The last half of this chapter isn’t organized and put into a nice clean outline; there isn’t a plan or objective. Here, the penman of the Proverbs gives to us a few more examples of his divinely-given wisdom. And in this case several times in these verses he speaks about speaking. Several times he refers to the words of the fool.
Solomon has described and condemned the fool often enough in these two books that no one should want to be called “a fool.” And since wisdom is so closely tied to the Lord, it should be obvious that to be “a fool” is to be alien to the things of God. But still, even the wisest of men, Solomon included, sometimes say and do foolish of things. Both you and I have been guilty of foolish speaking and foolish actions. And this means that consideration of these scriptural warnings is always appropriate, even when they are elemental and obvious.
Before considering the words of the wise we see the Words of the FOOL.
Verse 11 says – “Surely the serpent will bite without enchantment; and a babbler is no better.” After my family moved to Omaha, Nebraska from Calgary, Alberta, my dad found that the nearest mountains were in western South Dakota. My parents desperately needed to see trees and something approaching mountains. So for several summers, we spent two weeks camping in the Black Hills beyond Rapid City. There were lots of things for young kids to enjoy from fishing to touring gold mines and visiting Deadwood. And I clearly remember visiting a place called the “Reptile Gardens,” where handlers would get into pits filled with venomous rattlesnakes. They would scare the life out of us, teasing those snakes, picking them up with their tools or their hands. They would point to the kits of anti-venom, but I don’t ever remember anyone being bitten. They seem to have been in control of the snakes – at least to some degree. Those snake charmers, in eastern cultures, might have been said to “enchant” the snakes. Solomon suggests that snake charming – “enchantment ” – is similar to tongue control – dangerous.
And the Apostle James joined in, telling us, “the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity. “The tongue can no man tame; it is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison” – just like a rattlesnake. Those snake handlers at the “Reptile Gardens” told their visitors that no snake ever becomes tame or a pet. They are always wild and deadly creatures. And James says the same thing about the tongue. Poisonous words can fly out of any mouth at any time – and almost always – those words indicate reptilian foolishness.
In fact, as verse 12 tells us – “The lips of a fool will swallow up himself.” Most people don’t like snakes of any kind; it seems to be a part of our human DNA. Does that stem from our first mother? No one can say for sure. But there ARE many GOOD snakes, and I suppose that even the venomous snakes have a purpose. Some serpents, like King and Rat snakes, not only eat rats and mice, but also OTHER SNAKES. And once in while they can get so confused they will grab their own tail and end up eating themselves. That is a fact for which there is a Greek scientific word – “uroboros.” And once again, this serpentine characteristic characterizes foolish talk.
As I have pointed out before, the successful maintenance of a lie is nearly impossible. Let’s say that the police have taken a man in for questioning about a recent crime for which they are reasonably sure he is guilty. The police sometimes employ little tricks to get the man to confess or at least to slip up. For example, they may keep the room where he is to be interrogated warm, making him sweat. Or they leave him alone for a length of time in that hot little room, making him more and more nervous. When they come in, they lie to him in order to make him think there are witnesses to his crime or that he has left incriminating evidence. And they ask him the same questions over and over again, but in different ways and by different investigators. The principle is this: if the man is telling the truth, then the facts will remain as anchors for everything he has to say. He doesn’t have to use his imagination in order to maintain the truth, because it is always true. His story will not vary even when he is forced into explaining it from a different angle. But if the man is lying, he will eventually change the details of his imaginary story, exposing himself. Or you might say that the liar will “swallow up himself” like a snake swallowing his own tail.
“The beginning of the words (out of this fool’s) mouth is foolishness: and the end of his talk is mischievous madness.” It has been said that “What’s well begun is half done.” But what is started in wickedness or foolishness, will go no other place but downhill toward destruction. I remember two occasions when as a child I stole something. I was less than 10 on both occasions – but I still remember the lies I tried to use to cover my crimes. In the first case, my mother saw through my lie and ripped me apart. On the second occasion, I was a bit more experienced and continued to profess my innocence, but as the interrogations continued for a about a week I was finally forced to confess my “mischievous madness” If you can’t remember such things in your past, I pity you, because those were life lessons which I have obviously
lain never forgotten and never repeated. I learned not to steal, and I learned that to lie is foolish – the maintenance of that lie is futile.
