Bible Question:

How should we respond to fools? What is the meaning of Proverbs 26:4-5?

Bible Answer:

Proverbs 26:4-5 is about a fool. The word fool appears 64 times in the Bible. But it appears a total of 53 times in the books of Proverbs and Ecclesiastes. These verses help us understand God’s definition of a fool. You will discover that a fool is not an uneducated person. The characteristics of a fool are much more worse. A good understanding of a fool helps us to know “How should we respond to fools?” Here is the meaning of Proverbs 26:4-5

How Should We Respond Fools

God tells us that there are fools in our world. So, how do we know if someone is truly a fool and how should we respond to them? A clear understanding of whom God considers to be a fool is important if we desire to understand Proverbs 26:4-5. Here is the passage, and then we will discover the characteristics of a biblical fool.

Do not answer a fool according to his folly,
Or you will also be like him.

Answer a fool as his folly deserves,
That he not be wise in his own eyes.
Proverbs 26:4-5 (NASB)

Characteristics of a Biblical Fool

When the first verse says we are to “not answer a fool accord to his folly,” the Hebrew for “folly” is iwwelet. It means “foolishness.” That is, we are not to answer a fool according to his foolishness. Then we are given a warning that if we do, we will become like him. So, what are the characteristics of a fool?

Psalm 14:1; 53:1 — A fool says there is no God.
Proverbs 1:7 — Fools despise wisdom and instruction.
Proverbs 1:22 — Fools hate knowledge.
Proverbs 3:35 — Fools display dishonor.
Proverbs 10:18 — A fool slanders others.
Proverbs 10:23 — A fool does wickedness as if it were a sport.
Proverbs 10:21 — A fool dies for lack of understanding.
Proverbs 12:15 — A fool thinks his way is right and does not listen to others.
Proverbs 12:23 — The heart of fools proclaims foolishness.
Proverbs 13:16 — A fool displays foolishness.
Proverbs 13:19 — To turn away from evil is an abomination to fools.
Proverbs 13:20 —  The companion of fools will suffer harm.
Proverbs 14:7 — A fool lacks true knowledge.
Proverbs 14:8 — The foolishness of fools is deceit.
Proverbs 14:16 — A fool is arrogant and careless.
Proverbs 14:24 — The folly of fools is foolishness.
Proverbs 15:2 —  The mouths of fools pour out folly.
Proverbs 15:5 — A fool rejects his father’s discipline.
Proverbs 15:14 — The mouths of fools feed on folly.
Proverbs 16:22 — The discipline or instruction of fools is folly.
Proverbs 17:10 — A fool does not learn from his negative experiences.
Proverbs 18:2 — A fool does not delight in learning [wisdom].
Proverbs 19:29 — Condemnation for fools will result in beating.
Proverbs 20:3 — Any fool will quarrel.
Proverbs 23:9 — A fool despises the wisdom of your words.
Proverbs 26:3 — A rod for the back of fools is needed for correction.
Proverbs 29:11 — A fool always loses his temper.
Ecclesiastes 2:14, 16, 19 — A fool is not wise (“walks in darkness”).
Ecclesiastes 4:5 — A fool folds his hands and consumes his own flesh.
Ecclesiastes 7:4 — The heart of fools is in the house of mirth and pleasure.
Ecclesiastes 7:6 — A fool’s laughter is irritating.
Ecclesiastes 7:9 — Anger lodges in the heart or bosom of fools.
Ecclesiastes 10:3 — Everyone knows the fool lacks wisdom, except the fool.
Ecclesiastes 10:12 — A fool’s words are not gracious and cause him trouble.
Ecclesiastes 10:14 — A fool speaks too much.
Ecclesiastes 10:15 — A fool wearies himself.
Isaiah 32:6 — A fool speaks nonsense.

Throughout these verses the fool is compared to the wise person. That means the fool’s fundamental problem is that he lacks wisdom. In summary, Ecclesiastes 10:3 states that everyone knows the fool, except for the fool. For people can see that a fool is a fool by his or her behavior.  Isaiah 32:6 reveals that it is obvious someone is a fool because his words are nonsense. Proverbs 13:16 says he displays foolishness. For the fool speaks too much (Ecclesiastes 10:14) and lacks knowledge and wisdom (Proverbs 14:7; Ecclesiastes 2:14, 16, 19). The fool lacks wisdom because he thinks his way is right and so he does not really listen to others. He does not delight in wisdom for the fool despises the wisdom of your words (Proverbs 1:7; 23:9). He lacks common sense (Proverbs 10:21). Consequently, the foolishness of fools deceives and causes foolishness to the unsuspecting. The fool enjoys foolishness and gives foolishness.

So the fool is more interested in what he says and speaks too much.  As a result, he will quarrel with those with whom he disagrees (Proverbs 20:3), and becomes angry (Proverbs 29:11; Ecclesiastes 7:9). He even rejects the wisdom of those who love him, including his father’s discipline. Since the  fool does not accept wisdom, he does not learn from his negative experiences either.  A fool’s words are not gracious and that gets him into trouble. Proverbs 3:25 says the fool gets disgrace, and the companions of fools suffer harm.  He also slanders others who do not agree with him (Proverbs 10:18). The final characteristic of a fool is that his or her heart  is in the house of mirth (Ecclesiastes 7:4). That describes a fool.

Understanding Proverbs 26:4-5

Now we are ready to understand Proverbs 26:4-5. Verse 4 says,

Do not answer a fool according to his folly,
Or you will also be like him.

The tense of the Hebrew verbs “answer” and “be like” are imperfects. That is they refer to a pattern of life. So, we are warned to not adopt a pattern of answering a fool with foolishness, or our pattern of life will become like the fool’s. We have already discovered the characteristics of a fool. 1 Corinthians 15:33 gives us a principle that reveals if we spend time with a person, we become like them.

Do not be deceived: “Bad company corrupts good morals.” 1 Corinthians 15:33  (NASB)

Verse 5 then says,

Answer a fool as his folly deserves,
That he not be wise in his own eyes.

The Hebrew word for “folly” in both verses 4 and 5 means “foolishness.” So verse 4 teaches us to not to answer the fool with foolishness. In this verse, we are commanded to answer as his folly deserves. Verses 4 and 5 reveal we must give a wise answer For if we answer with foolishness, we are like them. Why must we do this? So we do not give him reason to believe he is wise in his own eyes. If he rejects our answer and becomes angry, that is not our fault. We must offer them wisdom, anything less is foolishness. A wise man is quick to listen and slow to speak (James 1:19). Consider your words carefully and give an honest and wise reply and know when not to speak at all.

The danger is that the fool will disagree (Proverbs 20:3), and become angry (Proverbs 29:11; Ecclesiastes 7:9). So, this will require tact. So, our answer must be crafted so that it reveals his own lack of wisdom. We are to give him wisdom so that “he will not be wise in his own eyes.”

Suggested Links:

The Signs of a Rich Fool
The Wise Man and the Fool
The Wise and The Fool