy and righteous God.

God X-rays our hearts and reveals what’s really going on under the shiny surface of our lives. He exposes our pride, anger, and arrogance. He shows us our selfishness and self-centeredness.

Haughty eyes, a proud heart,
    and evil actions are all sin. – Proverbs 21:4 NLT

He exposes to us our fears, faithlessness, spiritual adultery, and embarrassing weaknesses.

The Righteous One knows what is going on in the homes of the wicked;
    he will bring disaster on them. – Proverbs 21:12 NLT

But like a doctor examining a patient, God’s goal is not just to expose sickness. He wants to bring about healing. He desires to refocus our attention away from the surface issues of life and on to the hard reality of our heart health. God longs to heal our hearts so that we might truly be what He desires for us to be.

Whoever pursues righteousness and unfailing love
    will find life, righteousness, and honor. – Proverbs 21:21 NLT

We can pursue wealth, pleasure, popularity, and a host of other things, but they will never deliver what we need. We can attempt to ignore our hearts and live in a fairy tale land of false identity and fake reality, but we will never find joy, peace, and contentment. So, God examines our hearts and then gives us the results. But He also provides us with a prescription and a remedy for healing. As the Great Physician, He knows how to heal our hearts and restore our souls. But it begins with a thorough examination and a correct, sometimes shocking diagnosis. Once we accept His assessment and place ourselves under His loving, capable hands, healing can begin. Our hearts can be made whole again. The facade can come down, the false identity can be removed, and the man or woman God designed us to be can begin to reveal itself – from the inside out. And a heart that is in the right condition can begin doing what God has deemed as right.

The Lord is more pleased when we do what is right and just
    than when we offer him sacrifices. – Proverbs 21:3 NLT

But sadly, a lot of us spend a lot of time trying to keep God pleased. We view Him as some kind of divine Santa Clause, who’s making a list, and checking it twice. He’s gonna find out who’s naughty or nice. So, if we want to keep Him happy, we better get busy doing nice things. And that can translate into everything from having a quiet time to memorizing Scripture, or doing acts of service and going to a Bible study or on a short-term mission trip. We can even believe that giving more money to the church will put us in good standing with God. And while there’s nothing wrong with any of these things, we can easily turn them into actions that we believe will earn us brownie points with God. And in doing so, we miss the point. When we make them personal sacrifices we offer on behalf of God in the hopes that He will notice and reward us favorably, they lose their meaning and we lose our focus.

King David understood this concept very well. He wrote, “You do not desire a sacrifice, or I would offer one. You do not want a burnt offering. The sacrifice you desire is a broken spirit. You will not reject a broken and repentant heart, O God” (Psalm 51:16-17 NLT).

While God had commanded the people of Israel to offer sacrifices, what He was really looking for was an obedient heart. Jesus had harsh words for the religious leaders in His day.

“What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you are careful to tithe even the tiniest income from your herb gardens, but you ignore the more important aspects of the law — justice, mercy, and faith. You should tithe, yes, but do not neglect the more important things. Blind guides!” – Matthew 23:23-24 NLT

These men were adept at keeping the law and of making the proper sacrifices, but their hearts were not right. They were skilled at keeping the letter of the law but were oblivious to the real point behind the law: Doing justice, mercy, and faith.

It wasn’t supposed to be about their ability to keep laws, but about the motivation of their hearts. They were doing what they were doing out of a sense of self-righteousness and in the hopes that what they did would somehow earn them credit with God. But as we read in Proverbs, God is more pleased when we do what is right and just than when we offer Him sacrifices. He is more focused on our hearts than our efforts. In the verse right before this one, Solomon writes, “People may be right in their own eyes, but the Lord examines their heart.”

God is able to see our inner motivation. He knows when we are doing what we are doing out of some sense of duty or simply in the hopes of earning His approval. The book of Micah contains these sobering words:

No, O people, the LORD has told you what is good, and this is what he requires of you: to do what is right, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God. – Micah 6:8 NLT

God’s desire is that our outer efforts be motivated by an inward transformation that He alone can bring about. As we submit to His authority over our lives and listen to the Holy Spirit’s direction, we begin to understand what it is that God would have us do. We begin to desire what He desires, love what He loves, and see the world as He sees it. We learn to walk in humility, not pride. We understand that our best efforts are never enough to earn points with God. He doesn’t need our sacrifices. He simply wants our hearts. And as He changes our hearts, we begin to do what is just and right. We act in ways that are in keeping with His heart and in accordance with His will. And He is pleased.

