Fools and Their Folly

“Like a dog that returns to his vomit is a fool who repeats his folly. Do you see a man who is wise in his own eyes? There is more hope for a fool than for him.”

- Proverbs 26:11–12

Use a powerful image to make your point, and your audience will remember it forever. No doubt, this idea was running through the head of the author of today’s passage, which uses a memorable and disgusting picture to drive home the repulsive nature of folly.

Although many of us keep dogs as beloved pets and treat them as members of the family, the ancient Hebrews did not have a great love for these creatures. In fact, dogs were regarded as unclean animals, scavengers who ate animal flesh that was not fit for Israel’s consumption (Ex. 22:31). Thus, to compare a fool to a dog—as Proverbs 26:11 does—powerfully illustrates how the fool should be regarded as a spiritually unclean person. However, the proverb does not stop there. It goes on to compare a disgusting action by an unclean animal to the fool’s repeated engagement in folly. We regard vomit as something unclean and to be disposed of, and yet dogs are well known for going back to their own vomit and consuming it. This repulsive behavior is hardly something to find respectable, but the fool does something very similar when he repeats his own folly. Vomiting occurs when the stomach rejects food, but a dog is not smart enough to get the point that he should stay away from what was rejected. In like manner, a fool who repeats his own foolishness does not have enough sense to see when he should change his ways. Obviously, the proverb is dealing with the obstinate fool, the one who is not open to correction but continues to engage in his foolish ways.

Such an image should be enough to get us to do our best to avoid repeating our folly. But if that were not enough, Proverbs 26:12 goes on to tell us that the obstinate fool is not only morally repulsive—he is also without hope. As one commentator has stated, a deluded fool is worse than an ordinary fool. A stubborn fool who is wise in his own eyes cannot see the extent of his folly. He displays a particular hard-heartedness that makes it impossible, humanly speaking, for discipline to get through to him. Ordinary foolishness is hard enough to deal with, but the foolishness born of self-delusion is all but impossible to conquer. There is more hope for the ordinary fool than the fool who is right in his own eyes, because the fool who is right in his own eyes lacks the humility that is needed to receive correction. God tells us that the road to true wisdom involves humbling ourselves in the sight of the Lord (1 Peter 5:6), so if we are wise in our own eyes, we will not find divine wisdom.

Coram Deo

Humanly speaking, there seems to be no hope for the self-deluded fool. Given the omnipotent grace of Christ, however, the gospel can break through and reach the hearts of even those who are the most hardened in their folly. God often chooses to redeem those who are the most self-deluded, so we should not believe that He cannot save the fools we know. Instead, we should pray for them. Also, let us pray for ourselves that we would not repeat our folly.

Passages for Further Study

Ecclesiastes 10:1
Isaiah 32:6
Ephesians 5:17
2 Peter 2:18–22

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