Bible Topics In The Christian Library
Folly and the Way of Fools  (Chapter 6b)
Types of Fools

Only the Lord God is omniscient. Each of us is ignorant of many things. We often find ourselves not knowing what to do. In such situations a wise man looks for someone who does have knowledge, and he learns from him. If this is not possible, and he is forced to act, a wise man will rely upon what he does know before responding. Then when he does act he will respond cautiously (except perhaps in unavoidable emergencies when he must rely upon his trained instincts). 

We may fail because of unavoidable ignorance or misinformation, and suffer because of it; but there is no condemnation in not having knowledge. Jesus once told some Pharisees,

If you were blind, you would have no guilt… (John 9:41: RSV). Jesus forgave those who crucified him because they did it in ignorance. And when they came to the place which is called The Skull, there they crucified him, and the criminals, one on the right and one on the left. And Jesus said, "Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do." And they cast lots to divide his garments (Luke 23:33; RSV). And Paul wrote about his own forgiveness, saying, …I formerly blasphemed and persecuted and insulted him [Jesus]; but I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief… (I Timothy 1:13; RSV). In its broadest sense the word fool refers to any man who thinks or acts without knowledge and understanding. Such behavior may be habitual or it may be limited to a particular circumstance. For example, it is recorded that Jesus called some of his beloved disciples "foolish" when they could not believe that He had risen from the dead. Jesus admonished them, saying: O foolish men, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! (Luke 24:25; KJV). On other occasions He referred to people as fools when they did not think rationally. For example, Matthew recorded an occasion when He sternly rebuked the scribes and Pharisees, saying: Woe to you, blind guides, who say, "If any one swears by the temple, it is nothing; but if any one swears by the gold of the temple, he is bound by his oath." You blind fools! For which is greater, the gold or the temple that has made the gold sacred? And you say, "If any one swears by the altar, it is nothing; but if any one swears by the gift that is on the alter, he is bound by his oath." You blind men! For which is greater, the gift or the altar that makes the gift sacred? (Matthew 23:16-19; RSV). It may be said that everyone is foolish in the sense that everyone is a sinner; a sinner in the sense that no one lives perfectly without sin. Nevertheless, not everyone is an habitual fool any more than everyone is an habitual sinner. Habitual fools are those who willingly and persistently reject the Lord's wisdom. It can occur in childhood or in adult life. Habitual fools deserve condemnation. They have willfully refused to accept the gifts of the Grand Lady of God and have, instead, chosen to consort with Dame Folly. But Jesus warned against uttering that accusation rashly against a brother. He said, But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother shall be liable to the counsel, and whoever says, "You fool!" shall be liable to the hell of fire (Matthew 5:22; RSV). One special kind of fool is the most tragic of all: the spiritual fool. He is the man who ignores knowledge about his spiritual life and refuses to prepare for his soul's eternal destiny. No matter how brilliant a man's intellect, or how skilled he may be in worldly affairs, if he pays no attention to the gospel of Jesus he is a spiritual fool. Jesus told these parables to warn against being spiritually foolish. Then the kingdom of heaven shall be compared to ten maidens who took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. For when the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them; but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. As the bridegroom was delayed, they all slumbered and slept. But at midnight there was a cry, "Behold, the bridegroom! Come out to meet him." Then all those maidens rose and trimmed their lamps. And the foolish said to the wise, "Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are Being out." But the wise replied, "Perhaps there will not be enough for us and for you; go rather to the dealers and buy for yourselves." And while they went to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the marriage feast; and the door was shut. Afterward the other maidens came also, saying, "Lord, lord, open to us." But he replied, "Truly, I say to you, I do not know you." Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour (Matthew 25:1-13; RSV). 

And he told them a parable, saying, "The land of a rich man brought forth plentifully; and he thought to himself, 'What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?' And he said, 'I will do this: I will pull down my barns, and build larger ones; and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; take your ease, eat, drink, be merry.' But God said to him, 'Fool! This night your soul is required of you; and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?' So is he who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God" (Luke 12:16-21; RSV).

Fools, then, are those who have both the potential and the opportunity to learn, but either refuse to learn to begin with or, after having once learned, abandon wisdom and return back into folly. These I call developmental fools and regressive fools, respectively. Regressive fools are those who, having developed their minds with knowledge and understanding, abandoning it and indulge themselves in dissipation with Dame Folly. 