So much of what the book of Proverbs deals with has to do with outward conduct.

The way of the guilty is crooked,
    but the conduct of the pure is upright. – Proverbs 21:8 ESV

But it all begins in the heart.

The soul of the wicked desires evil;
    his neighbor finds no mercy in his eyes. – Proverbs 21:10 ESV

Ungodly behavior can show up in a variety of forms, from a wife who likes to quarrel to a husband with a lying tongue and an arrogant attitude. The wicked are everywhere. And they all share the same problem: They each have unhealthy and unholy hearts. And that is an ailment only God can heal.

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.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

External Influences

1 Wine is a mocker, strong drink a brawler,
    and whoever is led astray by it is not wise.
The terror of a king is like the growling of a lion;
    whoever provokes him to anger forfeits his life.
It is an honor for a man to keep aloof from strife,
    but every fool will be quarreling.
The sluggard does not plow in the autumn;
    he will seek at harvest and have nothing.
The purpose in a man’s heart is like deep water,
    but a man of understanding will draw it out.
Many a man proclaims his own steadfast love,
    but a faithful man who can find?
The righteous who walks in his integrity—
    blessed are his children after him!
A king who sits on the throne of judgment
    winnows all evil with his eyes.
Who can say, “I have made my heart pure;
    I am clean from my sin”?
10 Unequal weights and unequal measures
    are both alike an abomination to the Lord.
11 Even a child makes himself known by his acts,
    by whether his conduct is pure and upright.
12 The hearing ear and the seeing eye,
    the Lord has made them both.
13 Love not sleep, lest you come to poverty;
    open your eyes, and you will have plenty of bread.
14 “Bad, bad,” says the buyer,
    but when he goes away, then he boasts.
15 There is gold and abundance of costly stones,
    but the lips of knowledge are a precious jewel.
– Proverbs 20:1-15 ESV

“Ears to hear and eyes to see – both are gifts from the Lord.” – Proverbs 20:12 NLT

There are a lot of things that can impact the direction and quality of an individual’s life, and many of them are external in nature. In this proverb, Solomon begins by mentioning the detrimental influence that alcohol can have.

Wine produces mockers; alcohol leads to brawls.
    Those led astray by drink cannot be wise. – Proverbs 20:1 NLT

While the Scriptures don’t ban the consumption of alcohol outright, there are clear warnings as to its use and potential abuse. Here in the wisdom literature of Proverbs, we have an in-your-face warning included by Solomon that doesn’t mince words when it comes to the potential danger of alcohol. And he isn’t talking about distilled alcohol. No, he’s talking about the everyday, run-of-the-mill, average household wine that a Hebrew would consume.

He describes it as a mocker. Too much wine or alcohol in the system can turn anyone into an obnoxious, inebriated blowhard who is offensive to be around. The NET Bible puts it this way: “Excessive use of intoxicants excites the drinker to boisterous behavior and aggressive attitudes – it turns them into mockers and brawlers.”

You’ve seen them, been around them, and may have been there once or twice yourself. Alcohol clouds your senses, dulls your thinking, and distorts your perspective. The weak suddenly become strong, the timid feel braver, and the normally quiet ones become increasingly bolder. Inhibitions get tossed aside like a bottle cap and concern for decorum or reputation gets lost in the euphoric, alcohol-induced buzz. The Message has a not-so-subtle way of paraphrasing this verse. “Wine makes you mean, beer makes you quarrelsome – a staggering drunk is not much fun.” How sadly true.

But alcohol isn’t the only thing that can negatively influence an individual’s life. Solomon also mentions quarreling and strife.

Avoiding a fight is a mark of honor;
    only fools insist on quarreling. – Proverbs 20:3 NLT

The fact is, we don’t live our lives in isolation. We are constantly surrounded by other people who may not always agree with or even like us, which can easily lead to disagreements and the potential for strife. But while the temptation to defend our rights and state our minds might be strong, Solomon suggests that it would be better to avoid conflict at all costs. In fact, it is a mark of honor and a sign of wisdom. Only fools insist on escalating a conflict to the point that someone is going to get hurt, either emotionally or physically.

Another negative influence on a man’s life is the tendency toward laziness.

Those too lazy to plow in the right season
    will have no food at the harvest. – Proverbs 20:4 NLT

Essentially, Solomon is describing procrastination – the art of putting off until tomorrow what should rightfully be done today. Solomon was not a big fan of the procrastinator. In fact, in Proverbs 6, he describes this kind of individual as if he had one living in his own home.

