What are fools according to the Bible? A fool is someone who refuses to listen to wisdom or learn from discipline. Failing to fear God or respect the rules of reality, they repeat their folly much like a dog returns to its vomit.
“Whoever digs a pit will fall into it; if someone rolls a stone, it will roll back on them.” (Prov. 26:27)
The fool is a character developed throughout the book of Proverbs. Every verse in Proverbs 26 (except v. 2) deals with the fool, instructing us in how to identify and handle such a person.
A fool is not deserving of honor but of discipline. According to the descriptions of the fool throughout Proverbs, he can’t be trusted with the simplest tasks and, despite his incompetence, he is wise in his own eyes. He is reckless, and he is not teachable. Rather than learning from his mistakes or receiving wisdom, he just does the same foolish things over and over again.
“As a dog returns to its vomit, so fools repeat their folly.” (Prov. 26:11)
Fools according to the Bible: “As a dog returns to its vomit, so fools repeat their folly.”
Other traits of a fool are laziness, gossiping, quarreling (looking for a fight and “kindling strife”), and deceptiveness. We are warned against the person who lies and says, “I was only joking” (Prov. 26:19) and against one who flatters with his words when his heart is full of malice (Prov. 26:25–26).
How to Deal with a Fool?
How do we deal with such a person? Consider Proverbs 26:4–5:
“Do not answer a fool according to his folly, or you yourself will be just like him. Answer a fool according to his folly, or he will be wise in his own eyes.”
There are two solutions here: answer a fool and don’t answer a fool. Wisdom is required to discern which one to choose. Both are correct answers; both just can’t be applied to the same situation at once. Sometimes trying to answer a fool will just draw us into their futile chatter, and so it’s best not to answer so that we don’t act like fools ourselves. Yet sometimes we need to apply logic and reason to a fool’s claim to expose his folly. We need to seek wisdom from God’s Word and guidance from the Holy Spirit in determining the best response in a given situation.
A true badge of a fool is the havoc he wreaks with his mouth. If you have ever been the victim of a fool’s clamor, this verse is especially encouraging:
“Their malice may be concealed by deception, but their wickedness will be exposed in the assembly.” (Prov. 26:26)
Fools according to the Bible: “Their malice may be concealed by deception, but their wickedness will be exposed in the assembly.”
Sometimes when, in wisdom, we determine that it’s best not to answer a fool (and so become entangled in their folly), the best non-verbal response we can offer is the testimony and fruit of committed faithfulness to God. Words can tear down and create chaos; but a “long obedience in the same direction” will build moral authority that eventually speaks louder than the raucous fool.
Grandstanding VS True Honor
In the previous chapter in Proverbs (ch. 25), Solomon gave this proverb: “Do not exalt yourself in the king’s presence, and do not claim a place among his great men; it is better for him to say to you, ‘Come up here,’ than for him to humiliate you before his nobles” (Prov. 25:6–7).
Jesus taught similarly, recorded in Luke’s Gospel:
“When someone invites you to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, for a person more distinguished than you may have been invited. If so, the host who invited both of you will come and say to you, ‘Give this person your seat.’ Then, humiliated, you will have to take the least important place. But when you are invited, take the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he will say to you, ‘Friend, move up to a better place.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all the other guests. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” (Luke 14:8–11)
Solomon’s proverb and Christ’s teaching about posturing ourselves in humility so that we can be elevated to a place of honor stands in sharp contrast to the prideful grandstanding of the fool. When we walk in God’s wisdom, we can reap the reward of a seat of honor at a banquet prepared before us by God, as described by Solomon’s father David: “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies” (Ps. 23:5).
Fools according to the Bible: “Solomon’s proverb and Christ’s teaching about posturing ourselves in humility so that we can be elevated to a place of honor stands in sharp contrast to the prideful grandstanding of the fool.”
We will encounter fools. That’s inevitable. We will be tempted to match them in their foolishness, perhaps with the good intent of instructing them. However, a fool cannot receive instruction; he needs a foundational change that comes from the transformative power of God. Foolishness is not just about acts of folly; it’s a heart condition. By remaining humble and teachable in the wisdom of God’s Word, we can avoid folly and the turmoil created by fools.
Let’s let God honor us in an elevated place, at a seat of honor, before a banquet table that will overcome and outlast all folly.
 This phrase is taken from Eugene Peterson’s A Long Obedience in the Same Direction: Discipleship in an Instant Society (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2000).