A conversation that happened this morning as I came upon a visitor in our fireplace room….
Me: Good morning, Solomon. How are you this morning?
Solomon: Fine, thank you.
Me: I’d just like to say that I’ve really appreciated your writings on wisdom that I have been reading over the past few weeks. I’ve been challenged and encouraged with how your insights into the way things work in the world have opened up the possibility of a good life for me, and my family, and my church family.
Solomon: I’m glad you’ve found them helpful. While I made many mistakes in my life, as I’m sure you’ve read about, I can say the one really good choice I made was to ask God for wisdom when he gave me the opportunity to ask for whatever I wanted (2 Chronicles 1:7). It was a joy to pass along that gift through thousands of proverbs to bless my people, and now it appears, you and yours.
Me: Absolutely! They have been a blessing. Although I must say, at times I’ve had to really work to understand and apply them to my living. Take, for example, this set of proverbs recorded here. Let me read them to you….
Don’t answer a fool according to his foolishness
or you’ll be like him yourself.
Answer a fool according to his foolishness
or he’ll become wise in his own eyes.
(Proverbs 26:4-5, Christian Standard Bible)
Can you guess where I’m confused? First, you say “Don’t answer a fool according to his foolishness,” and then you say, “Answer a fool according to his foolishness.” Which is it?
Solomon: (with a chuckle) I can see how you might be confused, Matthew. But think about wisdom for a moment. A large part of living a life of wisdom is understanding the circumstances we find ourselves in day-to-day. In one moment, you may respond to someone or a particular event in one way, but in another moment, with circumstances that appear almost exactly the same, but have ever-so-slight differences, you would respond in another way. That is what I am trying to get across in these two little sayings. I didn’t put them right next to each other to confuse you, but to instruct you.
Me: OK, I think I follow, but could you explain it a bit further for me?
Solomon: Sure! It’s probably first important to clarify what a fool is, because in this section of my writings I had a number of things to say about such folks. I was trying to create a ‘Portrait of a Fool’ if you will, in chapter 25:8 through 26:12 in your Bible there.
Me: Sounds good. So what is a fool?
Solomon: A fool, as you might imagine, is someone who lacks sound judgment. He is devoid of wisdom. She acts in a brutish way, often with an association with insolence, ungodliness, and shamelessness. So you can see how responding to such a person immediately brings challenges.
Me: That’s a great point. I’ve dealt with such people before, and what seems so hard in the moment is their inability to actually listen.
Solomon: Exactly! That’s part of what I am getting at with these paired proverbs. I want you to have two choices in your response toolkit. When dealing with a person like this, you must assess their potential response based on the interaction. There will be times when the proper response to a fool will be to ignore them completely—that’s the first proverb. For example, if someone is taking great delight in scoffing at Christianity with witty and yet profane attacks or with specious arguments against the word of God, it would be best to follow King Hezekiah’s words concerning Rabshakeh’s blasphemy and not answer him (2 Kings 18). Are you following me?
Me: Yes, I think I get the first proverb now.
Solomon: Good—you see how to respond in the first instance. But there will be other times, with different circumstances, where it may be our duty to answer a fool in his foolishness, but not according to his foolishness. In such a case, our silence may be taken for defeat, unanswered words may be deemed unanswerable. An answer may therefore be called for, which is what I am getting at in the second proverb. So then you must answer the fool—“not in his foolish manner, but in the manner that his foolishness requires” (Fuller). In this way, your answer would not be according to his folly, but according to your wisdom. Such words would, as I have said elsewhere, be as sharp as rods, and the fool’s back needs them.
Me: That is so helpful! It reminds me what I have so often said to questions of what one should do in a particular situation—“It depends.”
Solomon: Yes, you’ve got it. My proverbs are not meant to give the exhaustive truth on a given subject, rather, each one must be read in the context of all that I have written on wisdom. And you have a benefit that my contemporaries did not—you live in the age of the New Covenant, and of the Great King that came from my father’s line, The Messiah and Savior of all, Jesus. He set a far better example than I ever could have. He always knew the right thing to say at just the right time. His silence and his answers were equally instructive and so worthy of his glory and wisdom. So often, his silence could convey a dignified rebuke, and his answer straighten out the confusion of his contentious enemies. So I could give you no better wisdom than to prayerfully, meditatively study his example, in the knowledge that it would communicate to you a large measure of his divine wisdom.
Me: Wow. That’s powerful Solomon. This time together has been precious and thought-provoking. Thank you. Would you mind praying for me before you go?
Solomon: It would be my joy.
Without you, I wouldn’t have had a thing to say worth saying. Thank you for the gift of wisdom that you gave so freely, and continue to use to help my friend, and his family, and his church family. Through the presence and work of your Spirit, continue to help them grow in the grace and knowledge of our Master and Savior, Jesus Christ. May they increasingly be like him, knowing what to say, and when to say it, and to do so in truth, grace, and love, just as he always did.
Yes, and very amen, in Jesus’s name.
Solomon: Have a blessed day, Matthew.
Me: You too brother!
I hope you enjoyed and found helpful my morning conversation with Solomon. I was greatly helped by some old, dead commentators in this little article, and their thoughts and ideas are littered throughout.
If you’d like to continue reading through the 31 Proverbs along with me, you’ll find the plan below.
Grace and Peace to you,
P.S. If you’d like to study some of the wisdom literature further, I highly recommend the Wisdom Series from The Bible Project, and their resources on the book of Proverbs.
Proverbs Thirty-One Day Reading Plan
August 14: Proverbs ch. 1
Aug. 15: ch. 2
Aug. 16: ch. 3
Aug. 17: ch. 4
Aug. 18: ch. 5
Aug. 19: Grace Day
Aug. 20: ch. 6
Aug. 21: ch. 7
Aug. 22: ch. 8
Aug. 23: ch. 9
Aug. 24: ch. 10
Aug. 25: ch. 11
Aug. 26: Grace Day
Aug. 27: ch. 12
Aug. 28: ch. 13
Aug. 29: ch. 14
Aug. 30: ch. 15
Aug. 31: ch. 16
Sept. 1: ch. 17
Sept. 2: Grace Day
Sept. 3: ch. 18
Sept. 4: ch. 19
Sept. 5: ch. 20
Sept. 6: ch. 21
Sept. 7: ch. 22
Sept. 8: ch. 23
Sept. 9: Grace Day
Sept. 10: ch. 24
Sept. 11: ch. 25
Sept. 12: ch. 26
Sept. 13: ch. 27
Sept. 14: ch. 28
Sept. 15: ch. 29
Sept. 16: Grace Day
Sept. 17: ch. 30
Sept. 18: ch. 31
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