But you, lazybones, how long will you sleep?
    When will you wake up?
A little extra sleep, a little more slumber,
    a little folding of the hands to rest—
then poverty will pounce on you like a bandit;
    scarcity will attack you like an armed robber. – Proverbs 6:9-11 NLT

But Solomon mentions another external temptation that we must avoid: The use of dishonest means to achieve personal gain.

False weights and unequal measures—
    the Lord detests double standards of every kind. – Proverbs 20:10 NLT

When the Proverbs talk about false weights and unequal measures, it is describing a form of double standard that is aimed at others. It is designed to take unfair advantage of another person by means of intentional deception. The image is that of a vendor using inaccurate weights and measures in order to make the buyer think he is getting more than he is paying for. It is using deception to gain an advantage. But Solomon warns that God is watching and He is totally opposed to such actions – especially among His people.

God hates hypocrisy, and so should we. Yet the double standard is not only tolerated in our society, it’s actually admired. It has become an art form. Living the lie and masquerading as something other than what we truly are has become commonplace – even among Christians. And while we may fool others by our pretense and pretending, we never fool God. He sees and knows all. He is not impressed by our outward displays of righteousness or our Oscar-worthy performances that impress the crowds around us. He can spot duplicity and deceit of all kinds – even when we are trying to trick others into believing we are righteous. God desires honesty and integrity among His people. He wants us to say what we mean and mean what we say. He wants us to keep our word and live in such a way that our behavior is a true indication of our hearts.

Dishonesty has no place in the life of a follower of Christ. Instead, “the godly walk with integrity” (Proverbs 20:7 NLT). The Hebrew word for integrity is tom, and it means wholeness or completeness. It can convey the idea of a simplicity of mind. It is a mind with no deceit, free from mischief and misrepresentation. A life of integrity is a life of wholeness, health, and soundness. To live with integrity as a believer is to live your WHOLE life in a holy manner. It is to give God complete control over every area of your life – not just the convenient ones.

In time, a life of duplicity will always be exposed.

Even children are known by the way they act,
    whether their conduct is pure, and whether it is right.Proverbs 20:11 NLT

As believers, we are to have one standard, not two. We are to live according to God’s righteous requirements, not our own. There is no place for a double standard in our lives. Yet, for many of us, duplicity is a daily companion. We have learned to live the lie, not intending to hurt those around us, but deceiving them all the same. When we act as if all is well and our lives are carefree, yet we are struggling with doubts and troubles of all kinds, we are being duplicitous. We are being dishonest. When we try to impress others with outward displays of spirituality, while on the inside we are wrestling with our beliefs, we are being duplicitous. When we preach to our kids about the importance of God and His Word, but we rarely spend time in it ourselves, we are being hypocrites. And our children are fine-tuned to spot hypocrisy in our lives.

God calls us to be honest, transparent, open, and above board in our relationships with one another. No lying, no deceit, no duplicity, no double standards. We are to be a people of integrity. Not faking it for the sake of those around us, but honestly and openly living our lives knowing that “the Lord’s light penetrates the human spirit, exposing every hidden motive” (Proverbs 20:27 NLT).

Solomon reminds us that we have been given two incredible gifts from God.

Ears to hear and eyes to see—
    both are gifts from the Lord. – Proverbs 20:12 NLT

But Solomon’s mention of sight and hearing has little to do with the ability to see and hear. He seems to know that there are far too many people who have good hearing and great eyesight but who might as well be deaf and blind. Their problem is a spiritual one. Their organs of sight and hearing are perfectly fine, but they are spiritually deaf and blind. God used this imagery on many occasions, telling the people of Judah, “Listen, you foolish and senseless people, with eyes that do not see and ears that do not hear” (Jeremiah 5:21 NLT). They were unable to see the greatness of God and unwilling to hear the voice of God.

While sight and hearing are both gifts from the Lord, how much greater is the gift of being able to see and hear spiritually. The ability to see life from God’s perspective and to clearly hear His voice is a gift of inestimable worth. Every Christ-follower has been equipped with these God-given senses of spiritual sight and hearing. As a result, we have the ability and responsibility to listen more and talk less. I think it’s interesting that speech is not listed as one of the gifts. We put a high value on what we say, but God seems to put a higher value on our capacity to listen – not only to Him but to what is being said around us. We need to train our ears to hear the pain and suffering in the world. We need to hear and discern the falsehood and lies masquerading as truth. We need to hear God speaking in the midst of all the noise around us. But to hear, we have to stop talking.