Children might be considered developmental fools, but the Bible does not actually classify them as fools. Children, in whose heart Solomon said folly abounds, are not called fools because they have not had the opportunities of time and experience to learn right and wrong. They are simple-minded, undeveloped, naive, gullible. They are inexperienced to the dangers of the world; they are too trusting and too careless.

The simple believeth every word… (Proverbs 14:15; KJV). 

…the simple pass on, and are punished (Proverbs 22:3; KJV). 

…the simple pass on, and suffer for it (Proverbs 27:12; ASV).

Unless children are disciplined and trained, their development becomes stagnant; and they degenerate into a state of mental barbarism, having mature bodies with primitive minds: the chronic developmental (or classic) fool. The simple inherit folly… (Proverbs 14:18; KJV). In sum: Anyone guilty of committing folly may he called a fool. However, there are many varieties. Some major factors regarding the practice are as follows. It may be acute or chronic; it can develop in childhood or during adult life; it may be restricted to a single area in a man's life or it may he more pervasive.
The Classic Fool

The root cause of the type of personality called the fool is a resistance to being educated. It is a self-imposed disease of the soul. The extent to which a man is a fool is a direct result of the extent to which he tries to live without acquiring knowledge or developing his mind, whether in regard to any one thing or as a general lifestyle. Those who most fully embrace this attitude I call classic fools. They are most commonly found among incorrigible youths. 

From the first chapter of Proverbs, we find that fools blindly reject all knowledge, advice, and counsel. Indeed, they hate knowledge and reproof. They do not choose the fear of the Lord, but instead they turn away from wisdom, and remain complacent in ignorance. Notice their resistance to learning.

…fools despise wisdom and instruction (Proverbs 1:7; KJV). 

How long, O simple ones, will you love being simple? How long will scoffers delight in their scoffing and fools hate knowledge? Give heed to my reproof; behold, I will pour out my thoughts to you; I will make my words known to you. Because I have called and you refused to listen, have stretched out my hand and no one has heeded, and you have ignored all my counsel and would have none of my reproof, I also will laugh at your calamity; I will mock when panic strikes you, when panic strikes you Like a storm, and your calamity comes like a whirlwind, when distress and anguish come upon you. Then they will call upon me, but I will not answer; they will seek me diligently but will not And me. Because they hated knowledge and did not choose the fear of the Lord, would have none of my counsel, and despised all my reproof, therefore they shall eat the fruit of their way and be sated with their own devices. For the simple are killed by their turning away, and the complacence of fools destroys them… (Proverbs 1:22-31; RSV).

Solomon continued, saying, …he who rejects reproof goes astray (Proverbs 10:17; RSV). 

…he that hateth reproof is brutish (Proverbs 12:1; KJV). 

A fool despiseth his father's instruction… (Proverbs 15:5; KJV). 

Correction is grievous unto him that forsaketh the way: and he that hateth reproof shall die (Proverbs 15:10; KJV). 

He that refuseth correction despiseth his own soul… (Proverbs15:32; ASV). 

The fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion (Proverbs 18:2; RSV).

Fools hate discipline and education; instead, what they love is what they should hate. It is as sport to a fool to do mischief… (Proverbs 10:23; KJV). 

…it is abomination to fools to depart from evil (Proverbs 13:19; KJV). 

Folly is joy to him that is void of wisdom… (Proverbs 15:21; ASV). 

As a dog returneth to his vomit, so a fool returneth to his folly (Proverbs 26:11; KJV). 

…a fool's heart [inclines him] toward the left (Ecclesiastes 10:2; RSV).

Since their mental orientation is backwards, fools are incapable of acquiring knowledge and understanding. …in the heart of fools it [wisdom] is not discernable (Proverbs 14:33; LXX). 

Wherefore is there a price in the hand of a fool to get wisdom, seeing he hath no heart to it? (Proverbs 17:16; KJV). 

Wisdom is too high for a fool: he openeth not his mouth in the gate (Proverbs 24:7; KJV).

Thus, fools lack self-control, and are slaves of their primitive impulses and urges. …a fool throws off restraint and is careless. A man of quick temper acts foolishly… (Proverbs 14:16, 17; RSV). 

…he that is hasty of spirit exalteth folly (Proverbs 14:29; KJV). 

…every fool will be quarrelling (Proverbs 20:3; ASV). 

