The Wise And The Fool According To Proverbs Essay

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The Wise And The Fool According To Proverbs

The Holy Bible is historical book and yet contains lots of parables where people can infer realities of life. It is a book of books written by men of God, who lived in different times and yet had always been consistent as to what it teaches men of all ages; from all walks of life at whatever time they lived. Of these books, the book of Proverbs is just one of the books of the Bible which contains teachings aimed at directing the spiritual life of men using situations from man’s everyday life. Indeed, Proverbs is a book of reality (Crenshaw, James L. 1981, p.28).

Proverbs is a form of literature not unique to the Hebrews since Egyptian, Akkadian and Babylonian evidences of these forms have been discovered and which have also similarities with those of the Proverbs of Solomon (McKane, William 1970, p. 168). In the Hebrew context, the word “proverb” (mashal in their language) means “to be like” (Crenshaw, p.34). In the case of the Proverbs of Solomon, it serves as a “medium of moral instruction” (as in Proverbs 10:26) or a “short didactic essay or sermonette” (as in Proverbs. 1:10-19; 31:10-31) (Scott, R.B.Y. 1981, p. 11).

One author extracted several general teachings that the Book of Proverbs is trying to point out. First, Proverbs is concerned with the development of godly character as in the aspects of parenting (Proverbs 22:6), of choosing one’s partner (Proverbs 29:24 and of friendship (17:9) (Scott, p. 18). Second, Proverbs teaches is to discern what is good and what is right in the aspects of money (11:4, 11:28, 18:11), justice (17:23) and friendship (19:7) (McKane, p. 173). Proverbs 1:5 says, “A wise man will hear and increase in learning, and a man of understanding will acquire wise counsel.” From this verse, we can infer that Proverbs aimed at teaching people how to seek guidance from the Lord. And finally, Proverbs teaches us how to become wise by personating both the wise and the fool and these are what we are concerned in this paper.

Both the wise and the fool are personified as women in Proverbs. Authors often refer to these two women as teaching the two ways or walks of life-of being wise and of being fool. This paper would like to adopt the personification used by one author: Dame Wisdom as the wise woman and Madam Folly as the fool (Crenshaw, p.72). It is remarkable that most books have more extensive explanation or discussion of the characteristics of Madam Folly than that of Dame Wisdom although Proverbs was often referred to as the book of Wisdom.

In this book, Dame Wisdom is a woman who is crying out in the marketplace to teach people the way of gaining wisdom. In verses 20 and 21 of the first chapter we read, “Wisdom crieth without; she uttereth her voice in the streets: she crieth in the chief place of concourse, in the openings of the gates: in the city she uttereth her words…” (The Holy Bible, KJV).

Although there have been diverse facets of wisdom, as differentiated from human intelligence or knowledge, Proverbs is more concerned with the spiritual wisdom that every man can apply in all aspects of his life on earth. The first chapter of Proverbs points out to wisdom as Dame Wisdom’s ability to know.  In verse two, it says, “to know wisdom and instruction; to perceive the words of understanding.” In verses two to four, wisdom is the ability to learn while verse six describes Dame Wisdom’s ability to understand.

Chapter three of Proverbs has probably the most famous personification of Dame Wisdom. In here, wisdom is like a virgin woman whom every wise man should pursue. Verses 13 to 17, the author placed an obvious high regard and respect to a virgin woman that he said, “happy is the man that findeth wisdom, and the man that getteth understanding: for the merchandise of it is better than the merchandise of silver, and the gain thereof than fine gold” (verses 13-14).

As far as we know the value of silver and gold, we can safely extract the idea of the author that a virgin woman could have been so costly that only few can afford to have her. Notice that the verses stressed that she is better than silver and gold and therefore wisdom, being more than the value of these tangible riches of life, could have been really worth investing. Dame Wisdom is even more valuable than rubies; on her hands are “the length of days, riches and honor” that walks in the path of pleasantness and peace.

The importance of acquiring wisdom has been stressed by the author by demonstrating how a wise man should seek and choose a woman to whom he will be with for the rest of his life. According to Crenshaw, acquiring wisdom is like searching for a wholesome yet intimate relationship (Crenshaw, p. 88). As the wise man’s bride, Dame Wisdom is so precious that “all the things that thou canst desire are not to be compared unto her” (3:15). This could have been possibly the reason why the author has consistently reminded men to acquire wisdom for his own benefit. The father in Chapter four had been so particular with wisdom that he stressed out to his son not to forsake it but rather love it; exalt and honor wisdom for it will bring him pride, honor and glory (4: 6-9).

