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David Guzik :: Study Guide for Proverbs 26

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The Nature of the Fool and the Lazy Man


A. Fools and sluggards.

1. (Pro 26:1) Honor doesn’t fit the fool.

As snow in summer and rain in harvest,
So honor is not fitting for a fool.

a. As snow in the summer and rain in the harvest: These things are out of place and in an economy based on grain grown in the field, they are disasters of bad timing.

i. “A snow-fall in summer would signal the times are out of joint and would be catastrophic (cf. 1 Samuel 12:17). Snow or rain ruins the grain harvest by damaging and causing it to rot.” (Waltke)

b. Honor is not fitting for a fool: Honor for the fool is also out of place—and can lead to disaster.

i. “The ‘fool’ is the stupid person who is worthless and vain (just the kind of person popular culture seems to honor).” (Ross)

ii. “The present age, through the tricks of publicity, is especially prone to idolize ‘vain and light persons’, for whom the treatment of verse 3 might be better medicine.” (Kidner)

iii. “Because he neither deserves it, nor knows how to use it, but his folly is both increased and publicly manifested by it.” (Poole)

2. (Pro 26:2) The destiny of a curse without cause.

Like a flitting sparrow, like a flying swallow,
So a curse without cause shall not alight.

a. Like a flitting sparrow, like a flying swallow: Solomon described birds that fly without taking rest on a branch or a surface.

b. So a curse without cause shall not alight: In the same way that a bird will fly without landing, so a curse that someone makes without proper cause before God will not alight. If someone pronounces a curse it does not have magical properties; there must be cause before God for it have any power.

i. “Therefore, if the heart knows that a curse is unjust it may rest in the certainty that it cannot harm.” (Morgan)

ii. “Since the Creator and Lord of history is the source of blessing and cursing through a fellow human being, the proverb infers that the undeserved/unfitting curse is ineffective because the Sovereign does not back it up.” (Waltke)

iii. “What was David the worse for Shimei’s rash railings? Or Jeremiah for all the people’s cursings of him? [Jeremiah 15:10].” (Trapp)

iv. “Balaam is the reluctant witness against all superstition: ‘How can I curse whom God has not cursed?’ (Numbers 23:8, RSV).” (Kidner)

3. (Pro 26:3-6) Dealing with fools.

A whip for the horse,
A bridle for the donkey,
And a rod for the fool’s back.
Do not answer a fool according to his folly,
Lest you also be like him.
Answer a fool according to his folly,
Lest he be wise in his own eyes.
He who sends a message by the hand of a fool
Cuts off his own feet and drinks violence.

a. Whip for the horse, a bridle for the donkey: There is an instrument appropriate for these animals. There is also an instrument that fits the fool: a rod for the fool’s back. What they will not learn from the words of wisdom they must learn through the infliction of pain.

i. “Like brute animals, force is the only language they understand.” (Garrett)

ii. “This proverb, with its fellows, is written for us in two capacities: as people dealing with fools, and as potential fools ourselves.” (Kidner)

b. Do not answer a fool according to his folly: When a fool pours forth his foolishness, it is often right to not answer them. Sometimes contending with a fool can make one just like the fool.

i. Do not answer a fool: “When he is incorrigible, or when he is inflamed with passion or wine, &c., or when it is not necessary, nor likely to do him good.” (Poole)

ii. “One should not descend to his level of thought. To get into an argument with a fool like that would only make one look like a fool as well.” (Ross)

iii. “Hezekiah would not answer Rabshakeh, nor Jeremiah Hananiah; [Jeremiah 28:11] nor our Saviour his adversaries. [Matthew 26:62 John 19:9] He reviled not his revilers, he threatened not his open opposites. [1 Peter 2:23].” (Trapp)

c. Answer a fool according to his folly: Other times the right thing is to answer a fool. Sometimes a wise answer to a fool will expose his folly and prevent him from becoming wise in his own eyes.