If a wise man has an argument with a fool, the fool only rages and laughs, and there is no quiet (Proverbs 29:9; RSV). 

A fool gives full vent to his anger… (Proverbs 29:11; RSV). 

Be not quick to anger, for anger lodges in the bosom of fools (Ecclesiastes 7:9; RSV).

Their impulsiveness gives them immediate gratification, and, thereby, it deceives them. …the folly of fools is deceiving (Proverbs 14:8; RSV). Like children they are transparent: easily exposed as fools. A fool shows instantly that he is angry… (Proverbs 12:16; MOFFAIT). 

…fools proclaim their folly (Proverbs 12:23; RSV). 

…a fool flaunteth his folly (Proverbs 13:16; ASV). 

…folly is the garland of fools (Proverbs 14:24; RSV). 

…that which is in the inward part of fools is made known (Proverbs 14:33; RV). 

A fool has only to walk along the road and, having no sense, he makes plain to all what a fool he is (Ecclesiasties 10:3; MLB).

Their primitive minds are egocentric: incapable of objective judgment about right and wrong. The way of a fool is right in his own eyes… (Proverbs 12:15; KJV). 

The foolish scoff at guilt… (Proverbs 14:9; RHM). 

…the fool rageth, and is confident (Proverbs 14:16; KJV). 

…the heart of fools is perverted (Proverbs 15:7; NAB). 

When a man's folly brings his way to ruin, his heart rages against the Lord (Proverbs 19:3; RSV). 

He who trusts in his own mind is a fool… (Proverbs 28:26; RSV).

Fools lack both the will and the ability to perform concentrated labor; they prefer to chase wild schemes. …he who follows worthless pursuits has no sense (Proverbs 12:11; RSV). 

…a stupid man's eyes are roving everywhere (Proverbs 17:24; NEB). 

The fool folds his hands together and consumes his own flesh (Ecclesiastes 4:5; JB). 

The toil of a fool wearies him, so that he does not know the way to the city (Ecclesiastes 10:15; RSV).

Having mature bodies governed by a child's mentality makes them troublesome, destructive, and dangerous. Every wise woman buildeth her house: but the foolish plucketh it down with her hands (Proverbs 14:1; KJV). 

Let a man meet a she-bear robbed of her cubs, rather than a fool in his folly (Proverbs 17:12; RSV). 

…a foolish man swalloweth it [precious treasure] up (Proverbs 21:20; ASV). 

A stone is heavy, and sand is weighty, but a fool's provocation is heavier than both (Proverbs 27:3; RSV).

Their speech mirrors their nature: primitive, unrestrained, useless, and/or destructive. Like a wildfire, it wanders about both generating heat and feeding upon it; and, because of the rebound effect, it is a major cause of their own grief. …the mouth of the foolish hastens ruin (Proverbs 10:14; MEL). 

…he that uttereth a slander is a fool (Proverbs 10:18; RV). 

The speech of a fool is a rod for his back… (Proverbs 14:3; NEB). 

…the mouth of fools poureth out folly (Proverbs 15:2; ASV). 

…the mouths of fools feed on folly (Proverbs 15:14; RSV). 

Fine speech is not becoming to a fool; still less is false speech to a prince (Proverbs 17:7; RSV). 

A fool's lips bring strife, and his mouth invites a flogging. A fool's mouth is his ruin, and his lips are a snare to himself (Proverbs 18:6, 7; RSV). 

He that answereth a matter before he heareth it, it is folly and shame unto him (Proverbs 18:13; KJV). 

He who goes about gossiping reveals secrets; therefore do not associate with one who speaks foolishly (Proverbs 20:19; RSV). 

Like a lame man's legs, which hang useless, is a proverb in the mouth of fools (Proverbs 26:7; RSV). 

As a thorn goeth up into the hand of a drunkard, so is a parable in the mouth of fools (Proverbs 26:9; KJV). 

If a wise man has an argument with a fool, the fool only rages and laughs, and there is no quiet (Proverbs 29:9; RSV). 

…the lips of a fool consume him. The beginning of the words of his mouth is foolishness, and the end of his talk is wicked madness. A fool multiplies words, though no man knows what is to be, and who can tell him what will be after him? (Ecclesiastes 10:12-14; RSV).

