Day 26: Dealing with fools (26:4)
“Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest thou also be like unto him” (26:4)
While today’s chapter brings out an assortment of important thoughts, there is an underlying theme – it is to do with the way of the fool and how to respond to him. The ideal response is encapsulated in today’s verse: “Don’t respond to the stupidity of a fool; you’ll only look foolish yourself” (MSG) and maybe to avoid him altogether. “Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own conceit” (26:5) and if we do answer a fool it needs to be in simple terms so he doesn’t get conceited (26:6). We live in a world where folly abounds, maybe subtly. We need be on our look out to identify what that amounts to and, if we have to respond, find the best way to go about it. Our text provides the sort of advice, if we are honest, we ought to have taken in the past but may not have done so – when attempting answering a fool according to his folly, when the best approach might have been not to take the bait, and not make further ado.
The chapter begins reflecting how inappropriate it is to honour a fool (26:1) and also (26:8) – although sadly we live in a world where that happens all too often. As far as Solomon is concerned, a fool recycles silliness and cannot be trusted. For the rest of this chapter, he goes through different sorts of people, all of which we might place in the fool category. There are those who loaf around, finding excuses for their inaction (26:13-15). There are dreamers who fantasize their self-importance; who they think they are smarter than anyone else (26:16) There are those who interfere in other peoples’ quarrels (26:17). There are those who are parties to deception, shrugging it off as if it were nothing (26:18-19). There is the argumentative sort that invariably add fuel to the fire (26:21). There are listeners to and spreaders off gossip, and how much damage all that causes (26:20,22). There are those who smooth talk and appear friendly but behind the façade there is the intent to do people down (26:23-26). Then there are the malicious, whose malice invariably backfires (26:27), liars who hate their victims (26:28) and the flatterers who sabotage trust (26:28). Lessons we might learn from these observations could include that in this wonderful world in which we live there are those who would taint its wonder; folly can manifest itself in many sorts of ways; we need to beware of fools on our own doorstep, we must not be like them and, as well, take note that “the great God that formed all things both rewardeth the fool, and rewardeth transgressors” (26:10).
Prayer: as we go about our day-to-day business help us to avoid the way of the fool and deal with every instance of folly we find in the most appropriate way. Thank you for your word that teaches us the way of the wise we need to follow.