How to Tell If You’re a Fool (Proverbs 16:27-30)

God’s people should be wise with the wisdom God gives and which springs from the fear of the Lord (Prov. 1:7). And while it’s not nice to call people fools, the Proverbs use that word and its synonyms to describe a certain type of person who lives with no fear of the Lord. Proverbs 16:27-30 gives a good description of some of the characteristic behavior patterns of a fool along with three synonyms for “fool.”

This passage lists three traits characteristic of a fool and gives each of them a name: a fool is worthless, perverse, and violent, and he demonstrates each of these in his mannerisms. These are merely three different ways of saying that such a man is a fool.

First, the fool is characterized by conduct that is not only negative but malicious (Prov. 16:27). Many translations translate this description as “a worthless man,” because the literal expression, “man of belial,” signifies one who is “without usefulness” (this is what “belial” literally means), in other words, “good-for-nothing.” The implication is that fools, because of their lawlessness, have nothing good to contribute to society or to life. But this designation goes deeper than that for this man “digs up” evil, meaning he devises it, he plots it, seeking to see it carried out. Whatever evil he finds he spreads with lips that are like fire: raging and out of control. Such actions lead to death, devastation, and destruction.

The New Testament speaks to this when Paul wrote that believers are not to make provision for the flesh to fulfill its lusts (Rom. 13:14).

The second characteristic of a fool continues this theme: the fool’s speech is not only negative; it is divisive (Prov. 16:28). The fool is a “perverse” person, the word “perverse” has to do with turning or changing. It could also be translated “man of falsehoods” or “liar.” This goes hand-in-hand with being a gossip or a “whisperer.” The perverse person changes something good into something that is not good through his false speech and spreading of tales. Specifically, he takes those who were close together and who had no problems and separates them by his constant whispering and sowing of doubt. This happens either through revealing things he is supposed to keep secret or by making up things or merely sowing doubt through questions and innuendo.

Such speech is damaging and destroy even the closest relationships, which means that can even separate between brothers and sisters in Christ. Paul counseled us to be certain our speech is always gracious and seasoned with salt (Col. 4:6) meaning that believers are to bring life and preservation with their speech, not a tearing down. Tearing down is characteristic of a fool; building up is what the wise do.

The fool is also characterized by the company he keeps: he has evil associations (Prov. 16:29). He is a man of “violence,” not necessarily physical violence, but of a malicious and cruel temperament. The word often signifies crimes against society, social injustice, etc. He is not satisfied to be anti-social and misanthropic, he wants others to join him in these.

The statement in Prov. 16:30 is not encouraging us to scrutinize every eye twitch or facial expression to determine whether people we know are fools but to point out that such negative character traits will manifest themselves in our expressions and in the way we live our lives. Likewise, engaging in such an activity once does not necessarily make pone a fool but living lives characterized by such behavior is a sure sign that one is a fool and is not living according to God’s wisdom and does not have the fear of the Lord.

Those who live such lives, characterized by these ways, will find themselves without hope in the Day of Judgment. Proverbs 1:24-33 makes clear that in that day the fool will cry out to God but he will not hear them because they did not choose the fear of the Lord. They mocked him and his wisdom and he will mock their calamity and despair. He will make them eat the fruit of their own ways and will be filled up with their own schemes and devices. They will be judged because they turned away and they will be destroyed by their own complacency. He holds out hope for those who turn from foolishness to wisdom, however, promising that those who listen to the Word of the Lord will dwell safely and securely and will be guarded from evil.


About Michael R. Jones

Pastor and PhD candidate writing on Paul's theology of suffering.
This entry was posted in Christian Living, Proverbs, Wisdom. Bookmark the permalink.

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