Fools and Their Folly
The book of Proverbs often mentions “the fool.” Who is this person?
The writers of the Bible’s wisdom literature knew that not everybody is interested in acquiring wisdom. The sages believed that such an attitude damaged the quality of life. Therefore they invited all to search for wisdom. Those who didn’t seek wisdom were regarded as fools. Folly was basically a rejection of fullness of life. Two main Hebrew words are used in Proverbs to refer to fools: kesil (“insolent, fool”) and ’ewil (“foolish, fool”). Let’s examine them both.
1. The kesil Type of Fool: These fools are indifferent to and uninterested in wisdom and knowledge (Prov. 1:22; 17:16). They despise words of insight (23:9) and have no real objective in life (17:24). They make no plans for the future, and consume everything they have (21:20). The basic problem is that they lack understanding and have not developed the ability to analyze and evaluate (8:5).
Their way of life is characterized by wickedness (10:23), and they are not interested in the results of their actions and words. Fools bring grief and suffering to their parents by disregarding their instruction (verse 1; 15:20). This type of fool lacks self-control (14:16, 29:11) and, consequently, is a threat to others (17:12). They live in a destructive self-complacency (1:32).
The fools of the kesil type cannot control their mouths. It gets them into trouble (18:7), because it is perverse (19:1), lacks knowledge (14:7), and brings them strife and beatings (18:6). Since they lack wisdom, the only thing they can share with others is their own meaningless opinion (verse 2; 12:23; 15:7). The wise should ignore the statements of the fool (26:4), although, in some cases, it is wise to answer them, lest the fools think they are wise (verse 5).
What fools need is a rod for their backs, i.e., self-discipline (verse 3). They are not, however, necessarily beyond hope. At times, the Lord puts the fool to shame (3:35), and wisdom makes herself known to them (14:33; 8:5). They can change their behavior through strong discipline (17:10). There is hope for them because they are not necessarily wise in their own eyes (26:12), and do not necessarily speak in haste (29:20).
2. The ’ewil Type of Fool: This second Hebrew word is fundamentally a synonym of kesil, and designates those who lack understanding and wisdom. They reject wisdom as a way of life (1:7). In fact, wisdom is beyond their comprehension—it is too high for them (24:7). Part of the problem is that they rejected the instruction and discipline of their parents (15:5). The ’ewil types do not know how to relate to others. They lack self-control and are easily provoked (12:16; 29:9). They are, therefore, quick to provoke others (27:3; 20:3). Their foolishness is expressed not only by their actions, but also by their lips, which are full of folly (10:8). When the assembly meets at the gate to deliberate, fools have nothing to say because they lack wisdom (24:7). It’s better that they keep quiet, because “even fools are thought wise if they keep silent, and discerning if they hold their tongues” (17:28).
This type of fool (’ewil) has gone beyond the common fool (kesil). They seem to have reached the point of no return because they have no interest in the fear of the Lord (1:7; Ps. 14:1). Yet they believe that their way of life is right (Prov. 12:15). They even mock the idea of guilt, thus indicating the absence of remorse (14:9). It is impossible to remove folly from them (27:22). Wisdom has nothing to offer them because they rejected her. The fool ’ewil will die for lack of understanding.
3. Lessons to Learn: Fools damage the quality of their lives and that of others. By contrast, self-control and the proper use of our words create a harmonious environment that enriches the well-being of those around us. The wisdom and power we need have been modeled in the person of our Savior. By looking at Him, we can also acquire wisdom, the wisdom that will make our lives a source of joy for all.
Angel Manuel Rodríguez served many years as director of the Biblical Research Institute. He is now retired, living in Texas.