And we need to see more clearly the world as God sees it. We need His vision and insight. We need His perspective. It is easy to be fooled by the false images of this world. But things are not always as they appear. God gives us the ability to see clearly and truthfully. He alone can open our eyes to the reality of what is going on in the world. When we see clearly, we see Him at work. We know the value of His righteousness and the greatness of His power. We view the world through the lens of the future. And our vision of the world is not limited to the here-and-now. God has given us a glimpse into the future and we can see that He has a plan that He is working to perfection. The scenes of this present world are not the end of the story. We see the world through the eyes of God and know how the story ends.

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.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

The Heart of the Matter

1 Better is a dry morsel with quiet
    than a house full of feasting with strife.
A servant who deals wisely will rule over a son who acts shamefully
    and will share the inheritance as one of the brothers.
The crucible is for silver, and the furnace is for gold,
    and the Lord tests hearts.
An evildoer listens to wicked lips,
    and a liar gives ear to a mischievous tongue.
Whoever mocks the poor insults his Maker;
    he who is glad at calamity will not go unpunished.
Grandchildren are the crown of the aged,
    and the glory of children is their fathers.
Fine speech is not becoming to a fool;
    still less is false speech to a prince.
A bribe is like a magic stone in the eyes of the one who gives it;
    wherever he turns he prospers.
Whoever covers an offense seeks love,
    but he who repeats a matter separates close friends.
10 A rebuke goes deeper into a man of understanding
    than a hundred blows into a fool.
11 An evil man seeks only rebellion,
    and a cruel messenger will be sent against him.
12 Let a man meet a she-bear robbed of her cubs
    rather than a fool in his folly.
13 If anyone returns evil for good,
    evil will not depart from his house.
14 The beginning of strife is like letting out water,
    so quit before the quarrel breaks out.
15 He who justifies the wicked and he who condemns the righteous
    are both alike an abomination to the Lord.
– Proverbs 17:1-15 ESV

At first glance, the book of Proverbs seems to be all about good behavior versus bad behavior. It contrasts the life of a wise person with that of a foolish person, and it would appear that we are to choose one over the other. Solomon seems to suggest that we must make the decision as to which set of behaviors will characterize our lives. But there is an underlying assumption that Solomon goes back to time and time again. There is an important ingredient required, without which none of us will ever be able to enjoy a life marked by consistently good behavior. He hints at it in verse 3.

Fire tests the purity of silver and gold,
    but the Lord tests the heart. – Proverbs 17:3 NLT

The source for ALL behavior, good or bad, is the heart. In the Hebrew mind, the heart referred to the inner man. It was the seat of his mind, will, desires, and emotions. The heart is what drives us. Our behavior is a direct reflection of our hearts. But here’s the problem.

The human heart is the most deceitful of all things, and desperately wicked. Who really knows how bad it is? But I, the Lord, search all hearts and examine secret motives. I give all people their due rewards, according to what their actions deserve. – Jeremiah 17:9-10 NLT

Our hearts are wicked. Our desires are naturally skewed toward evil, all as a result of the fall. Good behavior is achievable, but it is impossible to maintain long-term. It is not natural for us to do what is good because our hearts are bad. So any good behavior we attempt is short-lived because it is manufactured in the flesh. Yes, we may fool one another with our acts of compassion and deeds of apparent righteousness, but God knows our hearts.

Solomon describes a house full of feasting and conflict (verse 1). He laments the fate of a disgraceful son who forfeits his inheritance to a faithful servant (verse 2). He warns that those with evil intentions tend to surround themselves with like-minded individuals who provide evil advice (verse 4). The unwise tend to mock the poor and “rejoice at the misfortune of others” (verse 5). A fool may attempt to disguise his ignorance with eloquent words but, in time, the truth of his condition will become known to all.

God warned Samuel the prophet,  “The Lord doesn’t see things the way you see them. People judge by outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7 NLT). We may even be able to fool ourselves into thinking we are good, because of all the “good things” we do. But Solomon gives us the bad news:

People may be right in their own eyes,
    but the Lord examines their heart.

The Lord is more pleased when we do what is right and just
    than when we offer him sacrifices.Proverbs 21:2-3 NLT

Good behavior is only possible when our hearts are good. And none of us can produce a good heart apart from the intervention of God in our lives. He must change our hearts before we can see a change in our behavior. Jesus said, “A good person produces good things from the treasury of a good heart, and an evil person produces evil things from the treasury of an evil heart” (Matthew 12:35 NLT).