i. Answer a fool: “When he is capable of receiving good by it, or when it is necessary for the glory of God, or for the discharge of a man’s duty, or for the good of others.” (Poole)

ii. “Answer that is in agreement with the Lord’s wisdom puts the fool’s topsy-turvy world right side up and so is fitting.” (Waltke)

iii. Those who think Proverbs 26:4 contradicts Proverbs 26:5 are unfamiliar with the nature of practical wisdom in life. “They are put together to show that human problems are often complicated and cannot always be solved by appealing to a single rule.” (Ross)

iv. “Oh, for wisdom to govern the tongue, to discover the right time to speak and the right time to stay silent. How instructive is the pattern of our great Master! His silence and his answers were equally worthy of himself. The former always conveyed a dignified rebuke. The latter responded to the confusion of his contentious enemies.” (Bridges)

d. He who sends a message by the hand of a fool: One should never expect a good result from sending a message by the hand of a fool. It is like harming one’s self. Curiously, God chose the foolish things of this world to be His messengers (1 Corinthians 1:27), but He wants them to be something better than fools in His work.

4. (Pro 26:7-12) The nature of the fool.

Like the legs of the lame that hang limp
Is a proverb in the mouth of fools.
Like one who binds a stone in a sling
Is he who gives honor to a fool.
Like a thorn that goes into the hand of a drunkard
Is a proverb in the mouth of fools.
The great God who formed everything
Gives the fool his hire and the transgressor his wages.
As a dog returns to his own vomit,
So a fool repeats his folly.
Do you see a man wise in his own eyes?
There is more hope for a fool than for him.

a. Like the legs of the lame that hang limp is a proverb in the mouth of fools: In a series of “like the” statements, Solomon colorfully explained the nature of the fool.

  • The fool’s possession of wisdom (such as a proverb in the mouth) is useless, like the legs of the lame.
  • The fool’s receiving of honor is stupid, like the one who binds a stone in a sling so that it can’t be cast out.
  • The fool’s attempt to proclaim wisdom brings pain, like a thorn that goes into the hand of a drunkard.

i. These are absurd illustrations, but “no less absurd is he that giveth to a fool that honour and praise which he is not capable either of receiving, or retaining, or using aright, but it is quite wasted upon him, and doth him more hurt than good.” (Poole)

ii. Like the one who binds a stone in a sling: “A sling was made of a leather or textile strip that had been broadened in the middle and into which the stone was placed, but never bound” (Waltke). “The stone tied in the sling may swing back around and hit the slinger” (Garrett).

iii. Like a thorn that goes into the hand of a drunkard: “He handleth it hard, as if it were another kind of wood, and it runs into his hand. So do profane persons pervert and pollute the Holy Scriptures, to their own and other men’s destruction.” (Trapp)

b. Gives the fool his hire and the transgressor his wages: God’s guidance and governing over all things extends to the fool and the transgressor. He will make sure they get what is due, as both their hire and their wages.

i. “As he made all so he maintains all, even the evil and the unthankful…so he allows them a livelihood, gives them their portion in this life, fills their bellies with his good treasure, but by it sends leanness into their souls, or if he fattens them, it is to fit them for destruction, as fated ware is fitted for the meat market.” (Trapp)

c. As a dog returns to his own vomit, so a fool repeats his folly: A fool will not change their ways apart from a dramatic transformation. Just as it is in the dog’s nature to return to his own vomit, it is the fool’s nature to repeat his folly. 2 Peter 2:22 used this verse to illustrate the repulsive nature of a sinner returning to their sin.

i. “An intentionally repulsive simile. It juxtaposes a fool with the contemptible dog; his destructive folly with the dog’s vomit; and the fool’s incorrigibility with the dog’s repulsive nature to return to its vomit, to sniff at it, to lick it, and finally to eat it.” (Waltke)

ii. “We naturally turn away from this sight. Would that we had the same disgust at the sin that it so graphically portrays.” (Bridges)

d. Do you see a man wise in his own eyes? Despite the severe treatment of the fool, Solomon thought of a man in even worse danger—the proud man, the one wise in his own eyes. This is a special type of folly, one that will never learn the ways of wisdom.

i. “The greatest fool is the fool who does not know he is a fool.” (Morgan)

ii. “The peril is a very subtle one. We are prone to be wise in our own conceits, without knowing that we are so. A simple test may be employed. When we fail to seek divine guidance in any undertaking it is because we do not feel our need of it; In other words, we are wise in our own conceit. There is no safer condition of soul, than that self-distrust, that knowledge of ignorance, which drives us persistently to seek for the wisdom which comes from above.” (Morgan)

5. (Pro 26:13-16) The nature of the lazy man.

