Proverbs to Ponder

In the Divine Office last week, we read from the Book of Proverbs; in this week’s Masses we are reading from Sirach. Both of these books are part of the Wisdom Tradition.

Today, I’ll be reviewing a few of the sayings from Proverbs, but before doing so, I’d like to explain the use of the word fool (as contrasted with wise one) in the Wisdom Tradition. Without a richer understanding of the term fool, it is possible to interpret its use as a mere ad hominem attack.

To the modern mind, the word fool is demeaning and hurtful. It tends to be used to refer to one who is irredeemably stupid, buffoonish, and/or lacking in common sense—one who is “dumb as a rock.”

However, when the Scriptures use the term fool it is set forth in contrast to one who is labeled wise. Its usage in Scripture is more nuanced, a description of one who rejects wisdom rather than merely a pejorative. There are several Hebrew words that are translated as fool. Here are two of them:

One Hebrew root of fool is אֱוִיל (ewil), which means to be perverse and lacking in reflection. In context, the word refers to

  • those who despise wisdom and discipline (Proverbs 1:7, Proverbs 15:5),
  • those who mock guilt (Proverbs 14:9),
  • those who are quarrelsome (Proverbs 20:3),
  • those who are licentious (Proverbs 7:22), or
  • those for whom attempted instruction is folly (Proverbs 16:22, Proverbs 27:22, Jeremiah 4:22, Job 5:2-3, Isaiah 19:11, Psalm 107:17).

A second Hebrew root is כְּסִיל (kasal), which means a stupid fellow, a dullard. In context, the word refers to

  • those who hate knowledge (Proverbs 1:22),
  • those who delight not in understanding (Proverbs 18:2),
  • those who love to do mischief (Proverbs 10:23, Proverbs 12:23, Proverbs 15:2), or
  • those who feed on the mischief of others (Proverbs 15:14).

Thus we are not dealing with someone who is stupid, but rather one whose stance is against that which is reasonable, holy, orderly, and wise. Such people may in fact be intelligent and have wide knowledge about things of the world, but their stance is against Godly Wisdom. They are set against what matters to God; they are rooted in the passing things of this world. They base their lives on transitory and unimportant things, which cannot form the true basis for salvation.

The Latin Vulgate often uses the word insipiens (unwise) to refer to foolishness. In other words, foolishness is the setting of oneself against wisdom.

Simply thinking that fool means stupid, is failing to grasp the nuance of the word. While it is not a flattering portrayal, neither is it mere name-calling; rather, it is descriptive. Fools are those who set themselves against wisdom; they are not merely stupid people.

With that in mind, let’s examine a few passages from the Proverbs. They help to explain what God’s Church and those who seek wisdom are up against. My comments are presented in red text.

Blessings are for the head of the just, but a rod for the back of the fool (Prov 10:6).

God’s law is a great blessing to those who love wisdom. His commandments are not prison walls; they are defending walls. His commands do not limit freedom so much as they frame it within necessary limits.

But to the foolish, to those who hate and despise God’s wisdom, to those who hate discipline and reasonable limits, God’s law—any authority that tries to limit behavior—is hateful and punishing, like a rod on the back.

Many today are not simply indifferent to God’s wisdom as proclaimed by the Church and Scripture, they are openly hostile to it!

It is like the reaction of someone who has been sitting in a very dark room and is suddenly overwhelmed by bright light. He despises the light and protests its presence as something hateful and hurtful. Jesus lamented, And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their deeds were evil (Jn 3:19).

To those who despise God’s wisdom, it is seen not as a brilliant and beautiful light, a blessing for the mind to contemplate; rather, it feels like a punishing rod on the back.

A wise man heeds commands, but a prating fool will be overthrown. A path to life is his who heeds admonition, but he who disregards reproof goes astray (Proverbs 10:8, 17).

The wise man listens to instruction and strives to base his life upon it. The wise humbly accept that they do not know all things and must be taught by God.

But fools, those who hate wisdom, prattle on and on about their own opinions. They believe anything is true simply because they think it.

It is difficult to reason with them, because although they scoff at religious truth as mere “religion,” it is really they who exhibit a far more extreme version of “blind faith” than any Christian believer who sees faith and reason as compatible.

The text says that the end of a fool is destruction. Many political ideologies, errant trends, and misguided philosophies have come and gone over the years, yet the Church remains. The wisdom and the Word of the Lord endure forever.

He who walks honestly walks securely, but he whose ways are crooked will fare badly (Prov 10:9).

Evil has its hour. It rises, seems glamorous to many, and is praised and paraded about as some new form of liberation.

But evil cannot last, and those who practice it will not flourish. It may come in the form of addiction, disease, strife, inner conflict, or any number of resentments rooted in false hope; but those who practice it will fare badly.

Only those who walk in honesty and in the truth—time-tested truth taught by God Himself—will walk securely. They will have trials to be sure, but if they follow God’s time-tested wisdom, even these difficulties will help them to reach their goal.