A good heart is the work of God, not man. It is not a case of behavior modification, but heart transformation, which only God can accomplish. So when Solomon describes wrong-doers, liars, mockers, fools, the wicked, the unjust, quarrelers, the crooked, and deceivers, he is simply listing characteristics that naturally flow from a heart that remains unchanged.

Wisdom, love, common sense, understanding, and friendship are all the characteristics of a heart committed to and under the control of God. And with the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ, God provided a means by which sinful humanity can live in keeping with His divine will and righteous commands. Paul describes it this way:

So be careful how you live. Don’t live like fools, but like those who are wise. Make the most of every opportunity in these evil days. Don’t act thoughtlessly, but understand what the Lord wants you to do. Don’t be drunk with wine, because that will ruin your life. Instead, be filled with the Holy Spirit. – Ephesians 5:15-18 NLT

He told the Galatian Christians, “So I say, let the Holy Spirit guide your lives. Then you won’t be doing what your sinful nature craves. The sinful nature wants to do evil, which is just the opposite of what the Spirit wants. And the Spirit gives us desires that are the opposite of what the sinful nature desires” (Galatians 5:16-17 NLT).

And then he described what the fruit of a life lived under God’s control looks like: “But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23 NLT).

It all begins in and flows from the heart, and only God can transform the heart. Reading the book of Proverbs should remind us that the behavior God desires from us is unnatural and impossible for us. We can’t do it without Him.

Without God’s assistance, sinful men and women will continue to behave like fools. And while they may appear to find success in their chosen way of life, God will judge them according to the condition of their hearts. Solomon indicates that it is only right for a fool to receive a hundred lashes as punishment for his crimes (verse 10). He should get what he deserves. And the evil person who eagerly seeks rebellion (verse 11) shouldn’t be surprised when the wickedness of his heart is exposed and his defiance is dealt with.

Yet, the good news is that because of the love of God as expressed through the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ on the cross, we can live new lives because we have new hearts that are being daily transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit.  The Word of God reveals our need for God.

For the word of God is alive and powerful. It is sharper than the sharpest two-edged sword, cutting between soul and spirit, between joint and marrow. It exposes our innermost thoughts and desires. – Hebrews 4:12 NLT

If you find your life more characterized by the negative characteristics outlined in Proverbs 17, thank God for showing you the true condition of your heart and ask Him to renew His work of transformation. Confess that you can’t change your behavior without His help. Submit to His Spirit’s control. Let Him produce in you what you can’t produce on your own.

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.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

Better By Far

16 How much better to get wisdom than gold!
    To get understanding is to be chosen rather than silver.
17 The highway of the upright turns aside from evil;
    whoever guards his way preserves his life.
18 Pride goes before destruction,
    and a haughty spirit before a fall.
19 It is better to be of a lowly spirit with the poor
    than to divide the spoil with the proud.
20 Whoever gives thought to the word will discover good,
    and blessed is he who trusts in the Lord.
21 The wise of heart is called discerning,
    and sweetness of speech increases persuasiveness.
22 Good sense is a fountain of life to him who has it,
    but the instruction of fools is folly.
23 The heart of the wise makes his speech judicious
    and adds persuasiveness to his lips.
24 Gracious words are like a honeycomb,
    sweetness to the soul and health to the body.
25 There is a way that seems right to a man,
    but its end is the way to death.
26 A worker’s appetite works for him;
    his mouth urges him on.
27 A worthless man plots evil,
    and his speech[d] is like a scorching fire.
28 A dishonest man spreads strife,
    and a whisperer separates close friends.
29 A man of violence entices his neighbor
    and leads him in a way that is not good.
30 Whoever winks his eyes plans dishonest things;
    he who purses his lips brings evil to pass.
31 Gray hair is a crown of glory;
    it is gained in a righteous life.
32 Whoever is slow to anger is better than the mighty,
    and he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city.
33 The lot is cast into the lap,
    but its every decision is from the Lord..
– Proverbs 16:16-33 ESV

According to Solomon, the way of wisdom is simply better. While it can’t offer the guarantee of a trouble-free life, it can provide a far better outcome than the alternative. Just consider how many times Solomon pronounces the life of godliness as better than any other available option.

