for he will despise the wisdom of your words. 6
lest you yourself also be like him. 8
lest he be wise in his own estimation. 10
so is giving honor to a fool.
so is a proverb in the mouth of a fool. 19
so is the one who hires 21 a fool or hires any passer-by.
so a fool repeats his folly. 23
among the grain 25 with the pestle,
his foolishness would not depart from him. 26
1 tn Heb “Let a man meet” (so NASB); NLT “It is safer to meet.” The infinitive absolute פָּגוֹשׁ (pagosh, “to meet”) functions as a jussive of advice. The bear meeting a man is less dangerous than a fool in his folly. It could be worded as a “better” saying, but that formula is not found here.
2 tn The second colon begins with וְאַל (vÿ’al), “and not.” This negative usually appears with volitives, so the fuller expression of the parallel line would be “and let not a fool in his folly [meet someone].”
3 tn The words “to meet” are not in the Hebrew text, but are implied by the parallelism and are supplied in the translation for stylistic reasons.
4 sn The human, who is supposed to be rational and intelligent, in such folly becomes more dangerous than the beast that in this case acts with good reason. As R. L. Alden comments, “Consider meeting a fool with a knife, or gun, or even behind the wheel of a car” (Proverbs, 134). See also E. Loewenstamm, “Remarks on Proverbs 17:12 and 20:27,” VT 37 (1967): 221-24. For a slightly different nuance cf. TEV “some fool busy with a stupid project.”
5 sn The mention of “the ears” emphasizes the concerted effort to get the person’s undivided attention. However, a fool rejects instruction and discipline.
6 sn Saying number nine indicates that wisdom is wasted on a fool. The literature of Egypt has no specific parallel to this one.
7 sn One should not answer a fool’s foolish questions in line with the fool’s mode of reasoning (J. H. Greenstone, Proverbs, 274).
8 sn The person who descends to the level of a fool to argue with him only looks like a fool as well.
9 sn The apparent contradiction with the last verse has troubled commentators for some time. The Rabbis solved it by saying that v. 4 referred to secular things, but v. 5 referred to sacred or religious controversies. While this does not resolve the issue, it does give a sound application for the two verses together – in negligible issues one should just ignore the stupid person, but in issues that matter the fool must be dealt with, lest credence be given to what he says (W. G. Plaut, Proverbs, 266). The text presents two proverbs each of which presents an aspect of the whole truth. One should not lower himself to the level of the fool, but there are times when the lesser of two evils is to do so, other than let the fool gain confidence that he is a wise person or be considered wise by others. Paul, for example, talked like a “fool” to correct the foolish ideas of the Corinthians (2 Cor 11:16-17; 12:11).
10 tn Heb “in his own eyes” (so NAB, NASB, NIV).
11 sn Sending a messenger on a mission is like having another pair of feet. But if the messenger is a fool, this proverb says, not only does the sender not have an extra pair of feet – he cuts off the pair he has. It would not be simply that the message did not get through; it would get through incorrectly and be a setback! The other simile uses “violence,” a term for violent social wrongs and injustice. The metaphorical idea of “drinking” violence means suffering violence – it is one’s portion. So sending a fool on a mission will have injurious consequences.
12 tn The participle could be taken as the subject of the sentence: “the one who sends…cuts off…and drinks.”
13 sn The consequence is given in the first line and the cause in the second. It would be better not to send a message at all than to use a fool as messenger.
14 tn Heb “like the legs which hang down from the lame” (so NASB). The is דַּלְיוּ (dalyu), from דָּלַל (dalal, “to hang; to be low; to languish”) although the spelling of the form indicates it would be from דָּלָה (dalah, “to draw” [water]). The word indicates the uselessness of the legs – they are there but cannot be used. Luther gave the verse a fanciful but memorable rendering: “Like dancing to a cripple, so is a proverb in the mouth of the fool.”
15 tn The proverb does not begin with a כְּ (bet) preposition to indicate a simile; but the analogy within the verse makes it clear that the first line is the emblem. The conjunction vav then indicates the equation – “so.”
16 sn As C. H. Toy puts it, the fool is a “proverb-monger” (Proverbs [ICC], 474); he handles an aphorism about as well as a lame man can walk. The fool does not understand, has not implemented, and cannot explain the proverb. It is useless to him even though he repeats it.