Dame Wisdom warns men of the destruction and death into which all who continue on the path of folly will fall (1:24). Destruction and death here refers to the spiritual life of all men. Although the Proverbs has moral and practical implications that are also beneficial to be applied in our daily lives on earth, Proverbs are particularly concerned with the spiritual status of the person.

God does not want anyone’s soul to be destroyed and so we are seriously reminded and warned. Remember that Dame Wisdom is more than just one’s trusted friend. She makes sure she is doing her job to direct the life of each man to the direction that they need to tract regardless of how painful would that be. She does not tell men what they want to hear, but what they need to hear if they are to be delivered from death.

Dame Wisdom is straightforward, speaking of noble things (8:6-8). The Proverbs has given us the assurance that Dame Wisdom also offers that which will bring excellent things to those who wanted to embraces her. She tells her intention with all honesty and never wil have any hesitation to speak the truth for the benefit of man’s soul. Unlike Madam Folly, Dame Wisdom never uses her lips to intentionally hurt anyone but to correct one’s wicked way. She offers her teaching and commandments (7:1-2).

Like a father to his beloved son, Madam Folly also desire the best things for her children and she knows that the only way to prepare them is to keep her words, to acquire sound wisdom and counsel (8:14). Like a weapon of war, Dame Wisdom promises security (1:33), peace, long life, riches and honor (3:16-17), and, most of all, life. “She is a tree of life to them that lay hold upon her: and happy is the one that retaineth her” (3:18).

In another facet, Dame Wisdom in Chapter seven was compared to a woman “who calls forth to men to fear the Lord, hate evil, and diligently seek her. This has been implied in verses four and five which say, “Say unto wisdom thou art my sister; and call understanding thy kinswoman: that they may keep thee from the strange woman, from the stranger which flattereth with her words” (7:4-5). We can infer from these verses that Dame Wisdom serves as the strong and trusted company of anyone who seeks wisdom against the threat of folly. In other words, Dame Wisdom is the protector of the person seeking wisdom against the strange woman whose main mission is to devour men by flattering with her words.

In Chapter Fourteen, Proverbs still uses the personification of wisdom as a woman, but this time, as someone who is proactive like a wife and a mother in a family. Like one author stressed, “a good wife is a great blessing to a family” (Matthew, Henry). The question therefore is this: what makes a woman a good wife? Matthew has conservative yet objective answer. A good wife is one that is prudent, pious, industrious and considerate with whom the whole family feels comfortable and safe under her care while keeping in mind that it is her husband that bears rule.

Proverbs however has a simpler yet more meaningful answer to the question: “A wise woman buildeth her house” (14:1). Although this may seem indirectly connected with wisdom, we can say that the characteristics of the good wife as mentioned above are requirements for the woman to help build her house and keep her family together. In the same way, a woman who builds her house is wise, as the Proverbs say. Dame Wisdom here is personified as good wife and a mother. In the same context, wisdom is required in order to keep a family intact.

            In contrast, Proverbs is very much particular with avoiding the ways of folly and thus of getting away from the fool by empowering oneself of enough wisdom. It is remarkable in many commentaries on the book of Proverbs that the analysis of the personification of the fool is more extensive in comparison with that of wisdom.  Here the fool is personified by Madam Folly whose character is well described in the book. While wisdom has been personified in many facets, Proverbs also presented the different degrees of foolishness that Madam Folly may show.

            Some authors discussed only four types or degrees of Madam Folly’s personality but we would discuss five since there are also authors that see five kinds of fools in the book which differences were clearly indicated. The first type of fool is the simple fool. It is important that we be able to understand the difference between simplicity, in the context of the Proverbs and how we perceive simplicity.

Since the Old Testament of the Holy Bible was originally written in Hebrew, it is but proper that we understand the context of simplicity in the Hebrew context in order for us to come up with the accurate interpretation of the word. In the same way, there is a difference of the Bible’s context of a “fool” than how we perceive it in our present culture. In Hebrew, simple and fool is used in the same context. Simple (fool) came from the Hebrew word pethîy, which root word is pâthâh, implies extreme vulnerability, literally meaning “to be opened up1.”

            McKane stressed that simplicity is a stage in the development of a person that every man must go through it. However he also stressed that simplicity is a dangerous stage in one’s life because it is at this stage that man is vulnerable and gullible especially to the snares of sin (McKane, p. 182). What is more dangerous is that “being simple is one short step from being a fool” (Crenshaw, p.102).

These analyses therefore coincide with that of the Hebrew context of simple and therefore, the context within which the Proverbs should be interpreted. Simple fool, as described in Proverbs 22:3, is the one who lacks discernment. Being at the early stage of life, a child can be safely considered a fool because of his lack of wisdom to discern things but this should not stay as one grows old. This is the reason why the author advises people to acquire wisdom. Verses six and seven of chapter seven personified a fool as a simple and young man that is void of understanding (Kaiser, Walter C., Jr. 1995).