Better to have little, with godliness,
    than to be rich and dishonest.
Proverbs 16:8 NLT

How much better to get wisdom than gold,
    and good judgment than silver! – Proverbs 16:16 NLT

Better to live humbly with the poor
    than to share plunder with the proud. – Proverbs 16:19 NLT

Better to be patient than powerful;
    better to have self-control than to conquer a city. – Proverbs 19:32 NLT

There are simply some things that are better than others. But who gets to choose? According to Solomon, God determines the value of one thing over another. He establishes the relative worth of one action as opposed to another. As is so often the case in the book of Proverbs, in this chapter, Solomon uses comparison to get his point across.

He contrasts poverty with wealth and deems it better to have little than much. But he inserts a qualifier because, by themselves, these two conditions are amoral. They are neither wrong nor right, just or unjust. The qualifier has to do with the spiritual condition of the individual in each case. It is better to have little AND be godly than to be rich AND dishonest. The presence of godliness in the life of the impoverished person automatically improves the condition of his life. Logic would suggest that an abundance of wealth can help to improve life, but Solomon states that wealth gained by dishonest means adds little to the life of its possessor. It brings no satisfaction. It can assuage the appetite, but not the soul.

Solomon goes on to say that it is actually better to get wisdom than gold, and good judgment than silver (Proverbs 16:16). As has been made perfectly clear throughout the book of Proverbs, wisdom and good judgment are only available from God and require determination and dedication to acquire. We must search for them like we would hidden treasure. They must be a priority and a passion in our lives. Their value is far beyond that of riches of any kind. To put it simply: They’re just better.

And as if to further drive home his original point, Solomon tells us it is “better to live humbly with the poor than to share plunder with the proud” (Proverbs 16:19 NLT). Now while the qualifier is less clear, his comparison of these two types of lifestyles goes beyond mere poverty and wealth. It has much more to do with the condition of the heart. One is humble while the other is proud. Our friendships should be based more on the condition of the heart than the quality of our lifestyle.  We should be more concerned about the spiritual state of the ones with whom we associate than their financial health.

Far too often, the prominent and financially well-off have earned their wealth through less-than-righteous means. They may have taken advantage of the less fortunate to line their own pockets. They could have cut corners or broken laws to obtain their ill-gotten gains. Solomon even describes their wealth as plunder, as if has been stolen. And he describes their attitude about it all as prideful and arrogant. Somehow, they have conned the system and improved their financial position at the expense of others, and they’re proud of their accomplishments. And Solomon suggests that a life of destitution lived among the righteous poor would be far better in the end.

Solomon provides two final comparisons wrapped up in one verse.

Better to be patient than powerful;
    better to have self-control than to conquer a city. – Proverbs 16:32 NLT

Once again, the emphasis is on character, specifically patience and self-control. While God is not mentioned in these verses, it is clearly He who establishes the basis of these comparative clauses. God values patience over power, and self-control over what appears to be success.

Man tends to judge by externals, while God looks at the heart. He examines the motives. We see that clearly in verse 2:

People may be pure in their own eyes,
    but the Lord examines their motives.

God values godliness, justice, wisdom, good judgment, humility, patience, and self-control because each of these things is given by Him. They are not man-made or self-manufactured. They are evidence of a life lived in dependence upon God. And therefore, they are better. The world puts little to no value on any of them. Instead, the world determines the value of anything based solely on results. It bases value on externals and determines worth based on effectiveness. But God judges by different criteria and, at the end of the day, He alone determines which is better and best.

Those who choose to leave God out of their lives will only supplant Him with a god or gods of their own choosing. If they refuse to worship and fear Him, they will only end up bowing down to something or someone else. In many cases, they become prideful, thinking of themselves as the masters of their own fate and the captains of their own souls. But Solomon provides a sobering warning to these self-adulating, narcissistic fools:

Pride goes before destruction,
    and haughtiness before a fall. – Proverbs 16:18 NLT

The godless are really just God-less. They lack a healthy reverence for God Almighty and so they end up replacing Him with gods of their own making. In their pride and arrogance, they have chosen to pursue a path that leads away from God and far from the wisdom only He can provide. And while that path may lead to wealth, popularity, and power, it ultimately ends in death.

There is a path before each person that seems right,
    but it ends in death. – Proverbs 16:25 NLT

And as they make their way, they leave a wake of destruction in their path.

Scoundrels create trouble;
    their words are a destructive blaze.

A troublemaker plants seeds of strife;
    gossip separates the best of friends.

Violent people mislead their companions,
    leading them down a harmful path.