He who winks at a fault causes trouble, but he who frankly reproves promotes peace (Prov 10:10).

There is great pressure from many sectors today to remain silent about sin and evil. Those who do speak of sin are called judgmental and intolerant. Sadly, many Christians have succumbed to this pressure; nothing but trouble can result. The moral cesspool that is the modern age is evidence of this.

The correction of faults, frankly and with love, is an act of charity (St. Thomas Aquinas). Error and sin bring war and division, both individually and collectively, but God’s truth, lovingly proclaimed, brings peace by insisting on what is good, right, true, and beautiful.

We live in an age that winks at evil. The world seems to find evil funny, and often celebrates it in visual entertainment, written media, music, and numerous other ways. The destructiveness of the glamorization of evil is apparent if one simply reads a newspaper or turns on the news.

God’s law is His peace plan for this broken world of ours; it is His wisdom that will bring us peace.

A fountain of life is the mouth of the just, but the mouth of the wicked conceals violence (Proverbs 10:11).

Jesus warned that Satan and those who are evil often masquerade in sheep’s clothing, while underneath they are ravenous wolves (see Mat 7:15). Many in our world today who despise God’s wisdom conceal their violence with euphemisms such as pro-choice, no-fault divorce, reproductive freedom, euthanasia, and death with dignity.

Despite the cloak of pseudo-compassion, they ultimately peddle death and division. God’s wisdom, on the other hand, speaks to the dignity of every human life, to hope, and to the promise of life, in spite of any difficulties.

The just man’s recompense leads to life, but the gains of the wicked, to sin. Better a little with fear of the Lord, than a great fortune with anxiety. Better a little with virtue, than a large income with injustice (Proverbs 10: 15, 16).

For those who are striving to be just and to follow God’s wisdom, the rewards received are to be shared generously with others. The gains of the wicked, however, lead to sins such as gluttony, greed, hoarding, and other excesses. Rather than sharing their abundance with others, they spend it on the flesh and place their trust in creatures rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever.

Where words are many, sin is not wanting; but he who restrains his lips does well (Proverbs 10:19).

In an age of non-stop communication and 24/7 news reporting, the sin of gossip is an almost endlessly available temptation. Discretion appears to have been lost. Almost everyone thinks he has a right to know everything about everyone else. The people’s “right to know” seems to have no limits.

Our age is one of many media (visual, verbal, musical, etc.), and sin is not wanting on account of this. We talk endlessly about other people’s business and often ignore our own issues. Why stay in our own lane when we can “tune in at 11,” read a scandal sheet, or surf to a website for the latest gossip?

Rare indeed are those who “restrain their lips” and cover their eyes and ears to what is sinful or even merely intriguing.

Crime is the entertainment of the fool; so is wisdom for the man of sense (Proverbs 10:23).

Our culture celebrates the sins of others as entertainment. On television, in the cinema, and in many other forms of communication, fornication, adultery, and all kinds of sexual misconduct are normalized—even celebrated.

It is the same with violence. Most adventure movies today glamorize its use solve problems. An injustice occurs and the “hero” (after 90 minutes of killing people, breaking things, and blowing up buildings) has a final showdown with the unambiguously evil enemy, killing him and walking away with the girl on his arm and the burning city in the background—roll credits.

We also glorify mobsters and others who participate in crime and violence.

Some will argue that movies should reflect life. That is fine, but most people are not killing other people, burning cities, crashing cars, or blowing up buildings. Most people are not Mafiosi. Sadly, however, there is a lot of fornication, adultery, and participation in homosexual acts. In real life, however, these actions are not without consequence (as movies depict).

Where are the movies that depict wisdom, beauty, love, truth, chastity, and strong families? There are some out there, but they are usually eclipsed by the far greater number that celebrate crime, violence, dysfunction, and sinfulness.

When the tempest passes, the wicked man is no more; but the just man is established forever (Proverbs 10:25).

The Church alone is indefectible, by the promise of Jesus Christ. Although evil movements, political forces, and sinful regimes rise and boast of their power, they eventually fall. The Church has seen empires rise and fall and philosophies come and go. Evil men have threatened the Church with destruction for thousands of years, but we have read the funeral rites over every one of them.

The truth will out. Evil will not remain; it cannot last. Christ has already won the victory.

The foolish keep resisting; they laugh at God’s wisdom, dismiss the Scriptures, and ridicule the Church. When they are gone, though, we will still be here proclaiming Christ crucified, gloriously resurrected, and ascended to glory.

Those who mock this resist the consistent message of history. Jesus is Lord, and though He permits His enemies time to repent, their days are ultimately numbered—evil cannot last.

These are just a few proverbs that speak to our times and help us to understand what God has to say about many modern trends.

Here’s a video with some other sayings. In posting this I do not mean to affirm every saying presented in it, but some of them do make good sense!