            The next type of fool is the silly fool as described in Proverbs as the “evil”. The Hebrew word ’eviyl means “to be perverse, silly” (Goldberg, Louis 1990). Proverbs 10:14 said that “the mouth of the foolish is near destruction” and that “every fool will be meddling” according to Proverbs 20:3. The silly fool is also described in 12:15 as the one who sees his own way as right. The silly fool also is likened to someone to rejects instruction (1:7, 10:21) and those who prefer to be humiliated before he decides to change his ways (29:9, 7:22).

The third type of fool is the sensual fool who is likened to someone who makes proud of the things that he should be ashamed of (13:19-20). In Hebrew, he is referred to as kecîyl who is fat, silly or fool. He is the one who rejects the Wisdom of God and who often gets his mouth into trouble (18:6-7). Proverbs warns people that this type of fool should be avoided because of his subtle methods and motives. These types of fools are somewhat hardened that they require severe punishment to be corrected (26:3, 19:29).

            A worse type of fool is called the scorning fool, who does not only reject wisdom but also embraces which is abominable to God (13:1, 14:6). He does this by turning his deaf dear in order to rebuke the Wisdom that God is offering. In Hebrew, scorning fools are lûwts, a word which means to makemouth, to scoff1. Proverbs 19:25 recommends that a scorning fool be punished and is the same idea that Proverbs 21:11 and 22:10 suggest. The worst type of fool is the steadfast fool, which means “stupid or wicked” in the Hebrew word nâbâl or a vile person. He is self-confident and yet close-minded. He is the most dangerous of all fools because his goal is to draw as many others as possible into his evil ways. It is only God who can reprove this type of fool.

            What is probably more famous personification of a fool in Proverbs is that of an adulteress as described in verse sixteen of chapter 2.  Being an adulteress, Madam Folly, “forsaketh the guide of her youth, and forgetteth the covenant of her God” (2:17). Having done so, Madam Folly is a godless, in contrast with Dame Wisdom. Being referred to as a strange woman, a fool is immoral (Longman, Tremper 2002).

As have been mentioned earlier, Madam Folly is that type who is senseless and simple: “A foolish woman is clamorous: she is simple and knoweth nothing” (9:13). Being an adulteress and a strange woman, Madam Folly is shameless of her sins (4:6). She makes it sure that his legal husband is not in the house when he gets her victim (7:19-20).  She devours her victim through her seductive attires (7:10) and erotic lips (7:16-17). “For the lips of an adulteress drip honey, and smoother than oil is her speech; but in the end she is bitter as wormwood, sharp as a two-edged sword (5:3-4, 2:16, 7:5, 22:14).

            As an adulteress, who can devour her victims through her seductive attires and her sweet words, Madam Folly could have been outwardly beautiful. Proverbs 6:25 says, “Lust not after her beauty in thine heart; neither let her take thee with her eyelids.” However it is not her beauty which is her primary weapon but rather her tongue (House, H. Wayne and Durham, Kenneth M. 1992). Likewise, man is easily fooled by sweet and friendly words that someone offers. Proverbs therefore warns us that outward beauty and the sweetness of words should not enter our hearts and incline to them. As Proverbs 11:22 said, “As a jewel of gold in a swine’s snout, so is a fair woman which is without discretion.”

            There are several key characteristics of a fool that we can infer from our earlier descriptions using the character of Madam Folly. First, Proverbs teaches us that the fool is unrighteous. In contrast with Dame Wisdom, she hates holy, righteous and good things rather she loves evil (Voorwinde, Stephen (1981). Being a fool, Madam Folly is necessarily unwise because of the fact that she does not have and refused to acquire wisdom. Madam Folly also is not capable of acquiring wisdom because “wisdom is too high for a fool…” (24:7). She does not have the desire to have wisdom and in fact rejects it for the reason that she does not fear the Lord. The fool is unrealistic since she thought of himself as someone high and is proud and haughty.

            Madam Folly is also undisciplined. She takes pleasure of her money, treasure and other material resources. She also comes short of her temper (12:16) and is unable to control her words. Being so, Madam Folly is unreliable because of her dishonesty and evil deeds (26:10). She is a liar, a deceiver and a slanderer (10:18 19:1). Having a hardened heart, the fool is therefore unteachable (Lane, Eric 2000). This is primarily because she is godless and therefore does not fear the Lord which is the key to acquiring knowledge.

