The fool, so frequently mentioned in Proverbs, is the subject of the first twelve verses of chapter 26. It should be born in mind that the term as used here has no reference to one mentally weak or incapable through simplicity. Fool and folly are almost synonymous with sinner and sinfulness, though the added thought of willfulness is needed to fully understand many of the warnings and threatenings. Fools are those who make a mock at sin, rejoicing in iniquity and refusing to heed the voice of wisdom.
Both weather conditions described in this verse are out of place and may cause serious inconvenience. Snow in summer is injurious because it retards growth. Rain during harvest greatly interrupts the reaper and may even ruin the crop. So a fool in the place of honor is unsuitable and may cause much damage. He does not know how to conduct himself and he fulfills the passage, “Man being in honour abideth not: he is like the beasts that perish” (Psalm 49:12). Read of Nebuchadnezzar’s attitude before his repentance (Daniel 4).
Fools are ever ready to curse someone, often to the great anxiety of ignorant and timid souls who fear the fulfillment of their maledictions. But as the sparrow and swallow fly through the air and pass quickly from view, so it will be with a curse uttered without cause.
A second interpretation suggested by some is that no curse will come on anyone unless there is reason for it, but this idea is also suggested in the first interpretation given. Compare this verse with Goliath’s curse (1 Samuel 17:43).
See notes on Proverbs 10:13 and 19:29. The order here will seem strange to some. We think of the horse as requiring the bridle to control it and the donkey needing the whip to spur it on. But in Syria it is just the opposite. Horses are not used frequently and are often exceedingly stubborn; the donkey is apt to be too ready and needs to be held in by bit and bridle to keep it at a proper gait. The fool is likely to err on either side and therefore the rod is necessary to correct his willfulness. The psalmist warns against failing to obey God’s instruction and therefore requiring bit and bridle guidance (Psalm 32:9).
Though these verses seem to give opposite directions, they are too closely connected to allow fault-finders to raise the charge that they are contradictory. When you are conversing with a fool you need to consider the time and manner in which you answer him. To answer him in the same scoffing and egotistical spirit that he exhibits, would be to sink to his level. But on the other hand to allow foolish, unlearned statements to go unchallenged without rebuttal will only reinforce his self-assurance and conceit. To expose his shallowness and reply convincingly to his foolishness may at least humble him and cause him to feel the need to investigate more fully. When the men of Hezekiah did not answer the vapid blasphemies of Rab-shakeh they obeyed the first of these instructions (2 Kings 18:36). When Nehemiah replied so brusquely to the wretched pretensions of Sanballat he acted according to the second (Nehemiah 6:8).
These couplets allude to the same general subject as the previous verses. To entrust a fool with an important message is like cutting off the feet or drinking something harmful. The purpose will be thwarted, for a foolish messenger cannot be depended on. His feet might as well be amputated, so far as his carrying the word correctly is concerned. Or it may be that we are to think of the sender rather than the one sent. In that case it would be as sensible to cut off his own feet or to drink what is injurious as to entrust his message to a fool. Looked at from either standpoint, it conveys the thought of vexation and delay. Jonah played the part of such an envoy before he was brought to see his sin (Jonah 1).
The lame walk with a halting, uncertain gait because of their unequal legs. When he who is not himself wise attempts to use wise speech, he too stumbles and by his uncertain words and ways makes known his folly. Such was Saul among the prophets (1 Samuel 19:24).
The first part of Proverbs 26:8 is somewhat ambiguous and has been translated in various ways. Some have rendered it: “As he that putteth a precious stone into a heap of stones.” This implies that to honor a fool is like casting a costly jewel among the common stones by the wayside—the honor is worthless. Others read “putting into a purse a stone of the heap.” That is, as it would be foolish to put a useless bit of stone carefully into one’s purse, it is equally foolish to bestow honor on one who does not deserve it.
Both the above would be true enough; but many scholars do not think that either of them is intended or implied here. The common version would seem to mean that it is as senseless to honor a fool as to tie a stone in a sling and then try to throw it. This interpretation seems well-supported and appears to be correct. See Herod’s experience (Acts 12:20-23).
A thorn-branch in the hand of a drunkard is almost certain to prove harmful to himself and others. The same is true when a fool attempts to teach. He will destroy himself and those who listen to him. Consider what God has said as to Shemaiah the Nehelamite (Jeremiah 29:30-32).