The complete picture looks something like this: Fools are those who resist developing their minds. They are proud, self-satisfied, complacent individuals who are just too lazy to put forth the effort to develop. They hate good advice because it condemns their way of life, and in their pride they cannot endure criticism. They only abuse those who try to correct them. Their dreaded enemy is pain. They cannot bear discipline and the discomfort that goes along with it. Therefore, they cannot endure work or study. Knowledge is just too tiresome to achieve, and so they ignore all opportunities to learn and gain an education. Indeed, they prefer the easy way of remaining ignorant. Their primitive minds deceive them into thinking that they know best what is good for them; and what is good for them is immediate pleasure. Their god is pleasure, and they devote their lives to it. They live for the moment. Whatever makes them feel good, whatever brings the most enjoyment the quickest way is what they do: be it drug abuse, sexual license, reckless driving, vandalism, brutality, theft, senseless talk, or simply lazy idleness. They love the wild abandon of unrestrained freedom. It gives them a thrill to vandalize, deface, plunder, injure, and destroy. They perceive life to be a crazy game, and they love to laugh at it. They live impulsively, and their impulsiveness and lack of sense make them victims of circumstances. Their brutish minds cannot think. They have no intellect to direct them or to help them solve problems. And so, faced with difficulty, they become frustrated, helpless, invalid. Under stress they become agitated. If the stress is threatening, like cattle, they panic and go berserk. When provoked, they instantly show their wrath and give full vent to it. Moreover, they are easily provoked. They are "thin skinned," "touchy," and "hot-tempered" as a matter of temperament. Beware of them! At the slightest provocation they are liable to erupt into a fit, and create violence of one kind or another, depending upon wha tever impulse most directs them. 

Being totally self-centered, their disregard for the feelings of others naturally generates friction. Thus, they are quarrelsome and often in conflict with others. They are easily recognized because they are so transparent. They expose themselves like little children. They are as obvious as a raucous, staggering drunk man in a saloon. They announce to all that they are dumb, immature, stupid, senseless dolts. They broadcast the message that they are clowns and fools. They do not have sense enough to care. They cannot see far enough ahead to know the grief that they bring upon themselves. If forced to labor, they quickly become exhausted and confused. They require constant oversight and supervision, which is deeply resented. The results of their efforts are usually bungling failures. Like hogs in a man’s house, they are out of place with, and unfit for, fine things. Properly cared for, goods can last for years; but at their hands they age and wear out overnight. Like everything else about them their language is unrestrained, excessive, vulgar, and senseless. Having no intelligent knowledge, they talk of stupidity and comedy. It is unproductive and unhealthy; it is without redeeming value. Worst, it is provocative and irritating, like the constant barking of dogs. They hate anyone who speaks intelligently of knowledgeable things; not understanding, they just mock and laugh in response. Their unrestrained use of talk often gets them into trouble simply because it is so irritating and insulting. 

These kinds of men may look funny on a screen; but in real life they are miserable to be around. Their lives involve a constant tumultuous cycle between the thrills of pleasure and the sorrows of grief. They are tragic, pathetic creatures both to be pitied and condemned; because they are at once blind victims of their primitive nature, while at the same time, they have freely chosen to live that way; and they hurt everyone who tries to improve them. This type of composite mentality appears to be such a threat to childhood that almost the entire first one-third of Proverbs is a plea directed toward the young, urging them to acquire wisdom: the only treatment that will either prevent or cure the malady. Solomon's words "my son," "sons," "children" are used to address the reader about twenty times within those first six pages of Proverbs. Solomon warned the young against indulging in a devil-may-care, happy-go-lucky life. Do not play it away in ignorance and pleasure, he said.

Rejoice, O young man, in thy youth; and let thy heart cheer thee in the days of thy youth, and walk in the ways of thine heart, and in the sight of thine eyes: but know thou, that for all these things God will bring thee into judgment (KJV). Therefore, remove anger from your heart, and put away evil from your flesh; for youth and ignorance are vanity (LAM) (Ecclesiastes 11:9, 10). Remember, developing our mind is a responsibility that is decidedly personal; and so, too, are the consequences. If thou be wise, thou shalt be wise for thyself: but if thou scornest, thou alone shalt bear it (Proverbs 9:12; KJV). In sum: A fool, whether in most aspects of his life or in some particular part of it, is a man who rejects the knowledge he needs to be informed, choosing instead to love ignorance and delusion. Consequently he is incapable of reason, and in his ignorance he naively responds by impulse failing to appreciate that his behavior is inept and troublesome, whether in most aspects of his life or in some particular part of it.
Dealing With Fools

Solomon warned against involvement with fools. It is best, he said, to avoid them; otherwise, simply respond with disapproval.

