Playing the Fool (Proverbs 1:8-33)
Topic: One Truth: Walk in Truth Passage: Proverbs 1:8–33
I. A Cast of Characters
As we return this morning to the book of Proverbs, I think it's important for us to continue thinking about this book in bigger and broader ways; that is, asking, what bigger and broader themes might help us navigate this 'treasure box' of wisdom (which in turn, is meant to help us better navigate our daily lives)?
As we talked about in the first message, the book itself can be broken down into two larger parts: in chapters 1-9 we find a kind of introduction, one that's all about prizing and pursuing wisdom. Similarly, we find in the last two-thirds of the book, chapters 10-31, a 'collection of collections' of proverbs that build on that introduction by encouraging us to now ponder and practice wisdom.
But... when it comes to wisdom, it's critical we hold onto what we learned last time: the “pursuit of wisdom is ultimately meaningless apart from the pursuit of God. [Thus] we cannot and should not ever disconnect wisdom from the God of wisdom.” If wisdom provides us with guidance for living well, then it's important we accept that a rightly-lived life is only possible when we are right with the One who gave us life.
So if we are, as Proverbs advises, both wisdom-hungry and God-satisfied, then it's also important for us to carefully consider some of the characters we meet in this book. Now, since Proverbs is a very different book than books like, for example, Joshua or Jeremiah or John, you might be scratching your head about this idea of characters. Beyond Solomon and God himself, what 'characters' might I have in mind?
Well, there are several characters we will meet this morning: Solomon will refer to himself in the role of a father, to his wife in her role as a mother, and to one of their sons (which interestingly Proverbs never names). We will also meet a character often called 'Lady Wisdom'. While Solomon and his family were real, historical figures, Lady Wisdom is what we'd call a personification. That just means the writer is turning the virtue of wisdom into a person in order to, as we'll see, more effectively make his points (kind of like some do with 'Mother Nature').
But even though those characters are important, there is another character I want us to focus on this morning. The identity of that character and the reason for our focus will become apparent in just a few minutes. Let's start to make our way there by turning to Proverbs 1.
II. The Passage: "Fools Hate Knowledge " (1:8-33)
Last time we started in Proverbs 9. But if you recall, we were talking about chapter 9, verse 10, not in isolation, but in connection with 1:7. Look back over 1:7, if you would. Now... keep that verse in mind as we move deeper into the chapter, starting with verses 8-19...
1. The Pleas of Parents (v. 8-19)
This is what Solomon tells us, beginning in verse 8...
Hear, my son, your father's instruction, and forsake not your mother's teaching,  for they are a graceful garland for your head and pendants for your neck.  My son, if sinners entice you, do not consent.  If they say, “Come with us, let us lie in wait for blood; let us ambush the innocent without reason;  like Sheol let us swallow them alive, and whole, like those who go down to the pit;  we shall find all precious goods, we shall fill our houses with plunder;  throw in your lot among us; we will all have one purse”— my son, do not walk in the way with them; hold back your foot from their paths,  for their feet run to evil, and they make haste to shed blood.  For in vain is a net spread in the sight of any bird,  but these men lie in wait for their own blood; they set an ambush for their own lives.  Such are the ways of everyone who is greedy for unjust gain; it takes away the life of its possessors.
So after moving past what is clearly an introduction to the book in 1:1-7, right away, we are met by what amounts to an extended warning. Do you see that? Now, this passage does began with an appeal to embrace what is right (“your father's instruction” and “your mother's teaching”). But Solomon quickly moves on and spends most of his ink on a warning about sinners.
Notice Solomon's tactic here. It's like a coach telling his team, “Listen up, you guys; listen to my coaching. Don't forget the playbook.” Now, nothing strange about that, right? Sounds a lot like verse 8. But what if the coach went on to say, “Guys (or ladies), stop letting the other team distract you. Stop letting them intimidate you. Don't let them get in your head. And stop hot-dogging. Stop showboating. Stop hogging the ball. Stop improvising out there.”
Do you see my point? Solomon's approach, right out of the gate, seems to reveal something about the temptations his son was facing or soon going to face. This shouldn't be surprising to any of us. We know the complex and challenging reality of young adults and peer pressure. Some things haven't changed, have they?
But what Solomon describes here is not simply pressure to smoke, drink, or drag race. Accord-ing to verses 11-13, it's pressure to kill and steal. Now, please notice how Solomon describes not only the call of such man, but also the consequences of that call to violence. Verse 17-19: they will be like those who set a trap in which they themselves will be caught; like those who dig a pit into which they themselves will fall; like those who set an ambush in which they themselves will be surprised and overcome. Those are the ultimate consequences of such wickedness.
2. The Warnings of Wisdom (vs. 20-33)
If we move forward, starting in verse 20, we see that even though there's some change in regard to the characters, there's continuity in terms of warnings. Proverbs 1:20...
Wisdom cries aloud in the street, in the markets she raises her voice;  at the head of the noisy streets she cries out; at the entrance of the city gates she speaks:  “How long, O simple ones, will you love being simple? How long will scoffers delight in their scoffing and fools hate knowledge?  If you turn at my reproof, behold, I will pour out my spirit to you; I will make my words known to you.  Because I have called and you refused to listen, have stretched out my hand and no one has heeded, >>>
 because you have ignored all my counsel and would have none of my reproof,  I also will laugh at your calamity; I will mock when terror strikes you,  when terror strikes you like a storm and your calamity comes like a whirlwind, when distress and anguish come upon you.  Then they will call upon me, but I will not answer; they will seek me diligently but will not find me.  Because they hated knowledge and did not choose the fear of the LORD,  would have none of my counsel and despised all my reproof,  therefore they shall eat the fruit of their way, and have their fill of their own devices.  For the simple are killed by their turning away, and the complacency of fools destroys them;  but whoever listens to me will dwell secure and will be at ease, without dread of disaster.”
