Proverbs Week 6: The Roots of Foolishness


10:8, 10:10, 10:14, 10:18, 14:3, 14:7, 15:2, 15:14, 17:28, 18:6-7, 19:1, 29:20


13:19 Desire realized is sweet to the soul, but it is an abomination to fools to turn away from evil.

14:9 Fools mock at sin, but among the upright there is good will.


1:32 For the waywardness of the naive will kill them, And the complacency of fools will destroy them.

14:16 A wise man is cautious and turns away from evil, but a fool is arrogant and careless.

18:2 A fool does not delight in understanding, but only in revealing his own mind.

14:8 The wisdom of the prudent is to give thought to their ways, but the folly of fools is deception.


1:7 The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and discipline.

1:22 How long, O naive ones, will you love being simple-minded? And scoffers delight themselves in scoffing and fools hate knowledge?

10:8 The wise in heart accept commands, but a chattering fool comes to ruin.

15:5 A fool rejects his father's discipline, But he who regards reproof is sensible.


17:10 A rebuke goes deeper into one who has understanding than a hundred blows into a fool.

26:11 Like a dog that returns to its vomit is a fool who repeats his folly.

27:22 Though you pound a fool in a mortar with a pestle along with crushed grain, yet his foolishness will not depart from him.


26:5 Answer a fool according to his folly, or he will be wise in his own eyes.

26:12 Do you see a man wise in his own eyes? There is more hope for a fool than for him.

28:26 He who trusts in his own heart is a fool, but he who walks wisely will be delivered.


Other passages


 “All who make idols are nothing, and the things they treasure are worthless. .. The blacksmith takes a tool and works with it in the coals; he shapes an idol with hammers, he forges it with the might of his arm. He gets hungry and loses his strength; he drinks no water and grows faint. .. [A carpenter] cut down cedars, or perhaps took a cypress or oak. He let it grow among the trees of the forest, or planted a pine, and the rain made it grow. It is man's fuel for burning; some of it he takes and warms himself, he kindles a fire and bakes bread. But he also fashions a god and worships it; he makes an idol and bows down to it. Half of the wood he burns in the fire; over it he prepares his meal, he roasts his meat and eats his fill. He also warms himself and says, "Ah! I am warm; I see the fire." From the rest he makes a god, his idol; he bows down to it and worships. He prays to it and says, "Save me; you are my god." They know nothing, they understand nothing; their eyes are plastered over so they cannot see, and their minds closed so they cannot understand. No one stops to think, no one has the knowledge or understanding to say, "Half of it I used for fuel; I even baked bread over its coals, I roasted meat and I ate. Shall I make a detestable thing from what is left? Shall I bow down to a block of wood?" He feeds on ashes, a deluded heart misleads him; he cannot save himself, or say, "Is not this thing in my right hand a lie?" "Remember these things, O Jacob, for you are my servant, O Israel. I have made you, you are my servant; O Israel, I will not forget you. I have swept away your offenses like a cloud, your sins like the morning mist. Return to me, for I have redeemed you." – Isaiah 44:9-23


The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse. For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles. – Romans 1:18-23


For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written: "I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.”

Where is the wise man? Where is the scholar? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than man's wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man's strength.

Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: "Let him who boasts boast in the Lord.” – 1 Cor. 1:18-31


“We do, however, speak a message of wisdom among the mature, but not the wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing. No, we speak of God's secret wisdom, a wisdom that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began. None of the rulers of this age understood it, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. However, as it is written:
   "No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him"— but God has revealed it to us by his Spirit.” – 1 Cor. 2:6-10



Discussion question: What are some of the root causes of foolishness listed in these verses?


1. Foolish speech (symptom or cause?).  We discussed this topic in Week 3.  Rash, thoughtless, hurtful, excessive speech is both a symptom and a cause of foolishness.  “Out of the overflow of the mouth the heart speaks”  - Matt. 12:34.  But our rash words can also lead us into evil (see the story of King Herod in Matthew 14).

2. Delight in evil.

Discussion question: How does delight in evil lead to foolishness?

Sinning leads to hardness of heart which perpetuates sin (see Romans 1).  If we delight in sin, it becomes harder to realize that sin is wrong and foolish.  The human heart has limitless ability for rationalization, blame-shifting (Gen. 3), and denial (Malachi 1:6-14). 

3. Lack of self-examination.  Proverbs agrees in this respect with Socrates, who said “The unexamined life is not worth living”.  Blaise Pascal has an amazing statement about humans’ natural lack of introspection in his Pensees (see #194).  “Complacency…arrogant…careless” – as human beings, it should be completely obvious for us in a world filled with uncertainty in life and the certainty of death to ask question about the meaning of our existence, the existence and character of God, and our relationship to him.  But it’s so natural for us to ignore all of these questions and to simply live as if these questions didn’t matter.  As Christians who know the answers to these questions (at least partially), shouldn’t we be all the more thoughtful about how we live our short lives here?  How does complacency lead to foolishness?

