1 Like snow in summer or rain in harvest, honour is not fitting for a fool. 2 Like a fluttering sparrow or a darting swallow, an undeserved curse does not come to rest. 3 A whip for the horse, a bridle for the donkey, and a rod for the backs of fools! 4 Do not answer a fool according to his folly, or you yourself will be just like him. 5 Answer a fool according to his folly, or he will be wise in his own eyes. 6 Sending a message by the hands of a fool is like cutting off one’s feet or drinking poison. 7 Like the useless legs of one who is lame is a proverb in the mouth of a fool. 8 Like tying a stone in a sling is the giving of honour to a fool. 9 Like a thornbush in a drunkard’s hand is a proverb in the mouth of a fool. 10 Like an archer who wounds at random is one who hires a fool or any passer-by. 11 As a dog returns to its vomit, so fools repeat their folly. 12 Do you see a person wise in their own eyes? There is more hope for a fool than for them. (Prov. 26:1-12 NIV)
These 12 verses form a unit and give attention to the fool.
Snow in summer or rain during harvest was unheard of in the land. As snow and rain at these times would be out of place, so honour is out of place when given to a fool. The fool is a person who has ruled God out of their lives.
V2 is the only verse in this section (v1-12) that does not mention the fool. However, the fool is implied as only a fool would issue an undeserved curse. The undeserved curse of a fool should be ignored. It doesn’t mean anything. It will never find fulfilment. It is like a fluttering sparrow or a darting swallow that does not come to rest.
The fool refuses to listen to counsel. Sometimes physical force is required to restrain a fool from harming himself or others. He behaves like an animal, and just as animals need to be goaded so too the fool.
V4-5 have often invited questions because they seem contradictory. The first advises not to answer a fool according to his folly, or you will be just like him. We probably have all been in this position, where we make a comment in reply, and we end up in a tit-for-tat exchange which brews into an argument. Others look on and see both parties arguing and you both look like fools.
V5 offers the opposite advice. A fool should be rebuked otherwise he will conclude from your silence that he is wise and has said a wise thing. Others looking on might also conclude he is wise and correct because you offered no rebuke or correction.
The key to understanding these seemingly contradictory pieces of advice is to have the wisdom to know when to speak and when to be silent. Sometimes fools try to bait you and draw you into a pointless debate. That is the time to walk away or avoid being drawn in. When a fool is convinced, he is right, then a well thought out answer or a well framed question can expose his lack of wisdom.
Using an unreliable fool to deliver a message is very unwise. They could fail to deliver, twist the message or give an entirely opposite message. The stupidity of sending a fool is like cutting off your own foot or drinking poison.
V7 makes an obvious point, but if we used this analogy in public today it would raise some objections. The main point is not the analogy. The analogy draws upon the powerless and paralysed legs of a lame person. As the legs are useless as far as walking is concerned, so this is like a proverb in the mouth of a fool. The substantial point here is the fool attempting to repeat wisdom. They are not living the wise way and they pay no heed to the thing they are saying. A proverb in the head, or on the lips, of a fool will no more make him wise than the dead legs of a lame person can make them walk.
Tying a stone in a sling means the sling cannot fire the stone at its target. It is useless as a sling. So giving honour to a fool is a useless thing to do. Honour is designed for people who have wisdom, just as the sling is designed to hurl a stone.
Like a drunk person stumbling around waving a thornbush as a weapon is a fool speaking a proverb. The thornbush does harm to the drunk person and could possibly harm anyone he comes in contact with. So, a fool makes himself look even more foolish as he tries to speak wisdom. Potentially he could harm others if they are taken in by what he says.
The analogy is of a rogue archer who is firing arrows indiscriminately injuring all around him. This is like hiring a fool or someone you don’t know who is just passing by who could well be a fool. What damage might this do to your business or reputation?
It is a rather sickening sight to watch a dog return to its vomit. The picture is graphic and vivid, and we need to note that that is what a fool is like as he repeats his folly. He doesn’t learn from his mistakes.
A person who is wise in their own eyes will never be inclined to seek wisdom because they are convinced that they already have it. There is more hope for the fool because at least he might repent and turn to the Lord and seek wisdom.
Lord help us not to become obstinate people. Help us to be always open to Your instruction and ready to repent when Your word exposes our sin. Help us not to be wise in our own eyes but to humbly acknowledge our great need of Your Guidance, because we ask this in Jesus’ name. Amen.