Now, let’s go back to verse 10, which doesn’t really speak directly about foolish words. “If the iron be blunt, and he do not whet the edge, then must he put to more strength.” The lesson is obvious on several levels. The other day I had to prune some branches from our crab-apple tree, but the shears were dull. I quickly found that the more blunt the tool, the more muscle was necessary to overcome the problem. We can apply that proverb to foolish words. The more ridiculous the lie or statement, the more emphasis is necessary to get others to believe it. It was joke in our homelitics class at school that someone once saw the sermon notes of one of the great preachers of our fellowship. Along the margin in red pencil were the words, “Weak point, yell loudly.” But the wise man doesn’t have to raise his voice to be heard – his words will speak for themselves. Similarly, the man who quickly loses his temper in an argument or discussion is usually the man who is in error. Or as Shakespeare put it in “Hamlet,” “The lady doth profess too much, me thinks.” All that boisterous emphasis suggests the defense of A LIE.
Verse 14 – “A fool also is full of words: a man cannot tell what shall be; and what shall be after him, who can tell him?” Not every five-year-old girl is the same, but we have a neighbor who is a chatter box. Couple weeks ago, her father had a glass man at their house installing a new wind-shield on their SUV. While the young man was working on the car, this little girl was giving him her life story and her unique philosophy on life. He would smile and nod, but it was impossible for him to get a word into the “conversation.” What compels some people to talk like that – incessantly – without ceasing? Could it be said that the one who is full to overflowing with words is usually filled with himself?
Have you ever met a person who apparently knew all that there is to know about just about everything? Have you met someone who has to give you his two cents about whatever subject is being discussed? Is there a greater fool than he? Isn’t it true that when you try to tell that person that he is a sinner and in need of the Saviour, he laughs in your face and begins to tell you that you are the only fool in the room? He knows nothing about what he is, what his grandparents were and where he is going. And yet, because he happens to be the king, he thinks he can go on in his foolishness. “Woe to thee, O land, when thy king is a child, and thy princes eat in the morning!’ Eating in the morning refers to feasting and banqueting for the sake of partying. “Blessed art thou, O land, when thy king is the son of nobles, and thy princes eat in due season, for strength, and not for drunkenness!”
Verse 20 says, “Curse not the king, no not in thy thought; and curse not the rich in thy bedchamber: for a bird of the air shall carry the voice, and that which hath wings shall tell the matter.” Going back to our criminal under police investigation, yes, he has been released. But now he curses those who arrested him and boasts before his friends that he indeed did commit the crime, but the police couldn’t figure it out. How many times have his words been carried eventually back to his judges? What a fool.
In contrast to the words of this fool are the words of the WISE.
In addition to all that Solomon has told us before, here he says, “The words of a wise man’s mouth are gracious.” What is to be “gracious”? When speaking about the grace of God, it is His “unmerited favour.” And here in this context, this Hebrew word is translated “grace” most often, but “favour” almost as often. “The words of a wise man’s mouth are gracious – favorable.”
Did your mother tell you, as mine often did to me, “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all”? Where did that originate? I don’t know for sure, but the one who made it a famous quote, at least for my generation, was Thumper in the movie “Bambi.” What a wise little rabbit.
Conversely, what fools we make ourselves out to be when we ungraciously call people names. How foolish it is when we in our foolishness emphatically declares that another person is a fool, a moron, a liar or a hypocrite. More often than not, we walk way with more dirt on our face than the other man.
Yes, the wise man understands the things of God better than the fool. And yes, he has more knowledge than the uneducated. But the wise man has also received more of God’s grace than the fool. And therefore he will be more gracious in his words, actions and heart.
When a man casts aside his gracious behavior, he appears to be nothing but a fool himself.