4. Despising correction.  This is not at all a matter of being a slow learner, but rather of despising learning and correction, and thinking it unnecessary.  While studying the Gospel of Mark, I was amazed at how Jesus, in his encounters with the Pharisees encouraged them to think, to question, and to learn.  For instance, in Mark 3:1-5, Jesus’ anger is less at their bad theology than at their “stubborn hearts”, their unwillingness to learn. 

Discussion question: Do we rejoice in discipline, correction, and rebuke?  If not, how does Proverbs motivate us to do so?

5.  Stubbornness.  Refusal to learn from our mistakes or the discipline of human or divine authority. 

6.  Pride.  Perhaps this is the ultimate cause of all of our problems, including foolishness.  We don’t really believe that we need help.  “Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show it by his good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom.” – James 3:13.  The Bible constantly enjoins us to humility, not as some righteous act, but because it is so appropriate.  The more we truly know ourselves, the easier humility will be to us.


Discussion question: Why does the passage in Isaiah link idolatry with foolishness?


I think there are two reasons.  First is the clear irrationality of idolatry, which is the major point of the narrative in the passage.  How can a piece of wood or stone save us?  That idea is foolish even from a modern worldly perspective.  Idols are completely powerless (see Gen. 31, Isaiah 44:9-20).  Second is the inherent sinfulness of idolatry.  Idolatry always involves turning away from the true God, abandoning him to worship something else.  It is an act of treason and an insult to our true Savior (see Isaiah 44:21-23). 


Discussion question: People often point out that modern Westerners no longer make literal idols, but that we instead have “spiritual” idols like money or power.  Is this a valid comparison?  Why or why not?


I think this is a valid comparison.  As a friend of mine once pointed out, the essence of idolatry is saying “The work of my hands can save me” (See Isaiah 44:20).  In the past, the works of our hands were statues. But today, the work of our hands is anything that we create and look to for our salvation, our acceptance, or our ultimate meaning.  Isn’t it precisely this mindset that lies behind so much of our greed, adultery, and selfish ambition?  We believe that a huge salary, sexual fulfillment, or the right career can give our lives meaning.  But can these things save us from death or forgive our sin or even love us in return?  Even good things like marriage, children, and good works become idols if we forget that they cannot save us.


Discussion question: Why do we turn from God to serve idols so readily (See Romans 1)?


Because we can control idols, but are frightened of a living God to whom we owe complete allegiance and to whom we must give an account of our lives.


Discussion question:  What is the foolishness that Paul recommends for us if we are Christian?  What is the wisdom that Paul recommends for us?


Christian foolishness is recognizing God’s superior wisdom and acknowledging our dependence on him.  "I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” – Matt. 18:3.  Christian wisdom is to know Christ as the source and content of all wisdom: “Let every student be plainly instructed and consider well that the main end of his life and studies is to know God and Jesus, which is eternal life. And therefore to lay Christ at the bottom as the only foundation of all sound learning and knowledge.” – from Harvard’s original mission statement. 


Discussion question: How can we break the power of foolishness and idolatry in our lives?


Recognizing that God is our greatest good, our true friend and redeemer.  “I have made you, you are my servant; O Israel, I will not forget you. I have swept away your offenses like a cloud, your sins like the morning mist. Return to me, for I have redeemed you.” – Isaiah 44:21-22


Quote from Pascal:

 “How can people hold these opinions? What joy can we find in the expectation of nothing but hopeless misery? What reason for boasting that we are in impenetrable darkness? And how can it happen that the following argument occurs to a reasonable man?

"I know not who put me into the world, nor what the world is, nor what I myself am. I am in terrible ignorance of everything. I know not what my body is, nor my senses, nor my soul, not even that part of me which thinks what I say, which reflects on all and on itself, and knows itself no more than the rest. I see those frightful spaces of the universe which surround me, and I find myself tied to one corner of this vast expanse, without knowing why I am put in this place rather than in another, nor why the short time which is given me to live is assigned to me at this point rather than at another of the whole eternity which was before me or which shall come after me. I see nothing but infinites on all sides, which surround me as an atom and as a shadow which endures only for an instant and returns no more. All I know is that I must soon die, but what I know least is this very death which I cannot escape.

"As I know not whence I come, so I know not whither I go. I know only that, in leaving this world, I fall for ever either into annihilations or into the hands of an angry God, without knowing to which of these two states I shall be forever assigned. Such is my state, full of weakness and uncertainty. And from all this I conclude that I ought to spend all the days of my life without caring to inquire into what must happen to me. Perhaps I might find some solution to my doubts, but I will not take the trouble, nor take a step to seek it; and after treating with scorn those who are concerned with this care, I will go without foresight and without fear to try the great event, and let myself be led carelessly to death, uncertain of the eternity of my future state."