Scholars are very far from agreement among themselves as to the exact meaning of the Hebrew in this text. For lack of better authority we keep to the King James version, which at least expresses a solemn truth that is consistant with the Word of God. Judgment, though it seems delayed, is sure for all fools and transgressors. Nothing can change this truth. God will render to every man according to his deeds.
Stuart and Muenscher read “As an arrow that woundeth every one, so is he that hireth a fool, and he who hireth wayfarers.” That is, to hire wicked or unknown persons is to invite disaster. The rendering of the Revised Version is practically the same as this: “As an archer that woundeth all, so is he that hireth a fool and he that hireth them that pass by.”
J. N. Darby reads, “A master roughly worketh every one: he both hireth the fool and hireth passers by.” He admits in a note that it is a “difficult verse.” His rendering is ambiguous, but seems to convey the thought that a master does not care whom he hires, so long as he gets the work accomplished.
The horrible habit of the dog that eats again the filthy food it has ejected from its stomach is an appropriate picture of him who leaves his foolishness for a time, only to return to it with eagerness and zest later.
The apostle Peter applies the proverb to those who, having professed to know the saving grace of Christianity, go on for a time in an upright way. But when exposed to their old temptations, they turn back to their former sins with intensity and delight demonstrating that their hearts had not really been renewed. Such persons are often supposed to have been children of God; now they are considered to have lost the salvation they once enjoyed and to have become again children of wrath. Such teaching as this is unscriptural. All who come to Christ receive eternal life and will never perish. They are forever linked up with Himself. The precious life they have received is eternal life—non-forfeitable. A careful study of Peter’s words shows he refers to persons who only had outwardly reformed their lives, but who were never truly converted to God. He says:
For if after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge [or acknowledgment] of the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, they are again entangled therein, and overcome, the latter end is worse with them than the beginning. For it had been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than, after they have known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered unto them. But it is happened unto them according to the true proverb, The dog is turned to his own vomit again; and the sow that was washed to her wallowing in the mire” (2 Peter 2:20-22).
In the previous part of the chapter, Peter had been writing of false teachers who make false professions throughout: persons who would pursue Christianity as a system, even with a view to pervert it, but who had never known its power. Such people might go on for a time as though really born of God, but their true state would at last be seen. Giving up their unsatisfactory profession and relapsing into their old ways, they become apt illustrations of the truth of this proverb.
It should be noted that a dog in Scripture never illustrates a believer, but is often used to picture a false teacher. See Paul’s warning in Philippians 3:2 and notice Isaiah’s description in chapter 56:10-12 of his prophecy regarding false teachers. They are like dogs who turn to their vomit again, even as a sow that has been washed goes back to her wallowing in the mire. Had the sow been changed into a sheep (the figure of a Christian) it would no longer delight in mud and filth. A sheep may fall into the mire, but it will never be at rest again until it is free from it. A sow finds its natural element in the mire. This marks the difference between a real saint of God and a mere reformed hypocrite. Peter and Judas aptly picture the two classes of people. When Jesus simply looked at Peter his heart was broken and this resulted in his restoration (Luke 22:61 and John 21:15-19). On the other hand, Judas was controlled by his covetous spirit to the end, until remorse set in, but no repentance toward God. See the notes on Proverbs 14:14.
See Proverbs 26:5. A person who is arrogant and considers himself superior to all instruction places himself hopelessly beyond the reach of help. The out-and-out fool, who does not pretend to anything more than his foolish ways is more easily delivered than the narrow-minded egotist who merely pretends to be wise and pious, but is thoroughly in love with his own ways. We are warned against this miserable condition in Romans 12:16.
Having considered the fool in various aspects, the sluggard is held up to view in the next four verses.
See notes on Proverbs 13:4; 15:19; 19:15; 20:4; 21:25-26; 24:30-34. We are all familiar with the sluggard; he is one who means well, but accomplishes nothing because of continued procrastination. If there are no real difficulties, he will imagine them, and they then become as real to him as if actually existent. He cannot go out on the streets because he imagines there is a lion in the way, though others see no danger. The man of determination goes out in the •strength of the Lord and tears the lion apart as Samson did; but not so with the slothful man. Any paltry excuse will hold him back (see 22:13).
In olden times doors were not hung on hinges, but turned on pivots, thus moving frequently, but never going anywhere. Whether they turned on pivots or hinges, the door cannot move away from them. So with the sluggard; he is constantly expecting to be up and doing, but remains in his bed, tossing from side to side.