The lazy man says, “There is a lion in the road!
A fierce lion is in the streets!”
As a door turns on its hinges,
So does the lazy man on his bed.
The lazy man buries his hand in the bowl;
It wearies him to bring it back to his mouth.
The lazy man is wiser in his own eyes
Than seven men who can answer sensibly.

a. There is a lion in the road: The lazy man will create any excuse to avoid work. A lion in the road was a virtual impossibility in Biblical times. The lazy man shows creative talent (imagining not only a lion, but a fierce lion) and a form of work, but it is dedicated to the effort of avoiding work.

b. As a door turns on its hinges: The only way a door can turn is on its hinges. The only turning the lazy man does is on his bed.

i. On his bed: “But comes not off, unless lifted or knocked off. So neither comes the sluggard out of his feathered nest, where he lies soaking and stretching, unless hard hunger or other necessity rouse and raise him.” (Trapp)

ii. On its hinges: “The humor in this verse is based on the analogy with a door—it moves but goes nowhere. Likewise the sluggard is hinged to his bed.” (Ross)

c. It wearies him to bring it back to his mouth: The lack of energy and initiative in the lazy man is so profound that he can’t or won’t properly care for his personal needs.

i. “The sluggard so dislikes any form of work that the very thought of exerting himself exhausts him.” (Waltke)

ii. “Admiration for the wit of this portraiture has to be tempered with disquiet, on reflection that the sluggard will be the last to see his own features here (see 16), for he has no idea that he is lazy: he is not a shirker but a ‘realist’ (Pro 26:13); not self-indulgent but ‘below his best in the morning’ (Pro 26:14); his inertia is ‘an objection to being hustled’ (Pro 26:15); his mental indolence a fine ‘sticking to his guns’ (Pro 26:16).” (Kidner)

d. The lazy man is wiser in his own eyes: The lazy man may lack energy and initiative, but he doesn’t lack a high opinion of himself. He considers himself smarter than seven men who can answer sensibly. The lazy man has great confidence in his own abilities, but never seems to accomplish much.

i. Seven men: “Seven here only means perfection, abundance, or multitude. He is wiser in his own eyes than a multitude of the wisest men.” (Clarke)

B. The wise avoid sins of speech.

1. (Pro 26:17) The wisdom of not interfering in the disputes of others.

He who passes by and meddles in a quarrel not his own
Is like one who takes a dog by the ears.

a. He who passes by and meddles in a quarrel not his own: Some find it irresistible to get involved in the disputes of other people. The quarrel doesn’t really belong to them, but he makes it his own. Jesus knew when to not get involved in another’s dispute (Luke 12:14).

i. Meddles: “The Hebrew verb literally means ‘become excited’…the Hebrew could fit the line—someone who gets angry over the fight of another.” (Ross)

b. Is like one who takes a dog by the ears: It is a foolish and dangerous thing to take a dog by the ears. Once one does, it’s hard to let go without getting bit, and the dog never appreciates it.

i. “Exposeth himself to great and needless hazards, as a man that causelessly provoketh a mastiff dog against himself.” (Poole)

ii. “Not even Samson grabbed the foxes by their ears (Judges 15:4).” (Waltke)

iii. “There is a world of difference between suffering as a Christian and suffering as a busybody. Even with Christian intentions, many of us are too fond of meddling in other peoples’ affairs.” (Bridges)

iv. “This proverb stands true ninety-nine times out of a hundred, where people meddle with domestic broils, or differences between men and their wives.” (Clarke)

2. (Pro 26:18-19) The danger of the practical joker.