With narrowed eyes, people plot evil;
   with a smirk, they plan their mischief. – Proverbs 16:30 NLT

They have determined to take their own path and to live their lives according to their own terms. Having left God out of the picture, they end up taking the credit for their own success. But little do they know that their fate is far from self-determined. Their autonomy is a sham. Their aspirations for self-rule and sovereignty are a pipe dream. Because, at the end of the day, it is still God who determines their fate.

The lot is cast into the lap,
    but its every decision is from the Lord. – Proverbs 16:33 ESV

Life is not about chance. Our future is not based on fate, karma, or some form of kismet. Human beings tend to think that life is a game of chance where we roll the dice and take whatever comes our way. Some of us are fortunate enough to roll a lucky seven while others end up with snake eyes or craps. But Solomon reminds us, “We may throw the dice, but the Lord determines how they fall” (Proverbs 16:33 NLT).

The wise recognize the hand of God in all of life. They understand that He alone is sovereign. They know that He determines the affairs of men and He dictates the rules by which we conduct our lives on this planet. And Solomon points out that those who seek to live according to God’s terms will be blessed.

Those who listen to instruction will prosper;
    those who trust the Lord will be joyful. – Proverbs 16:22 NLT

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.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

The Path to Paradise

18 A hot-tempered man stirs up strife,
    but he who is slow to anger quiets contention.
19 The way of a sluggard is like a hedge of thorns,
    but the path of the upright is a level highway.
20 A wise son makes a glad father,
    but a foolish man despises his mother.
21 Folly is a joy to him who lacks sense,
    but a man of understanding walks straight ahead.
22 Without counsel plans fail,
    but with many advisers they succeed.
23 To make an apt answer is a joy to a man,
    and a word in season, how good it is!
24 The path of life leads upward for the prudent,
    that he may turn away from Sheol beneath.
25 The Lord tears down the house of the proud
    but maintains the widow’s boundaries.
26 The thoughts of the wicked are an abomination to the Lord,
    but gracious words are pure.
27 Whoever is greedy for unjust gain troubles his own household,
    but he who hates bribes will live.
28 The heart of the righteous ponders how to answer,
    but the mouth of the wicked pours out evil things.
29 The Lord is far from the wicked,
    but he hears the prayer of the righteous.
30 The light of the eyes rejoices the heart,
    and good news refreshes the bones.
31 The ear that listens to life-giving reproof
    will dwell among the wise.
32 Whoever ignores instruction despises himself,
    but he who listens to reproof gains intelligence.
33 The fear of the Lord is instruction in wisdom,
    and humility comes before honor. 
– Proverbs 15:18-33 ESV

Uncontrolled anger, relational damage, self-inflicted trouble, parental disappointment, greed, godless words, unrighteous behavior, and abandonment by God. These are the sad and inevitable characteristics of the one who chooses to take the path of the fool. It looks so appealing and yet, according to Solomon, it doesn’t end well. The fool is like a car careening down a steep street without a driver. It makes plenty of headway but leaves a wake of destruction in its path as it does so. In the same way, fools tend to wreak havoc wherever they go. Their lifestyle is not only self-destructive, but it ends up doing inestimable damage to so many others along the way. And they don’t seem to care.

foolish children despise their mother. – Proverbs 15:20 NLT

They don’t literally despise their mothers. But their self-destructive actions end up bringing sorrow and hurt to those who love and care about them. A mother who is forced to stand back and watch as her foolish son self-implodes can’t help but feel hurt and saddened by the experience. This is a regular theme in Proverbs.

…a foolish child brings grief to a mother. – Proverbs 10:1 NLT

It is painful to be the parent of a fool – Proverbs 17:21 NLT

Foolish children bring grief to their father
and bitterness to the one who gave them birth. – Proverbs 17:25 NLT

The fool ends up developing so many disabling and self-destructive habits that the path of his life becomes virtually impassable and, getting to where he longs to be, becomes almost impossible.

The way of a sluggard is like a hedge of thorns – Proverbs 15:19 ESV

Because the fool lacks godly wisdom, he ends up trying to navigate life without a map. He has no instructions and, therefore, no way of knowing which path to take. So, he chooses his own destination and ends up determining his own fate.

Fools think their own way is right… – Proverbs 12:15 NLT

There is a path before each person that seems right, but it ends in death. – Proverbs 16:25 NLT

A fool is incapable of seeing that his path of choice leads to a dead end. From his perspective, he’s making progress but he doesn’t realize until it’s too late that his final destination is unexpectedly unpleasant.

