Fools – Proverbs 26:1-12

Heading image for the book of Proverbs

Fools are everywhere, but the Bible’s understanding of what makes someone a fool is quite specific.

With maths, engineering, and much of life, things are either right or wrong, true or false, the bridge will stand or fall (or wobble!). But even if you could solve hard problems, you might well still be what the Bible calls a fool. And that’s much more serious.

These notes accompany a sermon on YouTube. You can find the series in our Sermon Index.

What is a fool?

Earlier on in Proverbs we looked at what the Bible means by wisdom. The opening verses of chapter 1 introduce much of what’s to come. In particular, read Proverbs 1:7.

  • If you’re to understand the world around you (in nature, in human nature, in society), Proverbs says you’ll not gain true understanding without a fear of the LORD.
  • Not a fearful dread of the LORD, but a heart that honours and reveres him as our Creator, the one who sets the benchmark for what is good, right, and wise.
  • But “fools” despise wisdom and discipline.

So we can see something of what a “fool” is. It’s the opposite of a wise person. But Proverbs breaks that down a bit for us too. Because Proverbs speaks of the “fool” and the “simple”.

  • Both are ignorant of God and his ways.
  • The “simple” person is teachable.
  • The “fool” rejects God.

And, amazingly, our reading in chapter 26 actually tells us there’s a worse state than a fool (we’ll come to it later). Proverbs promises you wonders if you find wisdom: Read Proverbs 3:18-20.

  • In giving life and in Creation power, God demonstrates his great wisdom.
  • More, the New Testament describes Jesus as “the power of God and the wisdom of God” – particularly on display in his crucifixion and resurrection. Come to Christ!
  • And, as your life is transformed by growing in wisdom, growing in Christ, you – all of us – display his wisdom to all.

But as our own Prime Minister recently quoted on ITV News, “The fool has said in his heart, ‘there is no God.’”

If there is no God, then:

  • There are no moral absolutes of good and evil.
  • There are no consequences if you do wrong – at least, if you can manage not to get caught.
  • There’s “no hell below us, above us only sky.”
  • So no big story of everything; no life after death. Just now.
  • There may well be a general desire to do good to others, but even that is regarded as an evolutionary instinct that preserves the tribe.

So a “fool” is simply someone who has determined there is no God. They do not – will not – fear him.

  • This isn’t about brains. Nor about money or power.
  • When the Bible speaks about the “fool” it’s a moral issue – grounded in ignorance of and lack of fear for the Lord.


How to spot a fool

Given what we’ve said, it’s absolutely inevitable that you will see “foolishness” (being non-God-fearing) in someone’s actions. Proverbs has much to say on it, but our reading in Proverbs 26:1-12 catches a lot of it in one place.

Read Proverbs 26:1-2. There’s someone in the Nanny McPhee film who keeps on saying that something is about as likely to happen as “snow in August” – it’s not going to happen; if it did, it would be out of place. 

Likewise, no-one wants rain at harvest – it’s not right or welcome. So the Bible says it’s equally not right or welcome to give honour to people who reject a knowledge of God.

Our society loves to give platform to fools. We vote for them (in all parties)! We watch them on TV. Many panel shows get plenty of laughs for making fun of Christians and faith in general. Social media is full of it! Twitter is the ultimate platform for fools – spreading all sorts of nonsense and having others share it and spread it like manure.

Some of those words can hurt you when you hear them, but it can’t damage you in the end.

  • Will a sparrow land on your head? Will a swallow bump into you?
  • The sky can be filled with them but they won’t land on you.
  • The media can be filled with bile against the Lord and his people, but he will keep you.

For all that, it’s worth remembering that some fools (non-God-fearing people) will still say things that are right and good – they are made in God’s image, and Creation has the fingerprint of God’s wisdom in it:

  • So Someone like David Attenborough will deny God yet love God’s earth. He will say much that is very good about how you and I ought to care more about God’s earth.
  • With lethal floods in Germany and Belgium, and horrifically high temperatures in parts of the United States, there is a place for platforming fools where they are wise and what they say is not against God, his Creation, or his people.

Now read Proverbs 26:3 & 11. This is about the nature of a fool, what comes naturally to them.

The fool says there is no God, and therefore no eternal punishment or reward. That steers all moral decisions. “If you can do wrong for reward and avoid punishment, go for it” – whether that’s fiddling a timesheet, shoplifting, being mean in some way, or much worse.

You will see this in action every time you see someone slow down for a speed camera: Their own nature says, “Do what you want”. But the speed camera is a rod for the back, forcing compliance to an unwelcome limit. Only Christ can change your nature.

