Study Guide

Proverbs Folly and Foolishness

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Folly and Foolishness

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 be sated with their own devices. For waywardness kills the simple, and the complacency of fools destroys them; but those who listen to me will be secure and will live at ease, without dread of disaster. (NRSV 1:29-33)

For that they hated knowledge, and did not choose the fear of the Lord: they would none of my counsel: they despised all my reproof. Therefore shall they eat of the fruit of their own way, and be filled with their own devices. For the turning away of the simple shall slay them, and the prosperity of fools shall destroy them. But whoso hearkeneth unto me shall dwell safely, and shall be quiet from fear of evil. (KJV 1:29-33)

Foolishness is the root of all destructive acts in human life—they all spring out of that kind of un-grounded, rootless way of thinking and behaving.

The foolish woman is loud; she is ignorant and knows nothing. She sits at the door of her house, on a seat at the high places of the town, calling to those who pass by, who are going straight on their way, "You who are simple, turn in here!" And to those without sense she says, "Stolen water is sweet, and bread eaten in secret is pleasant." But they do not know that the dead are there, that her guests are in the depths of Sheol. (NRSV 9:13-18)

A foolish woman is clamorous: she is simple, and knoweth nothing. For she sitteth at the door of her house, on a seat in the high places of the city, to call passengers who go right on their ways: whoso is simple, let him turn in hither: and as for him that wanteth understanding, she saith to him, Stolen waters are sweet, and bread eaten in secret is pleasant. But he knoweth not that the dead are there; and that her guests are in the depths of hell. (KJV 9:13-18)

Even though the foolish woman doesn't know anything, she's really loud. This is a general tendency with fools—they compensate for their lack of ideas by babbling a lot. Also, "bread eaten in secret" is stolen bread—which is why someone eats it… in secret.

On the lips of one who has understanding wisdom is found, but a rod is for the back of one who lacks sense. The wise lay up knowledge, but the babbling of a fool brings ruin near. (NRSV 10:13-14)

In the lips of him that hath understanding wisdom is found: but a rod is for the back of him that is void of understanding. Wise men lay up knowledge: but the mouth of the foolish is near destruction. (KJV 10:13-14)

This is a typical attack on fools and their tendency to babble. While the wise quietly accumulate wisdom, fools accumulate nothing of worth, but continue to prattle on.

Whoever belittles another lacks sense, but an intelligent person remains silent. (NRSV 11:12)

He that is void of wisdom despiseth his neighbour: but a man of understanding holdeth his peace. (KJV 11:12)

Intelligent people respect others and their feelings, so they don't throw around put-downs thoughtlessly.

Like a gold ring in a pig's snout is a beautiful woman without good sense. (NRSV 11:22)

As a jewel of gold in a swine's snout, so is a fair woman which is without discretion. (KJV 11:22)

The woman's beauty is the gold ring—the pig is probably the disaster her life, led without sense, will end up being. Oink.

Fools think their own way is right, but the wise listen to advice. Fools show their anger at once, but the prudent ignore an insult. (NRSV 12:15-16)

The way of a fool is right in his own eyes: but he that hearkeneth unto counsel is wise. A fool's wrath is presently known: but a prudent man covereth shame. (KJV 12:15-16)

This goes along with the un-reflective nature of fools. They never consider the circumstances before expressing themselves, and never second-guess their views.

Sometimes there is a way that seems to be right, but in the end it is the way to death. (NRSV 16:25)

There is a way that seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death. (KJV 16:25)

This proverb urges people towards more closely considering their choices—something that's superficially promising might ultimately prove destructive. It also relates to the general uncertainty involved in every undertaking.

A rebuke strikes deeper into a discerning person than a hundred blows into a fool […] Better to meet a she-bear robbed of its cubs than to confront a fool immersed in folly. (NRSV 17:10, 12)

A reproof entereth more into a wise man than an hundred stripes into a fool […] Let a bear robbed of her whelps meet a man, rather than a fool in his folly. (KJV 17:10, 12)

It's pointless to rebuke fools because of their thick headed-ness. But the wise can profit from a rebuke, since they're more reflective.

Even fools who keep silent are considered wise; when they close their lips, they are deemed intelligent. (NRSV 17:28)

Even a fool, when he holdeth his peace, is counted wise: and he that shutteth his lips is esteemed a man of understanding. (KJV 17:28)

This is sort of similar to the saying, "It is better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to open your mouth and remove all doubt." But in this case, the proverb points out that people will actually probably think you're smart if you retain a mysterious silence.

The lazy person buries a hand in the dish, and will not even bring it back to the mouth. (NRSV 19:24)

A slothful man hideth his hand in his bosom, and will not so much as bring it to his mouth again. (KJV 19:24)

This is pretty straightforward—the lazy person is too lazy to even dive into gluttony with any gusto. And that, Shmoopers, is pretty lazy.

Do not be among winebibbers, or among gluttonous eaters of meat; for the drunkard and the glutton will come to poverty, and drowsiness will clothe them with rags. (NRSV 23:20-21)

Be not among winebibbers; among riotous eaters of flesh: for the drunkard and the glutton shall come to poverty: and drowsiness shall clothe a man with rags. (KJV 23:20-21)

This is also rather straightforward: be moderate and modest in what you eat and drink. Maybe push back from the ol' dining table before you go in for thirdsies.

Do not answer fools according to their folly, or you will be a fool yourself. Answer fools according to their folly, or they will be wise in their own eyes. (NRSV 26:4-5)

Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest thou also be like unto him. Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own conceit. (KJV 26:4-5)

These contradictory proverbs show that there's no good way to respond to fools, really—they're just that hard to deal with. Or, the approach you use with them needs to depend on the circumstances.

Like a dog that returns to its vomit is a fool who reverts to his folly. (NRSV 26:11)

As a dog returneth to his vomit, so a fool returneth to his folly. (KJV 26:11)

Being attracted to folly is the same as being attracted to something utterly gross—a dog curiously returning to lick up its own vomit. Ew.

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