17 tn The translation “like tying a stone in a sling” seems to make the most sense, even though the word for “sling” occurs only here.
sn The point is that only someone who does not know how a sling works would do such a stupid thing (R. N. Whybray, Proverbs [CBC], 152). So to honor a fool would be absurd; it would be counterproductive, for he would still be a fool.
18 sn The picture is one of seizing a thornbush and having the thorn pierce the hand (עָלָה בְיַד־, ’alah vÿyad). A drunk does not know how to handle a thornbush because he cannot control his movements and so gets hurt (W. McKane, Proverbs [OTL], 599). C. H. Toy suggests that this rather means a half-crazy drunken man brandishing a stick (Proverbs [ICC], 475). In this regard cf. NLT “a thornbush brandished by a drunkard.”
19 sn A fool can read or speak a proverb but will be intellectually and spiritually unable to handle it; he will misapply it or misuse it in some way. In doing so he will reveal more of his folly. It is painful to hear fools try to use proverbs.
20 tn Heb “who wounds everyone” (so NASB). A similar rendering is given by ASV, NAB, NIV, NRSV, and NLT; it is the only one that makes sense out of a verse that most commentators consider hopelessly corrupt. That is not to say it is the correct rendering, only that it makes sense as a required negative statement in a proverb. The first line has רַב מְחוֹלֵל־כֹּל (rav mÿkholel-col). The first word, רַב (rav), can mean “archer,” “ master,” or “much.” The verb מְחוֹלֵל (mÿkholel) can mean “to wound” or “to bring forth.” The possibilities are: “a master performs [or, produces] all,” “a master injures all,” “an archer wounds all,” or “much produces all.” The line probably should be stating something negative, so the idea of an archer injuring or wounding people [at random] is preferable. An undisciplined hireling will have the same effect as an archer shooting at anything and everything (cf. NLT “an archer who shoots recklessly”).
21 tn The participle שֹׂכֵר (shokher) is rendered here according to its normal meaning “hires” or “pays wages to.” Other suggestions include “one who rewards a fool” (derived from the idea of wages) and “one who stops a fool” (from a similar word).
23 sn The point is clear: Fools repeat their disgusting mistakes, or to put it another way, whenever we repeat our disgusting mistakes we are fools. The proverb is affirming that no matter how many times a fool is warned, he never learns.
24 tn The verb means “to pound” in a mortar with a pestle (cf. NRSV “Crush”; NLT “grind”). The imperfect is in a conditional clause, an unreal, hypothetical condition to make the point.
25 tn The Hebrew term רִיפוֹת (rifot) refers to some kind of grain spread out to dry and then pounded. It may refer to barley groats (coarsely ground barley), but others have suggested the term means “cheeses” (BDB 937 s.v.). Most English versions have “grain” without being more specific; NAB “grits.”
26 tn The LXX contains this paraphrase: “If you scourge a fool in the assembly, dishonoring him, you would not remove his folly.” This removes the imagery of mortar and pestle from the verse. Using the analogy of pounding something in a mortar, the proverb is saying even if a fool was pounded or pulverized, meaning severe physical punishment, his folly would not leave him – it is too ingrained in his nature.
27 tn Heb “a wise man…a foolish man.”
28 tn The verb שָׁפַט (shafat) means “to judge.” In the Niphal stem it could be passive, but is more frequently reciprocal: “to enter into controversy” or “to go to court.” The word is usually used in connection with a lawsuit (so many recent English versions), but can also refer to an argument (e.g., 1 Sam 12:7; Isa 43:26); cf. NAB “disputes”; NASB “has a controversy.”
29 tn The noun נָחַת (nakhat) is a derivative of נוּחַ (nuakh, “to rest”) and so means “quietness” or “rest,” i.e., “peace.”
sn The proverb is saying that there will be no possibility of settling the matter in a calm way, no matter what mood the fool is in (e.g., Prov 26:4). R. N. Whybray says one can only cut the losses and have no further dealings with the fool (Proverbs [CBC], 168).
30 tn Heb “and he is angry and he laughs.” The construction uses the conjunctive vav to express alternate actions: “whether…or.”