Saturday, April 04, 2009

Proverbs 26:8-9

8 Like one who binds a stone in a sling Is he who gives honor to a fool.

The next proverb continues to build on similar themes, principally the danger of fools. Giving honor to a fool is the overarching theme (26:1), and sending messages, giving proverbs, etc. are ways in which we honor fools. This was the opening warning of this section as well (Pr. 26:1). Remember the word for honor is the same for glory or riches. To consider a fool weighty, trustworthy in any way is dangerous, destructive, and absurd. To honor a fool is to only encourage him, to pay him for his folly, and this occurs by giving him tasks, paying him too much attention, believing him more trustworthy than he is. To honor is ultimately to treat someone like a king, and a king is someone who should be trustworthy and wise. A king is also a ruler as we have seen. Honoring a fool as a king is to give a fool authority and power for destruction. This points to the real horror of actually having a fool as king.

Remember that Prov. 25 was all about the glory of kings (25:2ff, 27-28). 26:1-12 is all about dealing with fools, but Solomon says that the real issue comes back to not honoring fools. Perhaps part of the contrast is between those who “conceal” and “search out” matters and those who have everything given or refuse to search. A number of the warnings in 26:1ff have to do with not giving fools certain honors. Part of the point of glory is the necessity of searching for it, working for it, etc. The process of getting glory is a significant part of being qualified to handle it.

The word used for sling here is not used anywhere else in Scripture. The word is MARGEMAH. The root is RAGAM which means to kill by stoning (e.g. Lev. 20:2, et al), and this points to the point of the proverb. Binding to the stone into the “stoning thing” may be suggesting that the stone cannot be released and it will fly around until it hits the one swinging it. The proper thing to do with a fool is to fling him far away. But honoring a fool is keeping him around longer than proper, and the longer he is around, the more dangerous he is.

There is also a suggestion here that honor ought to be used strategically (Pr. 18:16, 21:14). Honor is a weapon. But folly “binds up” honor and makes it useless and dangerous. The overall action of giving honor to a fool is itself also in view. Rather than flinging a fool far away, giving honor to a fool is a way of keeping a fool around. As we have seen previously there is just as much warning to those who interact with fools. Paul makes a similar point in 2 Cor. 11:19 when he addresses the way the Corinthians “put up with fools gladly.” They think they are wise, but the way they put up with them is itself a form of “bondage” for all the problems fools bring, including getting struck in the face (2 Cor. 11:20). In this context, the “fools” Paul is warning the Corinthians about are others who are preaching a different Jesus than Paul (cf. 2 Cor. 11:4). Notice again the theme of being messengers.

9 Like a thorn that goes into the hand of a drunkard Is a proverb in the mouth of fools.

Here a proverb is likened to a “thorn” or “bramble.” It can also mean “hook,” and either way it’s sharp and can stick a hand. A proverb is meant to be sharp and pointy, but a fool is like a drunkard who doesn’t know what he’s doing. Perhaps there is also a suggestion again of danger here. Literally, it’s a thorn/hook “going up in the hand of the drunkard.” The implication may not only be the danger of harm to oneself, but also the danger it poses to others. In some contexts the word is used as “fetters.” Here we may have almost an exact parallel to Paul’s point in 2 Cor. 11 about fools bring people into bondage.

This is the second time Solomon has described a proverb in the mouth of fools. In 26:7, it was pictured as the victim of a hunt. Remember too that the word for proverb is MASHAL, and its verb form means “to rule” (e.g. Gen. 1:18, 3:16, 45:8, etc.). But the noun form is a “dark saying, a riddle, a proverb” (Pr. 1:1, 6, 10:1) and can also refer to “prophesying” (e.g. Num. 23:7, Job 27:1, Ez. 17:2, 24:3). In the curses of Deuteronomy, God promises to bring all sorts of horrors upon Israel if they are not faithful, and one those curses is for things to go so badly with them that they become a “proverb” among all the nations in their exile (Dt. 28:37). Israel will become an object lesson for the nations, a riddle. The verb and noun meanings converge in Ecclesiastes where Solomon says that the words of the wise heard in quiet are better than the shout of a ruler among fools (Eccl. 9:17).

Waltke suggests that in the ancient world the people most likely to be drunkards would have been fairly rich: nobles, princes, kings. All of this reminds us again of the “glory of Kings” and the great dangers of folly in the court of a king and foolish kings. To put a proverb in the mouth of a fool is to give a fool a kingly calling. To put a proverb in the mouth of a fool is not only to give him something dangerous, but to also put him in charge of everything.

Remember too that the “proverb” finds its fulfillment in the gospel, and the image here is of someone getting their hand pierced. The structure of the proverb suggests that the center upon which the principle turns is the connection between a drunk and a fool. But the parallel between the thorn in the hand and the proverb in the mouth may still stand. So what if we inverse the proverb? What if a proverb is put in the mouth of a wise man? David himself was a king who found himself surrounded by dogs, the congregation of the wicked, who pierce their victim’s hands and feet (Ps. 22). In 26:11, fools will be likened to dogs as well. The wise who have proverbs in their mouth run the risk of having their hands pierced. Ruling well runs the risk of suffering. Of course Ps. 22 itself alludes to Christ who is the Wise King, Wisdom incarnate who speaks in riddles, parables, and proverbs, and his hands are pierced by the fool-dogs who encircle him. And all those who follow him run the same risk. The apostles repeatedly speaking about sharing in the suffering of Christ, takin up into themselves the sufferings of the Christ (e.g. 2 Cor. 1:5). Perhaps this is why there is also a repeated emphasis on sharing in the sufferings of Christ and glory. Pursuing the glory of kings means participating in the sufferings of kings.

This also makes more sense of Paul's logic in 2 Corinthians. He describes the gospel as "foolishness" and the ministry of evangelists and apostles as a ministry of "fools," and this is probably because they are being treated as fools. They are suffering like Jesus, their hands are pierced like his, as though they were all drunks and fools. And yet this is their glory, this is the wisdom of God, the great and wonderful riddle of God.

Epilogue: As we discussed this in the study this morning, Peter Leithart also pointed out that this matches up with the accusations against Jesus that he is a disobedient son, out of his mind, and a wine bibber and a glutton. Jesus is accused of being a drunkard and a fool, and his hands are pierced. And if they have accused the master of this, they will of course also accuse his disciples of the same. Being wise always runs the risk of being mistaken as a fool, a drunk, and insane. Proverbs are dark sayings, riddles, and difficult to understand, and to the foolish they make no sense and sound ridiculous.

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