…a companion of fools shall be destroyed (Proverbs 13:20; KJV). 

Leave the presence of a man who is a fool, for you will not discern words of knowledge there (Proverbs 14:7; MLB). 

Speak not in the ears of a fool: for he will despise the wisdom of thy words (Proverbs 23:9; KJV). 

Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest thou also be like unto him. Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own conceit (Proverbs 26:4, 5; KJV).

He also advised against either praising them or giving them responsibility. He who does will only suffer for his efforts. It is naive to think that all they need is an opportunity and a pat on the back. Like snow in summer or rain in harvest, so honor is not fitting for a fool (Proverbs 26:1; RSV). 

He who sends a message by the hand of a fool cuts off his own feet and drinks violence (Proverbs 26:6; RSV). 

As he that bindeth a stone in a sling, so is he that giveth honour to a fool (Proverbs 26:8; KJV). 

As an archer that woundeth all, so is he that hireth a fool and he that hireth them that pass by (Proverbs 26:10; ASV).

Those in authority, who are required to maintain order, have the responsibility to punish and control fools with firmness. …a fool (goes] to the correction of the stocks… (Proverbs 7:22; KJV). 

…a rod is for the back of him that is void of understanding (Proverbs 10:13; KJV). 

Condemnation is ready for scoffers, and flogging for the backs of fools (Proverbs 19:29; RSV). 

A whip for the horse, a bridle for the ass, and a rod for the fool's back (Proverbs 26:3; KJV).

But no matter how much fools may be punished, the ultimate cure for this malady does not come from without. A reproof entereth more into a wise man than an hundred stripes into a fool (Proverbs 17:10; KJV). 

Though you should pound the fool to bits with the pestle, amid the grits in a mortar, his folly would not go out of him (Proverbs 27:22; NAB).

The fool, of his own free will, must initiate an attitude change. External consequences can only offer encouraging incentives. If, and when, he reverses his mental orientation and becomes motivated to shun folly and love learning, he is no longer a fool. He can then begin the long and arduous task of mental development. 

Treatment for those who are addicted to folly appears to differ little from that used to cure folly in children. It involves a spirit of humility with the right mental orientation (penitence); a willingness to endure much suffering; and the establishment of good habits of living. These are the basic ingredients in the Lord's prescription for everyone's spiritual health. This message permeates the Bible. The key to cure, however, remains the state of a man’s will. How a man chooses to live has a certain effect on the health of his body, but it has an even more profound effect on the health of his soul. The courageous efforts of a physician (or a team of physicians) can save the life of a man whose body is in critical condition only if the body cooperates. No amount of effort on the part of another (no! not even the Lord God) can save a man’s soul unless his spirit chooses to cooperate. It is the nature of our God given freedom. For example, Jeremiah said:

For the Lord will not cast off for ever, but, though he cause grief, he will have compassion according to the abundance of his steadfast love; for he does not willingly afflict or grieve the sons of men (Lamentations 3:31-33; RSV). And Ezekiel said: Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked, says the Lord God, and not rather that he should turn from his way and live? (Ezekiel 18:23; RSV). 

Therefore I will judge you, O house of Israel, every one according to his ways, says the Lord God. Repent and turn from all your transgressions, lest iniquity be your ruin. Cast away from you all the transgressions which you have committed against me, and get yourselves a new heart and a new spirit! Why will you die, O house of Israel? For I have no pleasure in the death of any one, says the Lord God; so turn, and live (Ezekiel 18:30-32; RSV).

The Lord cannot save us without our cooperation because he has voluntarily limited his omnipotence. He has limited himself in order to share his divinity with us, so that we can become sons of God. But in order to fulfill that potential, we must use the freedom he has given us to model his holiness. Peter wrote these words of encouragement: Therefore gird up your minds, be sober, set your hope fully upon the grace that is coming to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, be holy yourselves in all your conduct; since it is written, "You shall be holy, for I am holy" (1 Peter 1:13-16; RSV). in sum: Fools are a menace; and it is best to avoid them except for those who have the duty to control them. Helping them only works when they genuinely repent.

Copyright 1997 by Walter L. Porter may be reproducted for non-commercial purposes at no cost to others.

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