In contrast, the wise individual finds their life’s journey to be far more pleasant and free from roadblocks.

…the path of the upright is an open highway. – Proverbs 15:19 NLT

Solomon is not suggesting that the wise are guaranteed the promise of a trouble-free life. Walking with God is not always easy. The road of righteousness can also have its potholes and pitfalls. But its final destination is certain. It ultimately leads to a pleasant place that God has prepared for all those who faithfully follow His divine directions. Yet, Solomon points out that a fool lacks the discernment to realize his path is a dead end.

Foolishness brings joy to those with no sense… – Proverbs 15: 21 NLT

They say, “Ignorance is bliss.” There is a certain degree of truth to that maxim. The saying, “What you don’t know can’t hurt you” is partially true. Not knowing what lies at the end of the path can be a good thing – for a while. The journey itself can actually be quite enjoyable but eventually, reality will set in. But along the way, the fool can have the time of their life. It can feel like a non-stop party as they make unscheduled stops and take unexpected detours to see all the tempting sights. But Solomon reminds us that “a sensible person stays on the right path” (Proverbs 15:21 NLT).

The fool, never realizing that they’re lost and headed in the wrong direction, refuses to ask for directions.

Plans go wrong for lack of advice… – Proverbs 15:22 NLT

They’re too arrogant and self-assured to seek counsel. Even if they realize they’re lost, they can’t bring themselves to admit it. So, they stubbornly stay on the path they’ve chosen for themselves, refusing the input of others and further ensuring their eventual failure. And Solomon provides a not-so-subtle hint as to the far-from-pleasant outcome of their ways.

The path of life leads upward for the wise;
    they leave the grave behind. – Proverbs 15:24 NLT

The choice is either life or death. It’s as simple as that. And what determines one from the other is wisdom. And wisdom begins with a healthy reverence for God and His ways. What the fool fails to realize, to his own detriment, is that He has God as his enemy.

The Lord tears down the house of the proud… – Proverbs 15:25 NLT

The Lord detests evil plans… – Proverbs 15:26 NLT

The Lord is far from the wicked – Proverbs 15:29 NLT

This is serious business. Foolishness is not some kind of alternative lifestyle that is harmless and free from ramifications. Solomon is not describing some innocent free spirit who is simply trying to live life on his own terms. He is revealing the ultimate outcome of all those who refuse to honor God and live according to His righteous commands. The fool is a synonym for the godless. Solomon’s own father, King David, described the fool this way:

Only fools say in their hearts, “There is no God.” They are corrupt, and their actions are evil; not one of them does good! – Psalm 14:1 NLT

Fools are actually arrogant and, ultimately, atheistic in their outlook. They live as if God doesn’t even exist. They know His commands but refuse to obey them because they have determined He has no power over them. The psalmist put it this way:

The wicked are too proud to seek God.
    They seem to think that God is dead.
Yet they succeed in everything they do.
    They do not see your punishment awaiting them.
    They sneer at all their enemies.
They think, “Nothing bad will ever happen to us!
    We will be free of trouble forever!” – Psalm 10:4-6 NLT

They live in a state of perpetual denial, dismissing the reality of God and denying the deadly fate that lies at the end of their chosen path.

The wicked think, “God isn’t watching us!
    He has closed his eyes and won’t even see what we do!” – Proverbs 10:11 NLT

But oh, how wrong they are. God does see, and He does repay the wicked for their ways. He does mete out justice upon the fool. Those who spurn the Lord may appear to enjoy a modicum of success but their days of fun and games are numbered. One day, they will have to answer for their choices. And Solomon warns that all those who reject the loving discipline of God will come to regret their decision.

If you reject discipline, you only harm yourself;
    but if you listen to correction, you grow in understanding. – Proverbs 15:32 NLT

According to Solomon, “Fear of the Lord teaches wisdom…” (Proverbs 15:33 NLT), and wisdom results in a lifestyle that is life-preserving, joy-filled, other-oriented, and God-honoring. The fool is perfectly free to choose his own path, but he cannot determine his own destiny. That is up to God. But the one who chooses the way of the wise finds himself on the highway that leads to godliness and holiness.

The path of life leads upward for the wise – Proverbs 15:24 NLT

That life will have its ups and downs and peaks and valleys, but the trajectory is always upwards. It leads to a final destination that features joy, fulfillment, satisfaction, contentment, peace, and an unbroken, never-ending relationship with the God of the universe. And that’s a path only a fool would avoid.
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