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Proverbs 26:3-12

Context

26:3 A whip for the horse and a bridle for the donkey,

and a rod for the backs of fools! 1 

26:4 Do not answer a fool according to his folly, 2 

lest you yourself also be like him. 3 

26:5 Answer a fool according to his folly, 4 

lest he be wise in his own estimation. 5 

26:6 Like cutting off the feet or drinking violence, 6 

so is sending 7  a message by the hand of a fool. 8 

26:7 Like legs that hang limp 9  from the lame,

so 10  is a proverb 11  in the mouth of fools.

26:8 Like tying a stone in a sling, 12 

so is giving honor to a fool.

26:9 Like a thorn 13  that goes into the hand of a drunkard,

so is a proverb in the mouth of a fool. 14 

26:10 Like an archer who wounds at random, 15 

so is the one who hires 16  a fool or hires any passer-by.

26:11 Like a dog that returns to its vomit, 17 

so a fool repeats his folly. 18 

26:12 Do you see 19  a man wise in his own eyes? 20 

There is more hope for a fool 21  than for him.

1 sn A fool must be disciplined by force like an animal – there is no reasoning. The fool is as difficult to manage as the donkey or horse.

2 sn One should not answer a fool’s foolish questions in line with the fool’s mode of reasoning (J. H. Greenstone, Proverbs, 274).

3 sn The person who descends to the level of a fool to argue with him only looks like a fool as well.

4 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).

5 tn Heb “in his own eyes” (so NAB, NASB, NIV).

6 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.

7 tn The participle could be taken as the subject of the sentence: “the one who sends…cuts off…and drinks.”

8 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.

9 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.”

10 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.”

11 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.

12 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.

13 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.”

14 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.

15 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”).

16 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).

17 sn The simile is graphic and debasing (cf. 2 Peter 2:22).

18 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.

19 tn The verse simply uses a perfect tense. The meaning of the verse would be the same if this were interpreted as an affirmation rather than as an interrogative. The first line calls such a person to one’s attention.

20 tn Heb “in his own eyes” (so NAB, NASB, NIV).

sn The subject matter of the verse is the person who is wise in his own opinion. Self-conceit is actually part of the folly that the book of Proverbs criticizes; those who think they are wise even though they are not are impossible to help. For someone to think he is wise when he is not makes him a conceited ignoramus (W. G. Plaut, Proverbs, 268).

21 sn Previous passages in the book of Proverbs all but deny the possibility of hope for the fool. So this proverb is saying there is absolutely no hope for the self-conceited person, and there might be a slight hope for the fool – he may yet figure out that he really is a fool.



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