Like a madman who throws firebrands, arrows, and death,
Is the man who deceives his neighbor,
And says, “I was only joking!”

a. Like a madman who throws firebrands, arrows, and death: Solomon painted the picture of a fierce warrior with many weapons, spreading destruction everywhere.

b. Is the man who deceives his neighbor: The man who plays tricks on others, deceiving them, and covering it by saying, “I was only joking!” is a danger to others—and a very unwelcome companion.

i. “He bears no malice. He indulges only the pure love of mischief. He carries on a scheme of imposition as harmless play. His companions compliment him on his adroitness and join in the laugh of triumph over the victim of his cruel jest.” (Bridges)

3. (Pro 26:20-22) The dangerous words of the talebearer.

Where there is no wood, the fire goes out;
And where there is no talebearer, strife ceases.
As charcoal is to burning coals, and wood to fire,
So is a contentious man to kindle strife.
The words of a talebearer are like tasty trifles,
And they go down into the inmost body.

a. Where there is no talebearer, strife ceases: Just as wood fuels a fire, so the talebearer or gossip fuels strife. The fire won’t continue to burn without the wood, and the strife won’t continue when the talebearer stops their work. James described the power of words to set a destructive fire (James 3:6).

i. “As long as there is an ear to receive, and a tongue to pass on, some piece of malicious slander will continue to circulate. But directly it reaches a hearer who will not whisper it forward, in that direction at least its progress is arrested.” (Meyer)

ii. “The tale-receiver and the tale-bearer are the agents of discord. If none received the slander in the first instance, it could not be propagated. Hence our proverb, ‘The receiver is as bad as the thief.’ And our laws treat them equally; for the receiver of stolen goods, knowing them to be stolen, is hanged, as well as he who stole them.” (Clarke)

b. So is a contentious man to kindle strife: Strife doesn’t create itself. It has a maker, and it is the gossip, the talebearer, the contentious man.

i. “In the absence of such a person, old hurts can be set aside, and discord can die a natural death. Even so, we often find a juicy tidbit of defamation irresistible.” (Garrett)

c. The words of a talebearer are like tasty trifles: This proverb, repeated from 18:8, explains that the gossip and evil reports brought by the talebearer are almost impossible to resist. Those who should know better find it difficult to tell the talebearer to stop talking.

i. “The words of a gossip [talebearer] in an unguarded moment may inflict irreparable injury. This evil may be welcomed in certain circles that thrive on scandal. But that does not alter the real character of a gossip, who is detested by both God and man.” (Bridges)

d. They go down into the inmost body: When we receive the words of a talebearer, they normally have an effect on us. The words go down into us and often change the way we think and feel about people, even if what the talebearer says isn’t true or isn’t confirmed. God gave a strong word regarding the confirmation of testimony (Deuteronomy 19:15, 2 Corinthians 13:1, 1 Timothy 5:19).

i. Once we start eating these tasty trifles, it is hard to stop. “When such tasty bits are taken into the innermost being, they stimulate the desire for more.” (Ross)

ii. “This was delivered before, Proverbs 18:8, and is here repeated, as being a point of great concernment to the peace and welfare of all societies, and fit to be oft and earnestly pressed upon the consciences of men, because of their great and general proneness to this sin.” (Poole)

4. (Pro 26:23) Fair words covering a foul heart.

Fervent lips with a wicked heart
Are like earthenware covered with silver dross.

a. Fervent lips with a wicked heart: There are people who are able to speak with power and persuasion, but they have a wicked heart. The ill effect of their wicked heart is made much more effective because of their fervent words.

i. “As Luther renders this text; – a bad mouth, and a worse heart. Wicked men are said to speak with a heart and a heart, [Psalms 12:2, marg.] as speaking one thing and thinking another, drawing a fair glove on a foul hand.” (Trapp)

b. Like earthenware covered with silver dross: This is an example of something that loos superficially good with a silver veneer; but it is worthless earthenware on the inside. So the man mentioned in the first line may attract people superficially, but inside he is worthless.

i. “Because of its silvery gloss, this slag was used as a glaze for ceramics.” (Waltke)

ii. “Lips which make great professions of friendship are like a vessel plated over with base metal to make it resemble silver; but it is only a vile pot, and even the outside is not pure.” (Clarke)

5. (Pro 26:24-26) The secret hater.