So now, instead of Solomon directly addressing his son, he uses Lady Wisdom to deliver the same message as before. Yes, there is a short appeal in vs. 22, 23. But most of the rest of this chapter continues to emphasize the idea that if you choose evil, you will reap what you sow. Why might Solomon use this personification of wisdom? Maybe to drive home the point that wickedness is not simply rebelling against your parents' point of view or social mores. No, wickedness is an outright rejection of wisdom, in spite of the consequences of doing so.
3. The Facets of Foolishness (v. 22)
Now, if you look back at verse 22, I think what we find there will help us with the bigger and broader perspective we were talking about earlier. Listen again to Wisdom's words...
“How long, O simple ones, will you love being simple? How long will scoffers delight in their scoffing and fools hate knowledge?”
In this one verse we are introduced to three different 'characters', characters we will meet time and time again throughout this book: the simpleton, the scoffer, and the fool. But just as our last study in Proverbs 9 was connected to 1:7, we find here another connection to that verse. Look again at the second half of verse 7: “fools despise wisdom and instruction.”
If we were to continue reading this morning, reading all the way through the book of Proverbs we would meet this “fool”over and over and over again. In the ESV, Proverbs uses some version of the word “fool” more often than in every other book of the OT combined. That's 91 times, using three different Hebrew words.
“Fool” (by itself) is by far the most common term used. But Proverbs also tells us about the “foolish man” (cf. 15:20), the “foolish son” (cf. 17:25), and the “babbling fool” (cf. 10:8). Along with the term “wicked”, it is the man common term used in Proverbs to describe someone going exactly the wrong way.
But what does it mean to be a fool? Well, notice what the context tells us. Remember 1:7? The fool is a man or woman who “despise[s] wisdom and instruction”. This is reiterated in verse 22: “fools hate knowledge”. In fact, we find that idea again in verse 29: “they hated knowledge and did not choose the fear of the LORD”. Why do fools reject God as both leader and Lord? Because according to 12:15, “the way of a fool is right in his own eyes”. We also read in 10:23 that “doing wrong is like a joke to a fool”; that is, he is amused by folly. He is amused by sin.
Therefore it's not surprising to read in 1:32 that “the complacency of fools destroys them”. When it comes to his or her life and lifestyle, the fool is smug and uncritical. They feel they've arrived; that they're perfectly fine; that no one can or should tell them what to do.... not even God.
Now, please don't miss the other two characters mentioned in 1:22. The “simple ones” are those 'almost fools' who act foolishly because they are ignorant, naive, and gullible (acc. to 14:15... “The simple believes everything”). On the other hand, when it comes to the “scoffer” (also called the “scorner” or “mocker”) the issue is not ignorance, it's pride. 21:24 defines “scoffer” for us:
"Scoffer" is the name of the arrogant, haughty man who acts with arrogant pride.
Scoffers are fools who criticize everything but stand for nothing. And the list goes on in terms of the facets of foolishness described in Proverbs. We could talk about the “sluggard”, the “whisperer”, the “babbler”, the “drunkard”, the “glutton”. We might consider “the quarrelsome man”, “the worthless man”, “the dishonest man”, “the wrathful man”, “the stingy man”, “the greedy man”, or “the hot-tempered man”. We could read about the “treacherous in heart”, “the backslider in heart”, “the arrogant in heart”, or the “man of crooked heart”. And over and over, we would also read about the “wicked”, the “sinners”, and the “evil men”; the “evildoers”.
Why is all of this so important? Because Solomon's approach here, in the first chapter of this book, is clearly first to warn us about who NOT to be and who NOT to follow. The book doesn't begin with an extended emphasis on the beauty and usefulness of wisdom, but with warning after warning about the dangers of foolishness. Why this approach? Because Solomon knows our human default; and he knows the sin-infested waters in which we swim every single day.
Brothers and sisters, friends, though these are the characters of an ancient book, all of them accurately describe human being as they were... and as they are. Think about it: what if you were to go back to that list of characters and look for... yourself? One of the reasons the book of Proverbs is so critical is that it provides you with a mirror... a mirror to help you recognize when and how you are playing the fool. Through Proverbs, God reveals facets of the foolishness with which we wrestle every day; and he reveals the true nature and painful consequences of that foolishness. Are you ready to hear from Him? To be corrected? To be helped?
III. Foolishness and the Foolishness of God
Brothers and sisters, friends, the hope this morning is that we would do the exact opposite of verse 29... that we would “[love God's corrective] knowledge and [freely] choose the fear of the LORD”. How is that possible for fools like us? Well hints in Proverbs point us to clues in the Prophets, which in turn point us to someone like Paul in the NT. And strangely, paradoxically, what Paul tells us is that rejecting foolishness begins with embracing foolishness; but not just any foolishness... “the foolishness of God”. Huh? The foolishness (?) of the God of all wisdom?
Paul writes in I Corinthians 1:25, “For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.” To what is Paul referring? He's describing the world's estimation or assessment of the gospel. To the worldly fool God's truth is foolishness. But what do you believe? All of us are in one of two camps. Paul declared, “For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” (I Cor. 1:18). Paul was willing to say in that same letter, “We are fools for Christ's sake” (4:10). There are plenty of foolish Christians. But are you willing to be, in the world's eyes, a fool for Christ?
Only through Jesus, through his death and resurrection, can we know power to reject genuine foolishness and embrace God's 'foolishness'; foolishness to find life through death, gain through sacrifice, victory through surrender, a crown through a cross. Brothers and sisters, friends, may the mirror of Proverbs lead us to the grace of God, so that we would reflect Christ instead.