The fool therefore is necessarily undesirable. Proverbs 15:20 says, “a wise son maketh a glad father: but a foolish man despiseth his mother.” A fool causes his parents to grieve because he rejects wisdom which often parents offer to their children. How miserable is the life of a any parent who does have a foolish child. “He that begetteth a fool doeth it to his sorrow: and the father of a fool hath no joy” (17:21). Parents never would like to bear a foolish son who makes them bitter and grieve. There is also one fearsome thing about the life of a fool: “the mouth of the foolish is near destruction” (10:14).

Like a pestilence, Madam Folly will unlikely be someone who will be desired to be a friend or even just a company of anyone. Being slanderous and quarrelsome, Madam Folly makes people hate each other that it is better “to meet a bear which robbed off her whelps rather than a fool in his folly” (17:12). Proverbs does not only describe the characteristics of Madam Folly but also teaches people how to get away from them. Also important is the fact that Proverbs also teaches us how to acquire knowledge in order that we may not become fool.

The warnings against Madam Folly are clear in the Proverbs which every man should really take into serious consideration (Decker, Barbara 1987). We are advised to “cast out the scorner” so that “contention will go out” and that “strife and reproach shall cease” (22:10). We should not therefore be in anyway deceived by the fool and God’s reminders should not be forgotten.

Through the Proverbs, we are given the means of girding ourselves with wisdom in order to get ourselves enough strength to fight against her. Our victory depends on how we will utilize all our weapons of war but it is safe to say that the Proverbs has given the complete and accurate procedure of achieving our victory. The dangers of Madam Folly are everywhere. “Scornful men bring a city into snare….” (29:10). The simple reminder then is to beware and watch out very intently.

The method of teaching employed in proverbs is most like the instructional method of our Lord. In the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament, the Greek word parabole was consistently used to translate the Hebrew word mashal (proverb) (Voorwinde, Stephen 1981). Therefore Proverbs are primarily intended to teach everyman the lessons of life in the ways that God wants it to be (Thomas, David 1982).

One would not immediately expect to read the Book of Proverbs in order to learn the will of God, but this is one of the purposes of the book stated in Proverbs 1:5: “A wise man will hear and increase in learning; and a man of understanding will acquire wise counsel.” The expression “wise counsel” is derived from the Hebrew root meaning “rope” (Mouser, William E. Jr. 1983). This “rope” was connected to the rudder of a ship, thereby being the means of determining its course. By obtaining wisdom which Proverbs offers to teach us, we are enabled to make right decisions which will set a godly course for our life.

It is finally important that for a man to acquire wisdom, he first have to have a godly fear (Bridges, Charles 1980). A man of wisdom has the ability to discern truth from error, good from evil, best from good. Wisdom results in righteousness, justice, and equity.

More importantly, Proverbs does not teaches us to limit wisdom acquisition to acquiring it but rather we are advised to obey and live with it because knowing good and doing it results from knowing God (22:17-21). Thus wisdom is not just a mental ability or a moral sensitivity, but a practical ability to accomplish a variety of tasks (Falwell, Jerry 1984). “I believe it is safe to say that this implies that ultimately wisdom is the person of our Lord Jesus Christ, so that we cannot possess wisdom without first bowing before Him as Savior and Lord” (Crenshaw, p.223).

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Bridges, Charles (1980). An Exposition of Proverbs. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.

Crenshaw James L. (1981). Old Testament Wisdom. Atlanta: John Knox Press

Decker, Barbara (1987). Proverbs for Parenting. Portland, OR: Lynn’s Bookshelf.

Falwell, Jerry (1984). Wisdom for Living. Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

Goldberg, Louis (1990). The Practical Wisdom of Proverbs. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications.

House, H. Wayne and Durham, Kenneth M. (1992). Living Wisely in a Foolish World. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications.

Kaiser, Walter C., Jr. (1995). Proverbs – Wisdom for Everyday Life. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

Lane, Eric (2000). Focus on the Bible – Proverbs – Everyday Wisdom for Everyone. Christian Focus Publications.

Longman, Tremper III (2002). How to Read Proverbs. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

McKane, McKane. Proverbs. Philadelphia: The Westminster Press.

Mouser, William E. Jr. (1983). Walking in Wisdom – Studying the Proverbs of Solomon. Downers Grove, IL: Inter Varsity Press.

Olford, Stephen F. (2001). Windows of Wisdom – Devotional Studies in Proverbs. Greenville, SC: Ambassador-Emerald International.

Scott, RBY (1981). The Way of Wisdom in the Old Testament. New York: Macmillan Company.

Thomas, David (1982). Book of Proverbs – Expository and Homiletical Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications.

Voorwinde, Stephen (1981). Wisdom for Today’s Issues – A Topical Arrangement of the Proverbs. Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co.

 

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