Even when seated at the table, he is almost too lazy to carry his food from the dish to his mouth. It is the extreme of slothfulness, but in warm climates is not an untrue description. See 19:24.
Despite his lack of purpose and determination, he is wiser in his own eyes than any number of men who are characterized by tact and energy. He can invent excuses and plausible arguments in unlimited quantities to justify his disgraceful behavior. Neither the disgust nor the anger of better men than himself will affect him.
This lack of purpose is sometimes found among young saints and can only result in a weakened testimony. It is better to be overzealous than play the part of the sluggard. See Joash king of Israel and Elisha the prophet (2 Kings 13:14-19).
To meddle with other people’s quarrels is always foolish and often dangerous. Dogs in Syria are wild and savage. To take one by the ears would be to needlessly expose oneself to injury and suffering. It is wise to leave dogs alone, a custom that is commonly followed. In the cities they swarm in packs and are useful as scavengers; but no one attempts to control or interfere with them.
So when others are in strife, the passerby should avoid interference. It is best to let people settle their own differences between themselves, unless they appeal to another person to act the part of a peacemaker. Moses found that the Hebrew men who fought together were bitterly resentful of his unsolicited mediation (Exodus 2:13-14).
This proverb describes a person who wantonly perpetrates unkind tricks on others, causing them serious inconvenience and perhaps heavy loss. Then he attempts to laugh it off as mere amusement. He is like a man pretending to be insane and finding his sport in injuring others. Deceit in the name of pleasure is as much to be denounced as any other sin. Self-control and a concern for the welfare of his neighbors will cause one to avoid this deceitful behavior. Only the most thoughtless and selfish person will engage in amusement at the expense of another’s suffering. See Proverbs 10:23 and 2 Peter 2:13.
See notes on Proverbs 11:13; 16:27-28. Already we have had our attention frequently directed to the evil of gossiping. But because we are so slow to learn, we are given added instruction in regard to what has become in many places a blighting curse among the people of God. Happy is the assembly of saints that does not number a slanderer or talebearer among its members! Just as fire goes out for lack of fuel, so many difficulties disappear when there is no whisperer to go around perpetuating the strife. But, just as coals added to burning coals preserve the fire, so a contentious man causes ill feelings to be inflamed, and malice and hatred to burn more strongly than ever. It is a miserable business to go about stirring up unholy passions and making conflicts more difficult to settle. For the words of a gossiper are devoured by many as though they were choice tidbits, which go down into the depths of the being and often cause permanent damage. See Proverbs 12:18 and 18:8.
One who makes fervent affirmations of love and affection, while his heart is bent on evil, is like a cheap piece of pottery that has been veneered with a coating of worthless silver. Such an article appears to be of value, but is really rubbish. So it is with the hypocritical professions of the flatterer. He speaks fervently only to cover his evil intent. Hating the object of his attentions, he endeavors to deceive by fair speech; but his heart is corrupt, and he is not to be trusted. He attempts to cover his malice with sweet sounding words and for a time may succeed; but eventually his true character will be openly demonstrated.
Having dug a pit for his neighbor, he will fall into it himself, as did Haman in the book of Esther. By flattery and apparent zeal for the honor of Ahasuerus, he won permission to destroy all the Jews; but he was discovered in his perfidy and hanged on the gallows he had made for Mordecai. He was as one who had rolled a stone up a hillside, and when it broke loose, it returned on him with crushing force. The courtiers, by similar means, persuaded Darius to promote the decrees which they thought would result in Daniel’s destruction. In the end, they were brought to the fate which they hoped would have been Daniel’s (Daniel 6).
The last proverb of this chapter expresses a truth that has long been recognized among all nations and is preserved in proverbial form among many peoples. “It is common for men to hate those whom they have injured” is the English rendering of the saying of Tacitus. Conscious of having wronged another and being determined not to confess it, the deceiver fills his heart with hatred against the object of his wrongdoing.
He who has debtors may graciously forgive them; but he who is in debt is very apt to cherish the bitterest animosity against the one from whom he has borrowed. One may readily overlook an injury, but the one who has done another a favor will often be hated for his kindness. This is so common among fallen men that it hardly needs comment.
To hide his wretched feelings, a liar will flatter with his lips while all the time he is plotting the ruin of his victim. It is the sin which became, as it were, incarnate in Judas Iscariot! May every Christian learn to avoid it as most revolting and disgusting and altogether opposed to the truthfulness of the spirit of Christ.