He who hates, disguises it with his lips,
And lays up deceit within himself;
When he speaks kindly, do not believe him,
For there are seven abominations in his heart;
Though his hatred is covered by deceit,
His wickedness will be revealed before the assembly.

a. He who hates, disguises it with his lips: It is common for those who hate others—God or men—to disguise it with their words. They don’t want to give up their hate, but they don’t want to be known as a hater.

i. “Charming words might merely cover evil thoughts.” (Ross)

b. He lays up deceit within himself: The secret hater deceives others, but he also deceives himself. He imagines himself to be a better man than he really is.

c. When he speaks kindly, do not believe him: This secret hater should not be trusted. Even if he speaks kindly, his words do not reflect the true thoughts of his heart—his hatred is covered by deceit.

i. Seven abominations in his heart: “Seven abominations is an abstraction for the full panoply of his wicked thoughts and deeds that utterly offend the moral sensibilities of the righteous.” (Waltke)

d. His wickedness will be revealed before the assembly: Whether this assembly is in the world or the world to come, the wickedness and evil heart of the secret hater will be revealed.

i. “He shall be detected and detested of all, sooner or later. God will wash off his varnish with rivers of brimstone.” (Trapp)

ii. The assembly: “refers to a legal assembly convoked to try the enemy’s evil deeds and to mete out punishment. In Proverbs justice is meted out in an indefinite future that outlasts death.” (Waltke)

6. (Pro 26:27-28) The self-appointed judgment on the lying tongue.

Whoever digs a pit will fall into it,
And he who rolls a stone will have it roll back on him.
A lying tongue hates those who are crushed by it,
And a flattering mouth works ruin.

a. Whoever digs a pit will fall into it: In His judgments God often appoints that people reap what they sow; that He will treat them the same way they have treated others. They will fall into the pit they dug for others; the stone they rolled against someone else will roll back on them.

i. “For samples consider Haman (Esther 7:10) and Daniel’s enemies (Daniel 6:24-28).” (Ross)

ii. “Cardinal Benno relates a memorable story of Pope Hildebrand, or Gregory VII, that he hired a base fellow to lay a great stone upon a beam in the church where Henry IV, the emperor, used to pray, and so to lay it that it might fall as from the top of the church upon the emperor’s head, and kill him. But while this wretch was attempting to do it, the stone, with its weight, drew him down, and falling upon him, dashed him in pieces upon the pavement.” (Trapp)

b. A lying tongue hates those who are crushed by it: The liar does his destruction without sympathy for others. He does not feel sorry for the ones he crushes; he actively hates them.

i. “Lying is an act of hatred. In one way or another, lies destroy those whom they deceive. Therefore the liar despises not only the truth but his victims as well.” (Garrett)

ii. Those who are crushed: “Classifying himself among the oppressed Paul said: ‘We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed’ (2 Corinthians 4:8-9).” (Waltke)

c. A flattering mouth works ruin: Flattery is another way the lying tongue brings ruin. Their flattering mouth builds pride and manipulates others for deceptive goals.

i. “The heart of the matter is exposed in 28, with the fact that deceit, whether it hurts or soothes, is practical hatred, since truth is vital, and pride fatal, to right decisions.” (Kidner)

ii. “False love proves to be true hatred.” (Trapp)

iii. “Pray for wisdom to discover the snare, for gracious principles to raise us up above vain praises, for self-denial, for the capacity to be content and even thankful without such flatteries. This will be our security.” (Bridges)

©2017 David Guzik – No distribution beyond personal use without permission

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