You can train a dog to walk, stand, sit, even dance. And it will still go back and eat its own vomit. It’s still a dog. The fool may well do some amazing things, but being “good” is often trained in by compliance, not something we do by nature. As always, you might think of some exceptions here and there. But Proverbs is a generalised wisdom, usually right.

The next two verses are a good example of how Proverbs works! Read Proverbs 26:4-5. Hopefully you spotted the contradiction! What’s it to be? Do you answer the fool or don’t you?

The answer is, of course, yes!

Wisdom can see that there’s a time to step in, to help, to correct – and at other times it’s wise to move on and say nothing. For those on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram etc, there’s a particular risk you need to be aware of here.

  • Social media platforms are designed to evoke instant reaction from you. (They are actually designed to steal your time and sell it to advertisers, but that’s for another day!)
  • Social media is all “now, now” and “respond, respond” – be connected all the time etc.
  • Proverbs 26:4-5 is your health warning. Pause a moment. Is this the time to respond, or might it help responding in a different way. Should you respond at all, or scroll on?
  • Wisdom first asks the question, and wisdom fears God enough to determine the good, wise thing to do (which may well be simply to scroll on by).

But there is also another temptation that “wise” people have: Mock the fool. We do it all the time. “Did you hear the one about..?” When a panel show contestant mocks your faith, do you respond with a little mocking of your own? Read Proverbs 26:4 again!

Now read Proverbs 26:6-7. Remember that this was written before text and email, even before letters! You’d send messengers to pass a message on.

  • A fool can’t convey a message accurately, and in particular a fool can’t effectively apply a wise proverb.
  • Wise proverbs recognise God as Lord, so how can someone who doesn’t fear God apply true wisdom?
  • (They might sometimes, but not consistently.)

Interestingly, what you see from that is that someone might be able to recite the whole book of Proverbs but still be a fool – still have no fear or knowledge of God.

  • Saving knowledge of God is knowledge of his Son, Jesus, the power of God and wisdom of God. Only Jesus is the fountain of life and no mountain of proverbs can act as a substitute. You must turn to Jesus.
  • That affects everything when speaking to non-Christians about matters of faith. Only Jesus saves. Read v7 again.

So, after all this, verses 8-10 come as no surprise. Read Proverbs 26:8-10.

In short: Fools make fools – sometimes by accident, sometimes very much on purpose – so tethering yourself to a fool is likely to cause you damage too.

So what about you? If you call yourself a Christian, do you look like one to other people?

  • If you’re on Facebook etc, would people know you’re a Christian from what you post? Do you ever post something and regret it – or just have it misread?
  • In conversation, in general, are you discerning in how you answer? Do you mock people (especially non-Christians)? If you praise good things that unbelievers say do you also point out the ungodly things too? Should you?

Do you look like a fool? Do you look like someone who doesn’t fear God and shun evil? In your driving, your conversation, your social media, in work? Or is your life bursting with the fruit of the Holy Spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control)?

But, if you are a Christian, there’s something important you have do:

Offer hope to fools

Read v12. This is good news. There is hope even for fools.

The “simple” are those ignorant of God, but teachable. But there are those who are ignorant and unteachable because they think they are wise. Lost in a fixed mindset of false religion or false philosophy, usually. But for someone who doesn’t fear God but isn’t locked into a lie, there is hope.

You can take that hope. Read Proverbs 26:5 again. You can’t make a foolish person wise. But you can show them the transformed life of a wise person (you!). And you can lead them to Christ, the Fountain of Life, the power of God and the wisdom of God. You can help them before they get locked into a lie.

But if you look down on the unbelieving fool you become one (v4), because God does not look down on you that way.

So, to summarise:

  1. Avoid being foolish, or the appearance of being an unbeliever (in your conversation, your use of social media). More, make sure people know you are a Christian and what Christ means to you.
  2. Avoid platforming and celebrating fools. Applaud excellence, but never give honour to someone who is well-known for anti-Christian language or actions.
  3. Don’t expect an unbelieving person to be anything other than a fool by nature. Changing the law to shut shops on Sundays or limit immoral behaviour is just a rod for the back; only Christ can save, transform, and change desires.
  4. Pray, then, for the unbelievers you known. Make sure you have names on your prayer lists. Pray that they will develop a fear for the Lord, and a saving knowledge of Christ.
  5. And be ready. Unbelief leads to damage. Christ can heal. Be ready to pick up and help broken people, including unbelievers.